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Early Transportation to the Republic

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  • Susan Rektorik Henley
    This text uses block quotes and is best if you use the full screen view.--Susan How the Czech Immigrants came to Texas has been of interest to me since I first
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 30, 2001

      This text uses block quotes and is best if you use the full screen view.--Susan

      How the Czech Immigrants came to Texas has been of interest to me since I first started my family research. For years, I wondered why my Rektorik’s went to New York and then by train to Texas while the Mrazeks came to a major port (still unidentified) and then transferred to a steam packet and arrived in Texas via Galveston. Slowly I am piecing together a picture of transportation avenues back then. My most recent information comes from the book, Charles Morgan and the Development of Southern Transportation, written by James P. Baughman, and published by Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, in 1968. Following is what I learned.

      Commercial transportation to Texas began in the first half of the 1800’s. The creation of the Republic of Texas and the development of the natural resources of the area were the impetus. Charles Morgan was the man who would bring commercial transportation to Texas. Reading about the business dealings of Morgan is like watching a game of Monopoly. He is surely one of the business men who lead to the creation of that game.

      Morgan (born in the 1790’s) was a self-made man whose family came from Connecticut. His family was not poor but the years of his youth were during rough economic times. At around fourteen years of age he went to New York city to earn a living. He started as a clerk in a grocery store, advanced to being a grocery, amassed funds, invested, and became involved in shipping. 1819 was when his ownership of ships began. With a keen business sense he knew that the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans, and Texas would be tied to his destiny. New Orleans was the hub port of the Gulf.

      In Chapter 2, there is the following account:

      Galveston Island in 1837 was far from impressive. Twenty-seven miles long and barely three wide, it separated the rough waters of the western Gulf of Mexico from a more placid bay. A maximum elevation of nine feet and a dearth of vegetation did little to shield the settlement straggling along the island’s bay shore from autumn’s tropical storms or the buffeting winter “northers.” Yet the commerce carried across the planks of the single wooden wharf made this the principal port-of-entry for the Republic of Texas.

      Irregular trade routes radiated from Galveston to other nascent Texas ports: across the bay to Anahuac at the mouth of the Trinity River or to Lynchburg, Harrisburg, and Houston via Buffalo Bayou; to Velasco, at the mouth of the Brazos, where a good anchorage in thirty feet of water permitted discharge of passengers continuing up the river; to Matagorda, a bustling settlement near the mouth of the Colorado, eighty-two miles down the coast; to Aransas Bay, forty miles further south, where vessels drawing eight feet might enter or northward fifty miles to the mouth of the Sabine.

      Under the command of John T. Wright, Columbia inaugurated steam-packet service to the Texas Republic, beginning regular sailings between New Orleans, Galveston, and Velasco in November 1837. Columbia is traditionally considered the first vessel of the Morgan line.

      The Random House Webster’s College Dictionary definitions of “packet” includes: A small vessel that carries mail, passengers, and goods regularly on a fixed route.

      Columbia completed twelve round voyages to Galveston and Velasco by June 8, 1838, when she was joined in the trade by Cuba--an unsuccessful New Orleans--Havana steamer then owned and operated by the Crescent City firm of Bogart and Hawthorn. The vessels formed a “New Orleans and Texas Line” and thereafter offered weekly sailings between Louisiana and Texas….

      Columbia proved well suited for the peculiarities of the New Orleans --Texas trade. A steamship encountered fewer of the delays which plagued sailors on the Mississippi below the Crescent City. Of shallower draught than most sailing vessels, she could more easily cross the shifting sand bars at the river’s mouth. Coming upriver, her engines eliminated the sailing ship’s need for elaborate tacking against the current or expensive towing by steam tugs. In Texas waters, her light draught, speed, and maneuverability permitted safer and more predictable navigation of the Republic’s narrow passes and shallow bays.

