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The First Steamboat on the Western Waters Survived the New Madrid Earthquakes

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    The First Steamboat on the Western Waters Survived the New Madrid Earthquakes

    The following story is found on the New Madrid, Missouri official website, which can be found here. It's short enough that I just copied and pasted it here instead of sending everyone to the link.

    The First Steamboat on the Western Waters Survived the Earthquakes
    The first steamboat travel on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers took place during the New Madrid earthquakes.

    The New Orleans set out from Pittsburgh on October 20, 1811 bound for New Orleans. Captain Nicholas Roosevelt had brought along his young wife, their 2 year old daughter, and a Labrador dog. Ten days after leaving Pittsburgh, his wife Lydia gave birth to a son in Louisville, Kentucky. They waited a while for her to recover, and for the water to rise prior to crossing the dangerous waters and coral reef at the Falls of the Ohio.

    On the night before the day of the earthquake, December 16th, the steamboat was anchored near Owensboro, Kentucky, about 200 miles east of New Madrid, Missouri. Their dog, Tiger, insisted on staying in the cabin with them instead of sleeping on the deck. Without realizing it, they were heading straight towards the epicenter of the greatest earthquake in American history.

    Their steamboat, intended to be an advertisement for steam travel, was thought instead to be the cause of the earthquake by many who saw it. At Henderson, Kentucky, where no chimneys were left standing, they stopped to visit their friends, the painter John James Audubon and his wife Lucy. Floating in the middle of the Ohio River they were protected from the earthquake tremors shaking the land, but not from the hazards of falling trees, disappearing islands, and collapsing river banks.

    After entering Indian Territory on December 18th, they were chased by Indians who figured the “fire canoe” had caused the earthquake, but they managed to escape capture by outrunning them. They even had a small cabin fire that night which they managed to put out.

    Thousands of trees were floating on the waters of the Mississippi as they approached New Madrid on December 19th, three days after the earthquake. They found that the town of New Madrid had been destroyed. They didn’t dare to stop and pick up a few survivors, for fear of being overrun, and they were without supplies. Most alarming was the fact that they had not seen a boat ascending the river in three days. They saw wrecked and abandoned boats. It was undoubtedly a miracle that they survived and kept on going. They tied up at one island, and the island sank during the night. Their dog, Tiger, alerted them to oncoming tremors.

    On December 22nd, they encountered the British naturalist John Bradbury on a boat at the mouth of the St. Francis River, who told them the town of Big Prairie was gone. They arrived at Natchez, Mississippi on December 30th and celebrated the first marriage aboard a steamboat on December 31st, when the steamboat engineer married Lydia’s maid.

    They arrived at New Orleans on January 10th, 1812, safe and sound, after traveling 1,900 miles from Pittsburgh on the first steamboat to travel the western waters.