Archive for September, 2009

Fort Benton

Monday, September 28th, 2009


“Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri is a small town with a big history.”  That is the beginning of the introduction of a delightful book by Ken Robison on the history of Ft Benton.  The book, Fort Benton, includes photographs and postcards from Mr Robison’s collection.  One image, special to me, was a steamboat passenger boarding pass for the Montana and Idaho Transportation Line.  The St Louis based line was owned by John G Copelin and his father-in-law John J Roe.  According to Mr Robison, the line dominated the Missouri River commerce from 1864-68. 

Montanna and Idaho Transportation Line Boarding Pass (The Ken Robison Collection)

Montanna and Idaho Transportation Line Boarding Pass (The Ken Robison Collection)

Look carefully at the names of the pool of boats used by the line.  Thomas W Poe was the captain of the Amelia Poe and George W Ebert was the captain of the Yorktown.  In 1867, one other Georgetown packet docked at Ft Benton:  the Ida Stockdale in the first of five seasons.  Captains Thomas S Calhoon and Jackman T Stockdale were partners and Capt Grant Marsh was the master in 1867.


The Amelia Poe  docked at the Ft Benton levee on 9 Jun with 183 tons of freight and 50 passengers.  Eighty-five days from St Louis.  The Yorktown arived at Ft Benton on 14 Jun  (84 days from St Louis) with 210 tons of freight and 15 passengers.  The Nymph No 2 arrived on 20 Jul (118 days from St Louis); the GA Thompson 30 Jun; the Deer Lodge 5 Jun.  The arrival of the Bertha is not recorded in “Fort Benton The World’s Innermost Port” by Joel Overholser.

Methodist Church Expansion

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Most of the Georgetown steamboat captains, especially the Poes, were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Georgetown, PA. 


The Story of Methodism in the Pittsburgh Region pub 1958 (Anna L and John F Nash Colleciton).

The Story of Methodism in the Pittsburgh Region pub 1958 (Anna L and John F Nash Colleciton).

The origin of Methodism in the Pittsburgh region was a story of  evangelic expansion from Baltimore to Uniontown to Washington to Pittsburgh.  In Pennsylvania, the original circuit known as the Redstone Circuit closely followed the National Highway (US Route 40).  The first Methodist church in Pittsburgh was Fort Pitt.  The bastion of Ft Pitt, erected in 1759, had been ordered abandoned in 1772.  It was sold to private interests and dismantled for its valuable bricks which were reused to build early homes in Pittsburgh.  By the 1790’s virtually nothing remained at “The Point”.  Peter Shiras bought the remains and offered the use of a large room at old Ft Pitt as a meeting place for the Methodists where  John Wrenshall established the first permanent Methodist community in Jul 1796.  That can only mean that the blockhouse we see at the forks of the Ohio was the first Methodist meeting house in Pittsburgh.  Peter Siras sold the remains of the old fort to Col James O’Hara in 1802.  In 1803 the Methodist Society had to give up the preaching place at “The Point”.

Railroads vs Steamboats

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Some say I have been far too critical of railroads.  How can you love a stone-cold strip of iron or steel, ever the same except for its deterioration?  A river has a natural energy, comes into existence moving, always aging, growing, and wondrously strong and strange.  It’s something alive which could take you in a moment to its deadly bottom.

Tall stack packets have a grace and beauty in a living river setting.  Steam locomotives looked like otherworldly monsters racing across the land on their ribbon of iron rails.


Still too strong?!?

Boats in the Civil War

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

The following list of steamers owned by the Georgetown captains summarizes their Civil War activity.  According to the Gibsons’ dictionary six boats were listed at Shiloh.  Two others were chartered during the correct period and were listed at Vicksburg in 1863 so I assume they were also at Pittsburg Landing.    The Neptune crashed into the Clarksville Bridge on 19 Mar 1862 so she may not have been transporting to troops and supplies to Shiloh battlefield.  I may be incorrect.   The Melnotte was not chartered until 1 Apr 1863 so I have no evidence that she participated in the movement of troops in support of Shiloh.  Gibson’s Dictionary does indicate that the Melnotte transported troops and artillery to counter Morgan’s Raiders who had crossed the Ohio River in Jul 1863.  

                          Listed in
Steamer    Gibsons   Way   Shiloh       Owner/Capt      

Argyle              Y               Y          Y             Jacob Poe
Clara Poe          Y               Y          Y             Thomas W Poe
Ella                   Y              Y        Chart          Adam Poe
Horizon             Y              Y         Y             JT Stockdale
Jacob Poe         Y              Y          Y              Jacob Poe          
Kenton              Y              Y         Chart          George W Ebert
Leonora            Y              Y         Chart           Richard Calhoon
Melnotte          Y              Y         N               Richard Calhoon 
Neptune            Y              Y           ?              Adam Poe      
Yorktown         Y             Y           Y               Jacob Poe        

The Yorktown is a mystery.  According to Way’s Directory, she was not put into service till 1863.  Gibson’s Dictionary has the Yorktown in Pittsburg Landing in 1862.  I do not know who is correct.  Maybe another source will confirm its participation?!?


The Georgetown captains and their crews were civilians.  Whether impressed or chartered by the Quartermaster, the subject of military transport by civilian crews generated legal problems in the area of discipline, pay, handling of prisoners, eligibility for pensions, etc.  There was discernible friction between the military and civilian regulatory agencies.   From my reading, a civilian streamer, especially if impressed, was not a good business proposition.


Part history, part puzzle?


Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I am working on several biographies of Georgetown steamboat captains,  ie Andrew H Parr and William J Parr, in addition to the biographies of several prominent Georgetown celebrities, ie Charles E Poe and his daughter Lillian May (Poe) Wagner. 


To date, I have identified 73 steamers either owned and/or operated by ten Georgetown captains.  In her letters, Mrs Lillian (Poe) Wagner said her grandfather, Jacob Poe, held interest in 40 boats.  In an interview in 1925, Theodore (Dory) Poe said his father, Jacob Poe, had an interest in 50 boats.  I have listed only 15 on the Jacob Poe page.  In any case, the list of steamer pages on this site will increase gradually as the biographies are developed. 


I am also collecting data on the packet line companies established by the Georgetown captains.  These companies with a pool of boats would provide freight and passenger service for a specific trade route, ie Pittsburgh and Cincinnati Packet Line.  Their routes and stops were scheduled.  After the Civil War, these packet companies multiplied greatly.  Before that time, most captains were independent operators stopping at every landing or signal along the river negotiating fares and cargo rates at each stop.  After the Civil War, independent operators, running the tramp routes, were rare.