View Full Version : 18th century small riverine craft

Olde Towne Columbia
08-27-2003, 08:27 PM
We are planning to build an historic based small boat (they were, of course, all wooden) as would have been used on the fall-line and upper rivers in British Colonial North America in the last half of the 18th century.

SouthEastern focus is preferred. However, information from all areas may be valuable.

We have some solid leads, but are looking to add to our knowledge.

Next step? Boatwrights who live near the midlands of South Carolina and are interested in volunteering on this.

Tom Galyen
08-27-2003, 10:25 PM
What use will you make of the boat?

You might want to look in Howard I Chappelle's book "American Small Sailing Craft" a lot of his work concerns the 19th century but I believe that boat types did not change all that much from late 18th to early 19th century.

I have a replica 18th century ships "Jolly Boat" which I believe was also used as a "pick-up truck" if you will of harbor work in the 18th century. An example that I use for this is that there was a ship yard at Fort Pitt (todays Pittsburg, PA) that built ocean going ships and they surely made small boats for these craft. Local people would have also used them.

Good luck!

Tom G.

Olde Towne Columbia
08-28-2003, 12:51 PM
Columbia is a place that historically seems to have not paid very much attention to its history. Therefore, this has an awful lot of inventing the wheel... no... not REinventing... inventing!

The Congaree River, formed where the Broad and Saluda converge in South Carolina, was a trade route from American Indian days. However, as is true for most of the SouthEast, what happened there on the water is a very... shallow... pool... of information.

Once we establish a research commitment, agree on the first couple of boat types and get some samples built (with authentic tools and materials), we will have some display events/competitions on the rivers... creeks... and, I forgot to mention, we have a couple of miles of the old canal that, at this moment, only serves to provide water to generate electicity.

There are major plans and actions already under way to make the river area very dynamic (www.riveralliance.org). This project is going to put history and wooden boats into that stream.

So, to put it directly... living-history building... demonstrations for the public... building wooden boats... accenting wooden boats in general... developing interest in other places so we can have competitions of historic... and other... wooden boats.

Is that more than you asked for"

Thanks for the info and for asking.

Mel - Olde Towne Columbia

08-28-2003, 01:11 PM
Sounds like a fascinating research project. If the area was part of a trade route prior to 1750, it's likely that many of the river craft were based on whatever boats were used by Native Americans. That's an area I would look at early on. What tribes populated the region, and what kind of river boats did they build and use?

Another good source of very archaic information about small regions, is through geneological research. There is a vast amount of history handed down within families. Find some of the early surnames in the region, and dive in. It's very tedious research, but can be rewarding.

Finally, don't forget historical fiction. Like geneology, it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but it can also pay off. Check state university libraries for both novels and poetry of resident (at the time and somewhat later) authors.

Olde Towne Columbia
08-28-2003, 01:24 PM
Good ideas! Thanks.

We have frequent reference to the famous/ infamous "log-canoe."

Since the Charlestonians were using a kind of massive punt/barge to transport rice and there were relatively sophisticated craft built in the low-counry of SC (this was perhaps the richest... per capita... white... colony in British NA), we can suspect there were some relatively decent boats here.

Another two interesting features, on the Lexington County side of the river, the settlers were mostly German. On the Richland County side of the river, most Virginians moving down for cheap land.

As always, whichever thread you pull...


Mel - Olde Towne Columbia

08-28-2003, 02:00 PM
Ironmule! Check in, please.
This is right down his alley.

08-28-2003, 03:22 PM
I have a book entitled "Sloops & Shallops", by William A. Baker

In addition to various Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish colonial era small craft, the book also mentions Cornish fishing boats, shallops, wherries, pinnaces, and ship's longboats, among others. Since South Carolina was settled mainly by English and Scottish colonists, I would think their boats had English and Scottish influence.

