The steamboat Enterprise, or Enterprize, demonstrated for the first time by her epic 2,200-mile voyage from New Orleans to Brownsville, Pennsylvania that steamboat commerce was practical on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
The Enterprise, with an engine and power train designed and built by Daniel French, was launched before June 1814 at Brownsville for her owners: the shareholders of the Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company. The Enterprise, under the command of Israel Gregg, was first used to transport passengers and cargo to ports between Brownsville and Louisville, Kentucky. From June to December she completed two 600-mile voyages from Louisville to Pittsburgh that were performed against strong river currents. With these voyages the Enterprise demonstrated for the first time that steamboat commerce was practical on the Ohio River.
Voyage to New Orleans
On December 2, General Andrew Jackson had marched from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans with orders to oppose an imminent military invasion by a large British force. Jackson had been making frequent requests for military supplies, especially small firearms and ammunition, which were in short supply. To this end, the shareholders made the decision to send the Enterprise. Command was transferred to Henry Miller Shreve, a Brownsville resident and experienced keelboat captain, who had firsthand knowledge of the hazards to navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. On December 21, 1814, the Enterprise departed Pittsburgh bound for New Orleans with a cargo of "Cannon-balls, Gun-Carriages, Smith's Tools, Boxes of Harness, &c". On December 28, the Enterprise passed the Falls of Ohio at Louisville, delivering the cargo of military supplies at the port of New Orleans on January 9, 1815.
Battle of New Orleans
Under normal circumstances, the voyage by the Enterprise into Louisiana's waters would have been a violation of the territorial steamboat monopoly granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton. However, the Enterprise was protected from the monopolists and free to navigate the state's waters by the martial law imposed by General Andrew Jackson on December 16.
Despite the military supplies delivered by the Enterprise, Jackson's forces were still in dire need, particularly for small firearms, gunpowder and shot. Responding to reports that several boats laden with military supplies were near Natchez, Jackson sent the Enterprise. The boats were located and the Enterprise took them in tow, delivering them to New Orleans on January 26. Then the Enterprise made another roundtrip voyage to Natchez, followed by a trip via the Red River to Alexandria with 250 troops in tow.
Voyage to Brownsville
By February 5, the last of the British troops had withdrawn and were aboard ship, eager to return home. On February 16, the United States Senate ratified the Treaty of Ghent, finally putting an end to the war. However, official dispatches announcing the peace would not reach New Orleans until late February.
On March 1, Shreve advertised in a Natchez newspaper that the Enterprise would "ply between Natchez and New Orleans every nine days until the first week in May" when the Enterprise would depart New Orleans for Louisville. On March 13, Andrew Jackson rescinded martial law. On April 21, payment of the wharfage fee for the Enterprise was recorded. On May 1, Henry Shreve was arrested and the Enterprise seized by the sheriff, acting on court orders issued on behalf of the heirs of Livingston and Fulton, for violating their steamboat monopoly on Louisiana's waters. Attorney Abner L. Duncan, representing the shareholders of the Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company, posted bail and made arrangements for Shreve and the Enterprise to be released. On May 6, Shreve and the Enterprise finally departed New Orleans, reaching Louisville on May 31. During this voyage she became the first steamboat to reach Louisville from New Orleans. Then the Enterprise steamed to Pittsburgh and Brownsville. This voyage, a distance of 2,200 miles from New Orleans, was performed against the powerful currents of the Mississippi, Ohio and Monongahela rivers. The importance of this voyage was expressed in newspapers throughout the West.
Enterprise trial at New Orleans
The seizure of the Enterprise produced a strong reaction by the public against the monopolists. This sentiment was heightened by another seizure of a steamboat, the Dispatch, at New Orleans. An account of this incident was published in a Pittsburgh newspaper.
The Enterprise trial was held in the United States District Court for the District of Louisiana at New Orleans, judge Dominic A. Hall presiding. Judge Hall established a legal precedent by ruling against the monopolists. A letter announcing the news of the ruling and proclaiming its significance to the growth of steamboat commerce and the economy of the West was published in a Louisville newspaper.
