A Fair Specimen of a Southern Rive Steamer: The Oregon and Tar/Pamlico River Steam Navigation
Lawrence, Matthew S.
Steam navigation began successfully on North Carolina's Cape Fear River in 1818 and within a decade all of North Carolina's rivers hosted steamers, except for the Tar/Pamlico River. The Tar/Pamlico River lagged behind other North Carolina rivers because its limited economy and shallow water made it less suitable for profitable navigation. Several steamboat owners tried to navigate the river between 1835 and 1848, but each venture ended after a short time. These attempts whetted Tarboro's appetite for consistent service and led the Tar River Steamboat Company to purchase the steamer Oregon in Baltimore, Maryland. This thesis presents a case study in East Coast river steam navigation by chronicling the history of Tar/Pamlico River steam navigation using the Oregon as a focus. Beginning with its 1846 construction in Baltimore until its 1848 sale to the Tar River Steamboat Company, the vessel carried Baltimore's residents on excursions around the Patapsco River. Once on the Tar/Pamlico River, the steamer's owners found that it drew too much water to navigate the shallow Tar River. The company dissolved and sold the Oregon to Washington merchant William H. Willard who used it on the Pamlico River during the 1850s. As the nation plunged into civil war, the Oregon became the Colonial Hill and operated in support of the Confederate cause. As a part of the Mosquito Fleet, it carried troops and supplies around the Pamlico Sound during the war's first months. After the Burnside Expedition moved to eastern North Carolina, the Oregon retreated up the Tar River. Ultimately, a Federal cavalry raid burned the Oregon and several other vessels at Tarboro, North Carolina, in 1863. The Oregon's destruction created a unique opportunity to study the steamer's remains archaeologically. Investigation of a wreck site believed to be the Oregon yielded a conclusive vessel identification and provided ship construction information on a vessel that has not been thoroughly documented. By placing the Oregon within the context of the Tar/Pamlico River steam navigation, it was possible to draw a detailed picture of all Tar/Pamlico River vessels and their activities. Comparisons between the Oregon and its contemporaries showed the vessel to be unusual in both construction and use. Certain aspects of the steamer were common to its contemporaries, but overall the Oregon was not representative of steamers operating on the Tar/Pamlico River.