The Rambler Continues His Story of First Steamers on the Potomac
By the Rambler, The Sunday Star, April 18, 1920, Pt. 2, p. 3
The story of the first steamboat of the Potomac river presents a good many difficulties, but the Rambler has faith that they will be overcome. Little help is furnished by the early newspapers, and, and such help as they do give is in their paid advertisements. The newspaper of a century ago was not a medium of free advertising. It gave a dry abstract of the proceedings of Congress and contained an editorial on some pending legislative matter. Sometimes the olden newspaper printed at considerable length a speech by some member of Congress, and often it was a speech that might just as well have remained unspoken, and the reason for printing it is beyond understanding now.
The editor of a century ago did not consider it his business to advance the personal fortunes of every adventurer by giving him free advertising. A man might intrigue to have himself appointed on a dozen committees for the benefit, enlightenment and uplift of his fellow citizens, and the old-fashioned editor did not haste to print his picture, write the story of his life and hold him up as a conspicuous example for the youth of the land to follow. If that public benefactor wanted local notoriety and itched to have the limelight turned on him, he came down to the office and put in an advertisement, for which he paid. This was very discouraging to men who sought to become public characters by the hot-air method, but it saved the people of the city from having more eminent men than they needed. If grand ladies sought to make themselves prominent in the community by organizing fashionable associations to teach humble mothers how to raise a baby, make gingham aprons, brew a pot of coffee, bake a “pone” of corn bread or fry a herring, they got no free advertising in the newspapers of a hundred years ago.
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But there was a great deal of news of historic importance which the old-fashioned editor did not print. Either he did not know it was historic or he did not care. He probably reasoned that he was not printing a newspaper for posterity, but for his own subscribers, and when an important event was proceeding in the city he assumed, and rightly, that all the citizens knew about it and that it was a waste of print paper to tell them in the morning what they had seen or done the day before. The old-fashioned editor seemed to assume that some of his fellow citizens knew as much about some things as he did.It is a matter of regret that the Washington newspaper of a hundred years ago did not give more space to the subject of the first steamboat on the Potomac river. When the Rambler began this series he wrote: “The first steamboat to carry freight and passengers on our river was the Washington, and she was running in the spring of 1815.” That was 105 years ago. He also wrote that he felt sure that this steamboat appeared on the Potomac before that date, because the advertisement of the Washington in 1815 indicates that she was then a going concern and that she had ceased to be a sensation. The first steamboat on a river was a thing of wonder and people came to the shore and the stopping places from miles inland to watch her pass or to get a good look at her. Capt. Dunnington of the Library of Congress called the attention of the Rambler to a mention of the Washington in Mr. Bryan's “History of the District of Columbia.” That eminent historian wrote: “Early in 1813 the steamboat company was organized, and by June of that year the Washington was launched at the shipyard in New York, but two years passed before the boat was brought to the Potomac.” The Rambler has found the following interesting advertisement which was published in the National Intelligencer daily, excepting Sunday, from December 15, 1812, to January 5, 1813: “Steam Boat:--A meeting of the subscribers to the stock for the establishment of a Steam Boat, to run between the City of Washington and Potomac Creek, near Fredericksburg, will be held at Triplet's Tavern, Alexandria, on the 2d day of January, 1815, at which the subscribers are requested to attend there in person or by proxy. “The subscription proposed to be made for the establishment of a Steam Boat to run between Georgetown and the City of Washington and Alexandria under the patent of Messrs. Livingston and Fulton is suspended for the present. (Signed) B. Henry Latrobe, agent for Messrs. Livingston and Fulton.” The fact that the advertisement was discontinued a day or two after the time of the meeting of the subscribers and that a steamboat did come to the Potomac may be accepted as evidence that the company was organised in January, 1813, at Triplet's Tavern, in Alexandria. So far as the Rambler has learned, the names of the subscribers to the stock of the company and the names of its officers have not been preserved. * * * * * The steamboat patentees, Livingston and Fulton, had a steamboat=building plant at New York, and about 1810 they established on at Pittsburgh. They seemed to have sent agents to cities along the great rivers of the United States to organize steamboat companies. No doubt, this phase of the early steamboat business in this country has been developed by some of the numerous authors of work son Fulton, the Clermont and the steamboat activities of Fulton and Livingston, but the Rambler got this idea from the advertisement of “B. Henry Latrobe, agent for Messrs. Livingston and Fulton,” in the matter of the organization of a company to operate a steamboat from Washington to Potomac creek, and also to operate a steamboat between Georgetown, Washington and Alexandria. Then the Rambler came upon the following advertisement, which appeared a number of times in the Intelligencer, in March, 1813: Subscriptions for stock in a steamboat to navigate the waters of North Carolina under the patent of Messrs. Livingston and Fulton will be received in the State Bank of Raleigh on the 18th instant. And subscriptions for stock in a steamboat to carry freight