A Critical Account of the Beginning of Steamboat Navigation on the Western Rivers of the United States

Pittsburg Legal Journal, Vol 59 No. 42 (21 Oct 1911) pp 570-591
The New Orleans, Being a Critical Account of the Beginning of Steamboat Navigation on the Western Rivers of the United States, by Charles W. Dahlinger

The year 1811 was epochal in the history of the country adjoining or tributary to the Western rivers of the United States. For almost half a century immigrants had been pouring into the territory west and southwest of Pittsburgh. Intercourse with these sections had been entirely by way of the rivers. Passengers and articles of commerce were carried in barges, keelboats, pirogues, rafts, Kentucky flatboats. They floated, or were propelled by sails, or they were laboriously rowed with oars, pushed with poles, or drawn with tow-lines by men walking along the shore. Every day the nondescript craft passed over the waters, the blasts of the bugles which they carried, falling like delicious music on the ears, alike of the settlers in the wilderness, and the dwellers in the hamlets that were springing up along the rivers; and a pioneer poet was inspired to write the old song:

"O, boatman, wind that horn again,
For never did the listening ear
Upon its lambent bosom bear
So wild, so soft, so sweet a strain."

Then in 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, ceded to the United States the vast Louisiana Territory, comprising all that part of the North American Continent west of the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and from British America to the Gulf of Mexico, and including the country east of the Mississippi, now embraced in the southern portions of the States of Mississippi and Alabama. Hitherto the Americans had been more or less hampered in the navigation of the lower Mississippi, first by Spain, to which the country the Louisiana Purchase then belonged, and since 1800 by France, to whom it had been, that year, ceded by Spain. Now the river was free from its source to its mouth, and immigrants passed down the Ohio River, and thence on over the Mississippi, in hordes; and the boats on the waters doubled in numbers. On the northeastern seashore rivers experiments in the application of steam to the propulsion of boats had been conducted since 1786. In that year John Fitch had operated a steamboat on the Delaware River, at Philadelphia, and the next year John Rumsey did the same thing on the Potomac River, at Shepardstown, Virginia; Oliver Evans ran a steamboat on the Delaware River, at Philadelphia in 1804. But Commercially successful navigation with steam-propelled boats dates from August 17th, 1807, when Livingston and Fulton began operating the steamboat Clermont, on the Hudson River in New York. No other two persons in the country were perhaps as admirably equipped for carrying to a successful conclusion the momentous task of revolutionizing navigation as were Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Robert Fulton of Pennsylvania, the men who composed this firm. Mr. Livingston was a lawyer and a man of wealth, with a taste for mechanics. He was of wide influence, having been a member of congress, secretary of foreign affairs, minister to France; and because he was chancellor of the state of New York, is known in American political history as "Chancellor Livingston." Mr. Fulton had been an artist, was now an engineer, had always been a mechanical genius, and possessed rare administrative ability.

Mr. Livingston while United States minister to France, had negotiated with the French government the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, and in this way had become somewhat familiar with that country. Mr. Fulton had obtained a personal knowledge of the Ohio River, while at Pittsburgh, on the visit which he made to that village in 1786, when twenty-one years of age, on the occasion of taking his widowed mother and sisters to Washington County, Pennsylvania, to settle them on a farm which he had purchased there for his mother. Both men realized the immense traffic which might be developed, with the introduction of steamboats on these rivers; and the initial voyage of the Clermont been completed only twelve days, when Livingston and Fulton commenced planning for the introduction of steam-propelled boats on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The first step in the movement for the conquest of the Western waters appears to have been the letter which Mr. Fulton wrote to Mr. Livingston on August 29, 1807, suggesting that certain inquiries be made in regard to the Mississippi: "I think it would be well to write to your brother Edward to get information on the velocity of the Mississippi, the size and form of boats used, the number of hands and quantity of tons in each boat, the number of miles they make against the current in twelve hours, and the quantity of tons which go up the river in a year. On this point beg of him to be accurate." The "Edward," referred to, was Robert R. Livingston's younger brother Edward Livingston, a brilliant lawyer, who had gained an enviable reputation as congressman from the city of New York, but becoming financially embarrassed, had in 1804, shortly after the American occupation of the Louisiana Territory, settled in New Orleans, in an effort to recuperate his fallen fortunes. Here his great ability had already made him prominent as he had been formerly in his native state. Later Livingston and Fulton also sought the professional opinion of Nicholas J. Roosevelt of New York, a brother of the grandfather of former President Theodore Roosevelt; and he was engaged to make a personal examination of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Mr. Roosevelt was an expert in all things pertaining to the steam engine, having for some years conduced, at Belleville on the Passaic River, near Newark, New Jersey, an establishment for the manufacture of steam engines of the Boulton and Watt design, the most efficient engine yet developed at this early period of steam engine construction. He has also been associated with Mr. Livingston in his experiments in the application of steam to the propulsion of boats, several years before that the gentleman met Mr. Fulton. In April, 1809, Mr. Roosevelt visited Pittsburgh; and a memorandum in the handwriting of Mr. Fulton shows that on June 28th, 1809, he was paid the sum of six hundred dollars, "on Mississippi expedition." Proceeding down the Ohio River in a flatboat, Mr. Roosevelt spent six months in exploring that, and the Mississippi River. His report being favorable it was decided to build a steamboat at Pittsburgh. In the spring of 1810, Mr. Roosevelt returned to Pittsburgh, bringing with him a force of capable mechanics, such as could not then be procured in Pittsburgh, and the building of the steamboat was begun, which was to be christened the New Orleans.

