Steamboat 2011 History

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Who would have thought a steamboat trip could spark a revolution? Yet, the epic voyage of the New Orleans, first steamboat to descend the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, changed American civilization as well as the lives of its passengers and crew. Departing Pittsburgh in October 1811, the New Orleans received gala welcomes at every port, and its passage was marked by the Great Comet of 1811 streaking across the sky and by the greatest earthquake ever recorded in the continental United States. Aboard the steamboat, the passengers and crew saw their craft under threats of tribal attack and fire. They experienced romance, weddings and births on deck, weathered disbelief and found new faith, participating unknowingly in the demise of one civilization and the rise of another. America was never the same after the first inland river steamboat passed on to glory.

This first steamboat on western waters, harbinger of the industrial revolution that changed America, was owned by Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston and constructed by Nicholas Roosevelt, whose wife and children joined him as the first steamboat passengers on inland rivers. From the voyage of the New Orleans in 1811 until the docking of the Delta Queen in 2008, steamboats carried passengers along the Ohio and connecting rivers day and night for two centuries. Steamboats stimulated manufacturing and economic development along the inland rivers, launching the Ohio valley's industrial revolution and moving the nation's freight until supplanted by railroads trucks, and towboats. To fuel the New Orleans, some of the first coal mines in the Ohio valley opened, presaging the boating of coal along the rivers to generate power for homes and industry. Pressing the frontier steadily west, steamboats carried Native Americans to new homes and converted agricultural villages into boat construction centers, manufacturing emporiums, and, ultimately, cities, altering the social fabric of both native American and Euro-African settlers alike; even today, steam engines supply most of the energy powering our home appliances and manufactories. The voyage of the New Orleans changed not only the lives of its passengers and crew, it changed ours.

Summary provided by Dr. Leland Johnson

In the dark hours of October 28, 1811, Louisville's Fourth Street wharf was awash with excitement. The steamboat New Orleans had arrived eight days out of Pittsburgh. The noise of the steam pistons was so great that one person felt the end of the world was at hand while an enslaved man assured others that the Day of Judgment could not come at night. Perhaps not, but the Day of Judgment had come for Lexington. Land locked and sixty miles from the Ohio River, her days as Kentucky's commercial center would end. When the steamboat showed it could go back up river, it quickened the pace of Louisville's growth. Described as an enchanter's rod waved over our progress, the era of Mike Fink ended and that of Mark Twain began. In 1820 Lexington had more than three times the population of Louisville, but by 1860 Louisville was seven times larger.
~ George Yater

"... a far-reaching snow-white cabin; porcelain knob and oil picture on every stateroom door, curving pattern of filigree-work touched up with gilding, stretching all down the converging vista; big chandeliers every little way, each an April shower of glittering glass drops; lovely rainbow-light falling everywhere from the colored glazing of the skylights; the whole a long drawn resplendent tunnel, a bewildering and soul-satisfying spectacle!"
~ Mark Twain describing an elegant steamboat cabin

Replica of the New Orleans Replica of the New Orleans

Shown here is a model of the "replica" of the New Orleans, built recently by John Bowman of Wheeling, WV.
The first replica was built in 1911 by the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania to note the 100th anniversary of the trip of the New Orleans. In 1811, the New Orleans carried the 15 star/15 stripe American flag. The Navy flags on this model, bow to stern, spell out the words "Pittsburgh 1811 to New Orleans." The model will be on display at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling.

Rules of Conduct for Gentlemen Aboard S.B. New Orleans

1. No gentleman passenger shall descend the stairs leading to or enter the lady’s cabin unless with permission of all ladies, to be obtained through the Captain under the penalty of two dollars for each offense.
2. Smoking is absolutely prohibited in any of the cabins under a penalty of one dollar for each offense, and fifty cents for every five minutes the same is continued after notice.
3. No gentleman shall lie down in a berth with his shoes or boots on under penalty of one dollar for each offense.
4. No passenger shall speak to the man at the helm under a penalty of one dollar.
5. Cards and games of every description are prohibited in the cabin after ten o’clock at night.
6. At noon, every day, three persons to be chosen by a majority of the passengers shall form a court to determine on all penalties incurred and the amount collected shall be expended in wine for the whole company after dinner.
7. For every transgression against good order and cleanliness, not already specified, such fine shall be imposed as the court in their discretion shall think fit.
8. All damages done to the furniture or boat by any of the passengers it is expected to be paid before leaving the boat.

As the preservation of good order and cleanliness is indispensable to promote the comfort and accommodation of passengers (to which every possible attention will be paid) the foregoing regulations will be rigidly enforced.

It is particularly requested that gentleman will not spit on the cabin floors as boxes are provided for that purpose.

