Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Keelboat Age on Western Waters

The Keelboat Age on Western Waters

Copyright Date: 1980
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Keelboat Age on Western Waters
    Book Description:

    This book tells the story of river boating in the West before the invention of the steamboat. In a deft combination of thorough research and interesting narrative, Baldwin recreates life on the keelboats and flatboats that plied the Ohio, Mississippi, and other rivers from revolutionary days until about 1820. No one knows who put the first keel along the bottom of one big, clumsy river craft used by the pioneers. but the change made the boats far easier to manage, and travel in both directions became practical all the way to New Orleans.Baldwin examines the many types of craft in use, the different methods of locomotion, and the art of navigation on uncharted rivers full of hidden obstacles. But he never loses sight of the picturesque aspects of his subject, especially the boatmen themselves-a tribe of rugged and fearless men whose colorful lives are described in great detail.The Keelboat Ageis a segment cut from the history of the frontier, showing the overwhelming importance of river transportation in the development of the West. The rivers were great arteries, carrying a restless people into a new land. The keelboatman and his craft did much to build a nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7422-2
    Subjects: History, Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Leland D. Baldwin.
  2. 1 The Role of the Western Waters in American Expansion
    (pp. 1-38)

    When the Pennsylvania pioneers first topped their laurel-clad mountains they had already developed many of the characteristics that were to become known as typically western. Foremost of these was that love of elbow room, and of the security and independence that went with it, that constituted for them the alpha and omega of life. They had learned that the man trained in frontier ways or able to adapt himself to them could go out into the wilderness with his ax, his rifle, and a bag of seed corn and win a spacious home for himself. Perhaps the settler might have...

  3. 2 Boats & Boat Building
    (pp. 39-55)

    When Thomas Hart Benton and Governor William Clark of the Missouri Territory undertook about 1820 to estimate the extent of the “boatable waters” in the Mississippi Valley they arrived at a grand total of fifty thousand miles. “Of course,” admitted Benton in later years, “we counted all the infant streams on which a flat, a keel, or a bateau could be floated.”¹ However exaggerated this interpretation of navigable waters might seem to the modern steamboatman with his clamor for a nine-foot level, it certainly was valid in the reckoning of his great-grandfather, who boasted that he could float his steamboat...

  4. 3 The Art of Navigation
    (pp. 56-84)

    John Randolph once described the Ohio River as frozen up during one half of the year and dried up during the other half. The gentleman exaggerated, we must hasten to add; nonetheless, his epigram epitomized the difficulties of navigation. The Mississippi presented many of the same dangers as the Ohio, only that they were heightened by the more rapid current and greater volume of water. For the convenience of immigrants and traders, the printers of the Ohio Valley early began the publication of guides to the rivers. The first one of which there is any record was theOhio Navigator,...

  5. 4 The Boatmen
    (pp. 85-115)

    There were three classes of boatmen on the western waters: the regular bargemen and keel boatmen, whose only occupation was boating; the flat boatmen, who between voyages were farmers, merchants, or boat builders; and the men of the plains and mountains who divided their time between boating and trapping. Fine distinctions among them are impossible since the men often transferred their activities from one class to another. For example, when patroons were ready for the up-river voyage they sometimes filled out their crews with men who had come down on flatboats. Mike Fink, the most famous of the river men,...

  6. 5 River Pirates and the Natchez Trace
    (pp. 116-133)

    The colorful history of early navigation on the western waters includes a long series of piracies in many respects as thrilling, if not as heroic, as those of the Spanish Main. The first distinct mention of pirates is found around 1760, when they had begun to center on Cottonwood Creek and at the Grand Tower. At the latter place, according to F. A. Rozier, a keelboat bound from New Orleans for the Illinois country was captured by Indians and renegades, and only one person, a young woman, was allowed to proceed to Fort Chartres. During the Revolution, as has been...

  7. 6 The Immigrant
    (pp. 134-158)

    It has been seen that during the Revolution the population of the West was swelled by a horde of immigrants, a great many of whom were Tories and neutrals seeking a haven from economic and political persecution. This does not mean that they were opposed to the patriot’s concept of liberty. They had left the East because they saw no advantage in unseating a ruler three thousand miles away only to enthrone their next door neighbor in his place. The desire, even the demand, for freedom and an opportunity for themselves and for their children persisted. Zadok Cramer, one of...

  8. 7 Shipbuilding on the Western Waters
    (pp. 159-174)

    Henry Clay, that tireless promoter of industrial progress, once described, in the course of an address before the House of Representatives, an incident illustrative of the spirit of commercial enterprise on the western waters:

    A vessel, built at Pittsburg, having crossed the Atlantic . . . entered a European port (he believed that of Leghorn). The master of the vessel laid his papers before the proper custom-house officer, which, of course, stated the place of her departure. The officer boldly denied the existence of any such American port as Pittsburg, and threatened a seizure of the vessel, as being furnished...

  9. 8 The Boatman Has His Day
    (pp. 175-196)

    The first reference to a packet on the western waters is found in an advertisement in thePittsburgh Gazetteof September 2, 1786. In it John Blair announced that he expected to pass up and down the Monongahela every week with a boat and would deliver newspapers at a reasonable rate. This service extended for thirty-five miles above Pittsburgh. In the same issue John McDonald, with an eye to the business of the flour mills up river and to the carrying trade between Pittsburgh and the Monongahela landing nearest Washington, announced that he had started weekly trips and would deliver...