Like all men who do great deeds, neither Mr. Roosevelt nor Mr. Fulton -- Mr. Livingston not having taken part in the details of the undertaking, except in Louisiana -- have left written journals of their achievements on the Western rivers; and as the traditions, current in the families of the descendants of the men who had to do with the building and operation of the New Orleans, are badly distorted by the perspective of years, there are but few sources of original information left for writers to draw upon. Pittsburgh already boasted of three weekly newspapers, the "Pittsburg Gazette," the "Commonwealth," and the "Mercury," the last being first issued in July, 1812, but none of them devoted much space to the publication of local news, giving generally, only meager accounts of the happenings at home. In addition to the newspapers, there were Zadok Cramer's annual "Pittsburgh Magazine Almanack," and his "Navigator," of which last many editions were printed. Both these publications contained concise but complete accounts of the development of early Pittsburgh, and the "Navigator," the most detailed information on the navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, concerning which it was the standard authority in all the Western country, yet each gave but desultory hints on the origin and history of the first steamboat on the Western waters.

The boat was constructed at the "shipyard," which Mr. Cramer mentioned in a number of his "Navigators" as one of the show places of infant Pittsburgh, along with the public buildings, the churches, Fort Fayette, and the ruins of Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne. It was located on the northern bank of the Monongahela River immediately above a rivulet called Suke's Run, which emptied into the river about where the "Pan Handle" Railroad bridge now crosses the stream. The rivulet is no longer in existence, the entire contour of the ground at this point having been changed when the Pennsylvania Canal was constructed in 1829. The "shipyard" had been established in 1801, by a number of Frenchmen, who came to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia, the firm name being John A. Tarascon, Brother, James Berthoud & Co. They built all sorts of river craft, and the schooners, brigs and other ships, from which the establishment derived its name, and which were sent to sea by way of New Orleans. The building of ships so far away from the ocean, proving impracticable, and losing a large schooner which they were attempting to take over the Falls of the Ohio, the firm discontinued business, and the two leading members, John A. Tarascon and James Berthoud, left Pittsburgh, and went to Shippingport on the Ohio River, at the foot of the Falls, where they engaged in other pursuits. Since 1806 Anthony Beelen had been the owner of the "shipyard," where he had in 1810 established an iron foundry, the second of the kind in Pittsburgh.

In the construction of the New Orleans the idea of marine architecture was adhered to. The boat was built on the model of a ship, with port-holes; and it had two masts, Mr. Fulton claiming that under his supplementary patent, taken out on February 9th, 1811, he had the exclusive right to use "the combination of sails with a steam engine." The cabin was in the hold; and there was a bowsprit eight feet long, which was painted sky-blue. J. Trainor King, the author of "Pittsburgh Past and Present," published in 1868, who however, was known as a man of robust imagination, said the hull was painted black and the guards, cabin and capstan white and light blue. J.H.B. Latrobe, a brother of Mrs. Roosevelt, the wife of Nicholas J. Roosevelt, who accompanied her husband on the memorable first journey of the New Orleans, in 1871, wrote an account of the trip, in which he says there were two cabins on the boat, but he must have been mistaken. The sole account, written contemporaneously with the sailing of the New Orleans, which contains any reference to a cabin, speaks of only one cabin. this is the brief item appearing in the "Pittsburgh Gazette" of October 18th, 1811, wherein it is said, "Her 'cabin' is elegant and the accommodation of passengers not surpassed." Charles Joseph Latrobe, an English cousin of Mrs. Roosevelt and a noted traveler and politician, in the story which he prepared in 1832 of the first voyage of the New Orleans, wrote of but a single cabin. George H. Thurston in his "Pittsburgh as It is," published in 1857, also referred to only one cabin. The boat was not provided with a pilot house, like the modern steamboats, but the pilot stood, during the performance of his duties, exposed to all kinds of weather, on the deck, near the center of the boat where the steering wheel was placed, being immediately above the engine, where he could give the engineer orders, when to put the engine in motion, and when to stop it, an arrangement which Mr. Fulton, in a paper prepared by himself, said was one of the ideas covered by his patents.

