Steamboat Adventure
Made possible by the Rivers Institute and the History Department of Hanover College.

Winter 1811-1812



The steamboat New Orleans' 1811-1812  trip down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans marked a turning point in the Transportation Revolution.  After the New Orleans showed that it could be done, steamboats proliferated on the Ohio and the Mississippi and their tributaries.  Steamboat traffic helped create a national economy, opening markets for farm goods and drawing people and commerce to cities along the rivers.  The items below were published in the winter of 1811-1812, and they provide context for understanding the Roosevelts' "steamboat adventure."  (Note that newspaper editors often reprinted stories that appeared earlier elsewhere.)

After waiting in Louisville through November for the Ohio River to rise enough to allow the New Orleans through the Falls of the Ohio, the Roosevelts began this period ready to attempt the rapids. The Falls of the Ohio were normally the most dangerous point on the Ohio-Mississippi route, and people again urged Lydia to stay safely ashore, but she refused to leave the ship. Once they made it through, they expected a relatively easy journey thereafter.

About a week later, however, they felt the first shock of a major earthquake.  They were then roughly 200 miles away from the epicenter, in present-day New Madrid, Missouri. Shocks continued for the rest of the winter, with four of them at magnitude 7 or more. Damage from the earthquake was so severe that it changed the shape of the Mississippi River, which meant the New Orleans had to make her way through many miles of uncharted waters.

Tensions between settlers and Native Americans continued to be high, and the Roosevelts were particularly nervous when Chickasaw living north of what is now Memphis, Tenn., threatened the New Orleans.

They arrived in Natchez on December 30. Staying there a few days before beginning the last leg of their journey, the Roosevelts and the crew finally arrived at New Orleans on Jan. 10, 1812.  Later that month, the New Orleans began her profitable career providing transportation between New Orleans and Natchez.


