- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

MONONGAHELA, Pa. (AP) - Capt. Henry Miller Shreve set out on the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh 200 years ago, piloting a steamboat on a river journey cloaked in drama, risk and a history-making celebration.

Called into service to supply Andrew Jackson a cargo of munitions for the Battle of New Orleans, Shreve would accomplish that goal, as well as prove for the first time it was possible for a steamboat to complete a round-trip voyage between Pittsburgh and the Gulf of Mexico.

“It was built flimsy. They didn’t think it could make it,” said John Kent Folmar, a retired California University of Pennsylvania history professor and president of the Monongahela River Buffs Association.

Historians often point to the Clermont, built along the Hudson River in 1807, and the New Orleans, launched in Pittsburgh in 1811, as the “first two commercially important steamboats,” said Terry Necciai, a Monongahela historian and architect.

“However, the Enterprise was a much bigger accomplishment,” Necciai said.

He said the Enterprise was the first boat of its kind to prove that steam power could do what flatboats and sailboats couldn’t do - power a boat against strong, upriver currents and deliver goods and passengers in both directions on a river that had yet to be improved with locks and dams.

The Enterprise was designed and constructed in Brownsville by inventor Daniel French, who managed to improve the power of steam engines that would become common on boats plying the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

The boat was launched about June 1814 for the Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Co.

Folmar said its historic journey likely would never have happened if Jackson didn’t need supplies during the War of 1812.

“That was the catalyst to go to New Orleans,” Folmar said. “They didn’t just do it to go down there. They did it for the war.”

No one, today, knows exactly what the boat looked like, and many records involving early river travel were lost to floods.

Historians do know the boat was 82 feet long and that it had one stern-wheel about eight feet wide.

The Enterprise delivered its goods to Jackson’s troops Jan. 9, 1815, after having completed its 2,200-mile voyage. The soldiers were still in need of small arms and gunpowder, prompting Jackson to order the Enterprise to tow boats laden with those supplies from Natchez to New Orleans.

Shreve next saw his boat become confiscated for violating the Livingston-Fulton Monopoly on Louisiana’s waterways, Folmar said.

He said Shreve was arrested until an attorney for Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Co. posted his bail and also arranged for the release of the Enterprise.

Shreve shoved off from New Orleans May 6, 1815, for the return trip, and he was cheered on as he reached every port, despite his boat having experienced some engine trouble. He arrived back in Brownsville in early July of that year.

He wasn’t successful upon his return to Brownsville, Folmar said, and his boat didn’t make many newspaper headlines at the time because his hometown was in the shadows of Pittsburgh.

“Brownsville has been forgotten,” Folmar said.

Shreve wanted to build another boat in Brownsville, but he couldn’t get the financing there. Folmar said that prompted him to relocate to Wheeling, where he built the Washington.

Shreve “knew every inch of the rivers” because he got his start as a keelboater, men who floated crude boats downriver to New Orleans and had to walk home.

The Enterprise sank in August 1816 at Rock Harbor on the Ohio River.

Shreve’s historic journey did open up many job opportunities in the Mon Valley to meet the then-growing need for steamboats, Necciai said.

“By 1857, half of the boats afloat in the Mississippi watershed had been made in the 10 or so Mon Valley towns that had boatyards: Brownville, California, Belle Vernon, Whitesville, Webster, Monongahela, Elizabeth, West Elizabeth, McKeesport and Port Perry.”

Shreve’s success on the rivers would lead to him being appointed secretary of the interior, and he would become more famous in his lifetime for developing technology that could remove snags, or dead tree trunks lodged underwater, that sank many steamboats.

Shreveport, La., bears his name because he cleared thousands of snags that once jammed the Red River along its shores. A statue of him stands today in the city.





Information from: Observer-Reporter, https://www.observer-reporter.com

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