1820: Jedediah Rogers to David Gelston

This letter was written in February 1820 by Jedediah Rogers who was Master of the Steamboat, “Walk-in-the-Water” — the first steamboat to navigate the waters of Lake Erie between 1818 and 1821. The letter was addressed to David Gelston, the Collector of the Port of New York from 1801 to 1821.

Stampless Envelope

Letter, Page 1

Letter, Page 2


Albany, February 18, 1820

David Gelston, Esq.

Sir, I should not presume to address you on a subject so uninteresting to you was I not influenced by the consideration that your opinion would put at rest the contending oppinion of many collectors my business necessarily compels me to approach. I am master of the Steam Boat Walk-in-the Water on Lake Erie, which hails from Buffalo on my passages to Detroit. I stop in their distinct districts, one in Pensylvania, two in Ohio, some of the Collectors are of opinion I ought to enter and clear and others that I ought to report to each port that I stop at wether I have any dutiable goods or not.

My intention next season is not to carry any freight to be landed at any intermediate port between Buffalo and Detroit, and my stop will be only to land passengers and their baggage, in which may be included household furniture of emigrants. The questions I wish to submit are: 1st. Can I go from Buffalo Creek district (after clearing at the Custom House), and stop and land passengers and baggage without entering or reporting my boat at the Custom house of another district in Pensylvania or Ohio. If not, which must I do?

2nd. Can I land passengers & baggage if composed of the ordinary household furniture of emigrants with out entering or reporting (presuming I have no dutiable goods on board). If so, which must I do?

My only appology for thus troubling you with this subject is a difference of oppinion among the collectors on the Lake and I felt desirous of obtaining your oppinion on the subject before I went out again. If Sir, you will have the goodness give it me, you will confer a favor on your

Humble Servant,

Jedh Rogers

Walk-in-the-Water, ca 1820

Among the pioneer steamboats in the world, Walk-in-the-Water was the first built on Lake Erie, the first to travel on Lakes Erie, St. Clair, Huron and Michigan, the first to offer passenger and freight service between Buffalo and Detroit, and the first steamer to wreck on Lake Erie.

The vessel was financed by a group of enterprising New York businessmen that envisioned steamboats as an important commercial shipping venture. They included engineer Noah Brown, who designed the craft, and Robert McQueen, a machinist who designed and built the engine.

After its launch in the spring of 1818, the Walk-in-the-Water became a conversation piece for all that saw it. A smoke-belching, wood-burning ship, it created a sensation where ever it went. The paddle wheels looked too large for the boats 138-foot-long hull. Its single smokestack towered above the wooden deck.

McQueen raised the stack high so the wood fires from under the boiler didn’t have a chance to shoot hot embers back to the deck and set the wooden vessel ablaze.

Source: James Donahue; See: web


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