The seizures of the Enterprise and the Dispatch stimulated the Kentucky legislature to pass a resolution in January, 1817.
The epic voyage of the Enterprise, demonstrating for the first time that steamboat commerce on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers was practical, and the judge's landmark ruling against the monopolists did much to stimulate the growth of steamboat commerce on America's western rivers.
- Western Courier [Louisville, Ky.], 1 June 1815: "Arrived in this port, in 25 days from New-Orleans, the Steam-Boat Enterprize, capt. SHRIEVE. The celerity and safety with which this boat descends and ascends the currents of these mighty waters, the improvement of the navigation of which is so advantageous to the western world, must be equally interesting to the farmer and the merchant. The facility and convenience of the passage, in ascending the rivers, are such as to give a decided preference to this mode of navigation, while the size and construction of the boat entitles it to all the advantages which the Ætna and Vesuvius have in vain attempted to monopolize over the free waters of our common country."
- American Telegraph [Brownsville, Pa.], 5 July 1815: "Arrived at this port on Monday last, the Steam Boat Enterprize, Shreve, of Bridgeport, from New Orleans, in ballast, having discharged her cargo at Pittsburgh. She is the first steam boat that ever made the voyage to the Mouth of the Mississippi and back. She made the voyage from New Orleans to this port, in fifty four days, twenty days on which were employed in loading and unloading freight at different towns on the Mississippi and Ohio, so that she was only thirty four days in active service, in making her voyage, which our readers will remember must be performed against powerful currents, and is upwards of two thousand two hundred miles in length."
- Hunter, p. 18: "The members of a committee of Congress reporting early in 1816 must have had the achievements of the Enterprise particularly in mind when they declared that the success of steamboat navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was no longer in doubt."
- Pittsburgh Gazette, 10 June 1814: "Arrived here on Wednesday morning last from Brownsville, the Steam Boat ENTERPRIZE, Capt. Gregg. Her destination the Falls of Ohio."
- 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."
- Pittsburgh Gazette, 10 June 1814: "THE ELEGANT STEAM BOAT, ENTERPRIZE, Captain ISRAEL GREGG, arrived here on Wednesday last, from Bridgeport, on the Monongahela, a distance of upwards of 65 miles, in 5 hours and 38 minutes. She is handsomely fitted up for passengers, and will take freight and passengers for Louisville, Falls of Ohio, for which place she will sail on Saturday or Sunday morning next. For particulars apply to the Capt. on board at Market Street Wharf. Pittsburgh, June 9th."
- Western Courier [Louisville, Ky.], 27 June 1814: "Arrived here on Tuesday last from Pittsburgh, the Steam Boat Enterprise, Capt. Gregg."
- American Telegraph [Brownsville, Pennsylvania], Wednesday, December 14, 1814: "The Steam Boat Enterprise of this place, which has been trading since last June in the Ohio, arrived here last Sunday afternoon. We understand that she performed the voyage from Steubenville to Pittsburgh, with a full cargo, in about three days; she made the passage from Pittsburgh to Brownsville, a distance of 65 miles, in about 17 hours. When the strength of the current is taken into consideration, it will be seen that she is equal to any boat in use. She will return to Pittsburgh in a few days, whence she will take freight and passengers, for New Orleans."
- Latour, p. 52: "On the 2d December, general Jackson arrived at New Orleans, where he established his head-quarters."
- Latour, p. 66: [Excerpt of a letter of December 16 from Andrew Jackson at New Orleans to James Monroe, Secretary of War.] "We have no arms here - will the government order a supply? If it will, let it be speedily. Without arms, a defense cannot be made."
- Major Abraham Edwards to Secretary Monroe, 11 February 1815: "Report of the departure of boats, loaded with munitions of war, from this place [Pittsburgh] to Baton-Rouge and New Orleans and the names of persons in charge of the stores." National Archives DNA-RG 107, E-1815, microfilm 222, reel 15
- Western Courier [Louisville, Ky.], 4 January 1815: "Passed the Falls [Falls of the Ohio at Louisville, Ky.] on the 28th ult. the Steam Boat Enterprise, loaded with public property, consisting of 24 pounders, carriages, shells, small arms &c. for Gen. Jackson's army."
