William A. (William Andrus) Alcott.

Three Days on the Ohio River online

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1854, by


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Southern
District of New-York.

[Illustration: A WESTERN STEAMBOAT. See page 9.]























I was once in the city of Cincinnati, and wished to go to Pittsburg by
way of the river. Not that this was the nearest way, or the swiftest, or
the cheapest; but I desired very much to see the country through which
the river runs: for, as I had read in the histories of the United
States, and particularly in the accounts of our wars with the Indians,
much about the Ohio River, with many of its towns and villages, my
curiosity was very active; and I was determined to behold it.

It was Monday, the 29th of March, and a most lovely morning, too, when
I went on board the steamboat Pittsburg, bound for the city of the same
name. I was careful to set out early in the week, so as, if possible, to
reach Pittsburg before Sunday.



Were you ever on board a Western river steamboat? As some of you may not
have had the opportunity, I will give you a short account of one.

Some of these boats are very large indeed. They would seem to you like a
little world of themselves.

The Pittsburg is about two hundred and eighty feet in length by sixty in
breadth. This boat, if placed in a field, would cover nearly half an
acre of land.

These boats are high as well as long. Besides the hold, as they call
it - a kind of cellar into which they stow away much of their heavy
freight - they have two or three other stories or decks for freight and

The one next above the hold is where they keep their cattle and horses
and hogs, if they have any on board; also their common freight. Here,
too, in some instances, they have at one end a clumsy kind of cabin
called the forecastle, or steerage.

This forecastle is occupied, for the most part, by the poorer
passengers, especially emigrants. They have berths or shelves to recline
on, but no bed-clothing; and their accommodations are generally very

On the next floor above are the cabins for the passengers in general.
They are usually in two great - rather long - rooms, one at each end. One
of them is used at meals as the dining-room. The berths or sleeping
places are at their sides. They, too, are mere broad shelves, but they
have bed-clothing and curtains.

On the upper deck the cabins are still more ample, as well as better
furnished. There, instead of shelves at the sides, there are small rooms
connected with the shelves, called state-rooms.

Were it not that the cabins on those upper decks are unusually long in
proportion to their breadth, and did you not feel the motion of the boat
while occupying them, the traveler would hardly know that he was not in
a large and comfortable hotel or dwelling-house.

There is still another deck or promenade above all these, but passengers
are not usually allowed to occupy it. The helmsman of the boat is
stationed here, and a crowd of people around him might obstruct his

I have thus described five stories or rows; but there is a difference in
boats in this particular, even in the large ones. Some have only four
stories - that is, three besides the hold. In the latter case, the lower
or freight deck is at one end of the boat, formed into a cabin which
communicates only by means of a stairway with the next deck above it.

The best cabins are carpeted as nicely as our best parlors, and the
furniture is often as costly. The state-rooms are also well furnished,
and sometimes well ventilated. The beds are narrow. But the beds on
board the Pittsburg, though narrow, were quite comfortable. The
passenger reclines on a mattress, which rests on coils of elastic wire,
like some of our sofas and carriage seats; and the beds are almost as
soft as feather beds.

The rules and regulations in many steamboats are exceedingly strict. In
some instances they are printed and hung up at the sides of the cabins
and elsewhere, in conspicuous places. They relate to the treatment of
furniture, the hours of rising, meals, retiring to rest, &c.

No person, for example, is allowed to let his chair, while sitting, rest
against the wall, or to put his feet on the cushions of the chairs or
sofas. No lights are permitted in the state-rooms - cases of severe
sickness or other extremity alone excepted.

The female passengers have every reasonable convenience for washing,
dressing, &c., in their state-rooms. For the rest of the passengers
there is a common washroom, with which the barber's room is also
sometimes connected.

Thus you see that the art and ingenuity of man have converted these
great prisons on the water into so many magnificent hotels. Some
inconveniences and even privations there are, and must be. As a general
rule, the traveler may be very comfortable in them, and, if he chooses,
quite self-indulgent.

This word self-indulgent refers to the articles of food on the tables.
These are just what is to be expected when it is considered what the far
greater part of our travelers place their chief happiness in - what they
most think of and talk of, at least when they have little else to do.

In this respect, the steamboat is about on a par with the hotel. If
there be any difference, it seems to me to consist in this: that the
dishes at the table on board the steamboat are more complicated and more
costly, and at the same time more unhealthy, than those of the hotel.

But enough of description, for the present. We will now return to the
narration of my adventures.