The shallops were apparently very common. They ranged in size from about 18' with a 6' beam, up to 25 feet in length, or maybe a little more. Shallops were general cargo boats, used extensively throughout the colonies for trade on the larger rivers, bays, and along the coast. In the southern colonies they were also often used to transport casks of tobacco down the rivers to the sea.
Just what a shallop looked like is not clear. They may have been double-enders. They had at least one mast, often two, oars, and often had a cuddy for shelter of crew and cargo. Although, some were apparently open boats. Then again, some large shallops were open in the middle with cuddies at both ends.

I would think that a small shallop, a wherry or two, maybe a bateau, and a couple of dug-out canoes would meet your needs.

I'm a historical trekker of the post Revolutionary War era. You are too far away for me to help, but I sure would like to visit once you get things going.

Olde Towne Columbia
08-28-2003, 08:31 PM
What a lot of very helpful people... about as I had hoped!

I glanced through the Oct 2003 issue of "Wooden Boat" and am going to have some development planning reflecting issues in the replica-boats article. Good timing for this project!

Donn's points toward family history... even poetry!... good ideas and not what the traditional process would have suggested.

Happily, we do have a number of founding families still here in this part of South Carolina.

I will go back to "Tidecraft." When I read it earlier, it seemed very coastal oriented. And, as is usual, more attentive to the larger craft.
But, the comments are on-target, it is excellent.

"Sloops and Shallops" also has good sound to it. I don't think I've seen that.

Wow! Raconas, if I ever look out on our river and see that assemblage, I'll know I am standing next to Davy Jones! But, a great goal!

I've gotten hints that some people are actually already working on boats of this period. On the "Blue Heron Mercantile" gallery (an Indiana reenactment supplier) they had punt lines... are people out there building those? And Ironman has a cryptic "batteau" reference? What goes there? Are those batteaux of the James River type?

One research angle I hope to have explored, who actually operated and worked in the boat-yards? Some sources say that free and slave blacks came to dominate that trade in the Chesapeake Bay area. Would we find the same down here? Maybe? But, maybe not. Slavery was handled a lot differently in SC. Particularly as compared to Virginia and North Carolina.

I also appreciate the specific refrences to up-country boat-yards, as at Ft. Pitt. Developing some parallels and influences may be possible. My gosh, there was a time when we thought all log-cabins were the same!


Mel - Olde Towne Columbia

Tom Galyen
08-28-2003, 08:55 PM
Dear M-OTC

As a 18th century re-enactor since 1974 I find what you are doing facinating. Someone asked Iron Mule to check in, this would be great as he has built a bateau. One thing I would warn you about a "bateau" as such. The word can sometimes mean a boat but it should be remembered that it is and was the French word for boat. Therefore you can have a large bateau you can have a small bateau. I mentioned that I have a replica 18th century ships "Jolly boat". Many people think that the boat type got its name because it was a small boat that the sailors could use to go ashore and have a good or jolly time. However it is an English corruption of its actual designation as a "Jolie Bateau" or "Small Boat". Actually the smallest boat that a ship carried.

There was mention of canoes which were of course most likley used by early settlers, but keep in mind that even the Pilgrams carried a "prefab" boat with them on the Mayflower to be assembled when they landed. This was partly because this is what they were used to, and also because it was more rugged and could carry more cargo with fewer crew than could even a large "freighter" type canoe.

Another person who may help is Rob White of Thomasville, GA. He is a expert of southern life and small boats, and writes prodigusly in "Messing About In Boats". He does not seem to have a web-site.

I love history and am working on collecting info on small boats used on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Wabash Rivers and their tributaries in the 18th and 19th centuries. We do need to keep in touch.

Tom G.

08-29-2003, 06:44 AM
The "pre-fab" boat that came across on the Mayflower was a shallop.

