The First Steamboat Voyage on the Western Waters

by J. H. B. Latrobe




Prior to the introduction of steamboats on the Western waters, the means of transportation thereon consisted of keel boats, barges and flat boats. Keel boats and barges ascended, as well as descended, the stream. The flat boat was an unwieldly box, and was broken up, for the lumber it contained, on its arrival at the place of destination. The keel boat was long and slender, sharp fore and aft, with a narrow gangway just within the gunwale, for the boatmen as they poled or warped up the stream, when not aided by the eddies that nlade their oars available. When the keel boat was covered with a low house, lengthwise, between the gangways, it was dignified with the name of "barge." The only claim of the flat boat, or "broad horn," to rank as a vessel was due to the fact that it floated upon water and was used as a vehicle for transportation. Keel boats, barges, and flat boats had prodigious steering oars; and oars of the same


dimensions were hung on fixed pivots on the sides of the last named, by which the shapeless and cumbrous contrivance was, in some sort, managed. Ignorant of anything better, the people of the West were satisfied with these appliances of trade in 1810.


[Note that J. H. B. Latrobe was Lydia (Latrobe) Roosevelt's brother, and he consulted her as he was writing this history of their 1811-1812 voyage.
The full text of his history is available through the University of Michigan's Digital Library Production Service.]

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


How to cite this article:  J.H.B. Latrobe, The First Steamboat Voyage on the Western Waters (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1871) p. 5-6, available at