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Ironic Historical Trivia: “Eight-Hundred Men Lay Slain”

November 1, 2020

In 1844, on the Potomac River, near Mount Vernon, the most deadly and costly loss of U.S. government officials occurred in our nation’s history. The explosion of the USS Princeton is often neglected in history courses for high school students, but it had powerful impact when it came to the issue of annexation of Texas by removing pivotal players.

But for the purpose of this post a song that was sung on board, and the timing of it makes for a most ironic slice of history.

The ship was taking its first public cruise, having had President Tyler and a congressional delegation on two previous ventures to showcase its cannons. Firing a 250-pound ball five miles with a 50-pound blasting charge thrilled the huge array of notables, including Dolly Madison on the third voyage.

President Tyler was on board wooing a teenager, 30 years younger, that afternoon. His first wife had died–the first First Lady to do so while her husband was in office. Tyler’s son-in-law was below deck singing a favorite song of the president which caused the Chief Executive to remain below deck.

As the verse with the words “eight hundred men lay slain” was uttered one of the cannons was fired for the crowd above deck. The wording was so in sync with the blast the crowd below decked cheered. Moments later the shrieks from above were heard.

The Secretary of State, Secretary of the Navy and many others were dead. Still more were severely injured. Arms and legs had been blown off many of the deceased.

This story surely is one of the most incredible historical oddities when it comes to ironic timing.

And so it goes.

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