Steamboat Archaeology in North America

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2014

Steam-propelled vessels heavily affected the social and economic development of 19th-century North America by connecting and unifying distant populations, industries, and commerce. The invention of steam propulsion is well-documented in contemporary letters, patents, newspaper announcements, and other historical accounts, but there are still major gaps in our knowledge of subsequent steamboat design, construction, and use. Archaeological discoveries in recent years have contributed significantly to our understanding of the steamboat and its role in North American maritime history and society. This symposium highlights recent archaeological investigations, reexamines the results of earlier projects, and includes studies on the early days of steam, the western river steamboat, Great Lakes steamers, Civil War-era steamships, and Gold Rush steamers of the Yukon.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-13 of 13)

  • Documents (13)

  • Boilers on the Shore: Piecing together the history and significance of the steamship site at Fort Gadsden (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bill Neal.

    The machinery remains of an early nineteenth century steamboat were recovered in the 1978-1980 Corp of Army Engineers dredging episode of the Apalachicola River. They were deposited at the historic site of Fort Gadsden and have remained there unstudied until 2009. This paper places a time frame on the machinery comprised of two boilers, two paddlewheels, a mud drum, and assorted pieces, using historical reference in comparison to the construction of the recovered artifacts. This research allows...

  • Building Anthony Wayne: Working Towards a Hypothetical Reconstruction of an Early Great Lakes Steamboat (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bradley Krueger. Carrie Sowden.

    The introduction of steamboats to the Great Lakes during the early nineteenth century revolutionized regional and national shipping industries, as well as directly contributed to the social and economic development of the United States during the antebellum period. While this boon to maritime transportation has been documented in history, relatively little is known about the actual vessels that steamed across the Inland Seas. Great Lakes steamboat archaeology has been gaining speed over the...

  • A Bygone Boiler That Doesn’t Belong (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ryan Bradley. Kelci Martinsen.

    Located within the Thunder Bay National Sanctuary of Lake Huron in Michigan, a wooden bulk freighter named the MONOHANSETT lies in eighteen feet of water. An engine fire consumed the vessel on a November night in 1907. The site was recorded and mapped in a summer field school by East Carolina University graduate students back in 2004 and was the subject of a 2005 thesis. A remarkable feature of the wreck is the existence of an intact firebox boiler situated just off the stern section of the...

  • Comparative Analysis of Confederate Ironclad Steam Engines, Boilers, and Propulsion Systems: A Thesis Made Possible by the Port Columbus Civil War Naval Museum (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Saxon Bisbee.

    The development of steam propulsion machinery in warships during the 1800s in conjunction with iron armor and shell guns resulted in a technological revolution in the world’s navies, but it was during the American Civil War that armored warships powered solely by steam proved themselves in large numbers. The ironclads built by the Confederate States of America represented a style adapted to scarce industrial resources and facilities. The development and/or procurement of propulsion machinery...

  • From abandonment to wrecking: the case of the PS Lady Sherbrooke - De l’abandon au naufrage: le cas du PS Lady Sherbrooke (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jean Bélisle.

    De l’abandon au naufrage; le cas du PS Lady Sherbrooke Entre 1983 et 1993 le Comité d’histoire et d’archéologie subaquatique du Québec a fouillé l’épave du vapeur PS Lady Sherbrooke (1817). André Lépine et moi-même avons présenté les résultats de ce projet ici même en 2000. Les années ont passé, André Lépine est décédé et le projet s’est retrouvé sur la glace. Maintenant près de 30 ans après le début de la fouille une relecture des données a révélé tout un pan de l’histoire qui nous avait ...

  • Heroine and the Evolving Traits of Early Western River Steamboats (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kevin Crisman.

    The western river steamboat has been described as a ‘vanguard of empire’, a technological breakthrough that facilitated the westward expansion of the United States and Canada in the 19th century. The era of steam propulsion began only two hundred years ago, but the earliest western river steamers are still shrouded in mysteries and myths. Although hundreds of boats were built between 1811 and 1850, plans appear to be non-existent, detailed technical descriptions are rare, and reliable...

