Capt Adam W Poe

Capt Adam Poe (Courtesy of Mike Libenson)

Adam W Poe was a well known riverman and grandson of the famous Indian fighter Adam Poe.  Born on Wednesday, 20 Nov 1816, in New Lisbon, Columbiana Co, OH, he was the third child and third son of Thomas Washington Poe Sr and Elizabeth Hephner.  After a short illness, Adam W Poe died of pneumonia at his home in Georgetown at an early hour on Friday, 10 Apr 1896. [1]  At the time of his death, he was “extraordinarily well preserved, mentally and physically” according to his obituary in the East Liverpool Crisis dated 11 Apr 1896. [2]


Like his older brother Jacob, Adam’s career as a steamboat pilot and owner of numerous packets witnessed the rise of steamboat commerce and its decline.  He steamed on all the tributaries of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri river systems.  Starting at an early age, he traveled far, saw much, and accumulated great wealth.



Family Background.


The story of the Georgetown Poe family begins with the emigration of George Poe from Alsace to the Maryland countryside near Frederick in the 1760′s.   Sons, Andrew and Adam, left MD for western PA near the Ohio River.  They attained fame for their Revolutionary War service and their frontier battles with the Indians.  Adam’s son Thomas Washington Poe Sr moved his family from New Lisbon, OH to Georgetown in 1823.  Capt Adam Poe was seven when his family moved to Georgetown where he lived the remainder of his life.  His father, Thomas Washington Poe Sr, built a log home on the property where “The Poe House” still stands.  His family grew to ten.  With his young sons as deckhands, Thomas entered the profitable river freight business.  The business grew from rafting logs to keelboating coal and grain to ports as far south as Cincinnati.  All of the children of Thomas and Elizabeth Poe worked the rivers.  Sons, Jacob, Adam, Thomas Washington, and George W, became steamboat captains and pilots.  Andrew was the manager of the family business and a packet owner/financier and mate.  Daughters, Nancy Ann married Capt George W Ebert, Elizabeth married Capt Standish Peppard, and Sarah H married Capt George Groshorn Calhoon.   The Poes were representative of many emigrant families who became wealthy and attained prominence over several generations despite starting with little more than energy and pluck.  In this, they were greatly assisted by a expanding county and a tight circle of Georgetown families.


On 16 Feb 1842, Adam married Lucy Irene Todd Smith.  Their marriage of 54 years produced nine children.  None of the children of Adam W Poe had any connection to the river business.



Early Business Ventures.


As a boy, he worked on keelboats on the Ohio River.  He keelboated flour to Pittsburgh returning down river with salt and iron.  He hired on to the steamer Beaver working the upper Ohio.  Then he worked under command of his brother Jacob on the Beaver #2 on the Allegheny River.  In 1834 he worked on the Steubenville; in 1836 the New Lisbon and Coquette; in 1838 the Norfolk.  Working as a deck hand, he learned well the river between Pittsburgh and Louisville.  In the fall of 1837 Adam purchased a quarter section of land in Missouri where he traveled by boat.  He returned to Georgetown as a deck hand on the Maine.[3]  Quite an adventurous life for a twenty something.


Fallston.  The Fallston, a small sternwheel packet, was the first steamboat purchase for Adam and Jacob Poe.  The brothers bought the boat in 1841 for low water work between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  It was too small to accommodate passengers so two keelboats fitted with bunks were towed alongside.  [4]  By this time Adam had been a pilot as far as Cairo, IL.

Like most Poe family boats, several family members and a few close friends were partners.  The ownership in 1843 according to the Certificate of Enrollment of the Customhouse in Pittsburgh, PA is displayed in the following table.


Str Fallston

Owners and Partners Share Vol: 6627
Jacob Poe Enroll No : 57
Adam Poe Cert Date: 6/10/1843
Andrew Poe Cert Type::
ThomasPoe Build Locn:
Build Date:



FinancierAdam Poe built this sternwheeler in Pittsburgh in 1845.  He operated her one season in the Pittsburgh to Cincinnati trade and then sold the boat to Capt William J Kountz.  On 12 Oct 1850 near Alton, IL, the boilers exploded killing the Capt King’s son and the second engineer Wlliam Greene.  Many others were scalded.

The ownership in 1845 according to the Certificate of Enrollment of the Customhouse in Pittsburgh, PA is displayed in the following table.


Str Financier

Owners and Partners Share Vol: 6628
Adam Poe (master) Enroll No : 11
Jacob Poe Cert Date: 21 May 1845
Thomas W Poe Cert Type::
George Calhoon Build Locn:
Andrew Poet Build Date:
George Poe
Washington Ebert



Cinderella.  Adam Poe bought a 50% share of the Cinderella, a small sternwheeler, in 1847.  He ran her in the Pittsburgh to Cincinnati trade for four months.  Profits from the operation were $8,000.  He then sold his half interest and quit the river to try the gentle art of farming.

