Transporation to Texas in the 1800's
Part Two of Information found in the book, Charles Morgan and the Development of Southern Transportation, by James P. Baughman, and published by Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, in 1968.
The Republic of Texas, with its cotton and cattle, was but one area that drew transportation westward from the Atlantic Seaboard. The January 1848 discovery of gold in California also created an urgent demand for a shortage sea passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Men such as Charles Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt plotted and schemed to be in on and benefit from the creation of a passage through, first, the Isthmus of Panama and then later through Nicaragua. Mexico would also be a lucrative source of income. And, in general there was the westward expansion of the United States as a whole.
During this period, Charles Morgan hatched schemes, plotted, and ambushed his partners but all the while he continued to run the steam packets to Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. The mail contracts he maintained with the United States government, along with the passenger fares, and cargo fees increased his cash reserves. The War with Mexico, was turned into a financial windfall by Charles Morgan. He immediately made his steamers available to the United States Government for use in moving troops and equipment. With the end of war, Morgan focused his attention back to civilian transport to and from Texas.
“The prospects of Texas continued to impress business men. Her vast hinterland, her numerous natural harbors, and her navigable rivers gave her special attractions to settlers and trade. The commerce of the western Gulf was steadily increasing and diversifying. Receipts of cotton at the Texas ports jumped from 39,744 bales to 62,433 in the four years after 1848. By 1856 this figure climbed to 116,078 bales, and the 193,963 bales received in 1860 set an ante bellum record. Besides cotton, Texas was producing and exporting increasing quantities of sugar, cattle and hides, lumber, pecans, and wool. Morgan, having firmly established himself as master of the New Orleans/Texas trade by 1850, increased his service in proportion to this new prosperity.
His first chore,…was the refurbishing of his older vessels. The Morgan steamers had all seen service in the Mexican war and showed it. Galveston and Palmetto were both advertised as the flagships of the line, and Morgan strove to maintain first-class accommodations on them. Galveston “was fitted up with the choicest of woods, birds’eye maple and rose, and the decorations of the saloon were really beautify,” wrote a passenger in 1849. But, the vessel’s long, narrow construction made her top heavy, causing considerable motion in heavy weather. Even so hardy a seaman as Mrs. Matilda Houstoun described this tendency as “most disagreeable…owing as much to the above causes as to the drunkenness of the captain, who was in a state of intoxication the whole time we were on board.” Her opinion of the Morgan Line decreased further after an “odious” breakfast of “corn bread, salt butter ‘Boston crackers,’ and sticky molasses.”
Conditions on the smaller steamers purchased hurriedly during the war were even worse. In 1847 Morgan assured the public that Globe was “fitted up expressly for his trade [hence] passengers may rely on a degree of comfort and convenience such as is seldom experienced at sea.” Yet by 1851 Mrs. Teresa Vielé described Globe as “an old disabled shell that had been already condemned as unsafe…our old leaky vessel.” She spent her passage across the Gulf in the “ladies cabin” where “a shelf a foot wide” served as a bunk amidst a “scene of dreadful squalor and confusion.” Emigrant families lay about on trunks and boxes and their children “cried, screamed, and were seasick incessantly.” But, at least, in contrast to the commander of the Galveston, Captain Thompson of the Globe “was a splendid specimen of the rough and fearless sailor, a genuine hero of the sea [concealing]…a soft heart under a rough jacket.” (pages 86-87)
Running steam packets was not without risk. A significant number of Morgan’s steamers were lost or abandoned at sea and Morgan always self-insured his vessels…partly in an effort to assure the public of the seaworthiness of his fleet. The years 1851 and 1852 exemplify the dangers of running a steamer line:
