Capt Thomas W Poe
Misfortune paid its respects to Capt Thomas Poe many times and often far from home. On 11 May 1855 the str Georgetown was fatally snagged at Bellefontaine Bluffs on the Missouri in route to a military post. The str Georgetown was owned by Thomas W Poe and other partners from Georgetown, PA. He was the principle owner of the str Clara Poe which was burned during the Civil War by rebel forces on 17 Apr 1865 at Eddyville on the Cumberland River. He also owned the str Amelia Poe which was a complete loss when snagged on the upper Missouri river on 24 May 1868 and salvaged by 1,500 riotous Indians. And he was the owner of the str Nick Wall which met a tragic end on the Mississippi River near Napoleon, AK on 18 Dec 1870.
Here a grisly incident occurred that Mark Twain retold, with some literary trimmings, in “Life on the Mississippi” . The str Nick Wall struck a snag and sunk rapidly. Though injured himself by a falling roof, Capt Thomas W Poe attempted to save his wife trapped in a stateroom. He chopped a hole in the roof with an ax striking the unfortunate Martha Jane Poe in the head. Martha Jane Poe, fatally wounded, died on shore as the result of exposure and injuries, and was returned to Georgetown for burial. Thirty-nine lives were lost in the tragedy including Capt Poe’s nephew, Charles McClure.
On 31 Dec 1881 aboard the str Fearless on his way to Pittsburgh Capt Thomas Poe died. His spirit lived on ― in the courts. That steamer sank eight months later on 26 Aug 1882 on the Missouri. After five years the legal case regarding the property loss was finally decided by the Supreme Court of Missouri in Oct 1887― not in favor of the Poe heirs. The verdict feels perfectly appropriate.
Capt Thomas Washington Poe was born in 1819 in New Lisbon, Columbiana Co, OH. He was the fourth son of Thomas Washington Poe Sr and Elizabeth Hephner and the grandson of the famous Indian fighter Adam Poe. He died on 31 Dec 1881. At that time he lived in St Louis, MO near his daughter Clara Poe Blythe (Bly). A leading citizen of Georgetown, PA for more than fifty years, Capt Thomas Poe was buried in the Georgetown Cemetery between his wives, Phoebe Kinsey and Martha Jane. If there is something called a “night shade” hovering over any stone in the Georgetown Cemetery, it would certainly be the spirit of Capt Thomas Washington Poe for good reason.
Capt Thomas W Poe was arguably the most well known Georgetown steamboat captain. Spanning more than forty years, his career as a steamer captain and owner of numerous packets enjoyed the rise of steamboat commerce and suffered its decline. During the golden age of steamboats, he steamed on all the inland river systems: the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Monongahela, Allegheny, Tennessee, Cumberland, Wabash, Kanawha, Muskingum, Red, and other tributaries. He traveled far, saw much, and accumulated considerable wealth. Like his brother Jacob, he was recognized as a generous leader of his community.
Family Background. The story of the Georgetown Poe family begins with the emigration of George Jacob Poe from the Palatine Region of the Rhine River to the Maryland countryside near Frederick about 1741. In the 1760′s, two of his sons, Andrew and Adam, left MD across the newly constructed Cumberland Road to western PA near Georgetown along the
Ohio River. The two brothers attained fame for their Revolutionary War service and their frontier battles with the Indians. In 1823 Adam’s son Thomas Washington Poe Sr moved his family of six to Georgetown, PA. There 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 Wheeling to keelboating coal and grain to ports as far south as Cincinnati. All of the children of Thomas Washington Sr and Elizabeth Hephner Poe worked the rivers. Sons, Andrew, Jacob, Adam, Thomas Washington, and George W, became steamboat captains and pilots. Their daughters’ lives also centered around the river. 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 the conditions of the day – an expanding country and a tight circle of Georgetown families. Calhoon, Ebert, Kinsey, Laughlin, Parr, Poe, and Stockdale are Georgetown surnames entwined with the river and each other.
Capt Thomas W Poe married Phoebe Kinsey. They had four children: Clarissa J for whom the str Clarra Poe was named, John W who became a clerk on various Poe steamboats. The documentary trail of Thomas is meager Charles F is quite possibly the father of Ebert L (Big Whamp) Poe and the grandfather of Edger Allen (Little Whamp) Poe.
After Phoebe died on 28 Jun 1852, Capt Thomas W remarried a southern belle, Martha Jane, from Napoleon AK. Tragically, Martha Jane was killed on the str Nick Wall which ironically sunk near Napoleon, AK on 20 Dec 1870. Their marriage produced two daughters, Amelia and Mary E. Capt Thomas W also named two packets after these daughters.
