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First Steam Boat on the Mississippi

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    First Steam Boat on the Mississippi

    Hey guy's newbee here......

    I have an interest in the early history of Steam Boats. I am familiar with the importance of Robert Fulton's Boat "The North River" and even though he may not have invented Steam Power he did manage to create a boat and a business that transformed the east... and is single handedly considered the most significant event that sparked the use of steam power and began our great nations industrial revolution... in in great part the world for that matter. I find this period in American History fascinating. What a place and time to be if you are a smart, well connected and ambitious man. And Robert Fulton was certainly that.

    I have had an interest in Fulton for many years as my father was the county historian for "Fulton County" here in New York State for over 40 years and I learned of Robert as a kid while my Dad spoke of him as the namesake of our county... I have been a model builder for most of my life, along with working as a cabinet maker, a highly detailed woodcarver, historic reproduction furniture maker, historic reproduction stained glass craftsman, a sculptor and so many more odd skills that have found me on various restoration jobs thoughout the northeast. I recently used some of these skills to pay tribute to Mr. Fulton... I built the large scale model of "The North River" Steam Boat that is now on permenent display at the Clermont State Historic Site and am still involved in local history in my area in upstate NY...... and have found some rare, very old photo's of a river boat used on one of the small rivers "The Sacandaga" back in the 1870's early 80's era. I hope to one day build an accurate model of this side wheel steam boat as well.

    I found this site and thought perhaps someone here could enlighten me a little more about the early years of Steam Vessels on the Mississippi. So far I have read many good descriptions of Fulton, Livingston and Roosevelts ventures with the building of the "New Orleans" but I am curious to know the name of this early steam boat company.... ?? I can't seem to find it mentioned..anywhere..? How long was it in business... Did it fold or was it bought out...? and are there any Stock Certificates or official letter head of this first and most famous venture on our nations largest riverway and the next step in the opening of the central and western regions of the USA.

    Anyway for what its worth, perhaps this is a subject of some interest to this forum and perhaps some experts are members here. I'd love to hear from anyone who knows anything about this early history. Not much remains as from what I understand even with Edward Livingstons involvement, after Roberts untimely death in 1815 as well as Robert Livingstons death shortly after... this "mother of all mississippi riverboat companies" gave way to the Vanderbuilts...etc.. and the rest of the next generation of big names in early american transportation history. I'd like to know if there is anything anywhere that remains of this very first business venture.

    I have learned there are 5 known stocks from the "North River Steam Boat Comany" none in perfect condidtion and are in private collections.... But I have yet to see a photo copy of one? and other than the word of some high end paper dealers I can't even verify this to any certainty. And so far NOTHING is known of this first company on the Miss.

    Nice site BTW... looks like an active group. Wish I had the financial ability to build or own a real steam boat.... I am fascinated with the simplicity and efficiency of steam... it is so quiet when it is tame. I spent many years as a younger man welding near the large industrial welders powered by diesel and various large equipment on heavy construction sites.... and I have grown to "hate" the smell and sound of diesel power.

    Thanks in advance.
    Randy Decker

    First Steamboat Company/Mississippi River

    Hi Randy,
    Had a little time today and had a look at Morrison's (1909) and F.E. Dayton's (1925) Histories of Steam Navigation in the U.S. There wasn't a lot there - here's what I found.

    There seems to have been a company established through the Fulton & Co, Shipyard at Pittsburgh on January 19, 1812 consisting of Thomas Urquart, William Donaldson, Jacob Trimble, B. Chew and L.P Seguin for the purpose of running steamboats on the Mississippi River. Trade between Vicksburg and New Orleans is specifically mentioned. Fulton and Livingston had previously obtained a charter to operate from the territory of Orleans for this purpose on April 19, 1811.

    They operated following vessels:
    NEW ORLEANS (1811)
    BUFFALO (?)
    VESUVIUS (1813)
    AETNA/ETNA (1814)
    VESUVIUS II (1816)

    So far I can find no reference to a company name. The only name associated with this is the Fulton & Co. Shipyard at Pittsburgh. I have a few other reference histories to check. I will let you know if I find anything.

    The second steamboat company formed to operate steamboats on the Mississippi River was called the Monongahela & Ohio Steamboat Company.
    This seems to have been a joint operation with the Bridgeport Manufacturing Company. I assume both were located in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. They were established to carry passengers and freight between Pittsburgh and
    New Orleans. Elisha Hunt was the principal founder along with Joseph White and Daniel French. They were direct competitors with the Fulton operation
    on the Mississippi.
    All of the legal stuff should make interesting reading when I have time to get into it.
    As far as I can tell, they ran two vessels:
    DESPATCH (1816?)

    I'll post again when (if) I find more.



      I found this interesting article in the Ohio State University.

      Part of an article written by George S. Bonn in 1939.

      "The Ohio Steamboat Navigation Co. had better

      luck. Robert Fulton's Clermont got New Yorkers so

      steamed up about steamboats that several of them got

      together and organized a company to build steamboats

      for use on the Ohio. So, on December 10, 1810, in Pittsburgh,

      Pa., the Ohio Steamboat Navigation Co. was

      chartered. Its founders were Daniel D. Tompkins, Robert

      Livingston, DeWitt Clinton, Nicholas J. Roosevelt,

      and Robert Fulton, all of New York. The plans for

      their first boat called for a vessel 116 ft. long with a

      20-ft. beam. The engine was to have 34-inch cylinders.

      The plans were modified somewhat and the finished

      boat was larger than originally intended. The boat cost

      about $38,000. It contained two cabins, one aft for

      ladies, and a larger one forward for gentlemen. But we

      are not sure just what the boat was called. Some people

      believe that the correct name for the vessel was New

      Orleans; others insist that it was just Orleans.

