Down the Ohio and Up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1823

 From the Burlington Saturday Evening Post, August 5, 1922

Fred A. Bill  

Transcribed by Georgeann McClure    

  As we have stated before in the Post, at Winona lives a good friend of the river and a “near steamboat man” in that he has passed all his day on the banks of the old stream and at different times has been agent for steamboat lines and connected with business allied to river interests, our good friend Orrin F. Smith.

  Some of your readers will recall a very interesting article descriptive of a voyage up the Missouri River in 1845, written by his mother and published in the Post April 13, 1918.  In this article reference was made to the improvement in St. Louis since her first visit to the place in 1833.

 Orrin has now given us the original diary kept by his mother on the trip mentioned in 1833, and we are glad to present a copy to your readers, as it is an interesting chapter on steamboating in that early day and shows that the old rivers have changed but little in many characteristics since that time.

  This trip in addition to being a journey from the old to a new home was the “honeymoon” voyage of Mr. Abner S. Goddard and Catherine (Fruit) Goddard, Mr. Goddard being the first husband of Orrin’s mother.

  They were married at the old homestead near Lewisburg, Pennsylvania on March 21st, 1833 and started from there on April 18, 1833 for their future home in Illinois, and Illinois was a long way off at that time.

  The trip to Pittsburg over the mountains was made in what was later known as a “prairie schooner” and consumed six days.  During this trip sometimes they camped out and sometimes they put up at private houses or public stopping places where they were allowed “kitchen privileges” thus were generally able to “feed themselves.”  On arrival at Pittsburgh they stopped at “Flack’s Tavern” and rested for a day before starting on their way down the Ohio and up the Mississippi.  

April 26th:  Started from Flack’s this afternoon and went on board the steamboat Citizen.  Started out about sunset, went a few miles and laid up for the night.  

 April 27th:  Started this morning before sunrise and stuck fast on the shoals. Got loose, stuck fast again before one o’clock.  This afternoon under good headway.  

  April 28th:  This morning we are fast on the Beaver Shoals and went a mile or two and laid up for the night. 

April 29th:  Started early this morning and arrived at Wheeling at one o’clock P. M. and remained there all day.  Visited the glass works, etc.  

April 30th:  Left Wheeling this morning and arrived in Moundsville, when one piston head broke in consequence of which we had to lay by for the day.  

May 1st:  We are still lying to, the Captain making great exertions to repair the engine.  Went to view the curiosities at Moundsville in Virginia.  Saw one mound whose back covered an acre of ground and is supposed to have been formed by a people inhabitating the globe at a very ancient period.  We saw fields of rye heading out of Virginia. 

May 2nd:  We can step from Ohio into Virginia by going across the river.  The inhabitants of this country are very respectful and accommodating to strangers.  The casting for mending the engine arrived about eleven o’clock tonight.  

May 3rd:  Got one engine mended and started about ten o’clock this forenoon and are now making good headway.  Laid up at night.  

May 4th:  Started early this morning and are making good headway.  We have met no material accident today.  Ran all night.  

May 5th:  Laid up for fog early this morning.  Started as soon as it cleared up and came to Portsmouth again noon.  

May 6th:  Came to Cincinnati and laid up for he day and night.  Viewed the place and found its situation beautiful and its growth surpassing expectations.  

May 7th:  Started this morning for Louisville from Cincinnati.  Saw this morning 14 or 15 steamboats lying by the wharf, a grand and magnificent sight.  Found the markets very good and cheap exceeding anything, I suppose, in the western country for variety.  On our trip to the market we saw almost an innumerable number of market wagons with great varieties of provisions, etc. reached Louisville about midnight.  

May 8th:  Engaged passage this morning aboard the boat Compromise and then viewed the place, which we found very notable.  Passed thru the celebrated canal at Louisville this forenoon.  It is cut thru the solid rock the length of two miles; some places the cut being very deep.  It is a piece of work which shows that the people of this section of the country are public spirited and also enterprising.  Saw a bridge built of solid stone from bottom to top, the arches and railing also being of stone.  Came next to the locks, two of them, the walls immensely high and neatly worked off with solid stone to complete the whole.  It seems to be a piece of work, which commands attention from the most inveterate enemies of Internal Improvements.  Passed thru the locks and arrived in the river below about ten o’clock P. M. and are now under a good headway.  We have met with a pretty civil set of boatmen on the Compromise and feel humbly thankful for the goodness of Divine Providence.  We have enjoyed good health as yet and there by feel strengthened in the cause of western country.  

May 9th:  The boat ran all-night and stopped for wood this morning at nine o’clock.  Saw nothing worthy of notice this morning except that the land lies lower than it does above this and the river grows wider.  We are now between Kentucky and Indiana.  The people here seem nothing more enlightened than in our own country, but on the contrary, they seem more bigoted, possessing minds of little penetration.  This afternoon we passed the mouth of the Wabash River and now have Illinois on our right hand.  We also passed the celebrated cave in Illinois, about one hundred miles from the mouth of the Ohio.  

May 10th:  The boat tied up all last night and started early this morning.  Passed the mouths of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers and arrived at the mouth of the Ohio about two o’clock P. M.  Turned up the Mississippi and ran all night.  

May 11th:  Saw some very good and rich land this morning, and also yesterday.  Saw people planting corn and saw corn that was fit to hoe.  

May 12th:  Laid up last night and started about three o’clock this morning and landed in St. Louis about half past nine this morning.  Saw the back part of the town this afternoon and viewed the St. Louis College and the landscape.  Saw nothing in all my travels equal the quality of the soil and also it situation.  Saw corn abut one-half mile off which seemed to be six or eight inches high, and clover in the blossom.  The cholera seems to be raging in this place according to report.  One steamer lying a mile below this place seems to have been fatally attacked with that amazing terror.  It is stated that every man on board is dead except the Captain and mate who are now said to be in the St. Louis hospital.  Some parts of the city are keeping some respect to morality and religion, but around the college we saw a goodly number of young men engaged in unlawful amusement on Sunday, which was playing ball.  It would seem rational that an institution of that kind ought to take measures to prevent the rules of morality and religion from being thus broken.  

May 13th:  This morning one man lay dead of spasmodic cholera within thirty yards of our boat.  Was taken last night and died before daylight.  We shipped aboard the Orion for Meredosia, Ill.  And started about nine o’clock this morning and ran nineteen miles to Alton at sunset.  

May 14th:  Ran all night and this morning found us going up the Illinois River with pretty good speed.  Saw ducks by the 18 or 20 in a flock.  One fatal accident happened today on board our boat abut twelve o’clock which was distressing.  A black man, who was a hand employed, fell over board and before assistance could be afforded him, he sank to the bottom to rise no more alive.  

May 15th:  Struck a sand bar today found ourselves in two and one-half feet of water.  

May 16th:  Got along today some times and sometimes stuck fast and our headway has been very slow.  This afternoon we stuck on the shoals, got lose and evening ran on to another bar.  

May 17th:  This morning tried to go on with the steamer but found it impossible to start the boat.  Got the freight all on board the keel boats and the flat and started for Naples, a distance of about four miles, and reached there about eleven o’clock.  

This ended the steamboat portion of the trip. The journey to Jacksonville and thence to Springfield, the ultimate destination, was made by team and consumed practically three days.  

Fred A. Bill


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