  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The composite-hulled stern-wheel steamboats of Western Canada (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Pollack. Sarah Moffatt. Robert Turner. Robyn Woodward. Sean Adams.

    In 1897, three composite-hulled stern-wheel steamboats were prefabricated to common specifications in Ontario for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The vessels were intended for the Stikine River route to the Klondike Gold fields, but only one vessel - Tyrrell - was assembled in BC and moved north before the route collapsed. That ship was redirected into the Yukon River drainage, and eventually abandoned near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory at the end of its career. The components of the other...

  • Passengers, Packages and Copper: The Steamer Pewabic and the Growth of Lake Superior’s Mining Industry (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Phil Hartmeyer.

    America’s first mining boom occurred in the 1840s on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Pure copper lay ripe for picking along its shores, but until the construction of Saint Mary’s Canal in 1855, high freight costs kept the region from growing. Keweenaw’s social and economic isolation required a special craft that could profitably facilitate both the passenger and copper industries. “Lake Huron’s Death Ship”, Pewabic, was one propeller that embodied the zeitgeist of post-Civil War Great Lakes....

  • Picking up the Pieces: Interpretation and Reconstruction of USS Westfield from Fragmentary Archaeological Evidence (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Justin Parkoff. Amy Borgens.

    USS Westfield was the flagship of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron during the Civil War. Originally a New York Staten Island ferry, Westfield was purchased by the U.S. Navy in 1861 and converted into an armored gunboat. On January 1, 1863 USS Westfield was destroyed by her captain during the Battle of Galveston to avoid capture and then later detonated in 1906 to remove it as a navigation obstruction. In 2009, the remaining wreckage, consisting of a disarticulated artifact debris field, was...

  • Reconstruction of the early 19th-Century Lake Champlain Steamboat Phoenix (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only George Schwarz.

    Launched in the spring of 1815, the Lake Champlain steamboat Phoenix operated as a passenger vessel for five seasons until the fall of 1819, when she tragically burned to the waterline en route to Quebec with 46 persons on board and sank off Colchester Shoal, Vermont. During the summers of 2009 and 2010 an archaeological investigation was undertaken to document the steamer’s hull and associated artifacts. The intention of the study was to advance our knowledge of early steamboat development by...

  • Steam and Speed: The Development of the First Self-Unloading Schooner-Barge, Adriatic (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Caitlin Zant.

    Throughout the nineteenth century, steam propulsion in ships grew from an idea to a widely used method of modern transportation. While the use of steam in propulsion has been given credit with advancing shipping into the modern age, the advancements in steam powered unloading systems on the Great Lakes helped propel shipping into the twentieth century. One ship that fully demonstrates this advancement in maritime technology is Adriatic of Sturgeon Bay. Credited as the first self-unloading...

  • Using Historical Photography to Rediscover the Farallon Wreck Site, Iliamna Bay, Alaska (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Travis Shinabarger.

    In the winter of 1910, the steamship, SS Farallon, fared through a storm in Cook Inlet attempting to offload passengers in Iliamna Bay, Alaska. Hitting an offshore reef, the vessel foundered, stranding the crew and passengers for a month or more. During this time the mail clerk, John Thwaites, photographed the adventures that befell those stranded. More than 100 years later, these archived photographs were used to relocate the unlikely location of the castaway campsite. This paper shows the...

  • William P. Rend shipwreck: A link in Davidson-related Archaeology and Historical Research (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lynn Harris.

    Shipbuilder James Davidson was well-known for building high-quality, goliath vessels that could carry extremely heavy cargoes in the Great Lakes. He was regarded as one of the stalwart holdouts in the wooden shipbuilding industry who operated an extensive fleet of steamers and schooner barges under the flag of the Davidson Steamship Company. A study of the shipwreck, William P. Rend, built in 1888 and lost in 1917 in Lake Huron, adds to a growing body of Davidson archaeological research yielding...