George H. (George Henry) Thurston.

Allegheny county's hundred years online

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boats, being squair at ye sterns, and joined together at ye sterns by a swivel, make
ye two in form of one boate, but will turn round shorter than a boat of ye same
length or raise with more safety in falls and in case of striking rocks; he has alsa
made an engine that goes with wheels enclosed in a box, to be worked by one man^
by sitting on ye end of ye box, and tredding on treddlers at bottom with his feet,
set ye wheels agoing, which work scullers or short paddles fixed over ye gunnels-
turning them round ; ye under ones always laying hold in ye water, will make ye
boate goe as if two men rowed ; and he can steer at ye same time by lines like
plow lines."

This statement as to Ramsey obtaining his idea from Fitch, is on authority of
Hon. Robert Wicklifie, vol. 1, page 36, American Pioneer.

This was twenty -five years before either James Ramsey, of Berkley county^
Virginia, succeeded in propelling his ^^ flying boat," as it was called by the people,
against the current of the Potomac at Shepherdstown, by steam alone, at the rate
of four or five miles an hour ; and also twenty years before Fitch, in 1780, acci-
dently meeting Ramsey in Winchester, imparted to him his idea of propelling
boats by steam.

There is nothing more on record of the " young man called Wm'. Ramsey,'^
but the thought naturally occurs that if he had persevered with his idea, that
Pittsburgh was very near to being the scene of the first attempts to construct a
boat to be driven with machine power.

Where or when, however, the idea of a boat propelled by machine power or
by steam originated, is quite uncertain.

From a work published about forty years since in Spain, of original papers
relating to the voyage of Columbus, preserved in the royal archives at Samancas,.
and those of the Secretary of War of Spain, in 1543, it is stated, " that Blasco de
Garay, a sea captain, exhibited to Charles V., in the year 1543, an engine by which
vessels of the largest size could be propelled, even in a calm, without oars or sails.
The Emperor decided that an experiment should be made, which was successfully
attempted on June 17, 1543, in the harbor of Barcelona. The experiment was on
a ship of 209 tons, called the ' Trinity.' Garay never publicly exposed the con-
struction of his engine, but it was observed at the time of the experiment, that it
consisted of a large cauldron of boiling water, and a movable wheel attached ta
each side of the ship."

From this statement it would appear that DeGaray not only orignated the
steam engine, but made at the same time its application in one of its most practi-
cal and beneficial forms, and at a single efibrt accomplished what took the light
and talent of several generations to invent and bring to practical shape.

This statement, although based on the archives of Spain, and those of the Sec-
retary of War of that Kingdom, are by some discredited, as the date is fifty -four
years before the birth of the Marquis of Worcester who is given, by history, the
credit of being the inventor of the steam engine. It might be said in rebuttal that


the incident just quoted of "de Garays" experiment possibly came in some way,
to the Marquis' notice, and that he proceeded, after the manner of all inventors, to
improve upon it. There is, also, a fact in history as to an early steamboat that
might justify the idea that both Fitch and Fulton were not entirely original in
their idea of a boat propelled by machinery moved by steam, presuming even that
" de Garay's " exhibition in 1543 had not accidentally came to their knowledge.

A treatise was printed in London in 1737, describing a machine invented by
Jonathan Hulls, for carrying vessels against wind and tide, for which George II.
granted a patent for fourteen years. A drawing is prefixed to the treatise show-
ing a boat with chimney smoking, a pair of wheels rigged over each side of the
stern. From the stern of the boat a tow line passes to the foremast of a two
<3ecker, which the boat thus tows. This is evidently the first idea of a steam
tow boat. As this was a published treatise, and there was a patent on record, pub-
lic information must have circulated of a steamboat before the experiments of
Fitch or Fulton or Stevens or Livingston, and while similarity of ideas in inven-
tions, are not infrequent, absolute originality is difficult to establish.

James Eamsey, before mentioned, October, 1774, obtained from the legislature
of Virginia an Act guaranteeing him the exclusive use of his invention in navi-
gating the waters of that State for ten years. Ramsey went to England, and
through many discouragements struggled on until he had constructed a boat of
one hundred tons and so far completed his machinery as to indicate a day for pub-
lic exhibition. He died suddenly before the day, while beginning the delivery of
a lecture at Liverpool, England. The boat was set in motion on the Thames in
1793 and a fitting tribute paid to his memory by the Congress of the United States
on February 9, 1839, when it unanimously voted his son a gold medal commemor-
ative of his father's agency in giving the world the benefit of the steamboat.