In the "Pittsburgh Magazine Almanack" for 1811, there is this reference to the new steamboat: "A company has been formed for the purpose of navigating the river Ohio, in large boats, to be propelled by the power of stream engines. The boat now on the stocks is 138 feet keel, and calculated for a freight as well as a passage between Pittsburgh and the Falls of the Ohio."

John Melish, an English traveler who was in Pittsburgh in the middle of August, 1811, said in the book which he afterwards published about his travels in the United States: "I carried a letter of introduction to Mr. Roosevelt, the gentleman who had the management of the steamboat, which was building on the Ohio. He was not at home, but I went to see the boat. It had lately been launched on the Monongahela River, and was the largest vessel I had ever seen which bore the name of boat * * * She was originally intended to run between pittsburgh and the Falls of the Ohio, but she was found to be too large, and is now destined to run between New Orleans and Natchez. The ultimate design of the proprietors is to have six boats to ply between the Falls and New Orleans, and five between the Falls and Pittsburgh. Should this plan be practicable and carried into full execution, it will be of incalculable advantage to the whole Western country."

There were others in Pittsburgh besides this Englishman who were skeptical in regard to the success of this steam-powered boat. Zadok Cramer in his "Navigator" for 1811, relates that, "There is now on foot a new method of navigating our Western waters, -- particularly the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This is by boats propelled by the power of steam. * * * This plan, if it succeeds, must open to view flattering prospects in an immense country."

The boat was unquestionably the largest that had yet been seen on the Western rivers, being of decidedly greater size than the barges, which were the largest craft then on the rivers, and which rarely exceeded one hundred feet in length. Mr. Melish said the length was 148 feet and 6 inches, the breadth 32 feet and 6 inches, and the depth 12 feet. As has been already seen, the "Pittsburgh Magazine Almanack," for 1811, gave the length of the boat as "138 feet keel;" the "Navigator" for 1811, gave it in identically the same language. All three statements are probably correct. The accounts in the "Pittsburgh Magazine Almanack" for 1811, and the "Navigator" for 1811, were both written while the boat was still on the stocks, a fact which is stated in the "Pittsburgh Magazine Almanack" referred to, and which later editions of the "Navigator" also set forth, in regard to the account printed in the "Navigator" for 1811. The completed hull was unquestionably longer than the keel alone, and the length of the boat was very likely what Mr. Melish said it was. In the "Pittsburgh Gazette" of October 18th, 1811, the length of the boat was given as one hundred and fifty feet "keel." This practically corroborates the other authorities, the word "keel," in this instance being no doubt used in the sense of "hull," as at this time the boat was completed and ready to sail, and it is not at all likely that the writer of the article would have given only the length of the boat at the bottom. J.H.B. Latrobe said the boat was 116 feet in length. As this account was written sixty years after the boat was launched, Mr. Latrobe may easily have been in error. Various figures are in circulation in regard to the tonnage of the vessel, the "Navigator," for 1811, declaring that it was "calculated for 300 or 400 tons burden," the same indefinite language appearing in succeeding editions, published years after the New Orleans had left Pittsburgh. The "Pittsburgh Gazette" of October 18, 1811, being immediately before the boat left the town, said it was of 450 tons burden. A New Orleans paper of 1812, published after the boat was making regular trips and its capacity accurately gauged, cited by E.W. Gould in his "Fifty Years on the Mississippi," gave the tonnage as 371, and this was probably the correct figure.

The boat has a single engine, which was patterned after the Boulton and Watt double acting design, and like all the engines made by that firm, was a "low pressure" engine, and was provided with a separate condenser. The cylinder was 34 inches in diameter; and there was no walking-beam. The engine was vertical and was what is known as a steeple engine, with a piston attached to a cross iron beam, which slid between guides on a gallows-frame. That this portion of the engine was exposed, and extended above the deck of the boat, is evident from the statement of a writer in the "Cincinnati Miscellany" of February, 1845, who saw the boat near North Bend, Indiana, as it descended the Ohio River, on its way from Pittsburgh, and who described it, by saying that he "supposed it was a sawmill, from the working of the 'lever beam,' making its slow but solemn progress with the current." The engine was built in New York and was brought in parts, over the Allegheny Mountains in wagons, there being no establishment in Pittsburgh at that time, of sufficient capacity to do work of such magnitude. The boiler was made of copper, and together with the engine, was placed in the hold of the boat.