The distance from Cincinnati to Pittsburg, following the course of the
river, is four hundred and seventy-seven miles; the distance by land
being, as I suppose, on the shortest road, about three hundred and

The Ohio River is very crooked. It turns to nearly every point of the
compass. In one instance, in going up it, for example, I well remember
that after going for some time in a northerly and then in a
north-westerly direction, we suddenly turned to the west, as if we were
going back again to Cincinnati.

The hour at which the steamer was to sail, according to the
advertisement in the papers, was ten o'clock. Most of the passengers
were on board before this time. There was, however, a large amount of
freight to come on board afterward. There was also delay from another
and very different cause.

Just opposite to Cincinnati, on the Kentucky side, are the villages of
Newport and Covington. In one of the houses, in one of these places, a
thief had entered, during the night, and taken away considerable money
and other property. The officers of justice were in pursuit of him.

They came to the Pittsburg, and asked permission to search that. This
being granted, they went in company with one of the officers, and made
diligent search everywhere, especially among the emigrants. The thief,
however, was not found, and the search was discontinued.

At about twelve o'clock we were under weigh, and slowly proceeding up
the river, which is here, as I judged, about a quarter of a mile wide,
and pretty deep. Every passenger, or nearly every one, was now on deck
enjoying the prospect.

The Pittsburg sailed about eight or ten miles an hour. We were soon out
of sight of Cincinnati. The last portion of it which we saw was
Fulton - which is the name given to a long arm of the city, extending
several miles along in a north-eastern direction.

I was almost sorry to leave Cincinnati, for it is, in many respects, a
beautiful place. The central or business part is not peculiarly
handsome, I admit; but the Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn, and other places,
forming a semicircle, and inclosing it on all sides except on the
south-east and south, are, for the beauties of nature and art, almost



As you proceed up the river, your attention is arrested, from time to
time, by small villages. These are more numerous on the Ohio side than
on that of Kentucky. Whether this is owing to the effects of slavery, or
to other reasons, I am not informed. One thing is certain - that nature
is not at fault in the construction of the country; for never in my life
have I seen a prettier variety of hills and dales than on the Kentucky
side of the Ohio River.

The water of the river was high, and the boat could stop at nearly every
considerable village. The principal places we passed, for the first
sixty miles, were Columbia, Point Pleasant, Neville, Higginsport,
Ripley, and Aberdeen, in Ohio; and Mechanicsburg, Belmont, Augusta, and
Charleston, in Kentucky.

Augusta, in Kentucky, is a considerable village, and has one or two
important schools. It has also a few antiquities. So full is the earth
of decaying human bones, that they can hardly dig a hole for a post
without finding some of them.

The water of the Ohio at this season has a turbid or milky appearance.
It is used, on board the steamboats, for all purposes, even for
drinking. To me it was disagreeable; but to some of the passengers it
was more than disagreeable to their taste, for it deranged their
stomachs. This result is probably owing to the lime it contains.

Most of the passengers were on deck during the greater part of the day,
viewing the country, which I have already told you was beautiful. The
villages, in general, had a sooty appearance, caused by coal smoke.



Before night we came to Maysville, in Kentucky. This is quite a large
village, with some appearance of thrift and prosperity.

Here we stopped for two hours or more - partly to take in one hundred and
twenty head of cattle. Our number of passengers was not large - less, I
believe, than one hundred - and probably did not much more than pay
expenses, especially when they kept so extravagant a table. The fare to
Pittsburg was $7. True, there was on board a large amount of freight of
various kinds, which perhaps made up the deficiency.

But as the grave, according to Solomon, is never satisfied - never says
enough - so the men who are engaged in carrying passengers and freight
seem never satisfied as long as they can carry any more.

Those who drive large numbers of cattle from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio,
&c., to New-York and the Eastern States, find it very tedious to drive
them all the way by land, as well as very expensive; so they sometimes
make a bargain with the superintendents of railroads and the captains of
steamboats to have them transported.

The price paid for carrying one hundred and twenty cattle from Maysville
to Pittsburg - above four hundred miles by water - was $4 50 each; or, in
the whole, $540.

The cattle were to be brought upon the lower deck, next to the hold, and
tied with short ropes to the posts and other timbers of the boat. But
how were they to be got on board? I will describe the method.

The steamboat was brought close to the wharf, from which a broad
platform, made of strong planks, was thrown across to the deck of the
boat, forming a bridge. Still, however, the animals were afraid.

The difficulty was surmounted in the following manner: One old ox was
procured who had been trained for the purpose, and was not at all
afraid. A rope was attached to his horns, and he was slowly led on
board, while the others, with a little urging, followed him. But as
they could not manage more than six or eight at a time, the trained ox
had to be led on board, and brought back again a great many times before
the drove were fairly in their places.