The ownership in 1849 according to the Certificate of Enrollment of the Customhouse in Pittsburgh, PA is displayed in the following table.


Str Cinderella

Owners and Partners Share Vol: 6633
James H Haslett Enroll No : 116
Andrew Poe Cert Date: 6 Aug 1849
George Poe Cert Type:: Enrollment
Build Locn: Elizabeth, PA
Build Date: 1847

George G Calhoon continued to run the Cinderella until he died at age 30 while running the business.  His wife, Sarah Poe Calhoon, was a sister of Adam Poe.  Adam became the legal guardian of his sister’s sons, Thomas P and William A Calhoon.



Business Ventures after 1848.


Financier II.  In 1850 Adam Poe built the second Financier steamer which he operated for three years.  Going down the Ohio one night after Paducah, a mystery passenger arrived on board.  The newborn of Mr Wilder and his wife arrived and was aptly named after the captain in accordance with river tradition.  The little stranger was named Adam Poe Wilder.  All went well for the mother and baby.  Capt Poe landed little Adam and his parents about 8 miles below St Louis.  Capt Poe never heard from the Wilder family. [5]

The Financier No 2 is mentioned in “Navigating the Missouri” by William E Lass as one of three steamers in 1854 to reach Ft Riley on the Kansas River 243 miles from Kansas City.   Not only did the Financier No 2 reach Ft Riley, she took a side trip up the Republican River about 40 miles.  That was an astonishing feat for the time.

The original ownership according to the Certificate of Enrollment of the Customhouse in Pittsburgh, PA is displayed in the following table.

Str Financier

Owners and Partners Share Vol: 6633
Adam Poe Enroll No : 95
Jacob Poe Cert Date: 24 Jun 1850
Thomas W Poe Cert Type:: Admeasurement
George Poe Build Locn: Freedom, PA
George W Ebbert Build Date: 1850
Thomas Smith


The second Certificate of Enrollment dated 28 Jun 1851 listed the owners in a different order and identified their share of the partnership.


Str Financier

Owners and Partners Share Vol: 6634
Adam Poe 1/4 Enroll No : 94
Jacob Poe 1/8 Cert Date: 28 Jun 1851
George W Ebbert 1/8 Cert Type:: Enrollment
Thomas W Poe 1/4 Build Locn: Freedom, PA
Thomas Smith 1/8 Build Date: 1850
George Poe 1/8



Royal Arch.  In 1852, Capt Adam Poe built and sold her within the year.  The str Royal Arch was a sidewheeler built in West Elizabeth, PA rated at 212 tons.  In 1854 Capt EH Gleim commanded the str Royal Arch in the Davenport-Galena-Dubuque trade.  In 1858, the str Royal Arch was snagged and at Nine Mile Island below Dubuque and declared a total loss according to Riverboat Dave.

The original ownership according to the Certificate of Enrollment of the Customhouse in Pittsburgh, PA is displayed in the following table.

Str Royal Arch

Owners and Partners Share Vol: 6634
Adam Poe 11/16 Enroll No : 173
Thomas Poe 2/16 Cert Date: 11 Nov 1852
Irwin Cevil 1/16 Cert Type:: Admeasurement
Alfred Ladwich 2/16 Build Locn: Elizabeth, PA
Build Date: 1852


Ella.  The Ella was a sternwheel wooden hull packet built in Elizabeth, PA in 1854.  Capt Adam Poe and others from Georgetown were partners in ownership.  The Ella worked the Cincinnati to St Louis trade and ran as far as Galena and Dubuque on the MissouriOn 13 Dec 1865, the Ella was snagged and lost on the Arkansas River near Little Rock.[6] 

The original ownership according to the Certificate of Enrollment of the Customhouse in Pittsburgh, PA is displayed in the following table.

Str Ella

Owners and Partners Share Vol: 6636
Adam Poe 7/16 Enroll No : 98
Andrew Poe 2/16 Cert Date:
Thomas Poe 2/16 Cert Type::
George Poe 2/16 Build Locn:
Henry Smith 1/16 Build Date: 1854
JW Chambers 2/16


Neptune.  The Neptune was a sternwheel wooden hull packet(150×39.5×4) built in California, PA and finished in Pittsburgh in 1856.  Capt Adam Poe was her first master and part owner with others principally from Georgetown, PA.  The original ownership was divided as follows:

 Str Neptune

Owners and Partners Share
Adam Poe 3/8
Thomas Poe 1/4
Jacob Poe 3/16
George Poe 1/16
Jacob Diehl & Co 1/8


Adam Poe commanded the Neptune for two years in the Pittsburgh to St Louis commerce.[7]


At the outbreak of the war, the Neptune was sold to Capt John Kyle of Cincinnati, Oh.  She was used in te Cincinnati to Memphis trade and along te Cumberland River.  I suspect this use was transporting Army troops and supplies.  On 19 M1862, she smashed into the Clarksville Bridge and was a total loss.  During the Civil War, Adam Poe piloted troop and supply transports.


