Henry Miller Shreve’s Steamboat Washington blows her head!
Eight persons scalded to death! 

The 1815 Steamboat Washington The First Successful Steamboat on the ‘Western Rivers’ Model by John Bowman


Henry Miller Shreve laid the keel of the riverboat Washington September 10, 1815 in Wheeling, Virginia.  The sternwheel steam-powered Washington was the eighth steamboat built for the Western RiversWestern Rivers are rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico.  Shreve placed in the Washington, a high-pressure, non-condensing steam engine, the fourth and most successful of the Daniel French built engines.  Shreve’s engine, to his design, was a hybrid of French’s oscillating engine, adding David Prentiss’ cam-wheel.  French built the oscillating cylinder engine in a form much like the Oliver Evans patent high-pressure steam engine. The Washington was described as the first “regular high-pressure steamboat.” Shreve’s engines were fixed in place, and placed almost horizontal (a first). The engines had 24-inch cylinders; the pistons inside the cylinders had a six-foot stroke and were directly connected to the paddle wheel through pitman arms. This was different, in that the French engine was connected to the stern-paddle wheel by a beam and the engine itself moved back and forth giving the motion needed to revolve the paddle wheel.

The Washington sets sail. 

            “The Washington began her initial voyage from Wheeling, Virginia to New Orleans leaving Wheeling Monday evening, June 3, 1816 with a full crew and twenty-one passengers.

            The Louisiana Gazette of June 5, 1816: “On Monday evening last (June 3, 1816) the steamboat Washington sailed from Wheeling for New Orleans under the command of Captain H. M. Shreve. She got under way at 5 o’clock and in forty-five minutes made nine miles, since which time she has not been heard from.”[i]

            Within several days, the Washington had arrived at Marietta, Ohio.  The boat left Marietta on Friday, June 7, and on the afternoon of June 8, she anchored off Point Harmar, where she remained during the night. On Sunday morning, June 9, fires were readied and preparations begun for continuing the journey down the Ohio. 

            The Louisiana Gazette of July 3, 1816:[ii] A letter to the newspaper dated ‘Wheeling, June 11, 1816’ gives an account of the steamboat Washington’s boiler bursting.  “She left Wheeling on June third with twenty-one passengers on board. On that or the next day, at or near the town of Marietta, Ohio, the boiler burst, and seventeen out of the twenty-one were either killed or wounded, the Captain only slightly.  It is strange the boat is not injured, except the loss of the boiler. We shall probably soon hear more of this truly melancholy accident.”

            What actually happened is told in this story from ‘Lloyd’s 1856 Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters’; “A Terrific Explosion and Loss of Life On Board the Steamboat Washington.”             “This deplorable accident took place on the Ohio River on Sunday the 9th day of June 1816.  The Washington was the largest and finest boat, which had hitherto floated on any western stream.  Her commander, Captain Shreve, was skilled and experienced in all the duties of his calling; her machinery was all presumed to be in the best possible order, and no human foresight could have anticipated the fatal event.  The boat left Marietta, Ohio, on Friday, June 7, and on the afternoon of the following day came safely to anchor off Point Harmar, where she remained until Sunday morning.

The fires were now kindled, and other preparations made for continuing the voyage down the Ohio; but a difficulty occurred in getting the boat into a proper position to start the machinery.  While laboring to affect this object, the boat having in the meantime, been carried by the force of the current near the Virginia shore, it became necessary to throw out a kedge anchor at the stern. 

            Soon after, all hands were summoned aft to haul in the kedge, and while they were collected on the quarter for that purpose, by a singular and most unfortunate chance, the end of the cylinder nearest the stern was blown off, and a column of scalding water was thrown among the crowd, inflicting the most frightful injuries on nearly all of the boat’s crew, and killing a number on the spot.  The cry of consternation and anguish, which then arose, might have been heard for miles.      

            The captain, mate, and several others were blown overboard; but all of these, with the exception of one man, were afterwards rescued from the water, but were found to be more or less injured, either by the fragments of the cylinder or the scalding water.  The inhabitants of the neighboring town, now called Harmar, were universally alarmed by the sound of the explosion, which appeared to shake the solid earth to a considerable distance.  A number of physicians and many other citizens crowded into the boat to ascertain the extent of the calamity, but no language can describe the scene of misery and torture, which then presented itself to the view of the spectators. 

