Mississippi Trader


THE following polite and highly interesting letter has been communicated to the Editors of the Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, by Mr. Jas. Smith.  Copies of the corrections can be had by those who are already furnished with the Navigator, gratis by calling at the Bookstore of CRAMER, SPEAR & EICHBAUM, Market-Street, Pittsburgh.

Mississippi River, Natchez,
February 18, 1812

Messrs. Cramer, Spear & Eichbaum, Printers, Pittsburgh


Your being editors of that useful guide, the Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, induces me, for the sake of the western country traders to inform you as early as in my power the wonderful changes for the worse in some parts of the Mississippi River, occasioned by the dreadful earthquake which happened on the morning of the 16th of December last, and which has continued to shake almost every day since.  As to its effects on the river I found but little from the mouth of Ohio to New-Madrid, from which place to the Chickesaw Bluffs, or Fort Pickering, the face of the river is wholly changed, particularly from Island No. 30, to Island No. 40; (see page 185) this part of the river burst and shook up hundreds of great trees from the bottom, and what is most singular they are all turned roots upwards and standing up stream in the best channel and swiftest water, and nothing but the greatest exertions of the boatmen can save them from destruction in passing those places.  I should advise all those concerned to be particular in approaching Island No. 32, where you must warp through a great number, and when past them, bear well over from the next right hand point for fear of being drawn into the right schute of Flour Island, Island 33, which I should advise against, as that pass is become very dangerous unless in very high water.  Two boats from Little Beaver are lately lost, and several much injured in that pass this season.  Boats should hug the left shore where there is but few sawyers, and good water and fine landing on the lower point of the island, from there the next dangerous place is the Devil's Race Ground, Island No. 36, (page 187).  Here I would advise boats never to pass to the left of the island and by all means to keep close to the right hand point, and then close round the sandbar as the lower end of the schute is very dangerous and the gaps so narrow that boats can scarcely pass without being dashed on some of the snags, and should you strike one you can scarcely extricate yourself before you receive some injury.  From this scene you have barely time to breathe and refresh, before you arrive at the Devil's Elbow; alias the Devil's Hackle, Islands No. 38 and 39, (page 188) by far the worst of all; in approaching this schute you must hug close round the left hand point until you come in sight of the sand bar whose head has the appearance of an old field full of trees, then pull for the island to keep clear of these, and pass through a small schute, leaving all the island sawyers to the right, and take care not to get too  near them, for should you strike the current is so rapid it will be with great difficulty you will be able to save your boat and cargo.

I shall advise all those descending the river not to take the right hand of Island No. 38, as it appears entirely choked up with drift and rafts of sawyers.  When through these bad places the worst is over, only fuller of snags, but mind well the directions in the Navigator and there will be no danger.  Run the Grand Cut-off No. 55, (page 192) in all stages of the water, and hug close the right hand point, this pass is good.  Take the left of St. Francis No. 59, left of No. 62, right of large sand bar and Island No. 63, and right of No. 76, in all the different stages of the water.  All these channels are much the best and safest.  Should this be the means of saving one boat load of provisions to an industrious citizen, how amply shall I feel rewarded for noting this, whilst with gratitude I acknowledge the obligation we as boatmen are under to you for your useful guide, that excellent work the Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, much to be valued for its accuracy and geographical account of this immense country.

I have the honor to be, gentlemen, your sincere friend and humble servant.

                                    JAMES SMITH.

Editors of Newspapers will do a service to the Mississippi trader by giving this a few insertions, particularly those papers adjacent to the rivers Ohio and Mississippi. 

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


How to cite this article:   “Mississippi Trader,” Pittsburgh Gazette, 13 Mar 1812, p. 3, available at  http://history.hanover.edu/texts/1811.