In Georgetown, Capt Thomas W Poe built the house that stands between the homes of Capt Thomas S Calhoon and Capt Jackman Taylor Stockdale. Like the adjacent Calhoon and Stockdale homes, this house was built on the high river bank with a second story balcony overlooking the Ohio. All of the homes of the steamboat captains in Georgetown had second story balconies so that they could check the rise or fall the river.
Business Ventures after 1848.
Str Georgetown. The str Georgetown, a sternwheel packet built in Line Island and Pittsburgh in 1852. The capacity was rated at 183 tons. The Georgetown was owned by Thomas W Poe and other partners from Georgetown, PA. On 8 Jun 1852, the arrival of one-thousand German and Irish immigrants was announced in Cincinnati. Two hundred had come from New Orleans as deck passengers aboard the str Georgetown commanded by Capt Thomas W Poe. All had escaped sickness, except a woman who had given birth to a son. [i]
[i] Charles Henery Ambler, “A History of Transpportation in the Ohio Valley”, (The Arthur H Clark CO, 1931)), p173..
The str Georgetown was snagged on the Missouri on 12 Oct 1853, raised, and returned to service. On 11 May 1855 the Georgetown was fatally snagged at Bellefontaine Bluffs on the Missouri in route to a military post. 
Str Georgetown Cert of Enrollment
|Owners and Partners||Share||Vol:||6635|
|Thomas Poe||3/16||Enroll No :||117|
|Jacob Poe||3/16||Cert Date:||24 Sep 1852|
|George Poe||1/16||Cert Type::||Enrollment|
|Joseph Calhoon||3/16||Build Locn:||Line Island, PA|
|Mrs AB McClure (Elizabeth Poe)||2/16||Build Date:||1852|
Str Clifton. The Clifton was a sternwheeler built in 1855 at the Glasgow boatyard across the river from Georgetown. It was rated at 183 tons and was off the lists by 1860. Thomas W Poe a partner in the ownership of the boat.
|Owners and Partners||Share||Vol:||6637|
|George W Ebert||1/8||Enroll No :||115|
|Jacob Poe||1/4||Cert Date:||7 Aug 1855|
|Thomas Poe||1/8||Cert Type::||Admeasurement|
|George Poe||1/8||Build Locn:||Glasgow, PA|
|Andrew Poe||1/8||Build Date:||1855|
Str Belmont. The Belmont was a sternwheel wooden hull packet (153x31x4.5) built in California, PA and finished in Pittsburgh in 1856. Capt George Washington Ebert was her first master and part owner with others principally from Georgetown, PA. All members of the Georgetown Poe family shared in the profits as well as the risks of their river family business ventures. Widowed in 1854, Elizabeth (Poe) McClure married Standish Peppard in 1857. The original ownership was divided as follows:
|Owners and Partners||Share||Vol:||6638|
|GW Ebert||3/16||Enroll No :||139|
|Jacob Poe||3/16||Cert Date:||23 Aug 1856|
|Thomas Poe||1/4||Cert Type::||Admeasurement 70|
|Andrew Poe||1/4||Build Locn:||California. PA|
|George Poe||1/8||Build Date:||1856|
|Elizabeth McClure||1/8||Master||GW Ebert|
The Belmont was used in the Pittsburgh to Cincinnati to St Louis commerce.
In the spring of 1859, Capt SC Trimble bought control. After serving as the second clerk under Capt George W Ebert Capt Thomas S Calhoon, 26 years became the master of the Belmont under its new ownership. On May 7, 1859 while moored at the Pittsburgh wharf, a spectacular fire burned a number of boats. The Belmont moved to safety in mid river unscathed, but the wind blew her alongside the burning JH Conn and the two packets burned together.
Str 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:
|Owners and Partners||Share||Vol:||6640|
|Adam Poe||3/8||Enroll No :||287|
|Thomas Poe||1/4||Cert Date:||24 Oct 1857|
|Jacob Poe||3/16||Cert Type::||Admeasurement 179|
|George Poe||1/16||Build Locn:||California, PA|
|Jacob Diehl & Co||1/8||Build Date:||1856|
John Diehl, a family friend, was the owner of one of the general stores in Georgetown. After the Civil War, he opened a grocery in Pittsburgh.
The Neptune was used in the Pittsburgh to St Louis commerce.