One poor bullock made them a deal of trouble, after he was taken on
board. Uneasy and restless, he somehow or other got loose, leaped
overboard, and swam down the river about a mile, before a company in the
long-boat could reach and secure him, and drive him back.

While this embarkation of the cattle was going on, I went on shore and
took a survey of the village. It is the most important place in this
part of Kentucky, containing, as I judged, some four or five thousand
inhabitants, and having considerable trade, with some manufactures.

This place was formerly called by the characteristic name of Limestone,
and was one of the first-settled places in the state. The famous Daniel
Boone at one time resided here; and an old shattered warehouse is shown
to travelers, which, it is said, he built.



It was nearly night when we left Maysville, and most of the passengers
were glad to go below, and remain there. The hour for rest was also
approaching: of this also we were glad; for, to most of us, it had been
a very fatiguing day.

There was, however, an interval of two or three hours between "tea" and
bedtime; and the question was, how this time should be employed? I say
this _was_ the question; but I mean rather that it _should_ have been:
for I do not suppose, on further reflection, that one person in ten of
those who were on board was in the habit of asking himself any such
question - whether on land or on water, at home or abroad. They took "no
note of time, but by its loss." And they who do not live by system or
rule elsewhere, will not be likely to do so while on board a steamboat.

In truth, it is very difficult for those who are the most careful,
economical, and systematic in regard to their time, to keep everything
straight while traveling, especially while traveling at the rapid rate
of modern times, and with such crowds. It costs even the most
conscientious - those who fear God the most - quite a struggle.

Do you ask what the fear of God has to do with matters of this
kind? - and whether we have time to think closely and continuously about
the right and wrong of everything, on board a steamboat?

My reply is, that some persons do it, in spite of the difficulties.
There were a few on board the Pittsburg who did it, although their
number, as I have already intimated, was very few.

I have said that some persons try to have a conscience void of offense
toward God and man, not only while at home, but when they travel abroad,
whether in the steamboat, or in the railroad car: they believe that God
sees them there as well as elsewhere: they believe that for every
thought, word, and deed - alone or in company, at home or abroad - they
must give account in the day of judgment: they believe that whether they
eat or drink, or whatsoever they do, and whenever they do it, they are
required to do all to the glory of God.

I saw one or two groups of passengers on board the Pittsburg, in one of
the cabins where there was the most merriment of all kinds, as well as
the most thoughtlessness on the part of many, who had their Bibles in
their hands for a long time, during the progress of the evening, and who
appeared to be reading and studying.

I know, full well, that all this may be done - sometimes _is_ done - for
mere effect. Some read the Bible that they may appear to be good. Some
read it to keep down the upbraidings of their consciences. Some do it
from mere habit. And some do it in the vain hope that somehow or
other - they know not when or how, but at some _time_ or other - a
blessing will come out of it.

When I saw those persons reading the Bible on board the Pittsburg, I
did not at once set them down as certainly and always religious; I did
not set them down as persons who, if they were religious on occasions,
or at stated times, carried out their religion into dayly and hourly
practice: I mean I did not set them down as _necessarily_ so, or such
merely because they read the Bible.

But I will tell you what I _did_ think of them then, and what I think of
them still. I have no doubt that they were people who had good purposes,
and who lived by system, and not at random or mere hap-hazard: I have no
doubt that they were church-going people when at home: I doubt not at
all that they were Sabbath-keeping people; and I have very little doubt
that they prayed, at least sometimes.



During the progress of the evening, and while at the dinner and supper
table, I had opportunity to survey the crowd, and to recognize in it the
representatives of many distinct and different nations.

Americans, the lineal descendants of the true European race, of course
predominated. Among the subdivisions of this race were English, Scotch,
Irish, and German.

Africans, too, were numerous; but were found chiefly among the "hands"
employed on board the steamboat. The waiters at table, the two stewards,
the barber, the cooks, - from first to last, for there was almost an army
of them, - were more or less of African origin. Some of them were jet
black; but the far greater part were of commingled blood. Some were so
light colored, that at first sight one would hardly recognize them as
having ever belonged to the race of "Uncle Tom," or "Aunt Chloe."

Besides, there were with us four American Indians, of the Shawnee tribe.
They were just from their home, among the upper branches of the Arkansas
River, and were on their way to Washington, on business in behalf of
their nation.

They were dressed in a full American costume, and two of them could
converse in English very well. One of them - a young man - appeared to
have no knowledge of any but his native dialect.

With one of the elder of these men I had some conversation myself. He
answered my questions very readily and frankly, but seldom, in return,
made any inquiries of me. Yet he was not destitute of curiosity. On
several occasions I saw him looking with interest while mechanical and
manufacturing operations were going on, both on board and on shore.

