Cowee Tunnel 19

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: [unknown] to 1882
Location: North Carolina, United Statesmap
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Anderson Drake was a convict back in 1883
A two-timin’ felon with a shady disposition and a troublesome history
Every morning he crossed the Tuckasegee River with a boatload of other inmates
Spent his days on a chain gang building railroads for the state - song by Haywood County, North Carolina musicians Buddy Melton and Milan Miller immortalizing the Cowee Tunnel disaster.

On 30 December 1882, nineteen convicts, all African American, tragically died while working on a chain-gang. After the Civil War, it was common practice to find any excuse to imprison newly freed black men and boys. It was also common practice to "sell" these prisoners to businesses for their labor. Often the labor was ardurous and many worked to build the railroads. Such was the case with the Cowee Tunnel 19.

On this day, the workers were traveling by boat across the Tuckasegee River in western North Carolina to get to the worksite. It had rained the evening before and the river crossing was a bit choppy. There was a little water in the boat and as the boat rocked to and fro, the swishing water was frightening to the men. They were afraid the boat was sinking. Even as the guards told them to settle down and not move around, they tried to moved to one end of the boat and it capsized. Nineteen men were chained together and they were dragged down to the bottom of the river by the weight of their shackles. The guards and eleven other men were carried downstream and rescued.

Although there were newspaper accounts at the time, these men were all but forgotten and buried in mass graves. Their families did not know what became of them. The tunnel was also said to be haunted. [1]

The Cowee Tunnel 19


  1. Rakestraw

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