The First Steamboat Voyage on the Western Waters

by J. H. B. Latrobe




The size and plan of the first steamboat had been determined on in New York, and had been furnished by Mr. Fulton. It was to be 116 feet


in length, with twenty feet beam. The engine was to have a 34 inch cylinder, and the boiler and other parts of the machine were to be in proportion. The first thing to be done was to obtain the timber to build the boat; and for this purpose men were sent into the forest, there to find the necessary ribs, and knees, and beams-transport them to the Monongahela, and raft them to the shipyard. White pine was the only material for planking that could be obtained without a delay that was inadmissible. The sawing that was required, was done in the old fashioned and now long forgotten saw pits of 1811. Boat builders, accustomed to construct the barges of that day, could be obtained in Pittsburg: but a shipbuilder and the mechanics required in the machinery department, had to be brought from New York. Under these circumstances, Mr. Roosevelt began the work. One of the first troubles that annoyed him was a rise in the Monongahela, when the waters backed into his shipyard and set all his materials, that were buoyant, afloat. This occurred again and again; and on one occasion it seemed not improbable that the steamboat would be lifted from its ways and launched before its time. With my own recollection of the remnants of the rude shops in which Mr. Roosevelt had the engine built, some four years after


they had been abandoned, the wonder to this day is, how he could have accomplished what he did. At length, however, all difficulties were overcome by steady perseverance, and the boat was launched-and called, from the place of her ultimate destination, the New Orleans. It cost in the neighborhood of $38,000.

. . . .

There were two cabins, one aft, for ladies, and a larger one forward for gentlemen. In the former


there were four berths. It was comfortably furnished. . . . There was a captain, an engineer named Baker, Andrew Jack, the pilot, six hands, two female servants, a man waiter, a cook, and an immense Newfoundland dog, named Tiger. Thus equipped, the New Orleans began the voyage which changed the relations of the West,which may almost be said to have changed its destiny.


[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. 11-14, available at