Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company

Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company

The Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company (MOSBC) was the second to build and operate steamboats on America's rivers west of the Allegheny Mountains. Created as a stock company and based at Brownsville, Pennsylvania, the shareholders of the MOSBC contracted Daniel French to build two steamboats: Enterprise and Despatch.[1] Both steamboats contributed greatly to the expansion of steamboat commerce throughout the country's western rivers.[2]



In 1811, Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston were the first to enter the potentially lucrative field of steamboat commerce via the vast network of rivers west of the Alleghenies. To this end, they formed a stock company in Pittsburgh and another in New Orleans for the purpose of transporting passengers and freight between the two cities. During this age, steamboat builders were granted a federal patent which provided protection from being copied and the freedom to navigate any of the country's waterways. Fulton had a federal patent for his steamboat design but, on the western rivers, he and Livingston wanted to increase their protection from competition. They petitioned the states bordering the western rivers for a grant of an exclusive privilege to ply their waters by steamboat. Their requests were turned down by every state except Louisiana which granted the exclusive privilege in 1814. Another tactic Livingston and Fulton employed to protect their interests was to employ the fear of litigation. They used local newspapers to make a public proclimation that they would bring suit against anyone who attempted to compete with their steamboat companies.[3]

Elisha Hunt

A significant body of evidence suggests that Elisha Hunt was the principal founder of The Monongahela and Ohio Steamboat Company.

Elisha Hunt was a prominent businessman, land owner, and a director of the Monongahela Bank of Brownsville. From his store, which was located close to the Monongahela River in the center of Brownsville, he sold a wide variety of goods, ranging from nails and gunpowder to clothing, to local customers. Hunt had increased his business to the degree that his younger brother Caleb began to work at the store. The Hunts were ambitious and they wanted to continue to increase their mercantile business. To accomplish this they planned to augment the store business with commerce via the western rivers.

St. Louis voyage

Elisha Hunt

In the year 1811 Joseph left Philadelphia with the intention of traveling on horseback to St. Louis, Missouri, and other places in what was then the south and west part of the United States, for the purpose of extending the business of the firm and collecting debts due to it.[4] While stopped at Brownsville, Pennsylvania, he saw a fellow Quaker standing in the doorway of a store and struck up a conversation.[4] This new acquaintance proved to be Elisha Hunt, who, with his brother Caleb, were conducting a mercantile business there.[4] Joseph was invited to dinner with the Hunts, who then proposed that if Joseph White would give up his travel on horseback and assist them in building and freighting a keel boat, Caleb Hunt would in the spring join him on the trip to St. Louis, thus making a more pleasant journey, with favorable prospects of a successful mercantile venture.[4] Such an arrangement was agreed upon.[4] Joseph White spent the winter at Brownsville, the boat was built, and freighted with general merchandise and in the spring of 1812, Caleb Hunt and Joseph White, with a crew of French-Canadian boatmen, started her from the landing at Brownsville, Pennsylvania, bound for St. Louis, Missouri.[4]

Caleb Hunt signature.jpg

After reaching St. Louis the merchandise was sold, partly for cash, the balance to be paid for in lead, which was to be delivered at St. Genevieve, Missouri, during the spring of 1813.[4] Having successfully disposed of their goods, and ascertained that the St. Louis merchants, who were indebted to White & Lipponcott, were unable to pay the debt, the friends turned their keel boat down the Mississippi river homeward bound.[4] They entered the mouth of the Cumberland river, where, not finding an opportunity to sell their keel boat, it was committed to the charge of Joseph Wood, to sell, freight, or charter.[4] Joseph White bought a horse of Wood for $50, and with Caleb Hunt, left Smithland on the 6th of 7th month, 1812, at six o'clock A. M., on horseback for the journey home.[4]

Philadelphia meeting

After the St. Louis voyage, Elisha Hunt made the decision to use steamboats for river commerce. To this end he made the 290-mile trip to Philadelphia during the autumn of 1812.[4] While he was there, arrangements were made and a stock company was formed to construct steamboats and carry passengers and freight by steamboats between Pittsburgh and New Orleans.[4] The stock of this company was divided into six shares, of which Joseph White owned two or one-third of the whole amount stock.[4] Daniel French, a Connecticut man, owned a patent for steamboats, and had built a little stern wheel steamboat on his plan, which was then running as a ferry boat between Cooper's Point, Camden, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.[4]

