“Description of Pittsburgh”
in Travels to the Westward of the Allegany Mountains, by F. A. Michaux (1805)


[Pittsburgh] is the depot of merchandize from Philadelphia and Baltimore, sent thither at the commencement of spring and autumn, to supply the States of the Ohio and Kentucky, and of the settlement of Natches. Through these towns, in the course of last war, they communicated also with New Orleans, sending their goods by the way of the Ohio and the Mississippi.

The conveyance of merchandize from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, is performed in large covered waggons, drawn by four horses, harnessed two a-breast. The price of the carriage varies according to the season; but seldom exceeds six dollars per cwt. The distance is computed to be three hundred miles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and the carriers perform the journey in twenty or four and twenty days. The charge of conveyance is not high, for the waggons generally return empty; sometimes, however, from Philadelphia or Baltimore, they bring skins, which come from the Illinois or from Ginseng, and which are commonly met with in that part of Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh is not only the depository of the merchandize of Philadelphia and Baltimore, with the Western Countries, but also of numerous settlements that are formed on the Monongahela and the Allegany. The territorial produce of these countries finds an easy and advantageous channel through the Ohio and the Mississippi. Grain, hams, and bacon, are the principal articles which are sent to New Orleans, whence they are re-exported to the Antilles. Bar-iron, coarse linen cloths, bottles made at Pittsburgh, brandy, whiskey, and butter in casks, are also exported for the consumption of Louisiana. Great part of these stores come from Redstone, a small but commercial town, situated on the Monongahela, at the distance of fifty-five miles beyond Pittsburgh. These united advantages have, in the course of ten years, increased the population and value of property in this town in a ten-fold degree, and continue to assist its growth, which daily becomes more rapid. Most of the merchants who are established at Pittsburgh and its environs, are either partners or factors of commercial houses in Philadelphia. Their agents at New Orleans dispose of as much goods as they can for ready money; or they will take cotton, indigo, and clayed sugar, the production of Lower Louisiana, in exchange. These they forward by sea to the houses in Philadelphia and Baltimore, whence they come by land to Pittsburgh and its neighbourhood, where most of them reside. Notwithstanding the length of the passage from New Orleans to either of these ports is from five and twenty to thirty days, and that then they have to make a journey by land of three hundred miles to return to Pittsburgh, they prefer that way, because it is less laborious than the return by land from New Orleans to Pittsburgh; this last distance being from fourteen to fifteen hundred miles. But when the vessels are bound only for Limeston, in Kentucky, or for Cincinnati in the State of the Ohio, the conductors return by laud, thus making a journey of from four to five hundred miles.

The navigation of the Ohio and of the Mississippi is so much used, that the distance from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, is ascertained with sufficient exactness, and has been settled at 2100 miles. Merchant vessels, in spring, generally allow forty-five, or fifty days to perform this passage; but two or three persons in a pirogue, or Indian bark, may accomplish it in twenty or five and twenty days.

What many people are perhaps ignorant of in Europe is, that, at Pittsburgh, and on the Ohio, are constructed vessels of heavy burden. One of the principal docks is on the Monongahela, at the distance of 400 yards beyond the extremity of the town. The sorts of timber used in their construction are:—The white oak, quercus alba; the red oak, quercus rubra; the black oak, quercus tinctoria; a species of walnut tree, juglans pignut; cherry tree, cerasus virginiana; and a species of pine, which is employed as well for the masts, as for those parts of the ship which require a lighter wood. All these woods growing near, the expences of building are here considerably less than in the ports of the Atlantic States. The ropes are manufactured at Redstone and at Lexington, where two fine rope-walks have been established, which also furnish rigging for the ships that are built at Marietta and Louisville. On my passage to Pittsburgh, in the month of July 1802, there were on the stocks, a ship of three masts, of 250 tons, [“Since my return, I have been informed that this ship, called the Pittsburgh, had arrived at Philadelphia.”] and a galliott of 90, which were on the point of being finished. In the following spring, they were to go down to New Orleans, freighted with the productions of the country, performing a passage of about 733 leagues, before they arrive at the ocean. From what follows, there is no doubt but that they might equally construct vessels at the distance of 200 leagues above the mouth of the Missouri, of fifty from that of the river Illinois, and even in the Mississippi, and at 200 above the fall of these rivers; that is to say, at 650 leagues from the sea; for their bed, in the space alluded to, is as deep as that of the Ohio, at Pittsburgh, and it would be erroneous to suppose that the countries through which these rivers pass, may not, ere long, be so peopled as to render them capable of similar undertakings. The rapid population of the three new Western States, under circumstances infinitely less favourable, strengthens this assertion. These states, which thirty years ago contained scarcely 3000 inhabitants, now possess more than 40,000; and, among all the habitations, which on the road are seldom at a greater distance than four or five miles, it is very rare to meet with one, even among the most flourishing, where one might not confidently enquire of the proprietor, whence he had emigrated; or, after the manner of the Americans,—From what part of the world did you come ? As if these vast and fertile regions ought to be considered as the central point, and the common country of all the inhabitants of the globe. Now, if we reflect on these rapid and astonishing improvements, what expectations may not be formed, of the high degree of prosperity to which the western countries may be raised, and of the new progress which the commerce, population, and culture of these parts will make, by the uniting of Louisiana to the American territory ?

. . . .

Whatever may be the state of the weather, the waters of the Allegany are clear and transparent; those of the Monongahela, on the contrary, become turbid after it has rained for some days in that part of the Allegany mountains where it derives its source.

The maple-sugar tree is very common in all that part of Pennsylvania which is watered by the Monongahela and the Allegany. This tree mostly delights in cold, wet, and mountainous countries, and its sap abounds in proportion to the severity of the winter. The sugar which is extracted from it, is of as dark a colour as that of clayed-sugar after the first baking ; it is sold in loaves of six, eight, and ten pounds, at the rate of fourteen sols or seven pence per pound. The inhabitants manufacture it only for their own consumption; most of them take tea and coffee every day, but they only use that sugar, which is obtained by the first evaporation of the sap; as, on account of the great expence which would attend the process, no person is employed in refining it.

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


How to cite this article:  “Description of Pittsburgh,” in F. A. Michaux, Travels to the Westward of the Allegany Mountains (London: Richard Phillips, 1805), 29-34, excerpted at http://history.hanover.edu/texts/1811.