Belfast2.  The Belfast was built in Freedom, PA in 1857.  With his brothers as partners, he ran her one year on the Wabash River and a trip to Dubque, IA.


On 6 May 1862 Capt Carleton was in command when the Belfast had to depart Augusta, KY with haste.  Morgan’s Raiders had entered the town.  The Belfast burned on the Tombighee River on 7 Mar 1868. [8]


YorktownThe Yorktown was a sternwheel packet built in Freedom, PA in 1864 with a rated capacity of 253 tons.  Capt Jacob Poe, the initial owner, brought her out in Oct 1864 for a Pittsburgh to Louisville trip.  From the files of the Pittsburgh “Commercial” dated 28 Oct 1864:  The new and pretty Yorktown, Capt Poe, leaves for Louisville Saturday.  In Jan 1865, Capt George W Ebert bought control of the packet with Standish Peppard in the office.  Her main route was Pittsburgh to Cincinnati with an occasional trip to Nashville.[9]  In Mar 1866, Standish Peppard hired as his second clerk a son who had served three years with the Union Army.  Unfortunately, the first name was not given because two sons had served.


America.  Adam Poe bought the America in 1866.  He operated the America for one year then sold her because he was losing money.  I do not have any biographical data on the America because seven streamers named America are listed in Way’s packet Directory and I am unable to determine which vessel was purchased by Adam Poe.


Big Foot. The Big Foot, a sternwheel wooden hull packet built in Pittsburgh, PA in 1875, was owned by Adam W Poe and others from Georgetown, PA.  Soon after its completion, Capt Adam Poe sold a fifty percent interest for $5,000 to a man in Florida.  As part of the deal, Capt Adam Poe was contracted to deliver the steamer.  Loaded with freight for New Orleans, Capt Adam Poe delivered his cargo, and then made preparations for sea.  Six pairs of ropes were lashed around the hull and roof with “Kanawha” twisters.  The boilers were similarly protected and the smokestacks were cut at roof level.  Sternwheel packets with their low draft were not designed for big water adventures.[10]



Str Big Foot 1870 (Photo courtesy of Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse)

Str Big Foot 1870 (Photo courtesy of Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse)

At daybreak from New Orleans, the Gulf pilot took charge.  The trip went wrong from that point.  The Big Foot steamed down the pass toward the Chandeleur Islands some eighty miles away.  An approaching storm changed calculations.  About seven miles short of the islands the anchor was heaved in Mississippi Sound.  With its anchor dragging, the Big Foot wallowed for sixty hours.  But the Big Foot lived to complete her voyage.  Sustaining serious damage, the cost of repair was considerable.  Capt Adam Poe calculated he “was $10,000 less in pocket” when the adventure was over.  “Went home in very low spirits.” he concluded in his account.  [11]







One year later on Saturday night Dec 9, 1876 as reported in the Memphis Daily Appeal, the Big Foot sank ten miles above Eufaula, AL.  She sank to her boiler deck and her cargo of cotton floated off.  The Big Foot was a total loss.  At this time, the owners were Capt Adam Poe and the Central Railroad of Georgia.  A photo survived according to Capt Frederick Way showing a large Indian atop the pilot house sticking out of the water.  This Indian represented the Wyandot Indian chief killed in the 1781 battle with the Poe brothers on the Ohio River near New Cumberland, WV and opposite the mouth of the Yellow Creek.  [12]



Adam Poe essentially retired from the river commerce after the Big Foot adventure.  The last trip he made was on the steamer Annie Roberts with Capt Alaback.  Capt Alaback stopped at Georgetown in need of a pilot so Adam went to Louisville with him.


Personal History.