- New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112-2044, New Orleans Wharf Register : One barge, its captain recorded as Henry Shrive, was registered at New Orleans on February 11, 1814.
- The Edwards document lists the date- ranging from November 11, 1814 to January 15, 1815- when each of nine boats departed Fort Fayette at Pittsburgh with military supplies for the American forces at New Orleans. It also lists the name of each boat's owner and the person "in charge of the stores", the type of military supply, and remarks regarding the progress made by three of the boats.
- Niles' Weekly Register, vol. 7, February 4, 1815, p. 361: "It appears that the steam-boat Enterprize, and a keel boat, passed Louisville, Ky. about the 28th of December, with arms and various stores for New Orleans, and we fear it is so that gen. Adair's men are without arms. However Jackson's fertile genius make them useful, or, perhaps, partially supply them."
- American Telegraph [Brownsville, Pa.], 29 March 1815: "The Enterprize has been employed in the public service for some time. She arrived at New Orleans on the 9th of January, one day after the battle, laden with amunitions [sic] of war, and it appears from the following extract of a letter from one of the officers on board, that she has given entire satisfaction, she exceeds in speed any other vessel that has yet floated in those rivers, she is a vessel of 50 tons burthen."
- Stecker, H. Dora (1913). "Constructing a navigation system in the West". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly 22: 16–27.
- Mississippi Republican [Natchez, Mississippi], 21 December 1814
- American Telegraph [Brownsville, Pa.], 22 February 1815: On January 20, 1815 an officer on board the Enterprise at Natchez wrote, "When we arrived at New Orleans we were immediately pressed by General Jackson and are now in search of some boats loaded with U. States Arms."
- American Telegraph [Brownsville, Pa.], 29 March 1815: From a letter written by an officer on board the Enterprise, "NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 30, 1815. We will leave this place in the morning for Natchez with about 50 passengers, and for our next trip passengers have been engaged; we are doing a very good business and every body is pleased with the performance of the Enterprize; every person we meet is our friend on account of the service we rendered the public when this city was in danger. We have performed the trip from this place to Natchez in twenty four hours less time than any other boat ever did. Our next voyage it is probable will be to the Rapids of Red River, with 250 men. Gen. Jackson permits us to go where we please in the morning, as we have been very useful to him."
- Remini, Robert V. (1999). The battle of New Orleans. New York: Penguin Books. p. 193-194: "Then in mid-February dispatches arrived from Europe announcing that the commissioners in Ghent had signed a treaty of peace with their British counterparts and that the War of 1812 had ended." "...the Senate of the United States unanimously (35-0) ratified the Treaty of Ghent on February 16, 1815. Now the war was officially over."
- Mississippi Republican [Natchez, Mississippi], 1 March 1815
- New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112-2044, New Orleans Wharf Register
- Hunter (1993) p. 17: "The Washington, however, was not the first steamboat to ascend the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Louisville. As most writers point out, she was preceded in this feat by the Enterprise, the Brownsville boat with machinery designed and built by Daniel French."
- Gos, Charles Frederick (1912). Cincinnati, the Queen City, 1788-1912. Chicago and Cincinnati: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., p. 104: Published in a Cincinnati newspaper. "The Steam Boat Enterprise-- This is the first steam boat that has ascended the Ohio. She arrived at Louisville on the first inst., sailed thence on the 10th, and came to this port on the evening of the 13th, having made her passage from New Orleans, a distance of one thousand, eight hundred miles, in twenty-eight running days (by the aid of her machinery alone, which acts on a single wheel placed in the stern), against the rapid currents of the Mississippi and Ohio. This is one of the most important facts in the history of this country, and will serve as data of its future commercial greatness. Two steamboats, considerably larger than the Enterprise, and yet not too large for the purpose, are already built at Pittsburgh, and will no doubt commence running in the fall. Others will follow. The success of the Enterprise must give a spring to this business that will in a very few years carry it into complete and successful operation."