Dec. 6, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - humorous story about "an honest Hibernian" in a London crowd gathered to view the comet
Dec. 7, 1811, Louisiana Gazette - reports on the dead from the Battle of Tippecanoe
Dec. 7, 1811, Louisiana Gazette - reports that 1900 Indians have gathered and threaten Harrison's men; the editor asserts British influence ("the Savages only allies of GREATER Savages")
Dec. 10, 1811, (in Two Lectures) - Harvard professor John Farrar describes the comet's path from September to December
Dec. 18, 1811, Liberty Hall - early reports of the Dec. 16 earthquake (from Cincinnati)
Dec. 20, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - report of the Dec. 16 earthquake (from Pittsburgh)
Dec. 20, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - Gov. William Henry Harrison is optimistic about the consequences of the Battle of Tippecanoe for white settlers
Dec. 21, 1811, Louisiana Gazette - a song by Joseph Cross on "Harrison's Victory" at the Battle of Tippecanoe
Dec. 21, 1811, Louisiana Gazette - Lt. Vasquez's eyewitness report on the Battle of Tippecanoe
Dec. 25, 1811, Liberty Hall - reports of eight shocks felt in Cincinnati from Dec. 16 to Dec. 17
Dec. 27, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - report of the Dec. 16 earthquake (from Lexington, Kentucky) -- apparently Nature can "no longer tolerate the moral turpitude of man"
Dec. 27, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - Indian Agents report that the Cherokee, Chocktaw, and Creeks "remain quiet and friendly" after the Battle of Tippecanoe
Dec. 28, 1811, Western Spy - evidence that "a great portion of the continent" felt the earthquake
Dec. 28, 1811, Western Spy - the Indian Agent in Fort Wayne reports that chiefs he met with were friendly, and describes Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa
Jan. 1, 1812, Liberty Hall - another shock felt in Cincinnati on Dec. 31
Jan. 1, 1812, Liberty Hall - earthquake reports from the what is now the Midwest
Jan. 4, 1812, Western Spy - more shocks felt in Cincinnati
Jan. 4, 1812, Western Spy - earthquake reports from the Atlantic states
Jan. 4, 1812, Western Spy - letter from William Henry Harrison on Kickapoo attitudes after the Battle of Tippecanoe
Jan. 4, 1812, Western Spy - William Henry Harrison refuses to meet with the Owl, a Miami chief negotiating for the Kickapoo and Winnebago
Jan. 4, 1812, Western Sun - third-hand report on Tenskwatawa and the results of the Battle of Tippecanoe
Jan. 4, 1812, Western Sun - earthquake report from Washington, Kentucky
Jan. 8, 1812, Liberty Hall - earthquake reports from Washington D.C. and the East
Jan. 11, 1812, Western Sun - reports of the earthquake: east as far as Pittsburgh, south as far as Nashville
Jan. 11, 1812, Western Spy - shocks continue to be felt in Cincinnati
Jan. 15, 1812, Liberty Hall - earthquake report from Chickasaw Bluffs (now Memphis, Tenn.)
Jan. 18, 1812, Western Spy - detailed report of the earthquake and the river, from Chickasaw Bluffs
Jan. 18, 1812, Western Spy - the barge Cincinnati traveled from Cincinnati to New Orleans in 41 days (a record, given the conditions)
Jan. 18, 1812, Louisiana Gazette - the Winnebago retaliate against Americans for the Battle of Tippecanoe
Jan. 18, 1812, Western Spy - reports of Indian aggressiveness, perhaps connected with Tecumseh's southern supporters
Jan. 22, 1812, Pennsylvania Gazette - report on the number of families (and sheep) leaving Pennsylvania for Ohio
Jan. 22, 1812, Pennsylvania Gazette - third-hand news of Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh
Jan. 25, 1812, Western Spy - "whimsical account" of the comet
Jan. 25, 1812, Western Spy - shocks felt in Cincinnati continue, with the Jan. 16 shock causing more damage
Jan. 29, 1812, Liberty Hall - the Jan. 23 shock, as felt in Cincinnati, was "equally severe with" the first (Dec. 16) shock
Jan. 29, 1812, Liberty Hall - review of "remarkable events" in world history relevant to the comet and earthquake
Jan. 29, 1812, Liberty Hall - Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton (through Nicholas Roosevelt) offer shares in a new steamboat company
Jan. 29, 1812, Pennsylvania Gazette - earthquake shocks felt in Alexandria, Virginia, on Jan. 23
Jan. 29, 1812, Pennsylvania Gazette - earthquake shocks felt in Long Island, New York, on Jan. 23
Jan. 31, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - a Pittsburgh songwriter offers for sale "a new song" about the Battle of Tippecanoe
Jan. 31, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - detailed "letter from a gentleman" who experienced the Dec. 16 earthquake from the river, as the Roosevelts did
Feb. 1, 1812, Western Spy - eyewitness to the earthquake: "at New Madrid the shocks have been uncommonly violent"
Feb. 1, 1812, Western Spy - more "comparatively light" shocks felt in Cincinnati, and "it now appears the earthquake has been felt along the Atlantic coast as far as N. Jersey"
Feb. 1, 1812, Western Sun- President Madison's report to Congress about the Battle of Tippecanoe
Feb. 1, 1812, Western Sun- William Henry Harrison's detailed report on the Battle of Tippecanoe (about 5000 words)
Feb. 5, 1812, Liberty Hall - another mild shock felt in Cincinnati on Feb. 4
Feb. 7, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - earthquake reports from Alabama
Feb. 8, 1812, Western Spy - report of daily shocks felt in Cincinnati since the first ("of considerable violence") on Feb. 4
Feb. 8, 1812, Western Spy - the New Orleans arrives in Natchez on Dec. 30
Feb. 8, 1812, Western Spy - the editor responds to charges from the Liberty Hall that the Western Spy has exaggerated earthquake reports
Feb. 12, 1812, Centinel - report of "uncommonly violent" shocks in New Madrid
Feb. 12, 1812, Centinel - report from Chillicothe, Ohio, of Jan. 23 shock "as extensively felt as those on the 16th and 17th of December" and a "slight trembling" on Jan. 27
Feb. 12, 1812, Liberty Hall - the editor responds to criticism from the Western Spy over reporting on the earthquake
Feb. 12, 1812, Liberty Hall - the New Orleans arrives in Natchez on Dec. 30, bringing news of the earthquake damage farther north
Feb. 12, 1812, Liberty Hall - report of shocks felt at Fort Stoddert (in what is now southern Alabama)
Feb. 12, 1812, Liberty Hall - detailed report of shocks felt in Cincinnati from Feb. 4 to Feb. 11
Feb. 14, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - report on the goods passing over the Falls of the Ohio in October and November, 1811
Feb. 14, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - John C. Edwards reports on the Dec. 16 earthquake near Ashville, North Carolina
Feb. 14, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - James Fletcher reports on the Dec. 16 earthquake at Little Prairie (in present-day Missouri); they "supposed the whole country sinking!"
Feb. 14, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - the New Orleans arrives in New Orleans on Jan. 10
Feb. 15, 1812, Louisiana Gazette - the Winnebago "are determined to have revenge" on Americans for the Battle of Tippecanoe
Feb. 15, 1812, Western Spy - detailed report from New Madrid of reactions to the earthquake (Dec. 16 through Dec. 28)
Feb. 19, 1812, Liberty Hall - reports of mild shocks felt in Cincinnati from Feb. 13 to Feb. 17
Feb. 19, 1812, Connecticut Current - William L. Pierce reports on the effects of the Dec. 16 earthquake on various places the Roosevelts passed
Feb. 22, 1812, Western Spy - reports of "slights shocks" and shocks of "considerable severity in past week; Robert Morrison reports on earthquake in Kaskaskia (in present-day Illinois)
Feb. 22, 1812, Western Spy - reports of shocks from the earthquake from Dec. 16 to Feb. 7, as felt in Fort Wayne and Fort Dearborn (now Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois)
Feb. 22, 1812, Western Spy - observations about earthquakes, copied from the writings of "Dr. Wittich"
Feb. 26, 1812, Liberty Hall - reports of mild shocks felt in Cincinnati from Feb. 20 to Feb. 22
Feb. 26, 1812, Liberty Hall - report of the Dec. 16 earthquake as felt in St. Louis
Feb. 26, 1812, Liberty Hall - report of shocks felt in Richmond, Virginia, and a reminder to be rational, not superstitious in observing the comet and earthquake

1817, John Bradbury remembers boarding the New Orleans in Natchez on Jan. 6, 1812
1871, First Steamboat Voyage - Lydia Roosevelt's brother describes a threatened Chickasaw attack and a fire on board the New Orleans



More about the "Steamboat Adventure" of 1811-1812 --


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Chronology

Spring 1811
Summer 1811
Fall 1811
Winter 1811-1812
Spring 1812

Locations

Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
Louisville (Kentucky) and Madison (Indiana Territory)
New Madrid (in present-day Missouri)
Chickasaw Bluffs (now Memphis)
Natchez
New Orleans

Topics

Nicholas and Lydia Roosevelt
The Transportation Revolution
The Great Comet of 1811
The New Madrid Earthquakes
Indian Relations

Questions or comments -- historians@hanover.edu