1844: Unknown to Charles S. Vankirk

Image of Side-wheel Steamboat on 1844 Bill of Lading

This letter was written to Charles S. Vankirk (1822-1904), the son of Henry Vankirk (1768-1862) and Elizabeth Pinkerton (1783-1862), of Washington, Pennsylvania. Charles was the husband of Louisa B. McCullough. The author of the letter does not sign his name but it is likely to have been written by one of Charles’ siblings — possibly John P. Vankirk (1814-1872). There was a Charles Vankirk residing in Greene County, Illinois enumerated in the 1840 census. This Vankirk may have been a cousin of Charles S. Vankirk’s.

The first iron hull steamboat on the western rivers was the 199-ton side wheel steamer “Valley Forge” built in 1839 in Pittsburgh, Penn. It was hoped that the iron hull would fend off the damage done by snags. This did not prove to be the case and she sunk and was raised two or three times and repaired before being abandoned in 1845. Her poor record against snags delayed the use of iron and steel for many years.

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Addressed to Charles S. Vankirk, Washington, Pennsylvania

Dec. 24th 1844

I am at this time within 65 miles of St. Louis at Kaskaskia [Illinois]. The river is gorged with ice about half way between the mouth of the Ohio and St. Louis. I had to leave the river. A man and his wife and two children, another man, and myself, hired a wagon to go through by land. The reason I write [is because] I expect you will hear a great many reports that is not true. The Valley Forge [steamboat] struck a snag about fifteen miles above the mouth of the Ohio River but run about 10 miles before she run ashore. The water run in the hold but they pumped it out and stop’d the hole and started again but could not cross the bar. I got on board the Levant [steamboat] and went up to Birmingham near the gorge of ice. The left the river. The weather is fine and pleasant and I have very good company. I write again in two or three weeks.


The Daily Picayune — New Orleans, LA — Marine News, December 24, 1844:

There were only two steamboats listed as bound for St. Louis [from New Orleans]: the Narragansett and the Missouri. And there was a report of ice in the upper rivers, as low down in the Mississippi as 100 miles from the mouth.

An 1844 Bill of Lading for goods shipped from Louisville aboard the steamboat Valley Forge to Maximilian Gustav Wulfing (1802-1852), a merchant at the corner of Elm & Scott Streets in St. Louis, Missouri.

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