French said he could construct steamboats that would run five miles an hour, against the current of the Mississippi river, and an arrangement was made with him by which he sold to the company the right to use his patent west of the Allegheny mountains.[4][5] The services of French were engaged, shops were erected at Brownsville, Pennsylvania, tools for working in iron were made, logs were cut into plank with whip saws, and with the ferry boat above mentioned as their model, they constructed the steamboat Enterprise, costing about fifteen thousand dollars, and in the latter part of the summer of 1813 she left Pittsburgh for New Orleans, under the command of Captain Henry Shreve, who was the son of Israel Shreve, of Burlington county, New Jersey, a Colonel in the Revolutionary army.[4]

In December 1812, Elisha and Caleb Hunt transported Daniel French, his three sons and a steam engine from Philadelphia to the valley of the Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania. The trip was documented by Caleb Hunt's grandson, James Walker Roberts, on a tag which was attached to his grandfather's "steamboat watch":

Early in the nineteenth century Uncle Elisha Hunt, Caleb Hunt, and four others had hauled across the Allegheny Mountains to Brownsville, Pa., a steam engine and machinery...

The Philadelphia meeting between Elisha Hunt, Joseph White and Daniel French was a success. Joseph White, the third shareholder in the fledgling steamboat company, would remain in Philadelphia where his hardware business was located. The basic business plan was this: Elisha Hunt would promote the use of Daniel French's steam engines and then French would build them. The nucleus of a steamboat company had been formed. But before a steamboat could be built the company needed a large increase in capital.


Hunt's store was a meeting place where potential investors were presented with an opportunity to invest in the fledgling steamboat company.[4] Elisha Hunt wrote, "The little office connected with our Brownsville store was the rendezvous of many intelligent and enterprising young men, and there all the recent inventions for improving travel, etc., were argued and discussed."[4]


Caleb went to Louisiana for the purpose of expanding the company's steamboat line to a third boat which would operate between Louisville and New Orleans. Furthermore, this trip was a fulfillment of the business agreement between Elisha Hunt and Daniel French.[6]

On 1 March 1814 Benjamin Henry Latrobe wrote from Pittsburgh to Robert Fulton:

There is a company chiefly of Quakers who are building a Steam boat on French's plan at the eastern shore 30 miles above this place.

Sometime in May 1814, the Enterprise was launched at Bridgeport.[7][8]

In August 1815, the manager of the cotton factory, named the "Bridgeport Manufacturing Company", announced that it was ready to begin operations.[9] Using Daniel French's steam engines the company would process raw cotton and wool into yarn.

Elisha Hunt was one of the principals behind the Bridgeport Manufacturing Company. He planned to process raw cotton and wool into finished goods in Bridgeport and then ship them to southern ports aboard the company's steamboats. Then the steamboats would transport raw cotton to Bridgeport to be processed into finished goods. This synergistic relationship between the manufacturing company and the steamboat company would increase the chances that both of them would be successful.


By summer of 1815, the company appeared to be firmly established.[10]


The Enterprise met its demise sometime during summer 1816.[4] When at Shippingport, Kentucky, below the falls of the Ohio River, the Enterprise was anchored by its captain in deep water because the water above the falls was low.[4][11] The captain went by land to Pittsburgh and hired two men to tend the ship.[4] However, one of the men went ashore and the other got drunk and neglected the pumps, and the seams of the boat opened in hot weather.[4] The Enterprise filled and sank to the bottom of the river, where it remained.[4]


In the waning days of the MOSBC, Caleb Hunt exchanged his share of stock for a fine English watch.[12] This watch, with its original recorded history, has been passed down through several generations of Caleb Hunt's descendants.