Family.  According to Harriet Calhoon Ewing in an interview conducted by Capt Way in Dec 1965, “Adam Poe was a pillar of the Georgetown Methodist Episcopal Church, and it was said that he usually laid up his boats on Sunday.  He was historically minded and wrote a good deal for the newspapers regarding his Indian fighting relatives.  In the 1870s, he financed a panorama of the Big Foot adventure, painted by his artist son Andrew.  In 1887 Adam Poe wrote his autobiography for the East Liverpool Tribune which although poorly put together, contains much information about his boating days.” [13]


Ltr from EB Hawkins to Mrs Lillian Poe Wagner dated 16 Mar 1942 (Anna L and John F Nash Collection)

Ltr from EB Hawkins to Mrs Lillian Poe Wagner dated 16 Mar 1942 (Anna L and John F Nash Collection)

I have a photocopy of a poor copy of the Adam Poe autobiography.  The book is divided into two parts.  The first section, written about 1890, is the early history of the Poe family in America with a family version of the Big Foot battle.  The second section, written on 2 May 1887, is the account of Adam Poe Sr River Experiences.  The experiences are mostly keelboating stories before he reached 21 years of age.  He wrote only one line about his participation in the Civil War – “Sold her (the str Neptune) at the breaking out of the Rebellion, and followed piloting while the war lasted.”  Between 1 Dec 1941 and 6 Sep 1943, Mrs LH Wagner (Lillian May (Poe) Wagner corresponded with Ellis Bailey Hawkins of New Castle, PA.  Mr EB Hawkins was researching the Poe Genealogy with help from Lillian Poe Wagner who he called his first assistant.  Twenty-seven letters were written by EB Hawkins.  A letter dated 16 Mar 1942, Hawkins had received the Adam Poe autobiography and “dropped all his work … and read it clear through.  It certainly is interesting reading.” [14]


Around 1850 Adam Poe built a house east of Georgetown in Greene Township on a farm inherited by his wife, Lucy Smith.  The bricks for the house were made on the premises.  The house was quite handsome standing high on the river bank.  The second story balcony was its most popular feature.  It was designed so that Adam could inspect the condition of the river at any time.  The house was destroyed by fire after it had been purchased by Thomas S Calhoon.  The property was then sold to Dravo Corp in 1953 because of its valuable sand and gravel deposits. [15]  On this farm Adam learned the gentle art of farming which he described as an uphill struggle.  He returned again to the river business after taking some time to recover from his piloting experiences of the Civil War.


The Civil War years had not been good for river commerce.  At the outbreak of the war, all Mississippi River commerce stopped.  Whether impressed or contracted to service by the US Army Quartermaster, the packet business was dangerous and unprofitable.  Wage scales and freight fees were controlled by the Quartermaster at less than pre-war commercial rates.  Still by any measure, the Georgetown captains and pilots in 1870 were wealthy men.


According to the 1860 Census data, Adam Poe was the fourth wealthiest man in Georgetown following his brothers Thomas W and Jacob and Jackman Stockdale.  All were riverboat captains and owners.  After the war, the 1870 Census data found Adam Poe in sixth position on the wealth ladder of Georgetown.  His net worth had declined over 40%.


According to Harriet Calhoon Ewing, Adam Poe was the most brilliant of the family, but mentally not as well balanced.  He probably made more money than his brothers, but lost it in ill advised ventures.  He died poor. [16]


Adam Poe was the oldest Mason in Beaver County at the time of his death. For years he had been a member of St. John’s Lodge, No. 219, Pittsburgh.  He was buried with full Masonic honors.  Glasgow lodge No. 485 conducted the funeral service. [17]




It is astounding to think of the accomplishments of Adam W Poe and his brothers.  Born within a few years of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, they too were risk takers, doers.  My wish is that their story will live always and the memories will never die.






[1] Mollie Ebert Trimble Family Bible owned by Judy And Nicholas Maravich.
[2]  East Liverpool Crisis  11 Apr 1896  pg 2.
[3] Genealogy report at the Beaver Co Historical Society, Beaver Falls, PA.
[4]  East Liverpool Crisis  11 Apr 1896  pg 2.
[5] Adam Poe, Account of Adam Poe Sr River Experiences, 2 May 1887.
[6]  Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 145.
[7] Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 342.
[8]  Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 40.
[9] Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 493-494.
[10]  Capt Frederick Way, Jr., The Steamboating Poe Family, (S&D Reflector (Dec 1965)).
[11]  Ibid.
[12]  Ibid.
[13]  Capt Frederick Way, Jr., The Steamboating Poe Family, (S&D Reflector) (Dec 1965)).
[14] Ellis bailey Hawkins Letter to Mrs LH Wagner dated 16 Mar 1942.
[15]  Capt Frederick Way, Jr., The Steamboating Poe Family, (S&D Reflector) (Dec 1965)).
[16]  Capt Frederick Way, Jr., The Steamboating Poe Family, (S&D Reflector) (Dec 1965)).
[17]  East Liverpool Crisis  11 Apr 1896  pg 2.


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