- Commonwealth [Pittsburgh, Pa.], 15 May 1816: "From a Kentucky paper we have copied an account of the detention of the steamboat Dispatch, and the interruption she met with in New Orleans. We have endeavored to see Captain Bruce since his arrival, in order to obtain more correct information on the subject, but have not had the good fortune to meet with him. We conceive the act of the legislature under which Mr. Livingston has proceeded in this business, as an infamous violation of the constitutional privileges of the citizens of all states lying on the great Western waters. We know not what construction the above act will receive from the courts at Orleans. But it is much better to trust to our own power of retaliation than to the justice of courts two thousand miles from us. If the system of oppression under which Captain Bruce has suffered, is to be continued, it is to be hoped that the powerful State of Pennsylvania will not submit to a legalized system of plunder and robbery, maintained by the State of Louisiana. It is to be presumed that she will rise in the majesty of her strength, pass retaliatory acts, and subject to attachments and seizure, not the vessels merely which may belong to its citizens. This would be an act of vengeance worthy of her; and if this should not be able to put a stop to the impudent pretensions of the new State to an exclusive jurisdiction over the navigation of the waters within her boundaries, force must!"
- Western Courier [Louisville, Ky.], 13 June 1816: Copy of a letter from a gentleman in New-Orleans, to his friend in this place, dated New-Orleans, May 26, 1816. "Having understood you are interested in the Steam Boat building at Louisville, I have the pleasure to inform you that the suit depending between Livingston and the proprietors of the steam boat Enterprize, has been decided in the district court of this state against Livingston & Co. on the plea that the legislature of this (then) territory, exceeded their power in granting an exclusive privilege. Mr. Livingston has appealed to the superior court of this state, where it is generally supposed he will meet with a similar fate. I hope this information will be of service to your company, and cause them to progress more rapidly in an undertaking which is calculated to be of such importance to the Western country."
- Slaughter, Gabriel (1817). Acts passed at the first session of the twenty-fifth general assembly, for the commonwealth of Kentucky. Frankfort, Kentucky: Gerard and Kendall, pp. 280-281. "Resolutions relative to the free navigation of the river Mississippi. Be it resolved by the general assembly of the commonwealth of Kentucky, That they have viewed with the deepest concern, the violation of the right guaranteed by the federal constitution and the laws of congress, to navigate the river Mississippi, in the seizure of the Steam Boat Enterprize, under the pretended authority of a law enacted by the legislature of the late Territory of New Orleans. Resolved, That they will maintain inviolate by all legitimate means the right of her citizens to navigate said river, and its tributary streams."
- Hunter, Louis C. (1949). Steamboats on the western rivers, an economic and technological history. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1949; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1993.
- Latour, Arsene Lacarriere (1816). Historical memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-1815. Philadelphia: John Conrad.
- Maass, Alfred R. (1994). "Brownsville's steamboat Enterprize and Pittsburgh's supply of general Jackson's army". Pittsburgh History 77: 22-29. ISSN: 1069-4706
- Maass, Alfred R. (1996). "Daniel French and the western steamboat engine". The American Neptune 56: 29–44.
- Maass, Alfred R. (1999). "The right of unrestricted navigation on the Mississippi, 1812-1818". The American Neptune 60: 49–59.
- Shourds, Thomas (1876). History and genealogy of Fenwick's Colony, New Jersey. Bridgeton, New Jersey: 314-320. ISBN 0-8063-0714-5
- Stecker, H. Dora (1913). "Constructing a navigation system in the West". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly 22: 16–27.
- History of the Enterprise Based on information provided by Barclay White, recorded by historian Thomas Shourds, and published in History and genealogy of Fenwick's Colony, New Jersey.
- "Steam Boat Navigation" by Benjamin H. Latrobe Public notice by an agent of Livingston and Fulton in response to the arrival of the Enterprise at Pittsburgh.
- The Enterprise trial at New Orleans Petition composed by defense attorney Abner L. Duncan, filed on February 14, 1816.
- "Constructing a navigation system in the West" Scholarly article written by historian H. Dora Stecker.