In 1780 the Marquis de Jouffrey worked a steamboat 140 feet long on the

In 1785 both Ramsey and Fitch had exhibited models to Gen'l Washington,
«,nd on March 15, 1785, Washington, in a letter to Hugh Williamson, certifies
that his doubts are satisfied, after witnessing Ramsey's experiment. Fitch made
many efforts to have his invention tried. He applied to Congress and was refused,
just as was nearly the fate of Morse with his telegraph. He offered his invention
to the Spanish government, for the purpose of navigating the Mississippi, without
abetter success ; but at length obtained the funds for the building of a boat, and in
1788 his vessel was launched on the Delaware. Fitch used oars worked in frames.
After many experiments, Fitch abandoned his invention, having satisfied himself
.of its practicability, being embarrassed with debt.

He died in 1799, at Bardstown, Kentucky, and was buried near the Ohio.

In 1787, after Fitch's experiment, a Mr. Symington succeeded in propelling a
steamboat on the Clyde in Scotland. In 1797 John Stevens, of Hoboken, began his
•experiments, and succeeded in propelling boats at the rate of five or six miles an
iiour. In 1797 Chancellor Livingston built a boat on the Hudson, and applied to


the Legislature for the exclusive privilege. This was granted on condition thai
he should propel a vessel by steam, within a year, three miles an hour; but
Livingston, unable to comply with this condition, dropped his project for a time.
He afterwards associated himself with Stevens, and aided by Nicholas Koosevelt^
carried on the experiments until he (Livingston) was sent to France as minister.
Mr. Stevens continued his experiments for several years, when Mr. Livingston
having attained a renewal of the exclusive grant from the State of New York, he^
with the assistance of his son, applied himself with greater attention to the pro-
ject, and in 1807, only a few days after Fulton's convincing experiment, succeeded
in propelling a steamboat at the required velocity of three miles an hour. Ful-
ton, it is said, had in 1803 made a successful trial on the Seine with a boat that
moved at the rate of four miles an hour.

About 1802-3, Oliver Evans, of Philadelphia, built on the Mississippi a boat
to ply between New Orleans and Natchez. When the boat was ready it was left
high and dry by the falling water, and the engine was placed temporarily in a saw
mill. The mill was burned by some incendiaries, whom it was likely to deprive
of a profitable job of sawing lumber, and thus an attempt to establish steamboats-
on the Mississippi was defeated some four years before Fulton's experiment.

All these efforts seem to have been preliminary experiments ; to Fulton and
Roosevelt really belongs the credit of bringing to practical results the steamboat^
in the construction in 1810-11, by himself, Livingston and Roosevelt, of the
"New Orleans" at Pittsburgh.

This sketch of the gradual growth of the idea of a boat to be propelled by
machinery worked by steam, while not of the actual history of Allegheny County^
is so intimate in its connection with the history of boat building therein that it i&
interestingly preliminary thereto. The position that Pittsburgh occupies as the
point where was constructed, and whence departed the first steamboat that navi-
gated the western waters, giving her an historical prominence in connection with
the invention of steamboats.

The 23d of February, 1777, is the date at which, it may fairly be said, com-
menced that important branch of the business of Pittsburgh — ^boat building. On
that day " fourteen carpenters and sawyers arrived at Fort Pitt from Philadelphia^
and were set at work on the Monongahela, fourteen miles above the fort, near a
saw mill. They built thirty large batteaux, forty feet long, nine feet wide and
thirty-two inches deep, which were intended to transport troops."

For a quarter of a century from this time the navigation of the western rivers
was by the use of flat boats, keel boats and "broad horns," as they were called^
These boats were all propelled by pole?, or by sweeps, and the labor of the crews
on the upward pa.«sage, somewhat relieved by aid of ropes, carried out the head^
and attached to trees, by which the boats were " cordelled," or warped up stream
where the current was very swift. The trips were long and tedious, and, for years,
dangerous from the Indians, even as late as 1794, as the following extract from an
advertisement of that date shows, which gives as well a glimpse of the method ofT
travelling at that date :


The advertisement states : " Two boats for the present will start from Cincin-
nati for Pittsburgh, and return to Cincinnati in the following manner, viz: First
boat will leave Cincinnati this morning at eight o'clock; and return to Cincinnati,
so as to be ready to sail again in four weeks. The second boat will leave Cincin-
nati on Saturday, the 80th inst., and return to Cincinnati in four weeks as above.
And so regularly, each boat performing the voyage to and from Cincinnati and
Pittsburgh, once in every four weeks.