There do not appear to be any contemporary accounts, showing whether the New Orleans was a stern-wheel steamboat or had propelling wheels attached at the sides, like the Clermont, the earliest descriptions of the boat being silent in this particular. The authorities on steam navigation on the Western rivers, are, with one exception, unanimous in maintaining that the New Orleans was a stern-wheeler. It is also true, that the specification to Mr. Fulton's first patent, taken out February 11th, 1809, when he and Mr. Livingston were already contemplating their project for the navigation of the Western rivers, read: "Hitherto, I (Mr. Fulton) have placed a propelling wheel on each side of the boats, with wheel guards on frames outside of each of them for their protection; a propelling wheel or wheels may however be placed behind the boat, or in the center between two boats," etc. It is equally true that on February 9th, 1811, when the New Orleans was almost ready to be launched, Mr. Fulton took out a supplementary patent, wherein he claimed a patent for his "particular mode of proportioning and placing a propelling wheel or wheels in the stern of a boat." All the contemporary evidence however, slight though it may be, indicates that the New Orleans was a side-wheel steamboat. Thus the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" of January 13, 1812, issued three days after the boat arrived in New Orleans stated that "she was detained by the breaking of 'one' of her wheels." Then the account of the sinking of the New Orleans published in the Pittsburgh "Mercury" of August 24th, 1814, as will be seen further on in this sketch, contained a reference to the "'wheel' on the larboard side." Both these statements make it apparent that the boat had more than one wheel, and it is highly probable that the boat had two wheels, which were placed at the sides of the boat, that being the ordinary mode of placing the wheels, and there being no information from which it can be inferred that any stern-wheel boat had more than one wheel at the stern prior to 1830, when a small boat was built in Pittsburgh, to run on the Allegheny river, having two wheels at the stern, which was the first boat with two wheels so placed. How this confusion arose is unknown, but it may have originated from the account appearing in James T. Lloyd's "Steamboat Directory" published in 1856, an interesting, but in many particulars an unreliable book, which described the New Orleans as a stern-wheel boat, going so far as to print a wood-cut showing the boat with a wheel at the stern. The error may have arisen from the fact that stern-wheel steamboats were first successfully operated on the Western rivers at a very early date, with which the New Orleans may have been confounded. These were built under the patent for stern-wheel steamboats obtained by Daniel French of Pittsburgh, on September 23rd, 1809, and were the Comet, a small boat of 25 tons burden, built at Pittsburgh in 1813, being the second steamboat on the Ohio River, the Enterprise, also a small boat of 75 tons burden, built at Brownsville, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1814, being the fourth steamboat on the Western waters (the third being the Vesuvius, a boat of about the same tonnage as the New Orleans, built by Livingston and Fulton at Pittsburgh in the spring of 1814), and the first steamboat to discard the use of sails, depending on steam alone, and the Dispatch, a boat of 90 tons burden, also built at Brownsville, in 1815.

According to the "Navigator" of 1814, the New Orleans was launched in March, 1811, but it was not completed until many months later. On October 15th, 1811, it was taken on a trial trip about the city, as appears from the notice in the "Pittsburgh Gazette" of October 18th, 1811: "With pleasure we announce that the steamboat lately built at this place by Mr. Roosevelt, (from an experiment made on Tuesday last) fully answers the most sanguine expectations that were formed of her sailing." On October 20, 1811, the boat finally set sail for New Orleans; and dawn broke on a new era in river navigation for the entire Western and Southern country. Notwithstanding the intense interest which the event must have created in Pittsburgh, the only notice of the same that is to be found in any of the Pittsburgh newspapers, are the following few lines published in the "Pittsburgh Gazette" of October 25th, 1811: "The steamboat sailed from this place, on Sunday last, for the Natchez."

The New Orleans started on its career, at a time when the entire Western country was pervaded by a spirit of disquiet and apprehension. Since the preceding March one of the most celebrated comets in history had been flaming in the heavens, and early in September, each evening after sunset, it had blazed forth in the splendor of a great nucleus, and an enormous tail, which astronomers have since declared, measured 100,000,000 miles in length, spreading terror to the hearts of the ignorant and superstitious. A more genuine cause for alarm was the probability of another war with England, occasioned by that country's persistent seizure on the high seas, of merchant ships of the United States, suspected of trading with France, contrary to England's brutal Decrees in Council, of 1807; and by her taking by force, seamen from American ships, and impressing them into her own service. There was also uneasiness on account of the threatening attitude of the Indians, caused by Tecumseh, who was attempting to form a great Indian alliance to oppose the white man's aggressions. Of the two accounts of the first journey of the New Orleans, that of Charles Joseph Latrobe is more reliable than the one written by J.H.B. Latrobe. The account written by J.H.B. Latrobe contains many inaccuracies, two of which have been alluded to, others being the statement that the boat had a "captain," for which there is no warrant, and the date of the boat's leaving Pittsburgh, erroneously given as "September, 1811," and the date of arrival at Cincinnati, mistakenly put down as "October 1st, 1811." For these reasons this account has been used only when the statements could be verified from other sources.

