Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Pioneer 1847 Companies

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Canal Boats, Lake Boats, and Riverboats

Perhaps one other observation should be made and that is regarding the Mormon use of rivers, lakes, and canals in their westward movement. Beginning in 1831 Mormons used various canal boats, lake boats, and riverboats to reach their several church headquarters in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.

In 1831, the Mormons in western New York and northern Pennsylvania proceeded by way of Cayuga Lake steamers, Erie Canal boats, and Lake Erie steamers to Kirtland, Ohio. And in the 1840s a few other Mormons used the Erie Canal en route to Nauvoo, Illinois. This author has found a few journal references from the 1830s and 1840s to Mormons traveling other canals like the Pennsylvania State Canal between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Ohio and Erie Canal between Cleveland and Portsmouth, and the Miami and Erie Canal between Toledo and Cincinnati. References were also found to Mormons traveling on Lake Erie.

While few Mormons used canal and lake boats, thousands traveled on riverboats. Some Mormons went to Missouri via the Missouri River, thousands reached Nauvoo on the Mississippi River via New Orleans and St. Louis. After the Mormons began departing the Far West from various Missouri River locations, most emigrants reached Missouri via Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri riverboats until the railroad reached the Missouri in 1859.

According to contemporary Mormon journal accounts of riverboat travel, Mormon emigrants experienced not only "enchantingly beautiful scenery," kind "colored waiters," and their own preaching, but also snags, cholera, accidents, death (most riverboats carried extra coffins for those who died aboard), miscarriages, explosions (many, for example, died in the Saluda disaster near Lexington, Missouri, on the Missouri River in 1852), and what they took to be "anti-Mormon" sentiments. A few emigrants could afford cabin class passage, but most, unfortunately, traveled in steerage--on the crowded lower decks with the animals and baggage (including an occasional occupied coffin), and few amenities. Sometimes passengers, including at least two Mormon children, fell overboard and were lost.

Source: Historic Resource Study - Mormon Pioneer National By Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., May 1991. (The study focuses on the history of the trail from its official beginning in Nauvoo, Illinois, to its terminus in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the period 1846-1869. During that time, thousands of Mormon emigrants used many trails and trail variants to reach Utah. This study emphasizes the "Pioneer Route" or "Brigham Young Route" of 1846-1847. The sections on Mormon beliefs and motivations for going west have been omitted. Interested persons can find ample sources for that information. The footnotes, bibliography, maps, pictures, pioneer companies by name and dates for the 22-year period, and historic sites - about 2/3 of the book - have also been left out for space considerations. Thanks to Dr. Kimball and the National Park Service for the availability of this information.)