      The elegance of Columbia and Cuba balanced their utility….Perhaps the shock of seeing Galveston after the luxury of the steam-packets accounts for some of the dreary views of that settlement…

      One early passenger, Mary Holly Austin, writing with a lady’s eye for d├ęcor, described Columbia’s interior: she slept on “the finest and whitest linen;” was attended to by ”lady-like chamber maid;” dined with “silver forks, or what looked like silver” and ‘ivory knives” at the Captain’s table. The meals were prepared by a “French Cook” and served by “White waiters.” on this, “the most perfect boat…the best I have ever seen.” New York, placed by Morgan on the Texas run in 1839, exceeded the Columbia in elegance. Mrs. Holley, after a voyage on the New York , pictured herself as Cleopatra at rest on her fine stateroom couch. The main cabin glistened with polished mahogany set off by white damask draperies. Stained-glass windows decorated with the arms of Texas overlooked a dining table replete with fine white porcelain…, engraved, silver, and crystal…

      But, not all passengers could sample the luxury of the main cabin, “Uncle Jimmy” Smith and his family came to Texas in 1840 in steerage (on New York), “since this…was much cheaper that Cabin passage--And much more Comfortable than Deck Passage.” The steerage itself was below decks and curtained off into berths for sleeping, while during the day the passengers were allowed the freedom of the awninged decks. The family slept in “Good Berths” but had to “find” and prepare their own meals until Smith persuaded Caption Wright to allow him to pay for the preparation by the regular cooks. Deck and steerage travelers were requested to control their “loud discourse” for fear of disturbing their more affluent fellows in the cabin.

      The steam-packets again excelled the sailers in speed. Their voyages to Texas required but thirty-five to forty hours, while a schooner might consume two weeks in beating around the coast. In 1838, Columbia’s longest and shortest runs were forty-eight and thirty-three hours while the Cuba varied from fifty-four to thirty-six hours. Such service led one New Orleans paper to conclude that steamships were undoubtedly the “kind of vessel best calculated” for the trade, “on account of the quickness of their voyages, as the most profit is made from carrying passengers, and they always give preference to celerity of motion.”

      Passenger traffic did constitute the steady income of the New Orleans and Texas Line…Businessmen, soldiers, immigrants, and diplomats found the steamers well suited to their needs. Cabin passage to Galveston was $30 ($5 above the schooner rate), deck or steerage usually $15. To Velasco, where passengers were landed for transit up the Brazos River, passage from New Orleans was $35. All fares were payable in advance and only in specie or current New Orleans city bank notes--a reflection on the general American currency disorder…(

      (pages 23 -27)

      I found it interesting that, back then, the business year in the Gulf of Mexico began on October 1st and ended with the month of June. “The heat, fevers, and the seasonal nature of the cotton crop, and the high incidence of tropical storms--causing higher insurance rates…combined to diminish the Gulf trade in the summer months.” (page 31) Morgan often pulled his steam ships from service during the summer months and took them back to the machine works and ship yards of New York to have them overhauled and refitted.

      In 1839, a competitor to Morgan appeared on the scene and Neptune was placed in service. The Neptune was larger and faster than either of the Morgan steamers. After a period of head-on competition, the two lines adjusted schedules to compliment each other. By December 16 of 1839:

      Neptune

      now left New Orleans on the fifth and twentieth day of each month, Galveston on every twelfth and twenty-seventh; Columbia departed the Crescent City every first and fifteenth, Galveston every seventh and twenty-second; New York cleared New Orleans each tenth and twenty-fifth, Galveston each seventeenth and thirty first. Evidently there was enough traffic to go around and competition was reduced to niceties--Neptune accepted Texas money at fifty cents on the dollar while her competitors still required specie or New Orleans bank notes, for example. (page 34)

      In 1841, sold the well-used Columbia to her captain. Morgan then added the 160-foot steamship Savannah to his fleet. She was refitted and joined the New Yorker in the Gulf on November 2, 1841. In 1844 Morgan added the Republic to his Gulf fleet. This ship was special because:

      Unlike the other…vessels, which were side-wheelers fitted with auxiliary sails, Republic operated her canvas and steam machinery simultaneously. Her hull was devoid of paddlewheels an fitted instead with screw propellers…(page 37)

      Apparently the performance of Republic was unacceptable and she was pulled and sold after seven voyages to Texas.

      Although there were a few competitor’s in the Gulf steam-packet trade, Morgan dominated it through the 1840’s.

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