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

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

JOE COWELL RECALLS A VOYAGE
IN THE HELEN MCGREGOR IN 1829;

or, Twelve Days Confinement
in a High Pressure Prison

JOSEPH L. COWELL

[Since Joseph Leathley Cowell was a comic actor as well as an author and a painter one would not expect him to write with quite the dignity and restraint of Latrobe or the aloofness of Hamilton. Much of his long experience of life in America goes to fill his autobiography, Thirty Years Passed among the Players in England and America, first published in New York in 1844. The following extract is from the 1853 edition, pages 91-95. The reader may be interested to know that the Helen McGregor blew up at Memphis on her return trip north.]

The floating palaces which now navigate the Western waters, bear as little likeness to the style of vessels then in use, as the manners and characters of the majority of passengers you met with then, resemble the travellers who now assemble in the magnificent saloons of the present day, where all the etiquette and decorum is observed of a table d'hôte at a well-appointed hotel.

A sketch of what is will serve, by contrast, the better to convey an idea of what was considered a first-rate class of boat in 1829. In speaking of the Western steamers of the present day, I shall only allude to that portion of the vessel appropriated to the passengers, and that must not be considered as identical, but an average description; the Missouri, the Harry of the West, and twenty others, I could name as far exceeding, in many instances, the portrait I shall draw. The saloon, or principal chamber, extends nearly the whole length of the boat, on the upper deck, over

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