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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Commerce begins on the Altamaha in southeast Georgia
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is part of a series of columns exploring use of rivers in the early history of Georgia and Bulloch County.

Samuel Howard put ads in the Savannah Republican newspapers in 1818 seeking men to cut wood for his steamboats that would be going up the Altamaha River and establish stocks of cut wood at various landings along the way.

The Aug. 11, 1818, issue told its readers that Howard was "desirous of contracting for regular supplies of WOOD. ... Must be pitch pine ... well-seasoned. ... Send their proposals ... specifying the rate per cord."

Newspapers in the 1800s listed many boats sailing to Darien, including the steamboats Charleston, Clara Fisher, Forester, J. Stone, Lamar, Macon, Ocmulgee, Richmond and Sam Jones, as well as "boats" Superior and Tiago.

There were also the "brigs" (or brigantines) Harry and Premium, and the "sloops" Angel, Argyle, Bright-Phoebus, Carpenter, Company, Crawford, Elizabeth, Eudora, Florida, George, Georgia, James Monroe, Levant, Mary Cumming, Merchant, Rosetta, Sapelo, Spartan, Support, Two-Sisters, Three-Brothers and Washington.

There were the "schooners" Albemarle, Catherine and Elizabeth, Cheves, Dolphin, Frederick and Mary, George Henry, Golconda, Mirror, and Vesta. Finally, there were "Butts'" and "Goddard's" transports, which were known as "cotton boxes."

They were operated by James Butts and Charles Day of Macon, who had formed the River Steam Boat Company. These men had earlier formed a corporate body that they called the Pioneer Steamboat Company.

Over time, a total of 11 ferries were established servicing these rivers. Seven used suspended cables, which could be let down when steamboats passed. The other nine were small "flats" that were poled back and forth.

According to Cooper's Report (1888-89), there was one bridge crossing the Altamaha River: the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway Bridge crossing at Doctortown, 77.5 miles from the Forks or 53.5 miles above Darien.

Cooper reported that "it is a through trussed bridge of river spans. ... Channel is under the second span. ... River steamers are always compelled to lower their stacks to pass under the bridge, and during freshets some of them would be stopped entirely."

He added that "the snag-boats in this district cannot pass except at low water without lowering smoke stacks and shear-frames and dismantling the pilot house. The bridge should be provided with a draw. "

Steamboats on the Altamaha

In 1834, there were four steamboats and 40-45 pole-boats navigating the river. Between 1888 and 1891, there were 13 steamboats on the river, but between 1892 and 1895, that number was reduced to no more than 10.

In the "Annual Reports of the War Department" and its "Report of Henry T. Dunn, Special Deputy Collector" (1885), the number of vessels entering the port of Darien are listed.

In 1880, there were 66 coastal vessels (averaging 366 tons) and 135 vessels (averaging 509 tons) coming from foreign ports. In comparison, in 1884, there were 81 coastal vessels (averaging 429 tons) and 94 vessels (averaging 546 tons) coming from foreign ports.

Vessels entering the port of Brunswick in the same time period were as follows. In 1880, there were 116 coastal vessels (averaging 281 tons) and 77 foreign vessels (averaging 380 tons), while in 1884, there were 239 coastal vessels (averaging 368 tons) and 136 foreign vessels (averaging 496 tons.)

In 1883, according to the Reidsville Enterprise newspaper, the steamboat Halcyon was destroyed by fire while tied up at the Ohoopee White Bluff dock. This boat was owned by the firm of Wilcox and Churchill of Darien.

The "Annual Report of the Committee on Commerce of the United States Senate" (1892) reported that "during the fiscal year 1890-91, two steamers, with respective tonnage of 204 and 360 tons, were engaged in traffic on the river."

The report stated that "it is believed that 70 million feet, or 169,400 tons (of lumber rafted downriver was) valued at $630,000" and that "all the lumber has gone through to the coast over the Altamaha."

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at



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