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

Nicholas and Lydia Roosevelt

Nicholas Roosevelt (1767-1854) was an inventor and entrepreneur with an interest in steam engines.  He had business connections with Robert Fulton (who developed the first commercially successful steamboat in America), Robert Livingston (who assisted in drafting the Declaration of Independence), and Benjamin Henry Latrobe (architect of the U.S. Capitol).  Lydia Roosevelt (1791-1878) was Benjamin Henry Latrobe's daughter.

They had an unusual relationship.  They first discussed marriage when he was 37 and she 13, and they did finally marry four years later.  A few months after the wedding, they began a six-month flatboat trip from Pittsburgh to New Orleans to determine whether a steamboat could also travel that route. Pregnant during the journey, Lydia Roosevelt gave birth to their daughter, Rosetta Mark Roosevelt, shortly after returning to New York City.  Having determined that a steamboat could make the journey, Nicholas Roosevelt began supervising construction in Pittsburgh.  The plan was to take the steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, where it could begin a profitable packet service between New Orleans and Natchez.

Although their neighbors thought that Lydia should stay in Pittsburgh rather than accompany her husband on what might be dangerous journeys, the Roosevelts insisted on making the trip as a team (the second time with their toddler daughter).  They left Pittsburgh on October 20, and ten days later, Lydia gave birth to their son, Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, shortly after the steamboat arrived in Louisville.

Decades later, their great-grand-nephew, Theodore Roosevelt, carried some of their adventurous spirit into the White House and beyond.

When the New Orleans completed her journey from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, 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.

Mar. 8, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - advertisement for The Navigator, an indispensible guide to river travel that the Roosevelts surely purchased before beginning their trip
Oct. 18, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - the New Orleans makes a trial run and "fully answers the most sanguine expectations"
Oct. 23, 1811, Liberty Hall - "Mr. Roosevelt, it is stated, is building a Steam Boat, to run on the Ohio and Mississippi"
Oct. 25, 1811, Pittsburgh Gazette - "The Steam Boat sailed from this place on Sunday last."
Oct. 26, 1811, Western Spy - optimism about the New Orleans, based on her Oct. 15 test voyage
Oct. 26, 1811, Western Spy - a (belated) report on Nicholas Roosevelt's work on a steamboat
Oct. 28, 1811 - The New Orleans Steaming Upstream by Moonlight, 1811 (painting by Gary R. Lucy) captures the moment the Roosevelts arrived in Louisville
Nov. 16, 1811, Western Spy - report on the New Orleans' design and Oct. 20 departure from Pittsburgh
Nov. 2, 1811, Western Spy - the New Orleans passes Cincinnati on Oct. 27
Nov. 21, 1811, Liberty Hall - "Mr. Roosevelt's steam-boat" arrives in Louisville on Oct. 28
Nov. 23, 1811, Western Spy - another report of "Mr. Roosevelt's steam-boat" arriving in Louisville
Jan. 29, 1812, Liberty Hall - shares offered in a new steamboat company, with Nicholas Roosevelt as agent for the company
Jan. 31, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - detailed "letter from a gentleman" who experienced the Dec. 16 earthquake from the river, as the Roosevelts did
Feb. 8, 1812, Western Spy - the New Orleans arrives in Natchez on Dec. 30
Feb. 12, 1812, Liberty Hall - the New Orleans arrives in Natchez on Dec. 30;  Nicholas Roosevelt ("a gentleman. . . passenger") shares news of the earthquake
Feb. 14, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - the New Orleans arrives in New Orleans on Jan. 10, steaming an average of eight miles an hour for the whole trip
Mar. 6, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - the New Orleans makes a trial run of the New Orleans-Natchez trip on Jan. 23; a "gentleman passenger of correct information" gives details
Mar. 13, 1812, Pittsburgh Gazette - detailed discussion of the route the Roosevelts followed after the earthquake and the Mississippi's "wonderful changes for the worse"
June 15, 1812 - Robert Fulton letter estimating expenses and revenue for the New Orleans - including groceries purchased and freight and passengers carried

Dec. 1, 1814 - the patent for Nicholas Roosevelt's steamboat design

1817, John Bradbury remembers boarding the New Orleans in Natchez on Jan. 6, 1812
1871, First Steamboat Voyage - Lydia Roosevelt's brother describes the New Orleans's construction
1871, First Steamboat Voyage - Lydia Roosevelt's brother describes the second day of the journey
1871, First Steamboat Voyage - Lydia Roosevelt's brother describes the Roosevelt's stay in Louisville and the New Orleans's passage over the Falls of the Ohio
1871, First Steamboat Voyage - Lydia Roosevelt's brother describes a threatened Chickasaw attack and a fire on board the New Orleans
Mar. 6, 1878, Evening Post - Lydia Roosevelt's obituary
Oct. 7, 1907, New York Times - Henry Mann compares Nicholas and Lydia Roosevelt to Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, then traveling down the Mississippi

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



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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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