From "Sloops and Shallops":
Page 3; "Among the passengers who arrived on the ship "Abigail" in the middle of 1622 was Captain Thomas Barwick with twenty five men trained in boat and shipbuilding. After constructing houses for themselves at Jamestown they started building shallops, considered the best type of small craft for transporting tobacco ..."
Pages 3-4; "Boatbuilding began in what is now Maryland at the fur trading post established on Kent Island in 1631 ... The shallop "Firefly" was built there in 1631; the next year her sides were raised and she was decked for half her length. Before 1635 she was followed by a wherry, the shallop "Star", which was manned by a crew of four or five when trading with the Indians, the shallop "Cockatrice" which had a crew of fourteen, and the pinnace "Long Tail". ..."
page 5; "In his journal "Of Plimouth Plantation" Governor William Bradford ... they having brought a large shalop with them out of England, stowed in quarters in ye ship, they now gott her out & sett their carpenters to worke to trime her up ..."
page 6; (In refer. Plymouth Colony) "... In 1624 a ship-carpenter arrived on "Charity" and ... he quickly builte them 2 very good & strong shalops ..."
(This guy was Edward Gaskell, one of my ancestors. A later ancestor of mine, a grandson to Edward Gaskell, operated a shallop as a trader and mover of cargo and passengers on the Delaware River, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, in the years around 1700.)

Facinating subject!

Bert Langley
08-29-2003, 07:39 AM
A really wonderful idea, but I suspect you will have a lot of trouble finding good historic references. I too have done living history and trecking, focusing on the immediate post revolutionary war era, since the early 1970's.

Tidecraft is a good place to start, but you are correct it does focus a lot on coastal boats. I strongly suspect that the boats used on the upper river systems above the fall line were quite a bit different from the boats used on the coast. However, the bateaux ( which to me means any number of styles of flat bottom boat, ranging from Ironmule's double-ended almost pirouge style to the more traditional looking skiff type boats pictured in Tidecraft)were almost certainly used by early settlers. Having canoed much of the area you are talking about, it seems you have two very different rivers above and below the fall line. Above the fall line you have shallow rocky rivers that as you descend past the fall line broaden and deepen. I have often suspected that much river traffic used small bateaux and log canoes to transport to the towns along the fall line where the cargo was then off-loaded to large boats for the trip to the coast.

At one point I got fairly serious in trying to find information about the small upper river craft and frankly did not have much luck in locating good info. I know for example that Augusta, Georgia was a major trade location and finding information on the boats used to transport material down the Savannah to the coast is fairly easy, but inforation on the boats bringing materials down to Augusta, or taking trade goods upriver from Augusta is not easy to come by.

Log canoes were almost certainly used to some extent, but I do not suspect they were as prevelant as folks would like to believe. Taking a log canoe upstream on these rivers would really be taxing to the point of maybe not being worth it. Although I have nothing to support it, I have also wondered if a lot of the downstream traffic was not done on small log rafts (I don't believe that the classic flatboat used on the larger western rivers was much used, making planks to build such a craft to only abandon it at the end of the trip seems unlikely). However, I am letting my prejudice for early settlement times show though. I am thinking more of the early days, where trade goods would consist mainly of fur and other fairly light loads. If you are interested in later periods where you would be transporting larger and heavier materials (eg cotton) then maybe some style of flatboat was used.

All in all this is a great project and I hope you keep us in touch. Although I live in Atlanta I would be interestd in getting involved with this project to the extent possible.

08-29-2003, 08:21 AM
Keep the boat's use in mind while trying to decided whether a boat is a canoe, bateaux, shallop, etc.

A wide variety of maritime terms, some that have survived to the modern day, and some that have fallen into disuse have a variety of meanings based on their "operational evolution." Within the context of bigger ships one need only thing of the terms "frigate" and "cruiser" for vivid examples.

For example, USS CONSTITUTION is a far cry in appearance from the USS KNOX class frigates of 1960s vintage just as she is much much different from the USS TICONDEROGA an Aegis class cruiser. Yet, USS CONSTITUTION is at times referred to as both a frigate, her class of vessel by construction, and as a cruiser, essentially a lone wolf "cruising" far from home and capable of outgunning anything she can't outrun and outrunning anything she can't outgun.

