Henry Miller Shreve
Shreve was born to Israel Shreve, a Quaker who had served with honor in the American Revolution, and the former Mary Cokely at Mount Pleasant, the family homestead near Columbus in Burlington County, New Jersey. On July 7, 1788, the Shreves left New Jersey for their new home on property owned by George Washington in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Young Henry's new home was close to the Youghiogheny River near the present day borough of Perryopolis. After his father's death in 1799, Shreve served on several riverboats to help support his family. After purchasing his own boat Shreve began trading between Brownsville, Pennsylvania and ports as far away as New Orleans. On a voyage in 1814, Shreve's barge was registered at New Orleans on February 11. After his boat was loaded with cargo, Shreve and crew hauled and poled the vessel 2,200 miles against strong river currents, probably reaching Brownsville before July, 1814.
During the winter and spring of 1814, a new steamboat, with an engine and power train designed and built by Daniel French, was being built at Brownsville. Between June and December, the steamboat Enterprise, under the command of Israel Gregg, made two successful voyages transporting passengers and cargo to ports between Brownsville and Louisville, Kentucky. In December, Shreve became captain of the Enterprise. The Enterprise departed Pittsburgh on December 21, 1814, with a load of munitions for GeneralAndrew Jackson to defend New Orleans against an invasion of British forces. The Enterprise passed the Falls at Louisville on December 28, 1814.
After the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans, a lawsuit was brought by the heirs of Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston against Shreve and the owners of the Enterprise for violating the formers' monopoly against any unauthorized navigation of Louisiana waters by steamboat. Soon after being released from jail, Shreve commanded the Enterprise from New Orleans to Louisville, the first time a northbound steamboat was able to reach that city. Then he navigated the Enterprise to Pittsburgh and finally to her homeport of Brownsville. This long and difficult voyage by the Enterprise, more than 2,200 miles against the currents of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, demonstrated the ability of steamboats to navigate the western rivers.
Shreve and four partners commissioned George White to build a new steamboat, named the Washington, at Wheeling, Virginia (later West Virginia). The engine and drive train of the Washington were built by Daniel French at Brownsville. The Washington was first launched in 1816. It was the first steamboat with two decks, the predecessor of the showboats of later years. The main deck was used for the boiler, and the upper deck was reserved for passengers.
Shreve, for the second time, piloted a steamboat to New Orleans where he once again was sued by the heirs of the Fulton-Livingston monopoly. Shreve took the Washington from New Orleans to Louisville and returned to the Crescent City on March 12, 1817. Shreve and several counterparts were subjected to lawsuits initiated by the monopolists. On March 25, Shreve departed New Orleans and piloted the Washington upriver. He reached Louisville in twenty-five days, equal to the record set by the Enterprise nearly two years earlier. On April 21, Judge Dominic C. Hall declared that the court did not have jurisdiction and hence dismissed all of the suits. This decision eliminated any enforcement of the Livingston-Fulton monopoly in Louisiana courts. Hall's decision and the Washington's recent voyage from New Orleans to Louisville heralded the forthcoming steamboat era on the western rivers.
The American rivers were still difficult to navigate, however, because of the presence of dead wood called snags, sawyers , or log jams. Shreve was appointed Superintendent of Western River Improvements in 1826 and charged with finding a solution to this problem. He had been working on a design for a "snagboat" since 1821, and he finally had it built in 1837. This craft, the Heliopolis, had a steam-powered windlass used to pull large concentrations of dead wood from the water. As a result of the success of his design, Shreve was ordered in 1832 by Secretary of War Lewis Cass to clear the Great Raft, 150 miles of dead wood on the Red River. Shreve successfully removed the Raft (despite inadequate funding) by 1839. The area of the Red River where the Raft was most concentrated is today his namesake city of Shreveport. Shreve helped to establish Shreveport via the Shreve Town Company. In 1841, Shreve was relieved of his superintendent's duties by the nominally Whig U.S. President John Tyler. He hence retired to his farm near St. Louis.
Shreve was twice married. There were three children from his first marriage to the former Mary M. Blair on February 28, 1811, and two children from his union with the former Lydia Rogers of Boston. Shreve spent his final years with his daughter Rebecca's family in St. Louis. He died in the home of his son-in-law, Walker Randolph Carter, and is interred in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.