" No danger need be apprehended from the enemy, as every person on board
will be under cover, made proof against rifle or musket balls, and convenient port
holes for firing out of. Each of the boats is armed with six pieces, carrying a
pound ball ; also a number of good muskets, and amply supplied with plenty
of ammunition, strongly manned with choice hands, and the masters of approved

" A separate cabin from that designed for the men is partitioned off in each boat
for accommodating ladies on their passage. Conveniences are constructed on board
each boat so as to render landing unnecessary, as it might at times be attended
with danger."

In July of the year 1794, on the 22d of April of which year Pittsburgh was
incorporated as a borough, a line of mail boats was established to run from Wheel-
ing to Limetown, and back, once in every two weeks, the mails being carried from
Wheeling to Pittsburgh, and back, on horseback. These boats were twenty-four
feet long, built like a whale-boat, and steered with a rudder. They were manned
by a steersman and four oarsmen to each boat. The men had each a musket and
a supply of ammunition, all of which were snugly secured from the weather in.
boxes alongside their seats.

The building of the armed galleys, "President Adams" and "Senator Koss,"
in 1798, at Pittsburgh, is the next progressive fact in boat-building in Allegheny
county. They were intended for service against the Spaniards on the lower
Mississippi, and are mentioned in letters of that date as fine specimens of naval
architecture. Of their subsequent service, or their final disposition, nothing is re-
corded. These national vessels, and a brig of 120 tons, built at Marietta by Com-
modore Preble in 1798-9, one of the first sea-going vessels constructed on the Ohio<,
From 1801 to 1805 the building of sea-going craft was active at Pittsburgh.

The building of sea-going vessels was established at Pittsburgh by a French
gentleman, Louis Anastasius Tarascon, who emigrated from France in 1794, estab-
lished himself in Philadelphia as a merchant. In 1799 he sent two of his clerks,
Charles Brugiere and James Berthoud, to examine the course of the Ohio and
Mississippi from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, and ascertain the practicability of
sending ships, and clearing them ready rigged, from Pittsburgh to Europe and the
West Indies. The two gentlemen reported favorably, and Mr. Tarascon associated
them, and his brother, John Anthony, with himself, under the firm of "John A,
Tarascon Brothers, James Berthoud & Co.," and immediately established at Pitts-
burgh a large wholesale and retail store and warehouse, a ship yard, a rigging and
sail loft, and anchor sraithshop, a block manufactory, and all other things necessary
to complete sea-going vessels. Tlie first year, 1801, they built the schooner Amity,
of 120 tons, and ihe ship Pittsburgh of 250 tons, and sent the former, loaded wiiii


flour, to St. Thomas, and the other, also loaded with flour, to Philadelphia, from
whence they sent them to Bordeaux, France, and brought back a cargo of wine,
brandy and other French goods, part of which they sent to Pittsburgh in wagons
at a carriage of from six to eight cents a pound. In 1802 they built the brig
Nanina, 250 tons ; in 1803 the ship Louisiana of 300 tons, and in 1804 the ship
Western Trader of 400 tons. The schooner Monongahela Farmer was built at
Elizabeth, by a company of ship carpenters, who were brought out in 1787, from
Philadelphia, by Colonel Stephen Bayard. She was owned by the builders and
farmers of the neighborhood, who loaded her with a cargo of flour, and sent her
via New Orleans to New York. The brig Ann Jane was built in 1803, at Eliza-
beth, for the Messrs. McFarlane, merchants, and was of 450 tons burden. She
was loaded with flour and whisky, and sailed to New York. This brig was one
of the fastest sailers of her day, and was run for some time as a packet to New
Orleans from New York.

The year 1811 was an important one in the history of Allegheny county. In
that year was built the first steamboat for the navigation of the western waters.

This boat, called the New Orleans, was built at Pittsburgh in 1811. The loca-
tion where she was constructed being at Suke's run, at or about where the Pitts-
burgh, St. Louis & Cincinnati railroad bridge crosses the Monongahela. She was
138 feet keel, and between 300 and 400 tons burden ; her cabin was in the hold,
and she had port holes ; also a bowsprit eight feet in length, in ocean steamer
style, which was painted sky blue. She was owned by Messrs. Fulton, Livingston
and Roosevelt, and her construction was superintended by the latter gentleman.
Her cost was $40,000. She was launched in March, and descended the river to
Natchez, in December, at which point she took in her first freight and passengers,
and from thence proceeded to New Orleans on the 24th of the same month. She
continued to ply between New Orleans and Natchez until 1814, making the round
trip in ten days, conveying passengers at the rate of $25 up and $18 down. On
her first year's business she cleared $20,000 net. In the winter of 1814 she was
snagged and lost at Baton Rouge.

