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Henry Miller Shreve
 

Colonel Israel Shreve was born on Christmas Eve of 1739 in Mansfield Township, Burlington County, New Jersey as the seventh of the eight children of Benjamin and Rebecca French Shreve.  He married Grace Curtis in February of 1760 and had four children. After her death, he married Mary Cokley Shreve on May 10, 1773, and they had eight children, the fifth child being Henry Miller Shreve, who was born on October 21, 1785 in Burlington County, New Jersey. 1-2  Israel was a distinguished Revolutionary War hero as well as a close friend of George Washington.  3 When Henry was just a boy, his father bought land in Pennsylvania from Washington, and it was here on the Monongahela River that he spent his boyhood years. 4

He was a steamboat pilot from an early age. In 1807 he built a thirty-five ton barge and hired ten men to man it. 5-6  The Monongahela meets with the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River, which then flows into the Mississippi River. 7  Shreve and his crew left Brownsville, Pennsylvania for St. Louis, Missouri, and arrived in late December after a forty day trek down the Ohio River. 8-9  He bought furs for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and for three years he continued to trade furs. In 1810 he built another thirty-five ton barge and left St. Louis for Fever River, later Galena River, in present-day Illinois with supplies to trade with the Indians. After fourteen days Shreve and his crew reached their destination.  In six weeks, Shreve had traded for sixty tons of lead that the Indians had mined; this lead was useful to whites as bullets, but it meant that Shreve would have to build another ship on site to transport it. 10

On February 28, 1811 he married Mary Blair of Brownsville, and they had two daughters, Harriet Louise and Rebecca Ann, and a son, Hampden Zane. 11  His son and younger daughter died before Shreve’s own death.  He married Lydia Rogers after the death of his first wife, and one of his daughters from this marriage died.  He had a daughter from each marriage survive him. 12  His eldest daughter by Mary Blair survived him and married John W. Reel of St. Louis; she died in 1924. 13

In 1811 Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston received exclusive rights to navigate their steamboats on the rivers of the territory from the legislature of the Territory of New Orleans.  Shreve refused to allow this monopoly to continue and sailed his steamboat into the area.  He spent some time in jail, but he broke the monopoly. 14  In 1824 Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that interstate waterways were open for navigation in the Gibbon v. Ogden case. 15-16

Shreve was placed in charge of the Enterprise after he persuaded its builder, successful entrepreneur David French. 17  The Enterprise was reportedly the first boat to depend solely on steam, and in the War of 1812 it made fifteen trips on behalf of the U. S. Army. 18-19  In 1814 the Enterprise traversed the river as far as Alexandria, being the first steamboat to do so, and it reached the end of the Raft in 1815 at Natchitoches. 20  Shreve traveled from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to New Orleans with supplies for General Jackson’s army and arrived in December of 1814. With permission, Shreve manned a twenty-four-pound gun during the Battle of New Orleans. 21  Sneaking beneath the noses of the British and protecting his ship with cotton bales, he brought relief to Fort St. Philip. 22-23  He was sent to the Gulf of Mexico to meet with the British fleet for an exchange of prisoners. 24  After the war, he returned the troops to their homes along the Red River, surprising the Indians and settlers who had never seen a steamboat in the area. 25  In May of 1815 Shreve ascended the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers on the Enterprise. 26

Shreve suggested new designs for French’s new steamboat that was being built, but the suggestions were met with much opposition and eventually Shreve cut ties with the Enterprise and its owners.  He built his own ship, the George Washington.  27  As an inventor, Shreve developed the cam shutoff, built the first high pressure engine, and suggested flues for boilers. 28  He designed draft boats with their engines above deck rather than below. 29

In June of 1816 Shreve headed toward New Orleans from Wheeling, Virginia in the Washington.  On the Ohio River, an explosion, caused by the failure of the safety valves, cost the lives of eight people, and Shreve and others were tossed overboard. He corrected the problem, and in September of that year, he set out for New Orleans from Pittsburgh once again.  He arrived unscathed on November 7 and returned to Louisville, Kentucky in 1816. 30-32  He ran another voyage in March of 1817, arriving in New Orleans twenty-five days after leaving Louisville. 33

Shreve built the 231-ton Post Boy in 1819 for use by the United States Post Office Department.  The packet was to deliver mail between Louisville and New Orleans and was the first time a steamboat carried mail on the western waters. 34

Shreve was appointed to the position of Superintendent of the Western Rivers Improvement in 1826, and he accepted when the government agreed to pay for the construction of the new steam snag boat he had invented.  He built a smaller version of it when the government failed to keep their end of the bargain; it would be 1829 before the full-scale snag boat, Heliopolis, was completed.  He used this to clear much of the Mississippi River in 1830. 35  Next was the Great Raft in the Red River.

From 1833 until 1838, Shreve supervised the removal of the Great Raft in the Red River, and he worked on the Great Raft until he was removed from his position in 1841.  With the death of the Whig presidential candidate, President William Henry Harrison, Vice-President John Tyler took office and instilled his anti-Jacksonian beliefs. 36  In a letter to the War Department dating September 11, 1841, Shreve, a Jacksonian, handed over his job to his successor. 37

In 1836, as a member of the Shreve Town Company, he was invited to plat the town of Shreveport.  However, Shreve never lived in Shreveport. 38  Shreve returned to St. Louis, spending his last days at his daughter’s house, where he died on March 6, 1851. 39-40  He was buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. 41


 


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