General Pike (steamboat) Bills of Lading, 1818-1822, undated

Held by The Filson Historical Society

Creator: General Pike (steamboat)

Title: Bills of lading, 1818-1822, undated.

Rights: For information regarding literary and copyright interest for these papers, contact the Collections Department.

Size of Collection: 0.25 cubic feet (232 items)

Location Number:  Mss. BN G326

Scope and Content Note

The collection is comprised of bills of lading, aka freight bills or waybills, that identify the freight carried by the first General Pike steamboat between 1818 and 1822.  Routine cargo includes nails, farm tools, coffee, sugar, flour, raisins, pork, fish, wine, whiskey, and lard among many other things.  Occasionally, some unique items were shipped, such as the “two copper stills” shipped from Louisville to Cincinnati on May 6, 1820.  The dates on the bills are not spread evenly among the years included, at least in part because steamboat travel was intermittent due to fluctuating water levels. Captains and clerks identified by these bills of lading include Neziah Bliss, Andrew Mack, Phillip Pennywitt, John M. Rowan, and Jacob Strader.

Related Collections:

Historical Note

The steamboat General Pike, launched in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 1, 1818, was built by a man identified in the October 2, 1818, Lexington Kentucky Gazette only as “Mr. Brooks.” The boat’s keel measured 100 feet; beam, 25 feet; and hold, about six feet.   Its capacity was approximately 177 tons, and it drew a little over three feet of water; (it needed only that much water to stay afloat).  The General Pike had 14 staterooms and enough berths to accommodate 86 people in all.  Its saloon (the public area for cabin passengers) was approximately 18×50 feet and featured marble columns and luxurious carpeting.  It is often described as the first packet on the western waters built exclusively for passenger service.  However, hundreds of its bills of lading survive, making it clear that the boat routinely accommodated freight, even though it may have been built primarily for passenger service.

Per its bills of lading from the years 1818-1822, the boat’s captains included Neziah Bliss, Andrew Mack, Phillip Pennywitt, John M. Rowan, and Jacob Strader.  Pennywitt ultimately had a long career on the western waters and eventually became known as “the father of steamboating in Arkansas.” Strader became an industrial magnate in Cincinnati, at one time participating in the ownership of a fleet of 23 steamboats in addition to holding substantial railroad interests.

The General Pike was one of the first Ohio River steamboats to have an established “trade,” a route it traveled according to a predetermined schedule. (At the time, most boats operated as transients, changing their routes sporadically based on water conditions and commercial opportunities.)  Its original route was Louisville – Cincinnati – Maysville. (It also made stops at intermediate river settlements as necessary.)

An advertisement in Cincinnati’s Western Spy newspaper in November 1822 touts a trip by the General Pike as far down the river as St. Louis, Missouri and as far up as Wheeling, West Virginia.  That may have been the initial test of a new trade as the General Pike ultimately became part of the Cincinnati – Louisville – St. Louis United States Mail Line, an operation that would become one of the most successful, longest lived steamboat lines on the western rivers.

In 1819, an upstream trip from Louisville to Cincinnati on the General Pike took about 40 hours. Cabin fare, which included meals, was $12.  The downstream trip took about half that time with a cabin fare of $8.  Deck passengers paid considerably less but were responsible for their own meals and shelter from the elements. A steamboat’s deck passengers were not allowed to enter the saloon.

Steamboats were lightly constructed and had a normal life expectancy of no more than four to five years; the General Pike was reported as “worn out” by 1823. However, the names of popular boats were routinely recycled. The first “namesake boat,” captained by Strader, was operating by April 1824, only to be reported as out of service by 1827. More boats of the same name followed.


Hunter, Louis C. Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History (Dover Publications, 1994)


Folder List

Folder 1: Bills of lading, 1818

Folder 2:  Bills of lading, 1819

Folder 3: Bills of lading, February-April 1820

Folder 4: Bills of lading, May-December 1820

Folder 5: Bills of lading, January, February, December 1821

Folder 6: Bills of lading, January-March 1822

Folder 7: Bills of lading, April-July 1822

Folder 8: Bills of lading, undated