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The "Monongahela Farmer"

The boat is safer anchored at the port, but that's not the aim of boats. Paulo Coelho

There is, fortunately, considerable information of the ship building days of famous old time "Monongahela Country" ports. One such port was Elizabeth Town, near Pittsburgh, now known as Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, where in 1800 the Monongahela Navigation Company was formed by a group of about twenty farmers, one of which was Jacob Ferree. The company commissioned the construction of an ocean-rigged vessel. A ninety two ton schooner was built and named "Monongahela Farmer". The company owned the ship and also owned the cargo. Claim has been made that it was the first ocean-rigged vessel built west of the Allegheny Mountains and the first such ship to sail down the Ohio River.


The intent, once the schooner was built, was to travel with cargo to New Orleans via the Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. Mr. John Walker was appointed in charge and was given the title "Master and Supercargo of the Schooner Monongahela Farmer". Below is the letter of instructions Walker was given.

(Note: This is not an exact image of the "Monongahela Farmer" It is a resemblance meant only to give an idea of how the it may have looked.)

  Elizabeth Town, Pennsylvania
  May 11, 1801

Mr. John Walker, Sir --- You being appointed Master and Supercargo of the schooner "Monongahela Farmer" and the cargo thereof by the Monongahela Company, and as you have given bond and security for the faithful performance of the duties belonging thereto, you are hereby directed to on board of and take charge of the said vessel and cargo (with the hands you have engaged for the purpose) and proceed without unnecessary delay to the city of New Orleans and there you are to if you find it necessary to employ on commission, Cochern and Wray or any other house you in your judgement may think proper, to assist you in entering and selling said vessel and cargo which you will perform on the best terms and in as a short time as possible (at the same time exercising your judgement and acquiring every information in your powers with respect to the probable rise or fall of the markets on account of which it may be proper to delay for some time). You are to keep a true account of the sales you make and all the bills thereof you are able to produce as vouchers, or also a true statement of the expenses of necessary outlays. Provided, nevertheless, that should the markets for flour be low at New Orleans and the vessel to sell to disadvantage, you in that case have it in your power to sell a part of the cargo to purchase rigging, fit out the vessel and employ hands to sail her to any of the islands you in your judgement and to the best information think best and there make sale of the vessel and cargo. In either cases you are as soon as the sales are made to return by the most advantageous route in your opinion with the proceeds of the sales (after paying the necessary expenses) and put them in the hands of David Pollock and John Robinson, Trustees for the said company, in order that a dividend be made to the owners agreeable to their inputs.

We for ourselves and on behalf of said company wish you a prosperous voyage and a speedy return.

  Jacob Ferree
  John Robison
  David Pollock
monmap The "Monongahela Farmer" left Pittsburgh in June 1801 for New Orleans. It was loaded with:

721 Barrels of Flour

500 Barrels of Whiskey

4000 Deer Skins

2000 Bear Skins

Large Quantities of Hemp, Flax, Firearms, and Ammunition

Provisions for Eight Men

On August the 26, 1801,on board the schooner, Captain Walker wrote the following picturesque letter to his wife, Diana Walker: Dear Wife: I received your letter dated August 4, which gave me a great deal of satisfaction, to hear that you were all well at this time, hoping these may find you all as well as when you wrote me. I have had my health very well so far, thanks be to Providence for it, though it is not very healthy here. Job McGill has got the fever now, but appears to be getting a little better. I pass the time away, but very dull since Job has been sick, as he is out in a boarding house, and I sleep in the vessel alone.

I have been out at some of my acquaintances near this place - at Moses Kuykendall's, Caty Hart's and Jack Krazier's. You may tell Polly Wall that her sister that lives with Mr. Kuykendall has joined the Baptist church and been baptized, as well as those I have just mentioned. There is a great stir of religion through a great many parts of Kentucky, though it is not here, for I believe that Louisville is as wicked as any place in the world. I have been creditably informed that there have been as many as five thousand people at one sacrament together, some of all denominations, and camped on the ground for four or five days. I have been told that there have been as many as three converts in one day, and that there is no distinction between the Presbyterians and Methodists, but helping each other to comfort the poor sinner at such times.

There was a curious circumstance took place here last week, it being court times between a Mr. Allen and a Mr. Dickerson, both Esquires, Attorney at Law. The later gave Mr. Allen a challenge, which he soon accepted, and they crossed the Ohio on Friday morning with their seconds. When over, their seconds, measuring off the ground between them, back to back, then giving the word to march five steps, wheel and fire, which they soon did. Allen was wounded in the shoulder and other in the belly, though supposed not to be mortal. They were men of family. The affront was giving at a low table, as I understand.

I have heard Lieutenant Brown is married. Please do wish him much joy for me.

Our vessel stands the hot weather better than I expected, but our flour does not stand it so well.

I wish you to keep in as good spirits as possible until I return, which I expect will not be a great while, if God spares me. I have nothing more at present, but remain your loving husband until death. John Walker.

The "Monongahela Farmer" was delayed several months at the "Fall of the Ohio" before sufficient water came to carry the boat over, she was again on what has since been known as "Walkers Bar" above "Hurricane Island". New Orleans was at last reached in the Fall of 1801, and though the flour had soured, Captain Walker advantageously disposed of the rest of the cargo and the ship.
During the trip to New Orleans:
  • They were attacked by Indians
  • Lost one man by drowning
  • Detained in Louisville for three months because of low water
  • Spent some weeks on a bar above Hurricane Island
  • The Captain contracted yellow fever - but recovered
  • Sold cargo profitably although flour was soured by being stored in a damp hold
  • Successfully sold the vessel
  • Returned home after 14 months

Full-rigged by her new owners, the schooner built from the forests of the far-away "Monongahela Country", had a useful career on the Mississippi and later, it is said, a packet between New Orleans and the West Indies.


Source: "The Ohio River: A Course of Empire" by Asher Butler Hulbert; "Monongahela: The River & Its Regions" by Richard Wiley; Ohio Archives