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Capt David R. Asbury

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Capt David R. Asbury

  • Birth 9 Aug 1827 Kentucky, USA
  • Death 3 Apr 1890 Canton, Lewis County, Missouri, USA
  • Burial Canton, Lewis County, Missouri, USA
  • Memorial ID 82374064

David R. Asbury was one of the most well-known and highly respected Mississippi riverboat captains of the 19th century. He was associated with the Old Northern and, later, the St. Paul Line of steamers.

The son of Richard Asbury and Sarah B. "Sallie" Reese, David married Jane D. Mattingly on 19 Feb 1852 in Lewis County, Missouri. They were the parents of 3 daughters, including a set of twins. After Jane's death, he married Ardelia F. "Delia" Staples in the late 1860's. They were the parents of 1 daughter.

David was the captain of a side-wheel wooden-hulled packet steamer called the "Golden Eagle." First launched in 1876, the "Golden Eagle" was described as one of the finest boats of its type. 275 feet long and more than 40 feet wide, the "Golden Eagle" could carry 126 passengers and 1,000 tons of cargo. It was powered by 4 boilers and carried passengers and supplies from Keokuk, Iowa to St. Louis, making numerous stops along the way.

On the night of 31 May 1880, 55 miles north of St. Louis, the "Golden Eagle" caught fire around 2 o'clock in the morning. Captain Asbury was on duty on the hurricane deck when he was notified of the fire. 50 passengers, including 15 women and 12 children; 200 hogs; 2 cows and 4 calves; and 60 bales of hay were on board the "Golden Eagle" at the time.

After waking the rest of the crew, Captain Asbury ordered the pilot and engineers to turn the burning vessel and head directly for the shore of a nearby uninhabited island. Within minutes, the boat was engulfed in fire.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Captain Asbury as saying, "I then went to the texas and woke everybody up in there by kicking on their doors. Then I went down stairs to superintend the landing, and stayed there until the lines were out. Then I went up stairs into the cabin. It was full of smoke and steam. The lights had been put out by the dense smoke. I felt my way back aft of the midship gangway. Flames were raging in the stern. I never saw such smoke before. It seemed like a wall, so thick was it."

He continued, "It was too much for me, and I made my way, about half suffocated, out of the cabin, and then stood on the shore to see the prettiest boat on the Upper Mississippi go up in smoke."

Captain Asbury was the last man off the "Golden Eagle." In all, a 14-year-old boy who worked on the boat, and 3 men were killed in the fire. The cows and calves made it to land once their pens were opened, but the hogs refused to leave and perished as the boat burned to the water line within 20 minutes of when the fire began.

Dr. Roger Nelson Cresap of Van Buren County, Iowa, was among those killed in the accident. He was headed for St. Louis in order to buy himself a new wooden leg. His obituary said that "the vessel took fire from the explosion of a lamp, igniting some baled hay."

Ironically, the "Golden Eagle" went down in the river very close to the area in Calhoun County, Illinois known as Golden Eagle. The boat was completely destroyed and total losses were estimated at $65,000.

A riverboat called the "Josie" was headed north on the Mississippi and passed the "Golden Eagle" about 15 minutes before the fire broke out. When the crew of the "Josie" saw the light from the fire, their captain ordered them to turn back to see if they could help.

By the time the "Josie" arrived, the survivors had made their way to the shore where they waited for rescue in some woods. The "Josie" took them downriver to St. Louis, and the crew provided them with some clothing and food on the way.

By July 1880, David returned to his duties as a riverboat captain on the Mississippi. During Grover Cleveland's presidency, Captain Asbury was appointed United States Inspector of Steamboats. He held the post until his sudden death from what was described as "congestion of the brain." He was ill for a week before he passed away at his home, just 4 days before he was scheduled to transfer his office to his successor.

At the time of his death, David was 62 years, 7 months and 25 days old. He was survived by his second wife, "Delia," who died in 1897.

When news of Captain Asbury's death was published in the newspaper on 04 Apr 1890, it was reported that steamers on the river flew their flags at half-mast in his honor.

Children: 4 daughters.

Father of:
Sarah "Sallie" Asbury
Nancy Asbury Mumm (twin)
Eliza Asbury Mumm (twin)
Jennie Sue Asbury Barrett

David's siblings:
Eliza Finley Asbury
Minerva C. Asbury
Thomas Asbury
George L. Asbury
Mary E. Asbury
Dr. Isham R. Asbury
William F. Asbury
James A. Asbury
Richard Asbury

Family Members


APRIL 3, 1890

A precious one from us
has gone
A voice so loved is
A place is vacant in our
Which never can be

Gravesite Details Research for this bio regarding the destruction of the Golden Eagle based on articles published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1880. Double click on photos to enlarge images.





  • Maintained by: Lynn
  • Originally Created by: Johnnie Walker
  • Added: 25 Dec 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 82374064
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Capt David R. Asbury (9 Aug 1827–3 Apr 1890), Find A Grave Memorial no. 82374064, citing Forest Grove Cemetery, Canton, Lewis County, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by Lynn (contributor 47138895) .