The First Steamboat Voyage on the Western Waters

by J. H. B. Latrobe




Some miles above the mouth of the Ohio, the diminished speed of the current indicated a rise in the Mississippi. This was found to be the case. The bottom lands on either shore were under water, and there was every sign of an unwonted flood. Canoes came and went among the boles of the trees. Sometimes, the Indians attempted to approach the steamboat; and, again, fled on its approach. The Chickasaws still occupied that part of the State of Tennessee lying below the


mouth of the Ohio. On one occasion, a large canoe, fully manned, came out of the woods abreast of the steamboat. The Indians, outnumbering the crew of the vessel, paddled after it. There was at once a race, and for a time the contest was equal. The result, however, was what might have been anticipated. Steam had the advantage of endurance; and the Indians with wild shouts, which might have been shouts of defiance, gave up the pursuit, and turned into the forest from whence they had emerged.

While the crew of the New Orleans were more amused than alarmed at this incident of the voyage, Mr. Roosevelt, who had not forgotten the visit to the flatboat on the preliminary exploration, was not sorry, now, when he lost sight of the canoe. That he bestowed a second thought upon the matter, illustrates the nervous excitement that prevailed on board. Mrs. Roosevelt and himself were still discussing the adventure when they retired to rest. They had scarcely fallen asleep, when they were aroused by shouts on deck, and the trampling of many feet. With the idea of Indians still predominant, Mr. Roosevelt sprang from his bed, and seizing a sword - - the only weapon at hand - - hurried from the cabin to join battle, as he thought with the Chickasaws. It was a more alarming enemy that he encountered. The New Orleans was on fire; and flame and


smoke issued fromn the forward cabin. The servant who attended there, had placed some green wood too close to the stove in anticipation of the next day's wants; and, lying down beside it, had fallen sound asleep. The stove becoming over heated, this wood had taken fire; the joiners work close by had caught, and the entire cabin would soon have been in flames, had not the servant, half suffocated, rushed on deck and given the alarm. By dint of great exertion, the fire, which, by this time, was making rapid headway, was extinguished; but not until the interior wood work had been either destroyed, or grievously defaced. Few eyes were closed for the remainder of the night; nor did the accident tend to tranquilize the nerves of the travellers.


[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. 23-25, available at