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

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

CONCERNING THE CONDUCT
OF THE CAPTAIN OF THE Casket

[Some of the tribulations of steamboat travel are summed up in the following account of the voyage of the Casket from Louisville to St. Louis in October, 1837, as related in the "Table Talk" section of the North American Quarterly Review for March, 1838, IX, 187-92. The author was almost certainly Sumner Lincoln Fairchild, a minor poet and editor of that periodical. The original charges against the captain were published in the St. Louis Missouri Republican on October 24, 1837; a "true" statement of facts, made in rejoinder by friends of Captain Hamilton, appeared in the next day's issue of that paper and was repeated on the following day.]

The waters of the beautiful Ohio had subsided when we left Louisville for St. Louis; therefore, the steamboat groaned and jarred on the sandbars day after day, while the numerous passengers, half famished through the tedious delay, amused themselves by turning the everlasting windlass, or playing games in which they felt no interest, or scolding one another for being discontent, or sleeping away the hours, or darting in skiffs and canoes over the transparent waters of La Belle Riviere. It was a picturesque though a vexatious scene; eighteen steamboats, at one time, jammed and interlocked, were struggling over the bar. Thousands of bales of cotton, attached by cords, were floating hither and thither, or lay, half buried, among the falling masses of the bluff. The captain looked on with exemplary resignation, while the mate looked around with the eye of a tyrant, and the sailors shouted and cheered, and some cried, 'she moves,' and others said 'No.' But, after all their struggles and toils, there the steamboat lay.

At last, after many honest and exhausting endeavours, we effected our liberation, and floated again on the blue waters. But

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