History Timeline 1810s

Image above: The U.S.S. Constitution captures the British war ship Guerrier, War of 1812. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Right: Battle of New Orleans, E. Percy Moran, 1910. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

War of 1812

U.S. Timeline - The 1810s

The War of 1812

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  • Timeline

  • 1819 - Detail

    May 22, 1819 - The American steamship Savannah, under part steam and sail-power, crosses the Atlantic Ocean from Savannah, Georgia to Liverpool, England, arriving on June 20.

    SS Savannah Steamship

    Ever since Robert Fulton had experimented with his steam powered boats up the Hudson River and after the maiden voyage of his Clermont in 1807, American entrepreneurs began to plan larger and larger boats under steam and sail power that might ply the Atlantic Ocean and make a trans-atlantic voyage.

    It became a prestigious race amongst the shipbuilding class, even though the size of the engine required would hurt the ship's ability to hawl much cargo, and the public, itself, was still skeptical of the technology. Captain Moses Rogers was backed by the Savannah Steam Ship Company, formed on May 7, 1818 and owned by Scarborough and Isaacs, and the firm purchased a sailing packet from New York shipyard Fickett and Crockett. He outfitted the Savannah with a steam engine, ninety horsepower, and paddle wheels, which would be auxilary to its sails. Cost to build, ... $50,000. Size, ... ninety-eight and one half feet long, twenty-six feet wide, and three hundred and twenty tons. It was launched in 1818, made its maiden voyage in 1819 from New York to Savannah, and made its historic Atlantic crossing from May 24, 1819, leaving Savannah for Liverpool.

    There were thirty-two passenger berths onboard, but nobody would book them, fearing the novel ship was not safe. There was some cargo space to be rented, but nobody would bet its cargo on the technology either. So it plied the Atlantic as an expensive experiment, with Moses Rogers and brother Stevens Rogers at the helm and a crew aboard, using steam power when the sails could not keep a 4 knot speed. Most of the journey is said to have been by sail, but the SS Savannah, which ran out of fuel (75 tons of coal, 24 cords of wood) part way across, made it to its Liverpool destination on June 20, 1819 to hearty cheers on the docks. It had used its engine 11% of the time.

    The Savannah Register wrote about its arrival in Liverpool in its edition of August 28, 1819. "The citizens of Liverpool were gratified and astonished by the arrival, at that port, on the 21st of June, of the beautiful steamship Savannah, captain Rogers, in 26 days from Savannah, and 21 from land to land. She was five days in the channel, before she got up to Liverpool, and worked her engine eighteen days of the passage. She is the first ship, on this construction, that has undertaken a voyage across the Atlantic. She was built in this city and is 350 (650??) tons. The London papers will have it that she is going to St. Petersburg, as a present from the United States to the emperor of Russia."

    The ship, with its novel construct, became a de facto tourist attraction during its twenty-five day stay in Liverpool, drawing thousands. It steamed/sailed again after that, visiting Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, mooring in St. Petersburg for sixteen days. It was visited by the royal family and took excursions around the waters of the city.

    The SS Savannah returned to the United States on November 30, 1819.

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    Famous Visitors

    Even before its Atlantic voyage, the SS Savannah was a celebrity. President James Monroe visited the ship on May 11, 1819, dined aboard, and took a ride. He had been excited about the American ingenuity involved, impressed by its machinery, and considered whether the technology would be good for the U.S. Navy.

    While in Europe, the SS Savannah was visited by British Army and Navy officers, the Crown Prince Oscar of Sweden and Norway, Sweden's King Charles XVI, the Emporer of Russia, and well as the Russian royal family. While in Sweden, the Swedish government offered to purchase the ship, for $100,000, but was denied. While in Russia, Czar Alexander Pavlovich offered Rogers exclusive steamboat rights over Russian waters; Rogers declined again.

    SS Savannah After the Trip

    The principal owner of the SS Savannah, William Scarbrough, became financially strapped in 1820 and sold the ship to the Allaire Iron Works, who had originally built the engine cylinder. Cost of sale ... $1,600. The government was contacted, but were no longer interested. The engine was removed and it returned to its role as a packet ship. The engine cylinder was displayed at the New York World's Fair of 1853-4, while the SS Savannah made runs between New York and Savannah for two years. A log book remains of the journey, now at the Smithsonian. It contains entries from March 28, 1819 to December 17, 1819.

    On November 5, 1821, the ship ran aground off Long Island, New York in the Great South Bay. It was fleeing a series of storms from a Northeaster and attempted to use an inlet that had been abandoned. The captain had gone ashore on a small boat, removed its passengers, crew, and cotton cargo, but the SS Savannah, remaining and working toward the shoreline for one week, broke up with hull split on November 12.

    Steamships would not ply the Atlantic on a regular basis after that maiden voyage of the SS Savannah for twenty years.

    Image above: Painting of the SS Savannah, 1819, Hunter Wood. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Portrait of President James Monroe. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Source Info: connecticuthistory.org; National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution; Georgiahistory.com; WSHU Public Radio; "Savannah: First Steamboat to Cross the Atlantic," James Donahue; "Claimed by the Sea, Long Island Shipwrecks," Adam M. Grohman; Wikipedia Commons.

    President James Monroe

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