The BM Laughlin Book

In “The Book”, hand written by Benjamin M Laughlin, BM Laughlin identified every steamboat built in Pittsburgh from 1811-1904. “The Book” was presented to his first cousin, RD Laughlin (Robert Dawson Laughlin) on 20 Sep 1904.  At that time, Robert D Laughlin was a steamboat steward who lived in Georgetown, PA in the home built by Thomas W Poe.  Both Benjamin Mackall Laughlin (b1827 d1908) and Robert Dawson Laughlin (b1839 d1924), are buried in the Georgetown Cemetery.  Other than that little is known about Capt Benjamin Mackall Laughlin.

This hand written book is important for several reasons.  It presents original source data not seen in any river museums and libraries that I have visited.  One example of original data is the list of steamers by day and the year they operated in the “first or old” Pittsburgh and Cincinnati Packet Line (1843-1855/6).  Another reason that the book is significant is the conclusion of a comparison of the BM Laughlin Book with The Lytle-Holdcamper List.  The BM Laughlin Book has listed steamers not entered in The Lytle-Holdcamper List.  Consequently, some steamers lost to history have been rediscovered.


“The Book” has essentially eleven distinct sections with personal notes about some of the Georgetown boats.  Not all data came from US Custom House Enrollment and License records.

  (1)  SBs built at Pittsburgh 1811-1904  Page 5
  (2)  SB Name Changes  Page 153
  (3)  SBs built below (ie Marietta, Cincinnati, Louisville, Paducah) Page 157
  (4)  Record of High Waters in Pittsburgh  Page 161
  (5)  Old Pitt Cin Packet Line  Page 165
  (6)  Names of SBs Dismantled  Page 169 
  (7)  Diasasters  Page 181
  (8)  23 Str Burnt in St Louis  Page 221
  (9)  10 Str Burnt in Pittsburgh  Page 223
 (10)  Names of Capt Deceased  Page 225
 (11)  Names of Pilots Deceased  Page 231



I know not the source of some of BM Laughlin’s information.  He lived during much of the time covered and as an Ohio River steamboat captain had intimate knowledge of river transportation.  The only citation in “The Book” was “by Custom House Records taken by Mr Showing the year steamboats were built.”  Then BM Laughlin lists the boats built by year, place, and tonage from 1811-1829.  From 1830 – 1904, BM Laughlin lists only the name and place of build. 


BM Laughlin also provided personal info such as

        “I remember the flood on February 10th 1832.”
          “I commensed steamboating Augt 1844 sixty years ago.”
          “My first boat was the Rhode Island captain RD Dawson.”


On the page with the enrollments for 1830, BM Laughlin provided the following remarks:


        “Steamer Aleona was the first boat that had sky lights the full length…
          Steamer New Jersey had her chimneys painted white…
          I saw both of them.”
          (Peruvian large side wheel 400 tons)”

BM Laughlin’s personal remarks breath life into the raw enrollment data.


This new data presented in “The Book” is not completely harmonious with The Lytle-Holdcamper List and US Custom House records.  Yet it is pleasingly consistent when viewed as a complete group.  Still there is confusion and overlap in the enrollment data.  The port of Pittsburgh was in the district of New Orleans from 1807 – 1874.  All the records for the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and their tributaries were sent to New Orleans although copies were kept by the enrollment port.  That said the National Archives in Washington, DC have the original Certificates of Enrollment for the US Custom House in Pittsburgh from 1831 – 1901.  Pre-1831 enrollment records may be stored at a regional site of the National Archives in Fort Worth, TX. 


There is comparable confusion and overlap in the major references for steamboats registered at the port of Pittsburgh:


  (1)  The Lytle-Holdcamper List              1790 – 1868

  (2)  Way’s Packet Directory                   1848 – 1994

  (3)  Gibsons’ Dictionary                           1861 – 1868

  (4)  BM Laughlin’s Book                           1811 – 1904

The comparison of the BM Laughlin Book and The Lytle-Holdcamper List between 1811-1848 is a work in progress.





Copyright © 2010 Francis W Nash
All Rights Reserved