on the Rappahannock river will be received at the bank in Fredericksburg on the 11th instant. John D. De Lacy, for the Patentees That a steamboat came to the Potomac river before 1815 (when the advertisements of the steamboat Washington appeared in the Intelligencer) is shown by an advertisement in that paper in April, 1813. It indicates that the pioneer adventure in steamboating on the Potomac ended in misfortune, or at least in financial loss or disappointment. Whether that steamboat was called the Columbian or whether the company owning her was styled the Columbian Steamboat Company can be guessed by any reader of these lines just as well as the Rambler can guess it. All the information he has, and he does not know of anybody who has dug up this much, is contained in that advertisement which appeared in the Intelligencer early in April, 1813. It follows: Steamboat for sale—The Columbian steamboat lying at Tiber creek wharf will be sold Friday, the 9th instant, at 11 o'clock, at auction for the benefit of all concerned, the debts of the said company being first discharged. She is about forty-eight tons burthen, flat bottom, drawing a small draft of water which will make it an object for those engaged in the traffic in wood and grain to purchase her. The terms will be made known on the day of the sale. By order of the managers. H. Bestor, Treasurer Of course, the Rambler knows as well as you do that he should stick to the story he is writing and not stray afield. He is in no particular hurry to wind up this steamboat series, and he would like to make a digression here to tell of some things he found among the advertisements in the National Intelligencer while making the search which resulted in the finding of the steamboat matters related above. He hopes you will permit the digression, follow him in it, and approve. He hopes you will permit the digression, follow him in it, and approve. Among the advertisements in April, 1813, was a notice subscribed to by William Ball of Baltimore and Bede Clements of Alexandria, that “Capt. Theophilus Bowie, late commander of the schooner Alexandria, one of th eregular packets running between the cities of Baltimore, Alexandria, Georgetown, etc., has been discharged from our employment for sufficient cause which will be made known if required,” and that “therefore all persons having accounts to settle for freight will pay them to the subscribers.” Reading one of the old and faded pages of the paper, the Rambler attended in spirit a harp recital given January 1, 1813, in Mr. Crawford's assembly room, Georgetown, and he wonders how many of our great-grandfathers and mothers were present. Here is the advertisement: Grand concert – By particular desire of the first families is Georgetown Signor Pucci will have the honor to perform on the pedal harp on Tuesday evening, January 5, at Mr. Crawford's assembly room, attended by the hand. Part I – Full piece (Pleyel), the band; overture on the harp, Pucel; bird duett, accompanied on the harp, Pucel; trio for two clarionets and horn; song, “Hope Tol dthe Flattering Tale” (Pasillio), Tucci; allegro, band. Part II – Symphony (Rozzini), band; Commodore Decatur's favorite, Turkish march on harp, Pucci; duett for the harp and violin, Messrs. Pucci and Crazer; song, “Love, My Mary, Dwells With Thee,” accompaniment on the harp; sonata on the harp; finale, Madison's March, band. Concert to commence precisely at 7 o'clock. Tickets to be had at Mr. Dupert's snuff warehouse and at Crawford's bar. Mr. Crawford's cotillion party for the 5th of January is postponed on account of Signor Pucci's concert. * * * * * Here follows an advertisement of one of Washington's very early dancing teachers: Mr. Generes presents his respects to the ladies and gentlemen of Washington city and Georgetown that he will have a ball at Mr. Tomlinson's Hotel, Capitol Hill, on Monday, the 4th of January. Tuition – Mr. Generes' dancing school is kept every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 o'clock in the morning over Dr. David Ott's apothecary shop on Pennsylvania avenue. In addition to different dances taught at his school he will introduce the shawl dance, which is well calculated to give grace to young ladies, it being composed of elegant attitudes, passes and steps. Here is the advertisement of one of Washington's early music teachers: Thomas Essop respectfully informs the public that he proposes to commence teaching vocal music at Christ Church near the navy yard on Tuesday, the 6th instant (April, 1813), and on Thursday, the 8th instant, at the Western Academy on Wednesday, the 7th instant, and at the usual place in Georgetown on Saturday evening, the 10th instant. An old recruiting advertisement shows the inducements which the government was holding to men in 1813. The second war with England was in progress. The recruiting notice tells debtors that in the Army they will be safe from arrest by the civil authorities. The advertisement follows: Attention! Young Men of Bravery and Patriotism, who are desirous of serving their country in the honorable capacity of soldiers are invited to joint he 14th Regiment, U.S. Infantry, commanded by Col. W.H. Winder. Recruiting rendezvous are open to receive such at Baltimore, Annalpolis, Georgetown, Alexandria, Fredericktown, Hagerstown, head of Chester, West Nottingham, Wilmington, Del., and Lancaster, Pa. The governments have made ample provision of excellent clothing and good living and offer you the liberal sum of $8 per month. In addition to these you will receive $16 bounty on entering the service and on your discharge, three months' pay, which is $24, and 160 acres of valuable land, which in retirement will afford not barely a subsistence, but with prudence and industry will insure a compentency and independence for you and the girl of your heart and the numerous offspring who will rise up to call you blessed for defending the fights and liberty and supporting the honor and independence of their happy country. Timothy Dix, Major, 14th U.S. Infantry Superintendent, the Recruiting Service for said