See also


  1. ^ American Telegraph (Brownsville, Pa.), 5 July 1815: "Last Saturday evening the Steam was first tried on the Despatch, another steam boat, lately built in Bridgeport, and owned as well as the Enterprize, by the Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company. We are happy to learn that she is likely to answer the most sanguine expectations of the ingenious Mr. French, the engineer, on whose plan she is constructed."
  2. ^ Hunter, p. 6-21, 310; Hunter presents a concise historical account of the contributions made by the steamboats owned by the MOSBC during the early days of steamboat commerce in the west.
  3. ^ Stecker presents a scholarly analysis of the measures taken by Fulton and Livingston et al. to discourage other steamboat companies.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Shourds.
  5. ^ The draft business agreement between Hunt and Daniel French reads, "Daniel French gives Hunt one-fourth of all advantages and profits during the patent arising from French's one-half of the whole property in his new invented steam improvements. Hunt gives French five hundred dollars in advance. Said Hunt is to go from places to places to look out places for establishing French's machinery in its various applications in mills, boats and other machinery, as also to sell, let, lease and assist in setting up works for the benefit of the said French at Hunt expense, and those services shall continue during the patent term as the best interest of the company mutually considered may direct, the said Hunt shall not hold back any reasonable services requested by the said French on forfeiture of said one-fourth as granted by said French to said Hunt, as those services are the principle consideration to said French for Hunt's one-fourth of said profits." French, Daniel, Draft of a business agreement with Elisha Hunt, Indiana Historical Society: Daniel French Papers, ca. 1796 - 1816, digital file 6091.
  6. ^ "Said Hunt is to go from places to places to look out places for establishing French's machinery in its various applications in mills, boats and other machinery." French, Daniel: Draft of a business agreement between Daniel French and Elisha Hunt.
  7. ^ Lloyd, James T. (1856), Lloyd's steamboat directory, and disasters on the western waters..., Philadelphia: Jasper Harding, p. 43: "The Enterprise was No. 4 of the Western steamboat series."
  8. ^ "The Elegant Steam Boat, Enterprize, Captain Israel GREGG, arrived here on Wednesday last, from Bridgeport, on the Monongahela,... She is handsomely fitted up for passengers for Louisville, Falls of Ohio, for which place she will sail on Saturday or Sunday morning next." Pittsburgh Gazette, 10 June 1814.
  9. ^ Ellis, p. 476.
  10. ^ "The Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company, of this place, we are pleased to learn, intend to lay the keel of a Steam Boat of one hundred and thirty tons burden, as soon as sufficient stock can be sold; the shares in this company are five hundred dollars each, one hundred paid on subscribing, and one hundred at the end of each succeeding sixtieth day until the whole be paid; the new stock holders to draw a dividend of the profits of all the boats after the one proposed shall be in operation. This boat is intended as a regular trader from New Orleans to the falls of Ohio [Louisville, Kentucky], which with the Enterprize which is destined to trade between the falls & Pittsburgh, and the Despatch from Pittsburgh to Bridgeport, will form a complete line from New Orleans to this place." The American Telegraph (Brownsville's newspaper), 9 August 1815.
  11. ^ Cramer, Zadok (1817), The navigator containing directions for navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers..., 9th edition, Pittsburgh: Cramer, Spear and Eichbaum, p. 108: "THE RAPIDS OF OHIO" "Near the bottom on the left side of No. 63 [Rock Island] is a mooring place for boats, called Rock Harbor. It is opposite the upper end of Shippingport, and has water enough at all seasons for vessels of any burthen."
  12. ^ Warren, Dorothy J. (10 April 1955), "History wanted on riverman's watch", St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, p. 4


  • Ellis, Franklin (1882). History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of its pioneers and prominent men. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co.
  • French, Daniel (c. 1812). "Draft of a business agreement between Daniel French and Elisha Hunt". Indiana Historical Society: Daniel French Papers, ca. 1796 - 1816, digital file 6091
  • Hunter, Louis C. (1949). Steamboats on the western rivers, an economic and technological history. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry. The papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Maryland Historical Society, microfiche #115/B8
  • Maass, Alfred R. (1996). "Daniel French and the western steamboat engine". The American Neptune, 56: 29-44
  • Shourds, Thomas (1876). History and genealogy of Fenwick's Colony, New Jersey. New Jersey: Bridgeton p. 314-320 Shourds wrote: "The following interesting narrative of Joseph White, written by his youngest son Barclay, and forwarded to me a few months ago,..." "It was my [Barclay White's] privilege and pleasure on several occasions during those years to converse with him [Elisha Hunt] upon his social and business connections with my father [Joseph White], and the incidents above narrated have been chiefly derived from such conversations."
  • Stecker, H. Dora (1913). "Constructing a navigation system in the west". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, 22: 16-27
  • Woodward, E. M. (1883). History of Burlington county, New Jersey, with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck (Elisha Hunt, p. 270-271; Joseph White, pp. 220-221)
  • Wright, D. T. (1955). [Information regarding Caleb Hunt's steamboat watch]. The waterways journal. Volume 69, Issues 1-26

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