The formation of the company to build steamboats is thus mentioned in
Cramer'' s Almanack, of 1810 :

" A company has been formed for the purpose of navigating the river Ohio in
large boats, to be propelled by the power of steam engines. The boat now on the
stocks is 138 feet keel, and calculated for a freight as well as a passage boat between
Pittsburgh and the Falls of the Ohio."

The boat here alluded to was the one afterwards known as the " New Orleans."
In the first years of steamboat building the progress was slow. While Roose-
velt and Fulton had succeeded in the constructing the first practical "steamer,''
yet there were many difiiculties to be overcome in the perfect adaptation of steam-
boats to the varying currents, rapids, shoals, floods and low waters of the western
waters. The growth of boat building at Pittsburgh was, however, inevitable.
However, energy and artificial m.eans may ultimately enable an industry to be es-
tablished at any chosen point, the force of natural advantages is at all times the


greatest factor. Those in Allegheny county have always beea so powerful that
they have at all times placed it first and foremost in all the manufacturing indus-
tries in which its population have engaged.

While proximity of suitable material for the complete construction of ships or
steamboats is a factor to success therein, yet primarily is the existence of navigable
waters into which they can be launched and navigated to their destined point of
delivery. This a force of nature of which Pittsburgh is in full possession.

The hydraulic factor just quoted was in the years when steamboat building was
inaugurated at Pittsburgh of far greater force than now, from the absence of the
yet immaterialized transportation power of the railroad, although that was pre-
dicted by Fulton when coming to Pittsburgh to arrange for the building of the
" New Orleans."

In the course of some conversation on the almost impassable nature of the
mountains over which they were dragged with great toil, he said : "The day will
come, gentlemen, I may not live to see it, but some of you who are younger pro-
bably will, when carriages will be drawn over these mountains by steam engines,
at a rate more rapid than that of a stage coach upon the smoothest turnpike." The
then apparently absurdness of this prediction excited great laughter.

The successful result of '' Fulton's steamboat " at once gave new value to the
eighteen thousand miles of river navigation, continuous, from Pittsburgh, and the
abundance of fine timber and ot,her requirements for boat building at that point
made it beyond any competition the ship yard of the western rivers.

For all the success of the "New Orleans" and the boats that immediately suc-
ceeded her, the practicability of the navigation of the Ohio by steamboat was

A writer in the Western Monthly Magazine states that, in 1816, he formed one
of a company of gentlemen who, watching the long continued efforts of a stern-
wheel boat to ascend the Horsetail ripple, five miles below Pittsburgh, came to the
unanimous conclusion that such " a contrivance might do for the Mississippi as
high as Natchez, but that "we of the Ohio must wait for some more happy cen-
tury of inventions."

While it would not be possible to give in the scope of this volume a history of
the careers of the various boats built in Allegheny county, yet a brief notation of
a few of the earlier boats is indulged in.

The second boat constructed at Pittsburgh appears to have been the "Comet,"
of twenty-five tons, built by D. French, for Samuel Smith, in 1812-13. She had
a stern wheel and a vibrating cylinder. She made one trip to Louisville in 1813 ;
deceuded to New Orleans in 1814, made two trips to Natchez, and was sold and
the engine put up in a cotton-gin.

The " Vesuvius " and the " ^tna," of 340 tons each, were built by the " Missis-
ippi Steam Boat Co." in 1813-14. The "Vesuvius," under the command of Cap-
tain Ogden, left Pittsburgh, in the spring of 1814 for New Orleans; in July, 1816,
she was burnt near New Orleans. The "^tna," under command of Captain Gale,


started for New Orleans in March, 1815; and after reaching that point went into
the Natchez trade. She was in continual employ until 1822, when she was con-
demned as worn out.

The " Enterprise," forty-jBve tons, was the fourth constructed in this vicinity.
She was built at Brownsville, Pa., and made two trips to Louisville in 1814. She
departed from Pittsburgh for New Orleans on the 1st of December, 1814, under
command of Captain Henry M. Shreve, with a cargo of ordinance. For some
time she was actively employed transporting troops. On the 6th of May, 1817,
she left New Orleans for Pittsburgh, and arrived at Shippingport (Louisville) on
the 30th, being twenty-five days from port to port, and the first steamer that ever
arrived at that port from New Orleans ; which event the citizens of Louisville
celebrated by a dinner to Captain Shreve. The "Enterprise" was lost at Eock
Harbor in 1817.