By the time the boat was ready for her initial voyage, it had been definitely decided that it was to ply between Natchez in Mississippi, and New Orleans in Louisiana. No freight or passengers were carried, the object being merely to take the vessel to its station. Mr. Roosevelt with his young wife and child went in the boat; and Mr. Roosevelt seems to have acted as its captain. The engineer was Nicholas Baker, who on the boat's arrival at New Orleans, appears to have been given the command, as a notice was published shortly afterward, in the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" of February 12th, 1812, advertising the sailing of the boat from New Orleans, which was signed by Nicholas Baker, "captain." Mr. Baker is also given as the boat's captain in the New Orleans Wharf Report, which is a record showing the arrival of all the early steamboats. The pilot was Andrew Jack, who with a crew of six men and a few domestics, completed the number of persons on board.

Charles Joseph Latrobe's narrative is intensely interesting. On the lower Ohio the Indians stood on the banks or rowed about in canoes, as the boat swept by, too awestruck to make any demonstration against it, although smarting under the humiliation of the terrible punishment, which had just been administered to their brethren on the Tippecanoe River, by General William Henry Harrison. In their language it was the "pinelore," or fire canoe, and had something supernatural about it. Mr. Latrobe's account of the earthquake that occurred along the Mississippi River, and which began on December 16th, 1811, and continued for several days, the vibrations being felt all over the Ohio Valley, as far north as Pittsburgh, is the best description of that unfortunate event, that is extant, which alone is a sufficient reason for rescuing the story of this historic journey from oblivion. He gave many graphic details of the voyage:

[Long quotation from Charles Joseph Latrobe's account is omitted here. A complete copy of Charles Joseph Latrobe's account is included elsewhere on this web site.]

The boat reached New Orleans on January 10th, 1812, a notice of which fact was published in the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" of January 13th, 1812: "The steamboat New Orleans from Pittsburgh, arrived here Friday evening last. The captain reports she has been under way not more than two hundred and fifty-nine hours from Pittsburgh to this place, which gives about eight miles an hour." The "two hundred and fifty-nine hours" which this writer asserted the boat was underway, would mean something more than ten days time, so that he must have meant, that the distance from Pittsburgh to New Orleans was covered in "two hundred and fifty-nine hours," and to have excluded from his calculation, the time that the boat lost from various causes, and the time consumed in making the extra trips between Louisville and Cincinnati, as eight-two days had elapsed, since it left Pittsburgh.

As was to be expected, the steamboat attracted much attention in New Orleans; crowds gathered on the levee and watched the boat moving through the water in amazement. In less than two weeks after its arrival, it made a trial trip over the route for which it was intended, the event being chronicled in the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" and copied in the "Pittsburgh Gazette" of March 6th, 1812: "This vessel set out for Natchez on Thursday last, the 23d January, for her first time, more for experiment than emolument. From a gentleman passenger, of correct information, we are enabled to state, that she can steam the current at the rate of upwards of three miles and hour -- that she went from this city to the Homas, a distance of 75 miles in 24 hours."

The triumph of steamboat navigation on the Western rivers was now complete, and no one felt the elation of the victory more than Mr. Fulton himself. In a letter to his friend Joel Barlow, the poet, at this time the United States minister to France, he expressed his gratification: "The Mississippi, as I before wrote you is conquered; the steamboat which I have sent to trade between New Orleans and Natchez, carried fifteen hundred barrels, equal to one hundred and fifty tons, from New Orleans to Natchez, against the current, three hundred and thirteen miles, in seven days working in that time eighty-four hours. These are conquests perhaps as valuable as those at Jena."

The comparison of his accomplishment with that of the Emperor Napoleon, in winning the great battle of Jena, in 1806, whereby he had been enabled to make himself master of all Continental Europe, does not now, in the light of the immense results attained in steam-navigation since 1812, appear at all like egotism on the part of Mr. Fulton.

Soon after Captain Baker was superseded by Captain John DeHart, who had gained his experience in seamanship on the Atlantic Ocean, and was sent out from New York by Livingston and Fulton for the purpose of undertaking the command. Under Captain DeHart the vessel was run regularly as a freight and passenger boat between New Orleans and Natchez, the round trip being made on an average of once in three weeks. Now the owners organized a company, to which the boat was to be transferred, and the public were solicited to subscribe to the stock, the advertisement of which appeared in the New Orleans "Monitor" of March 5th, 1812: "Steamboat -- The persons who desire to take an interest in the steamboat held under the patent of Messrs. Livingston and Fulton, destined to navigate upon the Mississippi and Ohio and Cumberland, and to the Falls of the Ohio, will please address the undersigned at the house of Messrs. Talcot and Bowers, from eleven o'clock until two. The subscription books are open every day until they are filled.
N.J. Roosevelt"

This notice would indicate that Livingston and Fulton had at this time changed their views in regard to placing the boats exclusively in the trade between New Orleans and Natchez, and had concluded to extend the route so as to cover other portions of the Mississippi River, and portions of the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers as well. As the boat never afterwards ran farther north than Natchez, its owners must have reconsidered this plan, and adhered to their original determination.

