Iowa Old Press
Dubuque, Dubuque co. Iowa
April 18, 1926
EARLY HISTORY OF RIVER NAVIGATION
Told in Sketch By Early Settler of Dubuque - Chandler S. Childs, Now Dead, Described Pioneer Steamboating
In view of the steps being taken to revive navigation on the Mississippi river, special interest is attached to a comprehensive sketch of the early navigation days on the "Fathers of Waters", written by Chandler S. Childs, an early settler who died 25 or 30 years ago.
Mr. Childs was one of Dubuque's most prominent pioneers and served for many years as president of the Old Settlers' association. He was a geologist connected with the state geology department for a number of years. He was also a historian of considerable note.
Childs' sketch traced the early history of navigation on the Mississippi from the time the "New Orleans", the first steamboat to ply the Mississippi, arrived at New Orleans in January, 1812. His article on early navigation follows:
The New Orleans was the first steamboat that ever appeared upon the waters of the Mississippi river. It was built at Pittsburgh in the year 1811 and left that city in October in the same year, arriving in New Orleans in January, 1812. The first trip of the New Orleans was a steam navigation upon the Mississippi, but demonstrating its practicability and profit.
The 'General Pike' was the first steamboat that navigated the Mississippi river above the mouth of the Ohio. That steamer arrived at St. Louis Aug. 17, 1817.
The first steamboat that appeared on the Mississippi above St. Louis was the 'Western Engineer' in 1819 but came no further than the lower rapids near the city of Keokuk. The first steamboat to ascend the Mississippi river to Fort Snelling * was the 'Virginia' in 1823. That boat was freighted with government supplies for the forts on the upper Mississippi. In 1824, the Gen. Nevill, Capt. James B. Hill; in 1825, the Putnam, W. Green, Captain; in 1826, the Isabella, R. Green Captain, took supplies to the government posts on the upper Mississippi, each going as far as Fort Snelling. It is said the steamer Mandan, preceded the Neville and Engineer.
*(transcribers note: Fort Snelling, an 1820's era military outpost, was located where the Twin Cities -- Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN -- now stand.)
First Northern Trip.
The first trip made by a steamboat above St. Louis on private account, was in 1827 by the Shamrock, James May Captain. This boat left Pittsburgh with the intention of going up the Missouri river, but upon arriving at St. Louis Capt. May heard much talk of the Fever River Lead mines and found considerable freight awaiting transit thither. These facts determined him to make a trip to the upper Mississippi lead region. He accordingly had hand bills printed for the "Fever river Lead Mines".
The Shamrock left St. Louis in March and after a tedious passage, especially in crossing the rapids, where the boat was seriously and repeatedly damaged, arrived at its destination in Fevre river at Galena in April. Wood upon the trip was obtained by cutting down trees and carrying them in twenty feet lengths upon the boat and cutting them into cordwood while the boat was in motion.
The Josephine, Capt. R. Clark; Red Rover, Capt. Throckmorton, and the Indiana made several trips the same year.
In 1827 the Sciota went as far as Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien. On the downward trip another boat was in company and they were racing. Upon arriving at Harris' woodyard on the Harris Slough, several miles from Galena, Capt. R.S. Harris informed the captain of the Sciota of the six mile cut off, in high water, near the mouth of the Fevre river, and the captain employed him to pilot his boat through the cut and by this means the Sciota beat her rival to Galena. this was the first time that any of the Harrises appeared officially on the deck of a steamboat.
The first steamer built above St. Louis was the Jo Daviess, constructed in 1833 by D. Sand and R.S. Harris at Galena, their object being to run the boat as a packet between Galena and Dubuque. This was done for a time in the trade for which it was designed and the boat was then sold in St. Louis and was afterwards employed upon the Illinois river.
In 1835, R.S. Harris in company with the Langworthy brothers, purchased in Cincinnati the "Heroine" to run from St. Louis to Galena and Dubuque. Of the "Heroine" Orrin Smith was captain; D.S. Harris clerk, and R.S. Harris, engineer. Here were united the three men who have been more than any others intimately connected with the early steam navigation of the upper Mississippi and to whose persistence, skill and enterprise the numerous towns and cities on the upper river are largely indebted.
He who writes the history of a quarter of a century succeeding 1840, will find Captain Smith and the Harrises closely and constantly identified with the history of steaming the Mississippi and will be pleased to record their enterprise, so well planned as never to be behind the demands of the trade nor so misjudged as to thwart the success of their aims and hopes. Capt. Smith died in 1881. Capt. D.S. Harris resided in Galena and Capt. R.S. Harris in Dubuque.
First Wisconsin Trip.
In 1833 the Jo Daviess, Capt. R.S. Harris, went up the Wisconsin river to the portage at Fort Winnebago, being the first trip by a steamboat upon that river.