Structures along the Ohio River, built pre-1811, and still standing, which may have been visible to the crew of the NEW ORLEANS when it made it’s historic trip in 1811.

In this research, contact was made with reliable sources, including the State Historic Preservation Offices, in each of the six states that border the Ohio. The following information is gratefully acknowledged from those individuals and agencies.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse - Built 1764 at the Point, the convergence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. This is the oldest pre-1811 structure known to exist along the Ohio River.

Gallipolis/Gallia County
Peter LeClerq House - Built 1811
J.P.R. Bureau House - Built ca 1811
Eagle Tavern - uncertain date
Federal Row House (deVacht House) Built 1811
Berthelot House - Built 1802
George E. Bush House, ca 1811
E. Bean McGinness House, built 1802
L. Holzer Brink House, earliest portion built 1809

Land Office - Built ca 1786

Joseph Barker House - Built ca 1811

Scioto County
Lock #55, Ohio & Erie Canal, built ca 1804

Washington County
Aron Waldo Putman House, built ca 1800
Richard and Mary McMahan House, built 1800
Greenwood Farm, built 1808
Herbert and Linda Roush House, built 1798
Dave Mason House, built 1805-1810
Alvin W. Taylor House, built 1801
Old J. Mason House, built ca 1810
Sawyer-Curtis House, built 1798

Hamilton County
Matthew McWilliams, built ca 1807

Pleasants County - George Washington Cabin, built 1794

Wood County - Putnam-Houser House, built 1800 (on Blennerhassett Island)

Lee House - Built ca 1790s

Mordecai Chalfant Stone House, Built 1805
Isaac Meranda House, Built 1796
Bracken Academy, Built 1798
John Blanchard, Wm. Bradford House, Built ca 1810
Bracken County Jail, Built ca 1810

Riverside Historic District (Augusta)
John Schoolfield House, Built ca 1797
Thomas Broshears Tavern, Built ca 1795
John Payne/John Sells House, Built 1809
Robert Davis House, Built ca 1798
Robert Davis House, Built ca 1800
Thomas Nelson House, Built ca 1800
5 Houses Built by Nathaniel Patterson, all ca 1800
Beehive Tavern, Built ca 1797
William Buckner House, Built ca 1805

Boone County
Cave Johnson House, Built ca 1798
Moore-Terrill House, Built ca 1810
H. McGlasson House, Built ca 1800
Dr. Piatt House, Built ca 1795-1800
Jonathon Carlton House, Built ca 1810

Carroll County
Froman Brothers House, Built ca 1790-1810
Richard Masterson House, Built ca 1790
Gant House, Built ca 1810

Jefferson County

Paget House, Built ca 1800
Locust Grove, Built ca 1790

Hardin County
West Point
James Young House, Built ca 1798

Livingston County
Gower House, Built ca 1780

Dearborn County
Veraestau, Built ca 1810

No pre-1811 structures along the Ohio River have been identified in this largely wilderness, unsettled area of the period.

Chuck Parrish, Chair
Steamboat Bicentennial
Committee, April 2011


1. A simple mechanical device has made life both possible and comfortable in regions which heretofore have been a wilderness...and this means of communication (the steamboat) ...has already given rise to states which have been admitted ti the great confederation of North America.
2. (By a Frenchman, 1840) The noble rivers of the West offer a remarkable field for the development of this great invention. Here the effects of steam are more striking than in any other part of the world; without the intercourse made possible by the steamboat, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois would today be a desert unknown to civilization.
3 Steam is crowding our eastern cities with western flour and western merchants, and lading the western steamboats with eastern emigrants and eastern merchandise. It has advanced the career of national colonization and national production, at least a century.
4. James Hall - Of all the elements of the prosperity of the West, of all the causes of its rapid increase in population, its growth in wealth, resources and improvements, its immense commerce and gigantic energies, the most efficient has been the navigation by steam.
5. (A Frenchman) Today steamboats are the salvation of the valley of the Mississippi.....They are among the most essential agents of social life and if it were possible to imagine them wiped out for a time, the rising civilization of those extensive regions would disappear with them. Everywhere in these thinly settled districts people await the steamboat with a sense of impatience.....
***6. (A western writer) A steamboat, coming from New Orleans, brings to the remotest villages of our streams, and the very doors of the cabins, a little Paris, a section of Broadway, or a slice of Philadelphia.....
7. Without the steamboat the advance of the frontier, the rise of cities, the growth of manufacturing, and the emancipation of an agricultural people from the drab confines of a frontier economy would have taken place, but they would have been slowed to the tempo of the keelboat, the flatboat, and the canal barge, and to the tedious advance of stagecoach and wagon train. The growth of the West and the rise of steamboat transportation were inseparable; they were geared together and each was dependent upon the other.