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

The Great Comet of 1811

New Orleans
The Roosevelts arrive in Louisville with the Great Comet in the sky above them (painting by Gary R. Lucy).


When the steamboat New Orleans made her way down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in 1811-1812, it marked a turning point in the Transportation Revolution.  After the New Orleans showed that it could be done, steamboats proliferated on the Ohio and the Mississippi and their tributaries.  Steamboat traffic helped create a national economy, opening markets for farm goods and drawing people and commerce to cities along the rivers.

The Great Comet of 1811, first observed in March and easily visible in the night sky during September and October, made a dramatic backdrop for the first weeks of the trip. More information on the Great Comet of 1811 is available from astronomer Gary W. Kronk.

June 5, 1811, Liberty Hall - first sighting of the comet in Chillicothe, Ohio
June 8, 1811, Western Spy - first sighting of the comet in Chillicothe, Ohio
Sept. 1811 a Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, schoolteacher describes the comet in his journal
Sept. 8, 1811, American Daily Advertiser - the comet "much admired for its beauty," with more precise observations to follow
Sept. 18, 1811 (in Two Lectures) - Harvard professor John Farrar observes the Great Comet
Sept. 20, 1811, Farmer's Repository - a New York observer describes the Great Comet
Sept. 25, 1811, Liberty Hall - Great Comet of 1811 visible in the north
Sept. 28, 1811, Western Spy - astronomical observations of the comet
Oct. 1811 (in Two Lectures) - a scientific observer in Salem, Mass., describes the comet
Oct. 12, 1811, Western Spy - more astronomical observations of the comet
Oct. 18, 1811, Weekly Raleigh Register - the "great Architect" will not allow an orderly clockwork Creation to be destroyed by a comet
Oct. 19, 1811, Western Spy - background on comets, extracted from an astronomy textbook
Oct. 19, 1811, Western Spy - "ludicrous effects" of a 1712 comet
Oct. 28, 1811 - The New Orleans Steaming Upstream by Moonlight, 1811 (painting by Gary R. Lucy) includes the Great Comet of 1811
Nov. 23, 1811, Louisiana Gazette - "Cosmopolites" dismisses those who fear the comet will bring disaster -- "the great Architect" would not destroy  his creation
Dec. 6, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - humorous story about "an honest Hibernian" in a London crowd gathered to view the comet
Dec. 10, 1811, (in Two Lectures) - Harvard professor John Farrar describes the comet's path from September to December
Dec. 27, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - the phenomena of the earthquake and the comet suggest that Nature can "no longer tolerate the moral turpitude of man"
Jan. 25, 1812, Western Spy - "whimsical account" of the comet
Jan. 29, 1812, Liberty Hall - review of "remarkable events" in world history, relevant to the comet
Feb. 22, 1812, Western Spy - "various conjectures" about the cause of the earthquake include "the comet's near approach to the earth"
Feb. 26, 1812, Liberty Hall - reminder that the comet and earthquake are not "signs" -- readers should be rational, not superstitious
Mar. 7, 1812, Niles Weekly Register - lengthy summary of scientific observations of the comet
Apr. 10, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - overview of momentous events in 1811, including the comet
May 1812, Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal - a "retrospect" of 1811, including the comet


1871, First Steamboat Voyage - Lydia Roosevelt's brother reports that the people of Louisville thought the comet had fallen in the river when the New Orleans arrived

More about the "Steamboat Adventure" of 1811-1812 --



Steamboat Adventure homepage


Spring 1811
Summer 1811
Fall 1811
Winter 1811-1812
Spring 1812


Louisville (Kentucky) and Madison (Indiana Territory)
New Madrid (now in Missouri)
Chickasaw Bluffs (now Memphis)
New Orleans


Nicholas and Lydia Roosevelt
The Transportation Revolution
The Great Comet of 1811
The New Madrid Earthquakes
Indian Relations

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