The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch

America's First Daredevil

Had he not leapt to his death over the Genesee Falls in 1829, its likely we would never have heard of Sam Patch but he was one of the first daredevils in the young United States.

Sam Patch was not a Rochestarian, but Rochester, more than any other city, honors his memory. From the tour boat that bears his name to his gravesite in Charlotte, Sam Patch and Rochester are forever tied.

Patch was born in 1799 in northeastern Massachusetts, and moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island when a young boy. Sam began working in the area knitting mills at the age of only 7 or 8. His father, Greenleaf, was a heavy drinker and abandoned the family when Sam was only 12.

The Pawtucket Falls, with more than a 50-foot drop, provided the local mills with power, and the local boys with a source of fun. Sam and his friends learned to jump over the falls, much to the horror of onlookers, and they stayed underwater just long enough to scare the crowds. When the boys would finally emerge from the water, they were met with relief, applause and sometimes coins.

It was in Pawtucket that Sam Patch learned the technical skills he would need to survive his later jumps; but equally important, he learned how to involve his audience in the drama of his leaps and it was this talent that would develop into the showmanship he would maximize during his brief but meteoric fame.

The above article copyright 2010 by Linda Frank. No part of this article may be reprinted or referenced without permission and/or attribution. All rights reserved.

On Wednesday October 7th 1829, Sam Patch became the first daredevil to challenge the Niagara River. The 22 year old from Rhode island dove into the churning waters of the Niagara River from a height of 85 feet. Mr. Patch chose Goat Island between the Luna Falls and the Bridal Falls to erect his diving platform. He survived this headfirst high dive unscathed. On October 17th 1829, Sam Patch made the second successful high dive at the falls from a height of 130 feet.

Following his feats at Niagara Falls, Sam Patch went to Rochester where he attempted a 100 foot dive into the Genesee River. During this dive, Patch died by drowning.

 


 


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