If such an accident actually occurred then it would have been in the VERY early days of steamboat travel. Travel by flatboat would have been much more common and I suspect that there were plenty of flatboat accidents involving loss of life. In my experience, family stories often do have an element of truth to them but the details are very often incorrect. This is a nearly 200 year old family story so who knows what changes could have been made in the re-telling. You might want to play around with this site:
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