Str Clara Poe. The Clara Poe was a trim sternwheel packet built in California, PA in 1859 (149x32x4’9”) and rated at 208 tons. Her first master was Capt Thomas W Poe. Brother George W Poe was the pilot. Ownership was divided as follows:
Str Clara Poe
|Owners and Partners||Share||Vol:||6642|
|Jacob Poe||1/4||Enroll No :||182|
|Thomas Poe||1/8||Cert Date:||26 Nov 1859|
|Martin L Poe||1/8||Cert Type::||Admeasurement 11|
|George Poe||1/8||Build Locn:||California, PA|
|Jonathan Kinsey||1/8||Master||Thomas Poe|
|George W Ebbert||1/8|
The str Clara Poe was used in the Pittsburgh to Cincinnati trade until impressed into US service in 1862 according to Fredrick Way’s Packet Directory. Few details of the early commercial work have been uncovered. In those days cabin passage on a packet was luxurious. Cut glass chandeliers in the parlor, oil paintings in every stateroom, gilded mirrors and marble tables, thick carpets, and steaming foods piled high. Life on the rivers was at its best. Neither homes nor hotels of the 1850’s could provide such comfort. Everyone whose life centered on the river was prosperous. Even the crew walked with a swagger jingling their plentiful silver.
The 78th PA Infantry boarded “on Captain Thomas Poe’s Clara Poe… At 6:00 PM ropes were released, whistles sounded, anchors weighed, and the Clara Poe… sailed quickly from the Monongahela River into the Ohio River enroute to their jump-off point of Louisville, Kentucky, some three days away.” This sendoff was vividly recorded on Oct 18, 1861. The Clara Poe was one of six steamboats chartered by Commodore WJ Kountz, who has charge of the transportation by river of troops and Government supplies. The other five steamers at the Monongahela Wharf that Oct day were the Moderator, Sir William Wallace, JW Hallman, Argonaut, and the Silver Wave. The Moderator in May 1863collided at night with the Horizon owned by Capt Jackman T Stockdale of Georgetown, PA. Many soldier lives were lost.
In Apr 1862, the Clara Poe was a member of the expedition to Pittsburg Landing. Whether the Clara Poe was chartered or impressed to service is unclear. 
On May 13, 1863 the Clara Poe transported the 14th Illinois infantry from Memphis to Vicksburg.
The Clara Poe was chartered from 24 Jun 1863 for an unknown period, from 4 Dec 1863 to 4 Jan 1864, and again from 8 Jul to 15 Aug 1864.  A report in the New York Times on Aug 15, 1864 stated “On Saturday noon of the last week the Clara Poe, bound for the Tennessee River with two heavy barges loaded with government stores, having on her own deck a load of fat cattle was attacked by a rebel force estimated at 700. The rebel commander Johnson ordered the Clara Poe to bring to, and upon her Captain refusing to comply. a fire of musketry was poured upon her.” The article goes on to state that the Clara Poe had been pierced with approximately 500 musket bullets. It goes into great detail about the escape – discarding the barges, running the cattle off the deck into the river, etc. A good read. 
The last entry for the Clara Poe was on Apr 17, 1865. The Clara Poe was burned by the Confederates at Eddyville on the Cumberland River while transporting supplies and barges of hay to Nashville. 
Str Amelia Poe. The steamer Amelia Poe was named in honor of the daughter of Thomas Washington Poe and Martha Jane born in Georgetown, PA in 1852. The trim sternwheel packet built in Georgetown, PA and finished in Pittsburgh in 1865 (1659x27x4’5”) was designed for Missouri River commerce. Her capacity was rated at 200 tons. Capt Thomas W Poe was her first master and principle owner.  George W Poe was also a partner and pilot. The Amelia Poe’sr maiden voyage in 1865 was a trip to Nashville, TN for a cargo of pig iron for John Kyle in Cincinnati. It main trade routes were From Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, Louisville, St Louis, and Ft Benton.
Str Amelia Poe
|Owners and Partners||Share||Vol:||6649|
|Adam Poe||1/8||Enroll No :||131|
|Thomas Poe||7/16||Cert Date:||11 May 1865|
|Cornelius Todd||1/16||Cert Type::||Admeasurement 126|
|Jacob Poe||1/8||Build Locn:||Pittsburgh, PA|
|Jacob Ewing||1/8||Build Date:||1865|
|GW Hughes||1/8||Master||Adam Poe|
In the spring of 1866, some 51 boats, including the Amelia Poe, started from St Louis for the upper Missouri. Only 32 docked at Ft Benton. On Jun 11, 1866, the Amelia Poe arrived at Ft Benton with 200 tons of freight and 40 passengers.  Downward freight and passengers was unrecorded. That season the average fare per passenger was $150 and freight landed a prize of 10-12.5 cents per lb. Considering the upward cargo only, Thomas W Poe’s gross earnings were approximately $56,000. In 2007 dollars that amount would be equal to $1,120,000. The lure of huge profits was as great as the risks of the upper Missouri. Compensation for the steamboat officers was also very rewarding. In 1866 on the Ohio a river boat pilot could earn $175 per month, a captain $150, and a first clerk $150; on the Missouri, their counterparts received $725, $400, and $250. The clerk on that first mountain trip was Thomas S Calhoon from Georgetown, PA.