Mr. Fulton not being the original inventor of the steamboat, his own patents not having been taken out until several years after the Clermont was navigating the Hudson River, and many of his improvements being merely the adaptation to the steamboat of devices long before in use in other fields and unpatentable, Livingston and Fulton placed little dependence on the validity of the patents after they were issued. Although often giving notice in the public press, a number of which were printed in the Pittsburgh newspapers, warning those who were claimed to be infringing on Mr. Fulton's patents, that legal proceedings would be instituted against them, Livingston and Fulton engaged in little actual litigation on this account. They had a better plan to secure a monopoly than the doubtful expedient of Mr. Fulton's patent-rights. When the New Orleans was barely off the stocks, they had already procured from the Territory of Orleans, which was the name of Louisiana before it became a state on April 8th, 1812, the enactment of a law granting them a monopoly of the navigation of the inland waters of the Territory, by boats propelled by fire or steam. They probably went to this far southern country, both because a monopoly could not have been obtained in any other state or territory bordering on the Western rivers, and because New Orleans -- the principal city of Louisiana -- was then the largest community on those waters. Here also, Edward Livingston, who either at this time, or certainly later, had an interest in the steamboat enterprise, was now all powerful, particularly with the Territorial Legislature. Largely by his influence, and through the interest which the governor of the Territory, William C.C. Claiborne had been induced to take by Joel Barlow, in recommending the petition of Livingston and Fulton for an exclusive privilege, be granted, there was passed on April 19th, 1811, the act giving them this right. The law was similar in scope to the one which gave them a monopoly of the waters under the jurisdiction of the State of New York; and gave them exclusive rights for a period of eighteen years, beginning on January 1st, 1812. The penalties for violation of the law were extremely harsh, and any one offending against its provisions was liable to pay Livingston and Fulton the sum of five thousand dollars for each offense, and to forfeit to them any unauthorized steamboat. The only consideration for the passage of the act was that a freight rate be established which was to be not more than three-fourths of the average rate charged by any other mercantile boats, then navigating the inland waters of the Territory. And after the New Orleans began navigating the lower Mississippi, Livingston and Fulton attempted to exclude all steamboats not authorized by them, from that river.

Glowing accounts were published of the boat's earnings. The "Navigator" for 1814 gave a statement of the first year's receipts and expenditures: "The boat's receipts for freight upwards, has averaged the last year $700; passage money $900; downwards freight $300, and $500 for passengers; total $2400. She performs thirteen trips in the year, which at $2,400 per trip, amounts to $31,200.00. Her expenses are twelve hands at $30 per month each, equal to $4,320; captain $1000, seventy cords of wood each trip, at $1.75, which amounts to $1,586; in all $6,995. It is presumed that the boat's extra trips for pleasure or otherwise, out of her usual route, has paid for all the expenses of repairs, and with the profits of the bar-room, for the boat's provisions. In which case there will remain a net gain of $24,294 for the first year. The owners estimate the boat's value at $40,000, which gives an interest of $2,400, and by giving $1,894 more for furniture, &c., we have the clear gain of $20,000 for the first year's labor of the steamboat New Orleans, a revenue superior to any other establishment in the United States."

All this reads like the advertisement of a stockjobber, and as Livingston and Fulton were promoters of steamboat enterprises, and when these figures were first written by Zadok Cramer in 1813, were busily engaged in selling stock in the various steamboat companies which they had organized in New Orleans, Pittsburgh and New York, it is safe to say that the receipts as printed, were at least not underestimated, nor the expenditures overestimated.

Like many of the other early Western steamboats, the New Orleans had but a short career on the water, and in little more than two years was lost. The Pittsburgh "Mercury" of August 24th, 1814, already referred to, gave an interesting account of the catastrophe:

"On Sunday, 10th July, left New Orleans, and on Wednesday the 13th, arrived at Baton Route -- landed some cargo, and in the evening departed, and arrived at Mr. Clay's landing two miles above, on the opposite shore, the usual place of taking on wood; the night being dark and rainy, the captain considered it most prudent to secure the boat for the night. He then commenced taking in wood and repaired the machinery which had been disordered. After the wood was on board, he sounded all around and found plenty of water. She appeared to lay along side of a steep bank and from the apparent safety and security of the situation, all the passengers retired to rest, free from apprehension or fear of danger. Early in the morning, preparations were made for departing, and at daylight, the engine was put in motion, but the vessel would only swing round and could not be forced forward by the steam. The water had fallen during the night from sixteen to eighteen inches; the captain then concluded she had lodged on a stump and endeavored to push her off with spars against the bank, but without effect. He immediately satisfied himself it was a stump and found it by feeling with an oar, about fifteen or twenty feet aloft the wheel on the starboard side; he then ordered the wood thrown overboard, and got an anchor out of starboard quarter, and with the steam capstan hove her off, when she immediately sprung a leak, which increased so rapidly that time was only allowed to make fast again to shore, the passengers to escape with their baggage; and crew with assistance from shore, saved a great part of the cargo, when she sunk alongside the bank."

