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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Finally, some steamboat competition on the Savannah
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Roger Allen

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

When the Marquis de LaFayette, a true Revolutionary War hero, came to visit Georgia, he sailed to Augusta on the steamboat Altamaha.

In 1817, brothers Samuel and Charles Howard acquired the charter for the Steamboat Company of Georgia, in which the state gave them a 20-year monopoly on river boat traffic on the Savannah River.

The Howards' monopoly on Savannah River travel ended in 1824 when New York courts ruled against the Livingston and Fulton monopolies on steamboat travel on the state's rivers.

However, it wasn't until 1835 when Gazaway Bugg Lamar, a very wealthy investor and Savannah businessman, helped start the first competitor for the Howards, the Iron Steamboat Company. Lamar's father, Basil, was a founder of the Steamboat Company of Georgia.

The Iron Steamboat fleet at first included the boats the Lamar and the Randolph, as well as 15 towboats. Their fleet grew to include the Free Trade, the Hamburg, the Sibley, the Chatham, the Pulaski and the W.H. Stark.

These wood-burning boats were resupplied at what were essentially self-serve wood piles maintained by local wood-cutters. After loading their wood, the captain would put a receipt in a box for the wood he had taken.

Their boats had some problems, too: The Hamburg burned up at Hager Slager, the Stark sank at Silver Bluff, and the Free Trade blew up at Baldnaker's Point.

The ships that survived their employment on the Savannah River were the Pendleton, the Liberty, the Andrew Jackson, the John D. Morgan, the John Stoney, the William Seabrook, the Charleston and the Augusta.

Lamar made history with the construction of the Randolph. As the journal the "Scientific American Supplement" (July 1845) explained, "The hull of this vessel was ... sent over (from England) in sections, and (then) re-erected by John Cant, a ship-builder of Savannah."

The Randolph was 110 feet by 22 feet by 7 feet 6 inches, and its engine was "rated at 40 horsepower." Lamar put it to work "towing flats won the Savannah River."

Savannah shipbuilder Edward Nock built the Chatham, also from plates of iron sent by Laird. The journal the "Sailors Magazine" (1837) declared the Chatham to be the "finest boat ever on the Savannah River."

It stated, "For safety against snags ... she is certainly of the very best construction. ... Her hold is divided into four separate apartments ...(of) very thick sheet-iron and perfectly water-tight."

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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