            The deck was strewn with mangled and writhing human beings, uttering screams and groans of intense suffering.  Some, more fortunate than their companions, lay still in the embrace of death.  Among the wounded, six or eight, under the influence of their maddening torments, had torn off their clothes, to which the entire skin of their limbs or bodies adhered; the eyes of others had been put out, and their faces were changed to an undistinguishable mass of flesh by the scalding water.  But, the greatest sufferers, apparently, were those who had been internally injured by inhaling the scalding steam, the effect of which on the lungs is agonizing beyond all the powers of imagination to conceive.  The whole scene was too horrible for description, and it made an impression on the minds of those who witnessed it, which could never be obliterated.

            The cause of the explosion was a disarrangement of the safety valve, which had become immovable in consequence of the accidental slipping of the weight to the extremity of the lever.  The following is a list of the killed and wounded by this calamitous explosion: Killed: Peter Lanfer, B. Harvey, Anna C. Jones, Thomas Brown, James Nulta and Jones, passengers, Samuel Wait a carpenter, (Wait was a Lead Carpenter and builder of the Washington) Jacob a colored cook. Wounded: Captain Shreve, Commander, Mr. Clark, Engineer, James Blair, George White, (White, Master Carpenter and builder of the Washington) Enoch H. McFeeley, Joseph Walsh, John C. Williams, (mortally) passengers.  Mr. Williams of Kentucky, the unhappy gentleman last mentioned in the preceding list, while lying in the cabin of the Washington, in his last moments, offered one of the cabin-boys all his money if he would knock him on the head to put a speedy end to his misery.  The boy who received this offer, and who relates the incident, is now Captain Hiram Burch, of Marietta, Ohio, Joseph, one of the hands, was missing; he is supposed to have been blown overboard, and carried down by the current.  Several of the wounded died a short time afterwards in consequence of their injuries.

            At a meeting of the citizens of Marietta, a committee was appointed to provide for the sufferers, and to make arrangements for the burial of the dead.  This first steamboat accident in the West produced a great excitement among the inhabitants of that region.  It occasioned for some time a strong prejudice against steamboat travel, the people being oblivious of the fact, that when the water conveyance was confined to barges and keel-boats, there was more real danger and more actual loss of life than may be classed among the incidents of steamboat navigation.”[iii]            

Shreve being slightly injured and still recuperating, returned to Brownsville in late July, where he and French built a new cylinder head and other newly designed engine parts.  Meanwhile, George White was busy repairing the heavily damaged Washington with other boat carpenters recruited from Wheeling.  White’s Lead Carpenter, Samuel Wait had been killed in the explosion.  The Washington, finally repaired and newly provisioned, got underway September 9th.  She arrived at Louisville September 20th and Shreve piloted the boat over the Falls of the Ohio September 24th.  The Washington reached New Orleans October 7, 1816.”

[i] Niles Weekly Register, Vol. X, July 20, 1816 Pages 348-349

[ii] The Louisiana Gazette of June 5, 1816 and July 3, 1816

[iii] Lloyd, James T., Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio 1856 Pages 55-57 “A Terrific Explosion and Loss of Life On Board the Steamboat Washington.”  A Drawing, “Explosion of the Washington”, 1816 page 56

47 Responsesso far.

  1. Hotel Jobs says:

    Hello my friend! I want to say that this post is awesome, great written and come with approximately all vital infos. I would like to peer extra posts like this.

  2. Bryantgah says:


    I’ve been visiting your website a few times and decided to give you some positive feedback because I find it very useful. Well done.

    I was wondering if you as someone with experience of creating a useful website could help me out with my new site by giving some feedback about what I could improve?

    You can find my site by searching for “casino gorilla” in Google (it’s the gorilla themed online casino comparison).

    I would appreciate if you could check it out quickly and tell me what you think.

    Thank you for help and I wish you a great week!

  3. whoah this blog is fantastic i love studying your posts. Stay up the good work! You recognize, many people are looking around for this info, you could help them greatly.

  4. MichaelMak says:

    Host Armor LTD is a company registered in London, United Kingdom. We provide the best and cheapest Web Hosting, VPS Hosting, Dedicated servers and even reseller packages! Host your blog, company, website in a few clicks.
    Contact our support at: support@hostarmor:net for more information.

  5. This article gives so much more information than similar blogs, and it’s immensly helpful to me. Will return to see future writing from you! can I share this?