Regiment, at Baltimore N.B. – Those who have the misfortune to be embarrassed with debts will, on enlisting, be free from all civil arrests, and the law for inflicting the degrading punishment by stripes is abolished. Edmund Law offers for sale “a building close to the Eastern Branch and on the banks of the canal, calculated for a warehouse or manufactury and originally built for a sugar house and which is 47 feet long, 46 feet deep and eight stories high.” It must have been a remarkably tall building for that period, and especially so for the Washington of 1813. Land in Montgomery county near Peter Kemp's mill, fourteen or fifteen miles from Washington, and owned by Solomon Myers is advertised for sale and “at Capt. Williams' Tavern at Dumfries, Va., the land of Peter Gibson, 1,624 acres, will be offered for sale.” Oliver Barron of Prince Georges county, living five miles from Bladensburg on the Annapolis road, offers for sale “two likely negroes, a man about twenty-one years old, and the other a boy about thirteen.” Mrs. Odlins, at No. 6 in the Seven Buildings, “will accommodate a few gentlemen with excellent board and lodging.” N.L. Queen, auctioneer, “will sell on the 15th instant, at 12 o'clock, at Capt. Smallwood's wharf 100 barrels of shad and herring on a liberal credit.” J.W. Collet & Co. advertise that “the Washington brewery, at the bottom of New Jersey avenue, is now ready for the delivery of malt liquor.” * * * * * One of the steamboat rambles was given over mainly to a discussion of the operation of a steamboat on the Potomac river by James Rumsey in 1787. The Rambler got that date from a descriptive card on a model of the Rumsey steamboat in the National Museum. In connection with the Rumsey matter the Rambler has received the following letter from Eugene E. Prossing, lawyer, of 1527 Rhode Island avenue: “Apropos of your article on 'Potomac's First Steamer,' you will find in Washington's diary for 1784 that he, on Sept. 6th remained at Bath all day and was showed the model of a boat constructed by the ingenious Mr. Rumsey for ascending rapid currents by mechanism; the principles of this were not only shown and fully explained to me, but, to my very great satisfaction, exhibited in practice in private under the injunction of secrecy, until he saw the effect of an application he was about to make to the assembly of this state for a reward. The model and its operation, made to run pretty swift, not only convinced me of what I before thought next to, if not quite, impracticable, but that it might be of the greaest possible utility in navigation, and in rapid currents that are shallow; and what adds vastly to the value of the discovery is the simplicity of the works, as they may be made by a common boat builder or carpenter and kept in order as easy as a plow or any common implement of husbandry on a farm.” Mr. Prussing recalls to the Rambler that Washington emploiyed Rumsey in 1785, 1786 and 1787 as superintendent of the Potomac Company, which was to make the Potomac navigable from a point on the eastern slope of the Alleghenies to tidewater, and it was Rumsey who laid out and began the construction of the works at Great Falls, Little Falls, at Seneca and at Harpers Ferry. So many memories of the Potomac river and its boats crowd upon the Rambler and so many notes lie about him that he scarcely knows where and how to begin, and believes he does not know how to knit all these things together in an agreeable series of stories; but he's doing the best he knows how, and if you want to help with the job you're welcome. It was last week that the Rambler reproduced some old advertisements concerning the steamers Bishop, Armenia and Arrowsmith and the resorts, Lower Cedar Point and Colonial Beach. He has one before him, published in 1887, relating to Piney Point. It recites that the new hotel will be opened on June 11, that it is a spacious hotel on the site of the old pavilion, that Prof. R.C. Cardella's fine band has been engaged for the season and that all information wanted can be had of Wash B. Williams & Son (7th and D), proprietors. The Star, on May 16, 1887, carried a long story of “A Visit to Piney Point – the New Hotel and Other Extensive Improvements.” It was signed “Q.P,” and was written in a style rarely seen in a city newspaper today. It began this way: “Having received an invitation to visit this famous resort from its enterprising proprietor, your correspondent stood not on the order of going, but packed his journalisstic lunchbox, which consisted of a lead pencil and a note book, and started for the steamer Lady of the Lake, Capt. J.T. Barker, so well and favorably known in these waters.” There was a great deal of descriptive matter as to how “our correspondent” got to Piney Point, how he was received there and what he did there. The story contained as much information relating to the correspondent as it did on the subject of Piney Point, but fashions in writing change as they do in slang and socks. The correspondent said, among many, many other things, that “under the present management Piney Point has risen phoenix-like from its ashes clear of the dust and cobwebs of other years.” From this the Rambler gathers that the old hotel at Piney Point burned down in 1886, probably in the winter of 1886-87. Not far away from Wash Williams' advertisement about the new hotel at Piney Point was another ad signed by a name familiar to many Washington people, and the reading of that name caused a feeling of deep sadness to come into the heart of the fellow who is writing these lines, for he knew that man long and well, and said a prayer at his funeral not many weeks ago: Here is the advertisement: “Forest Inn, Forest Glen Park, Maryland. The most beautiful situation on the Metropolitan branch of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, only nine miles from Washington. Terms moderate, Alexander T. Hensey, manager, office, 1006 F street.” That was the old F street office of B.H. Warner, in which Clarence Rheem, Al Hensey, George Swartzell and a number of other fine, high-grade young men worked.