Written and Researched by Victoria Scannella, Library Assistant

In order to start October with a bang, I’ve decided that this next blog post should be a wild story from start to finish, that all occurred on a boat on June 14, 1797 around 4:30 in the afternoon! The following story comes from The Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertizer from Saturday July 8th, 1797.

A sloop named The Sophia was on a voyage from Philadelphia traveling down the Maurice River when the event occurred. Aboard the ship was Captain Andrew Conrow, John Lundy, John Rolee, and Neil McIntosh.

As they were cruising down the river near Billingsport, a man named Robert Brown pulled up in his own boat beside The Sophia and asked Captain Conrow where his ship was headed. Brown told the men that he wanted passage to Port Penn; Captain Conrow welcomed him aboard the ship, attaching his boat to their sloop. Once the evening had drawn in, the sloop was anchored off of Newcastle (1) and the men remained there until Saturday morning.

The following morning as they approached Port Penn, the Captain ordered Rolee to begin preparations to approach the shore to let Brown off before returning to his personal quarters. In the midst of preparations, Brown told Rolee to stop and to continue sailing. Brown was no longer going to Port Penn, the ship he was expecting to meet was now in Cape May. The Captain agreed to allow Brown to remain on the slope and they continued about their day.

As they were coming into the mouth of the Maurice River, the ship ran aground and could go no further until the tide came in, so they dropped anchor and prepared to wait. While waiting for the tide, they had refreshments and John Landy went into the cabin while the Captain lay on the quarter deck and McIntosh was laying on the deck. McIntosh was then startled awake by a sound from within the cabin, and then immediately heard another noise coming from the quarterdeck. The sound could only be described as, “the pounding of an axe against the ceiling of the cabin”. McIntosh leaped up and looked towards the quarterdeck to see Brown running around the mast with an axe in his hand, headed to strike John Rolee on the side of his head while he slept, unaware of what was about to occur.

McIntosh leaped overboard and swam over to a shallop in an attempt to escape Brown (2) but he did not make. Brown took his boat into the water, capturing McIntosh and brought him back aboard The Sophia. Brown promised that he would not hurt the boy. Once aboard the ship again, McIntosh got the upper-hand and grabbed the axe that was discarded on the deck and threw it overboard. He then ran up to the quarter-deck as Brown approached with a mallet.

McIntosh again jumped overboard and swam towards nearby fishermen before once again being grabbed by Brown and brought back aboard The Sophia. Landy, who had been hit in the side of the head with an axe, came to his senses and went to the main deck. He found Captain Conrow, lying on the quarter-deck. Upon discover, Landy began asking what was going on, yelling “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?” Brown responded, “Nothing, but I believe the boy is crazy.”

McIntosh cut off the painter (3) and watched as Brown’s small boat drifted away from The Sophia, gaining significant distance in a short amount of time. Once the boat seemed to be a safe distance from the sloop, McIntosh and Landy jumped overboard and swam over to the boat and drifted away with it. Since no oars or ropes were attached to the Sophia, Brown could not reel him back in and the tide had since come in and was directing the small boat towards the shore. John Landy, alongside McIntosh, rowed to the nearby fishermen for assistance. They explained what had happened aboard the Sophia and the authorities were notified.

The Sophia was brought to the shore from the mouth of the Maurice River where it was left near McIntosh and Landy with John Rolee and Captain Conrow still aboard. Conrow had not yet passed away; the only thing he said was “Oh don’t! Oh don’t!” when being moved from where he was laying on the ship. He passed away around 9 pm that day. The Captain’s skull was heavily fractured in two places from one blow to the head. John Rolee survived, having sustained several blows to the head, a broken arm, and a few other wounds. John Landy sustained no further injuries than the large gash on his head from the axe blow. Robert Brown was apprehended on the following Sunday morning and set to wait for trial. The story comes from Neil McIntosh who was 16 or 17 years old at the time and aboard the ship. He was a witness in two separate trials for the murder and attempted murders.

1) It does not indicate whether it was Delaware or Pennsylvania but in this instance we are assuming Delaware
2) A light sailboat used for coastal fishing
3) A rope that is attached to the sloop to tie another boat to it