The Frontier, Capt. R.S. Harris, in 1836 ascended the Rock River to Dixon. This was the first appearance of a steamboat upon that river.
The visit of the Virginia to Fort Snelling in 1823 and of the Jo Daviess to Fort Winnebago in 1833 was the first time the Indians of those localities had seen a steamboat. They gazed with their characteristic stolid silence until the safety valve was raised. At both places, a large number had come on board the moment the boat landed. The instant that the shudder of the boat and frightful noise of the escaping steam was felt and heard, every Indian on board, as if by common impulse, jumped into the river, while those on shore ran at the top of their speed, overturning some of their wigwams, knocking over each other down in their haste, trampling upon their dogs and hcildren, till distance enough had been placed between them and the new demon monster, to ionsure safety. But the Indians were not the only people who have been alarmed upon first hearing the escape of steam. It is related upon good authority that upon the unexpected arrival at midnight of the "New Orleans" at Louisville, Ky., in 1811, the letting off of the pent up steam, fearfully alarmed the people. They rose from their beds in terror and ran about inquiring the origin of the frightful noise and were only partially quieted by the explanation that the great comet of that year had fallen into the Ohio.
List of Steamboats.
The following is a list of the steamboats upon the upper Mississippi in the order of their date from the commencement of steam navigation to the close of the year 1839. Owners sometimes gave the same name to different boats, (successors, one of the other, probably) and the same boat was sometimes commanded by the same captain for one season and by another the next. The same name is given one boat, yet it is difficult to ascertain the changes of commmanders. The list is doubtless incomplete in other respects, but it is the result of the information that could be procured at this date. Several boats made but one or two trips while most were engaged in regular trade.
Name. Captain*. Year. (*transcription note - not all Captains were named, I've put (blank) if none given)
Virginia, (blank), 1823
Mexico, Robert Clark, 1827
Sciota, (blank), 1827
Red Rover, Jos. Throckmorton, 1827
Warrior, Jos. Throckmorton, 1829
Olive Branch, A.F. Crow, 1835
Orion, (blank), 1833
Winnebago, G.W. Atchinson, 1832
Jo Daviess, R.S. Harris, 1833
Heroine, Orrin Smith, 1835
Missouri Fulton, Orrin Smith, 1836
Smelter, D.S. Harris, 1826
Glaucus, Pierce Atchinson, 1837
Irene, Pierce Atchinson, 1837
Des Moines, Cole, 1838
Rolla, Dwyer, 1837
Rosalie, Littleton, 1839
Amaranth, M.L. Atchinson, 1839
Brazil, Orrin Smith, 1837
Pizarro, D.S. Harris, 1839
Malta, Jos. Throckmorton, 1839
Relief, S.S. Harris, 1839
Wisconsin, Henry Crossle, 1835
Dubuque, John Atchinson, 1836
Banner, (blank), 1830
Cavalier, (blank), 1825
Far West, (blank), 1835
Envoy, Asmer, 1836
Albion, (blank), 1833
Galenian, Holland, 1835
Paragon, (blank), 1833
Enterprise, James May, 1830
Wm. Wallace, Carlisle, 1833
Daniel O'Connell, Otis Reynolds, 1833
Emerald, O. Flaherty, 1836
Dove, James May, 1832
Gypsy, T. Grey, 1836
Adventure, Wm. Houghton, 1836
Palmyra, Geo. Cole, 1836
Alpha, (blank), 1837
Pavilion, John Lafferty, 1837
Lady Marshall Wools, (blank), 1837
Ariel, Henry Wagoner, 1837
Caledonia, Miller, 1837
Huntress, (blank), 1837
Transit, (blank), 1838
Knickerbocker, Van Houghton, 1838
Rio, (blank), 1838
Science, (blank), 1838
Josephine, R. Clark, 1827
Chian, A. Reynolds, 1835
Gen. Ashley, (blank), (year also blank)
Preemption, R.S. Harris, 1840
North Star, Robert Burton, 1837
Vigo, Arestif, 1833
Quincy, (blank), 1838
Burlington, Jos. Throckmorton, 1837
St. Peters, Jos. Throcmorton, 1836
Chippewa, Riley, 1840
Chieftain, Stephen Shallcrop, 1840
Euphraise, John Lafferty, 1839
Frontier, S.D. Harris, 1836
Gov. Dodge, John Atchinson, 1836
Goddess of Liberty, Pierce, 1839
Ione or Iowa, John Atchinson, 1839
Monsoon, Pierce, 1839
Moselle, Pierce, 1838
Otter, R.S. Harris, 1840
Omega, Lafferty, 1840
Galena Packet, D.G. Bates, 1828
Galena, D.G. Bates, 1827
Galenian, D.B. Morehouse, 1834
Iowa, D.B. Morehouse, 1834
Minerva, (blank), 1833
Potosi, G. Cole, 1834
Sarah Ann, John Lafferty, 1840
Shamrock, James May, 1827
Indiana, Jas. May, 1827
Black Rover, Wall, 1828
Trident, A. Carlisle, 1828
Lady Washington, Jas. Young, 1828
Don Juan, W. Swayne, 1828
Missouri, Wm. Culver, 1828
Robert Fulton, (blank), 1829
Iowa, Otis Reynolds, 1829
Galena, D.G. Bates, 1829
Globe, Clark, 1829
Mechanic, W. Green, 1829
Velocipede, N. Beckwith, 1830
Chieftain, Stephen Shullcross, 1831
Huntress, Hiram Kometz, 1832
Gen. Nevill, Jas. B. Hill, 1824
Gen. Putnam, W. Green, 1825
Isabella, R. Green, 1826
Cygnet, (blank), 1838
Bee, Bromhaun, 1838
Courier, (blank), 1839
Camden, (blank), 1839
Fayette, Forsyth, 1838
Java, Otis Reynolds, 1832
Hero, Shaw, 1839
Friendship, O. Reynolds, 1835
Frontier, D.S. Harris, 1836
The following early steamboat captains were each several years upon the river: Captains James May, Geo. W. Atchinson, John Atchinson, Joseph Throckmorton, Wm. Littleton, Otis Reynolds, Thomas Grey, D.S. Harris, R.S. Harris, Orrin Smith, Richard Morehouse, William Culver, Jonas Newman and D.B. Morehouse.