In 1816 the "Franklin," 125 tons, the "Oliver Evans," 75 tons, and the "Har-
riet," of 40 tons, were built at Pittsburgh. The " Franklin " was built by Messrs.
Shiras and Cromwell, and her engine was built by George Evans. She departed
from Pittsburgh in December, 1816, and went into the Louisville and St. Louis
trade. She was sunk in 1819, near St. Genevieve. The "Oliver Evans" was
built by George Evans; left Pittsburgh December, 1816, for New Orleans. She
burst one of her boilers in April, 1817, at Point Coupee, killing eleven men. The
" Harriet " was constructed and owned by Mr. Armstrong, of Williamsport, Pa.

The " Washington," 400 tons was built at Wheeling about this time, had her
engines made at Brownsville. She was the first boat with boilers above deck — the
boats previous to that having them in the hold. She, also, by making a round
trip from Louisville to New Orleans, settled the question whether steamboats
could be rendered useful as a mode of navigation for the ascending trade, and
convinced the public, which had continued doubtful, of the practicability and suc-
cess of steamboat navigation on the western waters. She was in part owned by
Captain Henry M. Shreve, and was built under his immediate direction.

A small boat called the "Pike" was built at Hendersonville, Kentucky, in 1816.

The "General Pike," constructed at Cincinnati in 1818, was the first boat built
for the exclusive accommodation of passengers. Her cabin was forty feet long
and twenty-five feet wide. In addition she had fourteen staterooms.

The "Expedition," 120 tons, and the "Independent," of 50 tons, were con-
structed at Pittsburgh in 1818 for the Yellowstone expedition for the exploration
of the Missouri. The "Independence" was the first steamboat that ascended the

The " Western Engineer," built in 1819, near Pittsburgh, under the direction
of Major S. H. Long, of the United States Topographical Engineers, for the
expedition of discovery to the sources of the Missouri and Rocky Mountains, was
the first boat that ascended to Council Bluffs, 650 miles above St. Louis.

From 1817, when the success of steamboat navigation on the western rivers
was finally conceded by the public — convinced by the trips of the Washington


from Louisville to New Orleans and back in forty-five days — boat building rapidly

The following gives the boats constructed at Pittsburgh and vicinity from 1811
to 1835. There were two hundred and twenty-six steamboats built. The table
gives the names of one hundred and ninety -seven :

1811. — New Orleans.

1812.— Comet.

1814. — J5tna, Buffalo, Vesuvius.

1816. — James Monroe.

1817. — Franklin, Geo. Madison, Gen. Jackson.

1818. — Allegheny, Expedition, Independence, James Ross, St. Louis, Tamer-
lane, Thos. Jefferson.

1819. — Balise Packet, Car of Commerce, Cumberland, Dolphin, Olive Branch;,
Rapids, Telegraph.

1822.— Favorite, Gen. Neville.

1823. — Eclipse, Phoenix, Pittsburgh & St. Louis Packet, Pittsburgh, Penn-
sylvania, Rambler.

1824. — American, Herald, President.

1825. — Bolivar, Friendship, Gen. Brown, Gen. Wayne, Gen. Scott, LaFayette,.
Paul Jones, Pocahontas, William Penn.

1826.— America, Columbus, Commerce, DeWitt Clinton, Echo, Erie, Florida^
Fame, Gen. Coffee, Hercules, Illinois, Jubilee, Liberator, Lady Washington^.
Messenger, New York.

1827. — Essex, Maryland, New Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Shamrock, Shep-
herdess, William D. Duncan.

1828. — Baltimore, Cumberland, Caroline, Delaware, James O'Hara, Mis-
souri, Neptune, North America, Powhattan, Phoenix, Plaquemine, Red Rover,.
Star, Stranger, Talisman.

1829. — Citizen, Cora, Corsair, Huron, Home, Huntsman, Hudson,,
Herald, Industry, Kentuckian, Lark, Monhican, Monticello, Nile, Packet, Red
Rover, Ruhama, Talma, Trenton, Tallyho, Tariff', Uncle Sam, Uncas, Victory.

1830. — Allegheny, Abeona, Enterprise, Eagle, Gondola, Gleaner, Mobile,.
New Jersey, Ohio, Olive, Peruvian, Sam Patch.

Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Henry) ThurstonAllegheny county's hundred years → online text (page 14 of 43)