Item #5503 [Letters of a flatboatman on the Ohio river.]. Samuel Rothgeb.
[Letters of a flatboatman on the Ohio river.]

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[Letters of a flatboatman on the Ohio river.]

Brandenburg, Kentucky; Cairo, Illinois, 1 and 11 December 1847. 2 8vo letters (9.8” x 7.75”). 6 pp. of manuscript. Both letters docketed.

Two fascinating letters by a merchant also serving as cook aboard a flatboat, written while descending the Ohio River to the Mississippi en route to Memphis to sell goods; these letters chronicle storms, trade, daily rafting life, the loss of a skiff to a “smoothe talking scoundrel,” and more.

Born in Addison, Gallia County, Ohio, Samuel Rothgeb (1826–1880) was a merchant and freemason who in December 1847 took a trip down the Ohio River en route to Memphis, trading along the way. In his first letter since departing from Ohio—addressed to his parents back home—Rothgeb notes his company is having a “tolerable rough time”: “The first day we glided along smoothly till about midnight when there was quite a storm came up and caught us just above Burlington but did no injury and from that time it was windy till we landed in Sutton which was on Saturday about 10 O’clock.” Here they attempt to “sell out” but cannot get “any offer at all”—“so we droped down to the white water mill that evening and exchanged our wheat for flour. We gave 5 bu for a barrel even up.” On Tuesday morning they push off and glide over the falls safe and sound without a pilot. Rothgeb notes the water was almost as high as it was last winter—thus indicating he may have made this very same journey last year. He notes that flat boats are quite scarce on the Ohio: “we have seen only three or four sice we left.” Remarking that he saw one Adam Wearty and his crew when they passed by Cincinnati, Rothgeb then proceeds to describe his boat as well as his special duties among the crew: “Our boat and cargo is all wright and look well we have filled the barrels that the wheat was in with potatoes and stored them up snugly with the rest. I have been cooking and expect to be all the time for the other boys having hired me to do theirs.” Currently situated just above Salt river, he brings the letter to a close by commenting he must now turn toward “mixing up wheat bread.” In a postscript he relays the message of one Mr. Hardy on his raft to a Misses Hardy.

In his second letter, Rothgeb reports that, again, all is well—with the exception of one Ezekiah who is beset with recurring belly aches. Nevertheless—Rothgeb assures—“he is full of jokes as any of us.” Since he last wrote they have not been moving quite as fast as he expected, due to the wind. They make land across from Little Hurricane where they run into Adam Wearty once again; here they rest for several days and hunt squirrels. They land again just below French Island where they lose their skiff after “loaning it to a smoothe talking scoundrel.” “We left an order with another man to get it,” Rothgeb explains. Pushing off again, they land at Spriklesburg to purchase a skiff. Next, they land at Big Hurricane where they hunt again, bagging squirrels and a duck, and reach the mouth of the Tennessee river where they land again. Here Rothgeb reports he can glimpse the upper Mississippi river and the city of Cairo. By the time their boat gets to Cairo, Rothgeb notes: “I am still cook yet we have eat all the cheese but we have plenty now we have over 200 lbs now and we have to quit eating butter but we have a little saved, a little of our sausage left too our load looks first rate.” He expects his parents have not “got the corn in yet for there has so much rainy weather” but urges them to “try and do the bes you can and we’ll do the same.” He closes the letter by expressing his dual-hopes to return to Ohio by New Years and to sell in Memphis—from which he promises to write another letter. Noted throughout Rothgeb’s letters are winds and water levels.

In History of Gallia County, Rothgeb is recorded as being appointed Infirmary Director in March, 1871, and in the spring of 1865 it is noted one David Shaffer entered into a partnership with Rothgeb in the mercantile business in Addison. Their business continued until 1872 when Mr. Shaffer bought the whole business and carried it on. Rothgeb would pass away in New Orleans in 1880. A notice of his death appeared in The Masonic Review: “the Senior Warden of Siloam Lodge, No. 456, of Cheshire, Ohio, recently died and was buried by his Lodge, with all due Masonic respect. On the 28th of January the Lodge met and adopted resolutions of respect to his memory as a worthy Mason and of sympathy with his family in their bereavement; draping the Lodge in mourning for 60 days.”

REFERENCES: History of Gallia County: Containing a Condensed History of the County… (Chicago: H. H. Hardesty & Co., 1882) pp. v, 34; The Masonic Review, Volume 53 (Cincinnati, Ohio: Wrightson & Co., 1880) p. 128.

A colorful and evocative pair of letters by a flatboatman.

CONDITION: Toning, old folds, lower, presumably blank portion of the second leaf of the earlier letter excised.

Item #5503


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