Among those who took up their abode in Peru [now in Dubuque co.] was Thomas McKnight. He went to St. Louis in 1809, came to Galena in 1826 and was from that time to 1829, United States sub agent for the mines. He remained in Peru for several years, married in 1835 and in the spring of 1836 commenced living at "McKnight's Spring", where he resided until his death in 1865.
The first sermon preached in Peru was by Rev. Barton Randle in the spring of 1834. His first sermon there was preached in the dining room of Myron Patterson's hotel. His next sermon was in the billiard saloon of Capt. Wm. Wilson. This room was used because there was no other in town large enough to hold the congregation. Upon this occasion he used a billard table as a desk, Mrs. Myron Patterson, however, having kindly volunteered to cover the billiard table with a white sheet. Mr. Randle preached in Peru at least seven times during the spring and the following summer, one of the members of the Dubuque congregation residing at Peru.
The Story of Sinipee.
In 1837 a company styled the "Louisiana Company" consisting of James R. Vineyard, Wm. B. Vineyard, John Nixon, John H. Roundtree, Milo H. Prentice, Thos. Holloway, John Plumbe Jr., and others purchased of Peyton Vaughan for some $15,000, eighty acres of land on the Mississippi river in Wisconsin at the mouth of Sinipee Hollow, a few miles from Dubuque and laid out the land in town lots and called it Sinipee. The legislature of the Territory of Wisconsin, at its session held at Belmont, the previous winter, had incorporated the Belmont and Dubuque railroad company and Sinipee was expected to be the proper point on the Mississippi where the road would reach and cross the river.
In the following year there were three stores at Sinipee, large houses and full stocks and several groceries. Mr. Plumbe and Paul & Atherton sold in one year (including the winter of 1838-39) $30,000 worth of goods. Wm. I. Madden sold a greater amount in the same time. Prentice & Holloway owned the third store. There were also blacksmith, carpenter, tin, shoe and cabinet shops, also a brick yard, bricklayers and masons, a warehouse, thirty dwellings and about 300 inhabitants. A school was established and prospered. The postoffice at Jamestown was discontinued to establish one at Sinipee and John Plumbe, Jr., was appointed postmaster. Large amounts of lead were brought there for shipment. As many as eight ox teams engaged in hauling lead were counted in the town at one time. Five steamers lay at the landing together.
Epidemic Hits Town.
Lots remote from the landing were held at $500 to $1,000 each. In 1839 the inhabitants had increased to a thousand. In the last of August or first of September, however, an epidemic fever visited the town. A great many were sick and all who could leave did so as soon as they were able. Many of the houses were moved to Dubuque on the ice in the next winter, others were taken down by the miners and moved to various localities in the mines and in 1840 nothing remained of Sinipee, except one or two buildings and there are but few now.
More towns were laid out and named and maps of them engraved in the years 1836-7 than in any other twenty years in the history of the west. The banks of the Mississippi were lined with these projected towns.
There were a half dozen of them within ten miles of Dubuque, but it is not necessary to even name them now. The failure of Michigan and Wisconsin banks, the paper of which was called "Wild Cat Money," put a period to fancy town making and to speculations in town lots, which had been as reckless as were the issues of the "Wild Cat" banks by which that speculation had been largely produced.
Another number will complete a partial review of Early Dubuque to 1840 and then reference will be made to a number of other towns and settlements with allusions also to their progress and mint of Dubuque before 1850.
[Submitted by S.F., March 2005]