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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: 'Team boats' powered by horses gain popularity on the river
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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.

Small steam "packets" were navigated the rivers much more easily. They included the Marion, the South Carolina, the Cotton Plant and the George Washington.

They carried mostly passengers and mail packets, hence their name. Many of these boats also made excursions to Tybee Island for fishing trips.

One 1826 newspaper advertisement gave a description. It said the steamboat Macon "would leave Bolton's Central Wharf for Tybee on a fishing excursion. ... Fare two dollars, dinner included. ... Every gentleman is expected to furnish his own fishing tackle."

The boats also carried worshipers to camp meetings. One such packet, the Cotton Plant, carried passengers to the town of Abercorn and made daily round trips to the races at Bonaventure.

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.

State officials knew the legality of the Howards' monopoly was questionable. Therefore, in 1820, they gave William Bird of Ebenezer in Effingham County a charter for his Savannah River Navigation Company.

As the Howards' "owned" steam-powered river travel, Bird had to use another means of propulsion. His idea? A new version of the "team boat" or "horse boat."

Designed by Capt.Moses Rogers, these team boats, which were used on various rivers between 1810 and 1850, were powered by between four and eight horses.

The most famous of these, the Genius of Georgia, operated on the Savannah River in 1824. Bird, never one to go small, wanted to use 24 horses; it was operated with as few as 19 horses onboard.

It had a gigantic horizontal wheel that turned two large paddle-wheels, one placed in front of the other. Often, the horses would get dizzy after walking in circles on these wheels all day long.

Team boats had real benefits: They cost less than half as much as a similar steam-powered boat, they didn't regularly burn up along with their cargo, and they weren't in danger of blowing up and killing everyone onboard.

However, due to the Savannah River's unpredictable and dangerous tides, as well as numerous sand bars up and down the river, team boats failed to become a profitable enterprise.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

 

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