  6. It’s an amazing paragraph in support of all the internet viewers; they will obtain benefit from it I am sure.

  7. This paragraph will assist the internet visitors for setting up new
    webpage or even a blog from start to end.

  8. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several
    e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you
    can remove me from that service? Cheers!

  9. Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to assert that I get in fact enjoyed account your blog posts.
    Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feeds and even I achievement you access consistently quickly.

  10. Hello there! Do you know if they make any plugins to
    assist with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog
    to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not
    seeing very good success. If you know of any please
    share. Kudos!

  11. Hi mates, how is all, and what you want to say
    on the topic of this article, in my view its
    actually amazing in support of me.

  12. Hello! Do you know if they make any plugins to
    assist with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog
    to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains.
    If you know of any please share. Kudos!

  13. Thanks for this nice post. …

  14. Can I just say what a comfort to uncover an individual who actually knows what they’re
    talking about on the net. You actually realize how to bring an issue to light and make
    it important. More and more people should read this and understand this side of
    the story. I was surprised that you are not more popular given that you certainly have
    the gift.

  15. Very good write-up. I certainly appreciate this website.
    Keep writing!

  16. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to your blog before but after browsing through
    many of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely happy I came across it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

  17. Amazing! Its really amazing paragraph, I have got much
    clear idea concerning from this article.

  18. Hi friends, fastidious post and pleasant urging commented here, I am really enjoying by these.

  19. This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post.

    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  20. This is really attention-grabbing, You’re a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and sit up for looking for extra of your wonderful post.

    Additionally, I have shared your web site in my
    social networks

  21. Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended
    up losing many months of hard work due to
    no data backup. Do you have any solutions to stop hackers?

  22. You could breathe life into any topic! Bravo!

  23. Thank you for any other informative website. The place else may I
    am getting that type of info written in such a perfect manner?
    I have a project that I’m simply now running on, and I’ve been on the glance out for
    such information.

  24. quest bars says:

    It’s difficult to find well-informed people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

  25. says:

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this
    blog. I am hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as
    well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me
    to get my very own blog now 😉

  26. My gang on Facebook would enjoy this post. Is it okay if I show them?|

  27. Hi there mates, its great paragraph regarding educationand completely explained, keep it up all the time.

  28. I want to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I definitely loved
    every bit of it. I have you book marked to look at new stuff you post…

  29. says:

    Do you have a spam issue on this blog; I also am a blogger, and I was
    curious about your situation; we have created some nice practices and we are looking to exchange strategies with others, why not shoot me an e-mail if interested.

  30. dubai jobs says:

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.

  31. eebest8 back says:

    “I appreciate you sharing this blog post.Thanks Again. Great.”

  32. Generally I don’t read article on blogs, but I would like to say that
    this write-up very forced me to check out and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me.
    Thank you, very nice article.

  33. jobs web says:

    It is in reality a great and useful piece of information. I’m happy that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

  34. I like the valuable info you provide to your articles.
    I will bookmark your weblog and test once more right here frequently.
    I’m moderately sure I will be told many new stuff right right here!
    Best of luck for the following!

  35. I was recommended this website by my cousin. I’m not
    sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my problem.
    You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  36. Awesome! Its in fact remarkable piece of writing, I have got much
    clear idea concerning from this paragraph.

  37. I’m gone to convey my little brother, that he should also pay a visit
    this web site on regular basis to get updated from
    most up-to-date reports.

  38. My family members all the time say that I am wasting my
    time here at net, however I know I am getting experience everyday by reading such good posts.

  39. I go to see every day a few sites and websites
    to read content, however this website provides feature based articles.

  40. Very good post. I am going through a few of
    these issues as well..

  41. Good info. Lucky me I came across your website by chance (stumbleupon).
    I’ve saved it for later!

  42. Hi to all, as I am actually eager of reading this web site’s post
    to be updated daily. It carries nice stuff.

  43. I like reading a post that can make men and women think.
    Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

  44. Wow, wonderful weblog format! How lengthy have you
    ever been blogging for? you made blogging glance easy.
    The full look of your site is excellent, let alone the content!

  45. Hi, for all time i used to check weblog posts here early in the morning,
    for the reason that i like to gain knowledge of more and more.

  46. Ayurvedu says:

    Thanks a lot for the article post.Much thanks again. Will read on…

  47. GuQin says:

    Just desire to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity in your post is simply spectacular and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.