An advertising card in 1867 stated:
Ho for the Gold Mines
The Montana and Idaho transportation Lines
will give through bills of lading for
Ft Benton, Helena, Virginia City,
and all points in the mining districts.
Even with the boom of the gold rush wearing off, the year of 1867 was another busy season in the Montana trade. More boats arrived than in 1866. The Amelia Poe was the tenth packet to dock with 183 tons of cargo and 50 passengers. The down trip carried 25 passengers. The rates for passengers and cargo are unrecorded. No doubt the trip was deemed a success even if the rates were lower due to the increased traffic.  The officers were Georgetown men:
In 1868, the Amelia Poe again steamed to Ft Benton. On May 20, 1868 Amelia Poe passed Ft Buford without stopping. Loaded down with a quartz mill for the Montana mines and a cargo of whiskey and other liquors, she snagged near Oswego, MT on May 24 attracting 1,500 swarming Indians in a riotous salvage operation. The location where the packet snagged and sunk is now known as Amelia Poe Bend. Part of the cargo was saved by the steamer Cora and taken to Helena. The Poe passengers were carried to Ft Benton by the Bertha. The quartz mill was stowed ashore, and as late as 1927 was still visible.  Although the owner of the Amelia Poe was Thomas W Poe, her captain was Thomas Townsend at the time of the wreck. There is no recorded evidence that Thomas W Poe was aboard. It is more likely that he was captain or pilot of the Ida Stockdale that season.
Str Nick Wall. The Nick Wall was a sternwheel wooden hull packet built in Pittsburgh in 1869. It was 180x33x5 and rated at 338 tons. It was named to honor a Missouri River captain and Montana businessman. Capt Thomas W Poe owned ½ interest with probably other family members.
The Nick Wall ran to Ft Benton in 1869-70. On Jun 14 1970, Capt Thomas W Poe was the first to dock at Ft Benton landing with 200 tons of freight and 36 passengers.  On the down river run with Gen Philip Sheridan and his staff aboard, the Nick Wall beached at Spread Eagle on 20 Jun 1870 for a period of time– A serious event due to the danger of Indian attack.
The Nick Wall met a tragic end when it struck a snag and sunk near Napoleon, AR on Dec 18, 1870 with 15 cabin passengers and 135 on deck. Here a grisly incident occurred that Mark Twain retold in “Life on the Mississippi”. Capt Thomas W Poe attempting to save his wife trapped in a stateroom chopped a hole in the roof with an ax striking the unfortunate Martha Jane Poe in the head. Her body was returned to Georgetown for burial. Thirty-nine lives were lost including Capt Poe’s young nephew, Charles McClure. According to the clerk of the Nick Wall, the steamer was a total loss. The boat was valued at $22,000 and insured for $15,000. She was laden with 3,000 barrels of flour and a large lot of assorted freight for the Red River. 
Str Fearless. No data.
Str Mary E Poe.
Named in honor of his youngest daughter, the Mary E Poe was a sternwheeler built in 1871 in Cincinnati, OH. Her dimensions were 180x33x5 and her capacity was rated at 296 tons. Capt Thomas W Poe was the principal owner with, as usual, other family members. The MEP was charted by the Carter Line for the St Louis Red River trade.
On 17 Oct 1873 her boiler caused a fire and she was intentionally run aground near Island 26 above Osceola, AK. The str City of Helena picked up the passengers and crew. John Blythe, the mate and Thomas W Poe’s son-in-law, remained aboard to guard the wreck.. A swarm of Tennessee natives arrived at the wreck with the intent to plunder. They drove the mate away at gunpoint. When the TF Eckert arrived to salvage the cargo, most had been pilfered.. 
Personal Wealth. According to 1860 census data, Thomas W Poe had a net worth greater than $1.2 M converted to 2013 dollars. His brother Jacob Poe was second in the borough of Georgetown with approximately $1.0M. In 1870, the order was the same, but the amounts were reduced by 30%. The war years had not been good for river commerce. At the outbreak of the war, all Mississippi River commerce stopped. During the war whether impressed or contracted to service by the US Army Quartermaster, packet business was unprofitable. Wage scales controlled by the Quartermaster were less than pre-war rates. Even the high profit of the Missouri River commerce during the Montana gold rush was not enough to recover from the financial setback caused by the Civil War. Still by any measure, the Georgetown captains and pilots in 1870, especially Thomas W Poe, were wealthy men for their time.