      Anyhow, it was appropriately launched in Pittsburgh

      in March, 1811, and had its first trial run on October

      15, 1811. On Sunday, October 20, the Orleans (or New

      Orleans) left Pittsburgh for New Orleans with Mr. and

      Mrs. Nicholas J. Roosevelt the only passengers, besides a

      captain, engineer, pilot, six deck hands, one male and two

      female servants, a cook, and a Newfoundland dog. This,

      the first steamboat on the Ohio River, passed Cincinnati

      on October 27, arrived at Louisville on October 28, and

      reached New Orleans on January 10, 1812.2 The Pittsburgh

      Gazette for Friday, October 25, 1811, tells us that

      the boat had a 150-ft. keel, was of 450 tons "burthen,"

      and was "built with the best materials and in the most

      substantial manner."

      Incidentally, the boat, running between New Orleans

      and Natchez, snagged on a submerged stump near Baton

      Rouge on July 14, 1814, and sank".


        Steamer New Orleans II

        Thanks for the info on the Ohio Steamboat Navigation Co. I'll enter that date in my "chronology." Btw, after the NEW ORLEANS sank near Baton Rouge in 1814, her machinery and some other equipment was installed in a brand new boat (also named NEW ORLEANS) that continued running New Orleans to Vicksburg. Anyone out there have any information on that second NEW ORLEANS?


          My research has led me to all kinds of interesting information, Some is interned in Illinois, some in Ohio, NY, and Penn.. I must tell you I began this search because of an old document my Dad used to have hanging on his office wall. He was the Historian for Fulton County NY for over 40 years. After finding how rare this little thing actually is, and after discussion its value with so many historians, museum curators, experts on maritime history and rare documents dealers in the past few months... I have decided as nice as it is... I am just not a wealthy enougn man to own such an item. I have bills and I have two daughters.... one in college and one heading soon. So now my search has turned into information gathering to better offer this small piece of paper and better explain it to its future owner.

          This small document I am selling and the history it captures and the famous men in American history that it directly connects and the water highway created by this venture and the men involved from the Atlantic to the Hudson to the Mohawk to the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes and the Ohio River and then down Mississippi or the other way around.... and the incredible population growth, movment and the gigantic businesses and cities this new transportation into the interior of this new Vast Wilderness Nation created.

          I only wish my Dad knew just how incredible this small document was back when he obtained it through a trade for a Sharps Rifle in the early 1960's.

          Robert Fulton Steam Boat Document Clermont North River Mississippi Hudson | eBay

          Anyway, here's a link to the ebay auction I am running. And once I get the rest of the information I have compiled I will try and write a nice article for the Power Ships Magazine if they will have it.



            New Orleans

            The New Orleans was on the Mississippi River when the earthquake struck New Madrid, Missouri in 1811. She was on her way to her namesake city in the inaugural voyage when the earthquake occurred. (Yes, she made it)

            I had to research this for my book, "Muskets and Memories: A Modern Man's Journey through the Civil War" - which is now out.


              *Detailed info on Fulton/Livingston/NEW ORLEANS*
              Hi, Randy & Steamboating colleagues:
              Fascinating postings above along with questions on additional sources of information.
              Historian/Transportation scholar John Lawrence Bush has written/printed a fine volume of 726 Pgs. titled 'STEAM COFFIN: Captain Moses Rogers and The Steamship SAVANNAH Break the Barrier.' Printed by Hodos Historia LLC, 2010. Although focusing mainly on the design, construction, career and fate of the first steamship SAVANNAH, Bush includes incredibly detailed historical information covering nearly all of the questions posed above. As scholar Bush states, it was the design, building, perfection of boats on inland waters--or relatively sheltered waters--that made the quantum leap to the building of the first steamship on the Atlantic. My copy from SSHSA's 2nd 'ShiPosium' in Baltimore, May, 2012 at $35 US dollars. *Consult:

              Robert Fulton ephemera, letters etc., appear on a number of web sites from ebay to such as 'Christie's' in New York. I note prices vary widely with longer letters and memoranda from and to Fulton. A few small autographed notes of a personal nature responding to invitations for dinners etc. One long letter in technical terms dated Feb. 1818 commanded $6,875. Other detailed longer Fulton letters bringing $7,500 to $20,000. The market can vary from 'hard' to 'soft' depending on the prevailing economy--as is true with other art and historical materials. Researcher/writer John Bush spells out the ins and outs of the 'Fulton/Livingston' matter clearer and with more detail than I've ever read before. The book is a long read, but well worth the time. In time a 'review' may appear in a quarterly issue of the S&D REFLECTOR, time and space permitting.

              R. Dale Flick
              Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati


                Interesting resource, thanks for this,. !

                As for the letters, yes I have watched the market for some time, I had hopes of being able to keep this for my Daughters as they will be around for the 250th celebration.. Imagine what things will be worth then.... the 300th 400th.... this document is really an "investment" and a good one...

                As for the two auction houses I called, they told me they have no maritime auctions scheduled and they do not get the amount of high end collectables they used to, so its harder to say when they will have one again.

                So far everyone who seems to know what they are looking at, feels this little document is in a class all its own. I have had some good offers already...only about half what I am asking but certainly worth consideration... I hate to sell it ...that's a fact.. I can't tell you how hard it was to begin the process. This was my Dad's and I know he was proud to own it. And now that I have found out how rare it really is, I certainly will not take less than it should be worth.

                Thanks again so much for the heads up on this book. Sounds perfect.

                I am finding this era of US history absolutly fascinating.