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

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

TIME PASSES TRANQUILLY,
IF NOT PLEASANTLY

THOMAS HAMILTON

[Donald MacDonald was interested in what he saw. Thomas Hamilton, one of the Edinburgh Blackwoods group and author of the popular novel Cyril Thornton, was concerned with his own reactions, which he set down in a mildly snobbish tone that did not endear him to American readers. It may well have been his own aloofness that was particularly responsible for the dullness he experienced on his slow voyage from Louisville to New Orleans in 1831, as reported in his Men and Manners in America (2 volumes, Edinburgh, 1833), II, 180-200.]

The New Orleans steam-boats are a very different description of vessels to any I had yet seen. They are of great size, and the object being to carry as large a cargo as possible, the whole vessel, properly so called, is devoted to this purpose, and the cabins for the passengers are raised in successive tiers above the main deck. The lower of these cabins is appropriated to the gentlemen. It is generally spacious, and very handsomely fitted up. Three of its sides are surrounded by a gallery and veranda. Over this is the ladies' cabin, equally handsome, though smaller. On the roof of the ladies' cabin is a deck on which the passengers may amuse themselves as they think proper. Near the forecastle, at the same elevation, is the place for the steerage passengers. These vessels have very much the appearance of three-deckers, and many of them are upwards of 500 tons burden. Their engines are generally constructed on the high pressure principle, and one or two generally blow up every season, sending a score of two of parboiled passengers to an inconvenient altitude in the atmosphere.

On the day following we commenced our voyage, of 1500

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