Summary. Ringed in romance and smoke, the American inland river steamboat is one of our most colorful and precious heritages. The light draft vessel was the technological wonder of its day providing access to the western territories decades before the arrival of the railroads. That many Americans continue to be fascinated by the historical exploits and romantic spirit of steamboats is completely understandable. However, no captain or pilot from Georgetown, PA earned much renown either during his lifetime or the years after his death. During the Civil War, they like many other steamboat men sacrificed, suffered, and learned to live with their losses. They served from start to finish, fought summer and winter, but their history has been essentially silent.
For those who only remember the Poe family of pioneer days because of their celebrated fight with Big Foot, the Wyandot Indian chief, they are missing the astonishing record of their work as steamboat captains and pilots. That record was mostly achieved in a single generation. History touched the Poe brothers, especially Thomas W. It is my hope that this biography of Capt Thomas Washington Poe will inform and entertain. It is a bit of American history too important to be left untold.
Summary of Packet Ownership
(The summary information for Thomas W Poe in the following table was gleaned from a personal review of the Certificates of Enrollment for the Port of Pittsburgh stored in The National Archives.)
|Packet Name||Build Date (Way’s Directory)||Build Location (Way’s Directory)||Primary Owner (Cert of Enroll)||Master (Cert of Enroll)|
|Amelia Poe||1865||Pittsburgh||Thomas Poe||Adam Poe|
|Belfast||1843||Freedom||Jacob Poe||GW Ebert|
|Belfast No 2||1857||Freedom||Jacob Poe||GW Ebert|
|Belmont||1842||Pittsburgh||Jacob Poe||Jacob Poe|
|Belmont No 2||1856||California||Thomas W Poe||GW Ebert|
|Clara Poe||1859||California||Jacob Poe||Thomas W Poe|
|Fairmont||1837||Fallston||Jacob Poe||Jacob Poe|
|Fallston||1837||Fallston||Jacob Poe||Jacob Poe|
|Financier||1845||Pittsburgh||Jacob Poe||Adam Poe|
|Financier No 2||1850||Freedom||Jacob Poe||Adam Poe|
|Georgetown||1852||Line Island||Jacob Poe|
|Hudson||1846||Glasgow||Jacob Poe||GW Ebert|
|Neptune||1856||California||Adam Poe||Adam Poe|
|New England||1844||Pittsburgh||Jacob Poe||GW Ebert|
|Peru||1848||Freedom||TS Calhoon||TS Calhoon|
|Pioneer||1846||Elizabeth||Jacob Poe||Adam Poe|
|Tuscarora||1848||Glasgow||Jacob Poe||Jacob Poe|
|Washington City||1852||Freedom||Jacob Poe||GW Ebert|
|Yorktown No 2||1864||Freedom||Jacob Poe||Jacob Poe|
Georgetown Cemetery Markers.
 Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 186.
 Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 46.
 Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 342.
 Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 99.
 Arthur B Fox, Pittsburgh during the Civil War, 1860-1865, p. 31-32.
 Charles Dana Gibson and E Kay Gibson, Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels Steam and Sail Employed by theUnion Army 1861 – 1868, (Ensign Press, Cambridge, MA 1995), p 63.
 Internet Complete History of the 46th Illinois Veteran
 Charles Dana Gibson and E Kay Gibson, Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels Steam and Sail Employed by the Union Army 1861 – 1868, (Ensign Press, Cambridge, MA 1995), p 189.
 New York Times Aug 15, 1864.
 Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 99.
 Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 99.
 Joel Overholser, Fort Benton World’s Innermost Port, (River & Plains Society, 1987), p. 54-59.
 William E Lass, Navigating the Missouri/ Steamboating on Nature’s Highway, 1819-1935, (University of Oklahoma Press,2007), p 234.
 Joel Overholser, Fort Benton World’s Innermost Port, (River & Plains Society, 1987), p. 60-65.
 Joel Overholser, Fort Benton World’s Innermost Port, (River & Plains Society, 1987), p. 68-69.
 Joel Overholser, Fort Benton World’s Innermost Port, (River & Plains Society, 1987), p. 77.
 Capt Frederick Way, Jr., The Steamboating Poe Family, (S&D Reflector (Dec 1965)).
 The New york TimesDec 22, 1870.
  Frederick Way, Jr.,Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994, (Ohio University Press, Athens 1994), p. 312.
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