On the small boat side of things, consider the ubiquitous canoe and dory. There are so many different designs that fall under these two "generic" names that books have been written about the various types of canoes and dories.

Just a few thoughts............

By the way, your idea for South Carolina sounds great. I watch here for updates on the progress of the project. Fair winds and following seas.

Bob Smalser
08-29-2003, 09:46 AM
This "Charleston Battau" was drawn by John Gardner in his "Classic Small Craft Vol I".

It wasn't made til sawn boards were common, but his research indicates it was a common tender to log rafting operations along coastal and piedmont rivers in SC.


Scott Bubar
08-31-2003, 11:56 AM
Interesting question, Olde Towne. It inspired me to finally sign in here.

You've probably seen this already, but I'll put it up for general interest. It's from the article on Riverine Watercraft at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (http://www.cla.sc.edu/sciaa/staff/amerc/) Martime Heritage site:

Upland or mountain boats were the product of the mountain regions of most of the eastern seaboard states. This craft was designed in direct response to cargo type and operating environment. Cargoes were heavy and bulky 136 kg (300 lb) cotton bales and 363 kg (500 lb) tobacco hogsheads, yet the rivers were narrow and swift. The resultant craft had an extreme beam to length ratio, a responsive steering system, and light, limber construction.

The basic mountain boat design appears common to other areas of Europe where similar operating environments existed. Design and function parallels are easily found in Findland's "Tar Boats" (C.O. Cederlund, personal communication 1991)and in the wine boats of Portugal's Douro River (Filgueras 1988). Both types of vessel transported barrels down mountain rivers and utilized a long narrow length with a narrow beam and a large steering sweep. Historian Howard Chapelle (1951:34) credits the form with a Medieval origin in Europe, and particularly in France where the type was known as the bateau. Chapelle believed the craft and its name were adopted by early colonists, and certainly by the French in Canada where the vessel type is known to have been in use from 1680 to well into the nineteenth century.

A similar craft of narrow beam and extreme length called a Durham Boat was used in the American northeast. The craft was in use prior to the American Revolution and is mentioned in numerous sources as the type of vessel used to transport General Washington across the Delaware during the conflict (Ringwalt 1888:13-14). Certainly after the war the vessels were used extensively on the Mowhawk River in New York to transport tobacco barrels. According to Ringwalt (1888), the Durham Boats were patterned after early eighteenth century ore boats used by mines on the upper Delaware River.

Author Ruby Rahn (1968:15), using local newspaper sources, also describes a local variation of the craft called Petersburg Boats operating on the Savannah in the early nineteenth century.A period engraving of a Mohawk River Durham Boat can be seen here:


A reproduction of one of the Delaware Durhams can be seen here:


I personally suspect that your craft would be an adaptation of the periauger/pettiauger--yes, the infamous "log" canoe. They were widely used in many different forms throughout the colonies, and appear to have been the major form of transportation on some of these southern rivers. The construction method was well-suited to the abundance of labor.

If you haven't seen it, this slide show of the making of a Chesapeake Log Sailing Canoe from the Chesapeake Mariner's Museum does an excellent job of showing the construction:


09-02-2003, 08:21 AM
Wrong time, wrong place but fun nonetheless.


09-02-2003, 12:45 PM
Originally posted by Scott Bubar:
It inspired me to finally sign in here.

glad you did, welcome!

If you haven't seen it, this slide show of the making of a Chesapeake Log Sailing Canoe from the Chesapeake Mariner's Museum does an excellent job of showing the construction:

http://www.mariner.org/chesapeakebay/waterman/canoe/02.htmlGreat Site!


Here's a pre WWI photo of a Chesapeake Bay Log workboat of a type known as a "Brogan"

The technology might apply.