The following interview by the late G. Andrews Espy was done in the cabin of the Str. GORDON C. GREENE at the old GREENE LINE STEAMERS wharfboat, Cincinnati, late winter, 1948. It would be taxing to your patience and my time to present the interview with some editing. Much infornmation is already known by the readers of steamboats.org. Quotation marks will be used to the bare minimum and pertinent comments will be provided in brackets with [*]. To write the biography of Mary Becker Greene is to write the story of GREENE LINE STEAMERS itself.
Part 1 Mary Becker & Gordon C. Greene.
H.A. Voight, Officer in charge of Marine Inspection, U.S. Coast Guard, issued on June, 6, 1947, Mary Becker Greene's 12th pilot's certificate in 56 years good for a period of five years.
Mary was born in the small hamlet of Hills Post Office, six miles north of Marietta, OH on the Muskingum River in 1868. Her father, Peter Becker, had moved there from Cincinnati to run a general store. A German by birth, he had come to the Ohio Valley in 1848. His first job was in the soap business with Messrs. Procter & Gamble. Trade and independence were more to his liking and he bought a general store and moved to the banks of the Muskingum.
Mary was the fifth of eight children. Schooling was similar to that of other children of her time: reading, writing, arithmetic, taught in a one room school house on the banks of the river.
She recalled the bi-weekly trip down the Muskigham in her father's heavily laden John boat, used to carry produce to market in Marietta. On the return trip, she did her share of turning the hand-operated paddle wheels [*a type of 'bat wing' vessel].
The family physician, Dr. J.H. McElhinney, was one of Mary's best friends. His knowledge and discussions of weather fascinated her and aided her in her future career as a river captain. It was at his home on one of their visits, that she met Mrs. McElhinney's nephew, young Gordon C. Greene, then a deck hand on a Muskingham River packet.
Gordon's great-grandfather, John Greene, an English anchor smith, plied his trade in Newport, Rhode Island, from the middle of the 18th century until 1798. His three sons, Daniel, Richard, and John, Jr., were brought up in the ways of the sea, and served under famed Gen. Nathaniel Greene, their double first cousin, in the Revolutionary War. They entered the clipper trade with the sloop ISABELLA out of Charleston, S.C. as a joint ownership..
Congress granted them a Revolutionary War land grant on the Ohio River above Marietta. The Embargo Act of the War of 1812 ended their venture and brought them west where they founded the town of Newport, Ohio, named after Newport, R.I., and by 1837 they saved enough money to build a steamboat named the ISABELLA modeled on the lines of Henry Schreve's steamer ENTERPRISE. The ISABELLA was entered in the Muskingum River business. The youngest, John, became the boat's captain. John's son, Christopher was born in 1809, journeyed to New Orleans several times by flatboat and walked 1,600 miles on the return once. Later he booked passage on steamers for the return trip. At age 41 Christopher married and his fourth child, Gordon C., was born in 1862. The river was in his blood. At the age of 16 he built a square bowed rowboat of his own.
Gordon served his apprenticeship as a 'cub pilot' and received his first class Pilot's/Master's papers at the age of 21. Within 7 years he saved enough money to purchase the Str. H.K. BEDFORD with his two sisters as investors. The BEDFORD was a small, sturdy, low water steamboat out of Nashville, Tennessee.
Gordon, sitting on the Nashville levee whittling, wondered out loud what boat to buy, the MATT F. ALLEN or the H.K. Bedford--both good boats, the BEDFORD being less expensive and the ALLEN newer and larger. A nearby Negro roustabout heard him and offered, "The ALLEN, she a good boat, but the BEDFORD, she always comes and goes"--meaning she always comes and goes and never breaks down. It was "de come and go boat" that served Gordon C. Greene for many years of faithful service. [*The studied, conservative, steady-as-she-goes approach was the mark of Greene operations from then on.]
Installment 2: Mary and Gordon marry and settled down on the H.K. BEDFORD.
R. Dale Flick