President Tyler and other Washington dignitaries were onboard the Princeton to see a demonstration of the ship in action. Former first lady Dolley Madison was also in attendance.
The ship left Alexandria, Virginia and headed down the Potomac for a leisurely cruise. Of particular interest to many of the military men onboard was the ship's new pair of large cannons. Nicknamed the Oregon and the Peacemaker, these guns were each capable of firing a 225-pound shot 5 miles.
As everybody gathered around to watch the massive weapons, the Peacemaker exploded and blasted red-hot shrapnel through the well-dressed crowd.
Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer were killed instantly. President Tyler was fortunately below deck when the accident happened, but the father of his fiancee was not so lucky. He was one of the 8 men killed.
The bloody debacle would hang over the U.S.S. Princeton for the rest of its short life in service.