I found to my surprise that these Indians were not, even when at home,
naked or half-naked savages, ignorant of the arts and decencies of
life; but respectable farmers, more than half civilized, and some of
them Christianized. They had cultivated fields and frame houses, with
great numbers of horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs.

The younger of them even expressed a good deal of religious feeling, and
said by an interpreter that he wished his nation read more in the New
Testament and religious books. Another, who was a half-breed, and was
older, appeared to be a professor of religion. One bad habit, so common
among the whites, they had caught by contact: I mean that of smoking
tobacco; and it is fortunate if they have been contaminated by us in
nothing else.

But ten o'clock came, the hour when we were expected to retire to our
berths, and it was not long before silence and darkness reigned, except
where it was needful for men to watch and labor to see that the boat
pursued her onward, ascending course.

Some of us, before retiring, took a short walk upon deck. The moon had
not yet risen, but it was starlight. The surface of the river, and the
waving outline of the adjacent shores and hills, with here and there a
house, and one or two small villages, were all that we could see. After
taking proper care of my little state-room, to see that the ventilators
were so arranged as to give on the one hand a free circulation, and on
the other to prevent a current of damp night air from falling directly
upon me, and after remembering, too, that there was a God in the heavens
in whom, as the supreme director on the water as well as on the land, I
could trust, I resigned myself to sleep, and did not rise till the day
had dawned, and the moon had reached the middle of the heavens.



During the night we had passed by several important villages,
Manchester, Rome, Rockville, Portsmouth, Wheelersburg, Hanging Rock,
Burlington, and Proctorsville, in Ohio; and Concord, Vanceburg,
Greenupsburg, and Catlettsburg, in Kentucky.

The face of the country was still interesting, but that of the Kentucky
and Virginia side had become less so than the other. We had lost the
opportunity of seeing the mouths of the Scioto and Big Sandy Rivers, as
well as many other curious and interesting objects.

But what we regretted most was the loss of Portsmouth. This fine place
at the mouth of the Scioto River we had hoped to pass by daylight.
However, we could not expect to see every place we passed.

We were now approaching the coal country; and this morning we had a
fine opportunity of observing the method by which these huge steamboats
provide themselves with this important article. Some of them, I believe,
use wood for fuel; but not all, by any means.

They do not go to the wharves of the villages they pass and wait to have
some twenty, or thirty, or fifty tons of coal shoveled into the boat.
They have another and much simpler way, and one which does not hinder
them a moment.

Long flats or scows, deeply laden with this necessary article,
proceeding from the shore meet the steamer in the middle of the river,
and by means of chains or ropes are immediately lashed to her
sides - usually two of them - one on each side. The men on board the
flats, aided perhaps by the crew of the steamer, immediately fall to
work with their shovels and throw the coal on board when it is wanted.

When the flats are emptied, the ropes are loosened, and they are set
free to return to their place, now several miles down the river. The
steamer is thus supplied for twelve, eighteen, or it may be twenty-four

But what most struck me was the facilities which the miners possess for
procuring this coal from the hills: for the reader should know that the
hills between which we were now passing, all contain this useful

This coal is in a layer, somewhat different in thickness in different
places, but varying from four to five feet. In the hills which the
Pittsburg was now passing, the layer, as I was informed, is about four
feet thick.

This layer, in countries west of the Alleghany, is horizontal, or nearly
so, and this without reference to the shape of the hill that covers it.
At the base of the hills it is usually found pretty near the surface;
but as you proceed inward its distance from the surface increases with
the ascent of the hill.

In Tallmadge, Ohio, last winter, I penetrated one of these coal mines,
accompanied by the workmen, nearly one thousand feet. I found the
stratum of coal at that place not far from four feet thick.

This coal is split out, by means of drilling and blasting, as in the
case of removing any other rock. They usually proceed in a narrow way at
first, perhaps eight or ten feet broad and as many high. As they go on,
they place props under the incumbent hill; or, what is more common, they
place at suitable distances a framework around the sides to prevent its
falling in.

When they have penetrated several hundred feet into these coal hills,
and the air does not circulate freely enough, and especially does not
carry away the smoke of their powder far enough, they sometimes dig a
well or hole from the top of the hill directly over the line of the
excavation till it meets it. This serves as a chimney and ventilator,
and is of great and lasting service.

To carry the coal, they have in general small cars drawn by one horse
each. For this purpose a railroad is made, as far as the excavation


Online LibraryWilliam A. (William Andrus) AlcottThree Days on the Ohio River → online text (page 1 of 2)