“…The treacherous western Gulf with its shifting currents and depths continually levied its toll on Morgan’s steamers. Palmetto was stranded and abandoned in Matagorda Bay, January 9, 1851, and Globe wrecked on the bar at Brazos St. Iago, June 17. On November 25, Galveston was beached on Ship Island, Mississippi, and on April 29, 1852, Meteor was snagged and abandoned of the Paso de Caballo. Thus, in a period of sixteen months Morgan lost four steamers valued at $250,000, and, as was his custom to promote passenger confidence, all were self-insured. The loss of Meteor resulted from the negligence of the pilots at Paso de Caballo, and thenceforth Morgan employed his own pilots to navigate approaches to Texas.” (page 88)
The Civil War years were also made into financial boon…despite the eventual confiscation of his Gulf fleet. Although Morgan always maintained his residence in New York, he was not unsympathetic to the goals of the Confederacy. In fact, Morgan himself was a slaveholder. And, as always, Morgan worked both sides for his gain. Following is a prime example:
“On February 4, 1861, three days after the Texas ordinance of secession was adopted, E. B. Nichols, Morgan’s agent at Galveston, was appointed commissioner and financial representative of the seceded state. Nichols was ordered to secure funds and transportation for the movement of Colonel John S. [RIP] Ford’s command from Galveston to Brazos St. Iago to capture Federal encampments in the Valley. Nichols secured the required funds in New Orleans and chartered Morgan’s General Rusk for transportation. For her use, the Southern Steamship Company was to receive $5,000 for tend days and $500 per day thereafter. Rusk was used by the Texas troops from February 16 to March 15 in their successful capture of Brazos St. Iago--at a fee (including fuel) of $14,750 to Morgan’s company. Upon completion of her charter to the secessionist forces, Rusk was chartered on the spot for $12,500 by the defeated Federal command at Brazos St. Iago to evacuate his troops to Key West…” pages 116-117)
After the Civil War, Morgan still had the funds to purchase new steamers and to rebuilt his Gulf of Mexico shipping business. But, as always, there were loses:
“Morgan’s steamships were never immune to calamity, and in the increased service of the 1870’s increased their susceptibility. As before the Civil War, vessels continued to be detained or destroyed by storms, collision, fire, and groundings: Hewes was severely damaged when rammed by another vessel in the Mississippi River in 1866, Crescent burned at New Orleans, December 11, 1868; Josephine was stranded on the Brazos St. Iago bar for six weeks in 1868 but was refloated and repaired; Alabama was beached at Galveston during the hurricane of 1871 but returned to service after three months; in 1875, Morgan was disabled for six months in a collision with Clyde in Galveston Bay; Austin, valued at $125,000 and self-insured, was sunk by a floating wreck in the Mississippi River on June 6, 1876; Mary, valued at $125,000, self-insured, and carrying cargo worth $75,000, grounded and sunk on the inner Aransas bar on November 30, 1876. That these loses were absorbed by Morgan and the vessels replaces by newer steamers costing $250,000 or more apiece, offers testimony to his financial reserves. He also constructed at $15,300 each in 1875 the tugs Restless and Fidget (each 54 tons)--built at his Algiers yard…” (pages 180-181)
And, there were oddities noted and recorded:
“The steamers were as likely, however, to meet adventure or humor as natural calamity. Just as [Morgan’s railway line] in 1871 tolerated and lost a $3 damage suit for running over a rooster, Morgan’s vessels had their share of the unique and the ridiculous. In 1874, the entire membership of the Mechanic’s Fire Company 6 of New Orleans and their steam fire engine were carried at excursion rate to Galveston and back on Josephine. The following year, two Texans boarded a Morgan steamer in Galveston, voyaged to Brashear, engaged in a duel on Louisiana soil to escape stricter Texas laws, and returned, unbloodied, to Texas the following day. Josephine also provided refuge for citizens of Corpus Christi, Texas, during a raid by Mexican bandits in 1875. The year before Clinton, while docked at Indianola, was the scene of an episode in the famous Sutton-Taylor feud. On March 11, two Taylors boarded the steamer and murdered two members of the Sutton clan. Later arrested in Cuero, Texas, William Taylor was taken to Galveston on Clinton and subsequently returned to Indianola on Harlan to stand trial.” (page 181)