Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

NO CRAFT SO WHIMSICAL—
NO SHAPE SO OUTLANDISH

TIMOTHY FLINT

[Timothy Flint, after spending ten years wandering up and down the Mississippi Valley as a missionary, at last settled down in Cincinnati as a writer and editor. Much of what he had observed went into his A Condensed Geography and History of the Western States, or the Mississippi Valley (2 volumes, Cincinnati, 1828), from which have been selected these pages (1, 229-42) describing the variety of boats then found on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.]

No form of water craft so whimsical, no shape so outlandish, can well be imagined, but what, on descending from Pittsburg to New Orleans, it may some where be seen lying to the shore, or floating on the river.

The barge is of the size of an Atlantic schooner, with a raised and outlandish looking deck. It had sails, masts and rigging not unlike a sea vessel, and carried from fifty to an hundred tons. It required twenty-five or thirty hands to work it up stream. On the lower courses of the Mississippi, when the wind did not serve, and the waters were high, it was worked up stream by the operation, that is called 'warping,' a most laborious, slow and difficult mode of ascent, and in which six or eight miles a day was good progress. It consisted in having two yawls, the one in advance of the other, carrying out a warp of some hundred yards in length, making it fast to a tree, and then drawing the barge up to that tree by the warp. When that warp was coiled, the yawl in advance had another laid, and so on alternately. From ninety to an hundred days was a tolerable passage from New Orleans to Cincinnati. In this way the intercourse between Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville and St. Louis, for the more important

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