Nicholas Roosevelt (great uncle of President Theodore Roosevelt) built the steamboat New Orleans in Pittsburgh in 1810 and 1811, in association with Robert Fulton. Nicholas and his wife Lydia Latrobe, daughter of architect Benjamin Latrobe, then steamed down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans in 1811 and 1812.

This was an eventful trip. The New Orleans was the first steamboat to operate on the Western rivers. The Great Comet of 1811, which was visible to the naked eye for months, was in full view for most of the trip. Lydia was eight months pregnant when the trip began and had her son during the voyage. Migrating squirrels swimming in the Ohio River competed for right of way during the first part of the voyage. The first of the New Madrid earthquakes occurred just as they were to leave the Ohio River and enter the Mississippi River, causing the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a time. These quakes were the strongest ever felt in historical times in the 48 contiguous states. Indians, already excited by Tecumseh, apparently thought that the steamboat was the comet come to earth and caused the earthquakes, so they attacked the steamboat in war canoes, but could not keep up with it. The voyagers were afraid to tie up to the shore because the continuing earthquakes caused the banks to cave in, so they tied up to trees on small islands in the middle of the river, but one morning they awoke to find that the island holding their tree had disappeared during the night, the tree was underwater, and they had to cut the mooring line to escape their anchorage. As they passed through Louisiana, the territory was covered in a rare snowfall. But they made it to the city of New Orleans, and began the era of the Mississippi River steamboat.

This site provides a number of older papers for those who wish more information.

Early accounts, after consultation with participants, of the voyage
Click for extract from The Rambler in North America by Charles Joseph Latrobe (1836)
Click for copy of The First Steamboat on the Western Waters by J.H.B. Latrobe (1871)
Click for copy of A Lost Chapter in the History of the Steamboat by J.H.B. Latrobe (1871)

Early accounts of the earthquake
Click for extracts from Travels in the Interior of America by John Bradbury (1817)
Click for copy of An Account of the Great Earthquakes in the Western States, Newburyport (1812)

Later accounts of the voyage
Click for copy of The New Orleans, Being a Critical Account of the Beginning of Steamboat Navigation on the Western Rivers of the United States by Charles H. Dahlinger (1911)
Click for copy of The First Steamboat on the Ohio by Nelson W. Evans (1907)
Click for copy of Early Steamboat Travel on the Ohio River by Leslie S. Henshaw (1911)
Click for extracts from A Chronological History of the Origin and Development of Steam Navigation by George Henry Preble (1895)
Click for extracts from History of American Steam Navigation by John H. Morrison (1903)

Click for Some letters of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, relating to Roosevelt, his family and his projects

Contemporary newspaper accounts
Click for articles extracted from Louisiana Gazette (New Orleans) (1811-1812)
Click for articles extracted from Louisiana Gazette (St. Louis) (1811-1812)
Click for article from Moniteur de la Louisiane on first arrival of steamboat in New Orleans (1812)
Click for extracts from various 1811-1812 newspapers
Click for articles from Pittsburgh Gazette (1811-1812)

Accounts from later newspapers
Click for article from Pittsburgh Dispatch 23 Nov 1911 on reconstructed New Orleans
Click for article from Pittsburgh Dispatch 31 Oct 1911 on steamboat anniversary celebration
Click for article from Pittsburgh Post 30 Oct 1911 on steamboat history and anniversary celebration

Papers written for this web site (but mostly quotations)
Click for paper on migration habits of squirrels
Click for paper on Tecumseh and his prediction of the New Madrid earthquake

Click for 1969 paper by Vagn Flyger on migration of squirrels

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