Here the boat lay buried for more than thirty-five years, when in 1859, during an unusually low stage of water, its timbers were once more exposed to view, and were found to be in a very good state of preservation. But in the meantime, the New Orleans had reappeared on the river again; something had been saved from the wreck; and the name of the metropolis of the state, which had been given to Livingston and Fulton, their monopoly, was too alluring to be allowed to remain at the bottom of the Mississippi, on the hulk of the first New Orleans. The work was being done on the second New Orleans at Pittsburgh, early in the year following the sinking of the original New Orleans, is apparent from a letter which Mr. Fulton wrote on January 24, 1815, from New York to David Cook, the agent of Livingston and Fulton in Pittsburgh, in which he directed him to proceed with the work on the hull of the New Orleans. Another reference to the boat, was the notice printed in the "Pittsburgh Gazette" of October 28th, 1815, in which all persons having demands against the New Orleans were requested to present them to A.R. Gale, at James Gibson's Inn, in Pittsburgh; and on April 7th, 1816, the "Louisiana Gazette" announced that the new steamboat New Orleans which had been lately built in Pittsburgh, was equipped with the machinery of the original New Orleans; and in the number of the Cincinnati Miscellany" previously quoted from, it was said that the new copper boiler of the lost boat, made in New York, was also placed in the new boat. In November, 1817, along with the Vesuvius, the New Orleans was transferred to the Natchez Steamboat Company, but was continued in the trade between Natchez and New Orleans until it sand near Baton Rouge in the latter part of 1818. It was raised again by two schooners, and brought to New Orleans between them, but in February, 1819, sank a second time, and disappeared forever from the history of steamboating.

Notwithstanding the monopoly which Livingston and Fulton enjoyed on the lower Mississippi River, it is doubtful if their enterprise was remunerative in the lifetime of either of the partners, as they both died soon after the undertaking was a successful operation, Mr. Livingston dying on February 26th, 1813, and Mr. Fulton on February 24, 1815. In less than a year, two valuable boats, the New Orleans and the Vesuvius had been lost, the Vesuvius being afterward rebuilt. Then their agent in the construction of the Buffalo, built at Pittsburgh in 1814, Benjamin H. Latrobe, the father of Mrs. Roosevelt, and who is known to fame as the architect of the Capitol at Washington, had placed them in an embarrassing position, by going so far beyond his instructions in the expenditure of money, that Mr. Fulton in the letter to Mr. Cook already alluded to, in his disappointment complained: "I am tired of distant operation;" and in referring to some of his associates, he said, "They are alarmed and disgusted with the expenses, and state of their affair;" and after the novelty of the new method of traveling by water had worn off, business began to decline. Also boats built by rival companies were continually appearing on the rivers, and taking away a portion of the carrying trade, from the Livingston and Fulton boats; and it is more than problematical if Mr. Livingston who furnished the original capital when the partnership was formed, ever received back any portion of the sum so advanced; and when Mr. Fulton died, instead of possessing the fortune which his sanguine temperament had led him to believe would be his, he was practically penniless.

The steamboat enterprise was continued under the name of Livingston and Fulton, after the death of the two principals, the articles of agreement entered into between them providing for this contingency, and the firm was continually engaged in expensive litigation with the owners of boats built under patents other than those of Mr. Fulton, who were unwilling to accede to the demands of Livingston and Fulton, and pay them for a license to navigate the waters of Louisiana. Among the most persistent violators of their rights were the proprietors of the two steamboats built under the patent of Daniel French, the Enterprise and the Dispatch, and the owners of the Constitution, built by Oliver Evans, at Pittsburgh in 1816. Feeing against Livingston and Fulton ran high. The names of both Mr. Livingston and Mr. Fulton were execrated in all the river towns above New Orleans, and no sane person would then have dreamed of holding up Mr. Fulton as a benefactor of mankind, or of making him the popular hero that he has since become. William Wirt, the attorney general of the United States, in the argument of the celebrated case of Gibbons against Ogden, the United States, in which the ban was finally, in 1824, placed on all monopoly in the navigation of the rivers of the United States, when the exclusive rights granted to Livingston and Fulton by the state of New York were held to be void, declared that the existing conditions were so intolerable, that in three states there was danger of civil war. To show how intense this feeling was in Pittsburgh, it is only necessary to read the fulmination which appeared in the Pittsburgh "Commonwealth" of May 15th, 1816, which was quite as revolutionary as the most rabid Secession articles published in the Southern newspapers immediately preceding the Civil War. The occasion of the diatribe was the act of Edward Livingston, at the time the assignee of the exclusive rights of Livingston and Fulton, in compelling the steamboat Dispatch to leave the waters of Louisiana.

