Steamboat Travel on the Mississippi

Christina, Hannah, and Lexie

Steamboat Races

Organized races between rival steamers became a popular event on the Mississippi, but what happened more often were the impromptu battles between captains who raced down the river, hoping to out beat their opponent in the chance of gaining more business. These chance encounters often turned into races that lasted for days, with ecstatic passengers cheering on the captains to speed up and continue the battle.

Mississippi Steamer

Excluding the Mississippi, most Western rivers were shallow, and water levels were likely to fluctuate depending on the season. As a result Western steamboat pilots had to relearn the rivers constantly, and the deep-draft design of eastern vessels simply would not while navigating in the west. This led to Western builders constructing the Mississippi steamer, a long, wide vessel of shallow draft and light construction with an on-deck engine. George Rogers Taylor said that by the late 1830s at least 20 of these new steamboats on the Ohio could navigate in only 20 inches of water. Some people claimed that the boat could “run on a heavy dew.”

Slavery and the Steamboat

On some occasions steamboats on the Mississippi river carried escaped slaves, who would most likely disguise themselves as workers. The Underground Railroad also used steamboats as a key factor in assisting runaways to their freedom. Before the Civil War 1,000 to 1,500 freed African Americans worked on steamboats. For African Americans, steamboats symbolized both persecution and freedom. Packet boats, a type of steamboat, transported slaves down the Mississippi river from the South to New Orleans to be sold at auction.
The Steamboat - History Key Assignment - February 2014