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Bill Thayer

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Part 2

This webpage reproduces part of an item in the
Tennessee Historical Magazine

published by the
Tennessee Historical Society

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Appendix B
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Bedford's Tour (1807)

Vol. V
Appendix A. — River Commerce.

The part played by the barge and keel-boat in the commerce of the South at this period of history is well illustrated in the story of adopting and making the Great Seal of Tennessee. When the matter was up for consideration by the Legislature of the new State and the committee's report, adopted on November 14, 1801, among other provisions, it was specifically ordered:º

"That in the lower part of the lower semi-circle there be the word commerce; and said lower semi-circle shall contain the figure of a boat and boatman." [American Historical Magazine, Vol. VI, p207.]

"Prior to the introduction of steamboats on the Western waters, the means of transportation thereon consisted of keel-boats, barges and flatboats. Keel-boats and barges ascended, as well as descended the stream. The flatboat was an unwieldy 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 made 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 flatboat or 'broad-horn,' to rank as a vessel was due to the fact that it floated upon water and was used as a vehicle of transportation. Keel-boats, barges and flatboats 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."

("Miss. As a Province, Terr. & State," Claiborne, p537.)

It was about 1805‑6 that merchant barges began to make periodic trips from Nashville to New Orleans and return. It took them about ninety days to make the trip each way, or a total of six months for a round trip.

Because of low water in the Cumberland at certain seasons of the year these barges or boats only made on an average one round trip, commonly leaving Nashville in December or January and returning in May or June. They usually went down loaded with cotton and pork and returning brought sugar, coffee and other groceries. The time of departure and arrival of these boats were gala days in the history of the town and community, great crowds assembling to bid them good-bye and to welcome them on their return.

Among the earliest firms that owned barges and keel-boats running regularly to New Orleans was that of James Stewart and James Gordon. It is said they were the first to bring a barge from New Orleans to Nashville. Stump, Rapier & Turner was another firm having boats in the New Orleans trade. This same barge "Mary" was advertised by George Poyzer in October, 1807, as "The fast going Mary" — then lying near the Upper Ferry and ready to take on freight for down the river.

Either the same barge, or one bearing a like name "Mary," was advertised to leave Nashville December 10, 1817, by the firm of Joseph and Robert Woods. (Hist. of Nashville Crew, p302‑304, Hist. of Davidson County, — Clayton, p203, etc.)

In addition to the boats in the New Orleans trade there were keel-boats  p65 plying between Nashville and the mouth of Cumberland River to bring up salt from the salt works in the Saline region of the Illinois, also such goods as were brought from the East over the Allegheny Mountains and down the Ohio to the Cumberland. The freight price from Philadelphia or Baltimore by this route was $10 per hundred-weight.

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Page updated: 17 May 09