"From a Kentucky paper we have copied an account of the detention of the steamboat Dispatch, and the interruption she met with in New Orleans. We have endeavored to see Captain Bruce since his arrival, in order to obtain more correct information on the subject, but have not had the good fortune to meet with him.

"We conceive the act of the legislature under which Mr. Livingston has proceeded in this business, as an infamous violation of the constitutional privileges of the citizens of all states lying on the great Western waters.

"We know not what construction the above act will receive from the courts at Orleans. But it is much better to trust to our own power of retaliation than to the justice of courts two thousand miles from us. If the system of oppression under which Captain Bruce has suffered, is to be continued, it is to be hoped that the powerful State of Pennsylvania will not submit to a legalized system of plunder and robbery, maintained by the State of Louisiana. It is to be presumed that she will rise in the majesty of her strength, pass retaliatory acts, and subject to attachments and seizure, not the vessels merely which may belong to its citizens. This would be an act of vengeance worthy of her; and if this should not be able to put a stop to the impudent pretensions of the new State to an exclusive jurisdiction over the navigation of the waters within her boundaries, force must!"

In time, even in Louisiana, a sentiment against the monopoly of Livingston and Fulton appears to have sprung up, and at the session of the Legislature held in 1817, a resolution was adopted directing that an inquiry be made into the advisability of repealing the act of the Legislature of the Territory of Orleans, granting to Livingston and Fulton their exclusive rights. However, the committee to whom the matter was referred, made a report telling of the losses which had been sustained by Livingston and Fulton by the destruction of the New Orleans and the Vesuvius, and set forth the incalculable benefit that the introduction of steamboats had been to Louisiana, and recommended that the exclusive rights be allowed to remain undisturbed. Nothing was done, and Livingston and Fulton retained a practical monopoly of the navigation of the lower Mississippi River, until the case already alluded to, was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, and which ever since that time has been a landmark in American jurisprudence on the question of monopoly. This case in effect decided that the exclusive grant of Livingston and Fulton, in Louisiana was also void; and thereafter the rivers of Louisiana were free to every steamboat which entered upon its waters.


Acts Passed at the 2nd Session of the 3rd Legislature of the Territory of Orleans, begun and held in the City of New Orleans on Monday, 23rd January 1811

James R. Albach: "Annals of the West," Pittsburgh, 1856

George F. Chambers: "The Story of the Comets," Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1909

"The Cincinnati Miscellany," Cincinnati, 1845

Alcee Fortier: "A History of Louisiana," New York, 1904

E.W. Gould: "Fifty Years on the Mississippi, or Gould's History of River Navigation," Saint Louis, 1889

Charles Gyarre: "History of Louisiana," New Orleans, 1885

Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History," New York, 1903

"Harris' General Business Directory of the cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny," 1841

Richard Hildreth: "The History of the United States of America," Revised Edition, New York

Louis Houck: "The Boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase," St. Louis Missouri, 1901

J. Trainor King: "Pittsburgh Past and Present," Pittsburgh, 1868

Edward H. Knight, "Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary," Boston

Thomas W. Knox: "The Life of Robert Fulton and a History of Steam Navigation," New York and London, 1886

Charles Joseph Latrobe: "The Rambler in North America, 1832-1833,: London, 1835

J.H.B. Latrobe: "A Lost Chapter in the History of the Steamboat,: Baltimore, 1871

J.H.B. Latrobe: "The First Steamboat Voyage on the Western Waters," Baltimore, 1871

James T. Lloyd: "Lloyd's Steamboat Directory," Cincinnati, Ohio, 1856

John Melish: "Travels in the United States of America, in the years 1806 and 1807, and 1809, 1810, and 1811,: Philadelphia, 1812

J.C. Merriam and others: "Eighty Years' Progress of the United States," Hartford, Connecticut, 1867

Cons. D. Miller: "Engineering Magazine, an Industrial Review," Vol XIII, April to September, 1897, New York

John H. Morrison: "History of American Steam Navigation," New York, 1903

"The Navigator" for the years 1811, 1814, 1817 and 1821

"Pittsburg Magazine Almanack," 1811

The "Pittsburg Gazette," August, 1809 - January, 1817

Pittsburgh "Commonwealth," July, 1812 - January, 1817

Pittsburgh "Mercury," July, 1812 - January, 1817

Geo. Henry Preble: "A Chronological History of the Origin and Development of Steam Navigation, 1543-1812," Philadelphia, 1883

J. Franklin Reigart: "The Life of Robert Fulton," Philadelphia, 1856

Alice Crary Sutcliffe: "Robert Fulton and the 'Clermont'," New York, 1909

George H. Thurston: "Pittsburgh As It Is," Pittsburgh, 1857

Robert H. Thurston: "A History of the Growth of the Steam Engine," New York, 1891

Henry Wheaton: "Reports of cases argued and adjudicated in the Supreme Court of the United States, February Term, 1824," vol IX, New York, 1824

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