Art. V. — Commerce of the Mississippi.
THE valley of the Mississippi, embracing that broad and fertile tract of alluvial soil lying between the Alleghany and the Rocky mountains, and including the territorial areas of the most prominent states of the west, possesses, in the Mississippi river, a commercial outlet magnificent in its features, and in all respects proportioned to the grandeur of the extensive region that it waters. Taking its rise from the rice lakes of the remote north, and receiving important tributaries which interlock their channels far through the interior, it supplies a most important track of navigation to the increasing trade and commerce of Louisiana and Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, as well as the more northern states of Illinois and Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, and the territories of Iowa and Wisconsin — a section of the republic which may already be regarded a the agricultural storehouse of our country. Coursing a distance of three thousand miles, it traverses a cold, as well as a tropical climate; the land of enduring snows, and the ranging-ground of the remote savage and the
155fur-trader; the land of the wheat and the rice-field, the cotton and the sugar plantation: the solitary wilderness, and the opulent mart; supplying the main bulk of the trade to an important emporium of the west — the city of New Orleans. It is our design to devote the present paper to a brief sketch of the commerce of this most striking artery of our inland navigation.
In the first place, we would allude to a fact which has long been a formidable obstacle to the safe navigation of the Mississippi, as well as the cause of much individual hazard, and the sacrifice of numerous lives and a considerable amount of property. It is perhaps well known that the bed and banks of the Mississippi and Missouri are, for the most part, composed of alluvial deposits of sand, the latter of which are covered with large trees. When, as is often the case, the current of the stream rises, the banks not unfrequently fall, and these trees are carried off by the stream. The sand and earthy substance adheres to the root, causing that part to sink, and to leave the tree anchored in the bed of the river. Deposits of sand are thus formed about the roots, and the obstruction thus produced frequently forces the channel in another direction. By the action of the water or the ice, the branches are worn off, leaving a stem which sometimes projects above water, sometimes is submerged a few feet, and sometimes is so deeply buried below the surface as to be entirely concealed from sight. These obstructions, which present themselves with greater or less frequency throughout the greater portion of the bed of the Mississippi, vary in danger according to the position in which they chance to be placed. They are termed "snags;" and, coming into collision with the steamboats at midnight, or during a fog, are the source of no small discomfort to passengers — not unfrequently forcing a hole through the boat, sinking the hull, injuring the cargo, and even destroying lives.
These obstacles most commonly occur in the bends of the rivers, or in those parts where the currents are obstructed by islands or sand bars. Indeed, they present themselves occasionally in such numbers, that the boats are fenced in by these fallen trees, insomuch that a boat-master upon the Missouri was recently obliged to cut his way through them; and they tend to impede the navigation of that river to such an extent as to call for the attention of Congress. With that view, the chamber of commerce of the city of St. Louis have adopted vigorous proceedings in relation to the improvement of the navigation of the Mississippi river and its principal tributaries, and also the St. Louis harbor. A body of statistical facts connected with the commerce of that river, has been compiled, and submitted to the chamber by Mr. A. B. Chambers, demonstrating the amount of the actual commerce now carried on upon that river, and the motives which would call for the aid of the general government to remove the obstructions upon what may now be deemed one of the most important commercial highways of the nation. He who has had occasion to traverse the Mississippi, in one of the numerous steamboats which ply upon that river, may perchance have been cast in contact with one of those numerous snags which beset the stream, causing a degree of confusion, if not a damage which it is highly desirable might be prevented. The amount of value afloat upon it, at all times during the season of navigation, and the value of the property whose fate would be probably involved in the improvement, naturally calls for some effective aid on the part of the general government. Independently of the carrying trade from the remote interior,
156the cotton and sugar plantations, which send their cargoes abroad from the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas — the tobacco which is yearly shipped from the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois — together with the manufactured articles imported and exported from those states, exceeding in value that of its agricultural products, and the importance, as places of shipment, of the numerous ports upon the river — all tend to present additional claims for the aid of Congress.
The removal of those obstructions which have so long impeded the Mississippi navigation, would seem to be a no very difficult object. The most convenient instrument for that purpose is termed a snag-boat, which, with its machinery, will usually remove about twenty per day; the cost of working the boat being fifty or seventy dollars, and requiring fifty men; and the expense of construction being from twenty-five to twenty-six thousand dollars. The numerous wrecks of snagged steamboats, which strew that noble river — the fact that freights and persons from nearly half of the Union are afloat continually upon its bosom — that nearly six millions of people, residing in the bordering territory, would be benefited in greater or less degree by the improvement; and that the imports and exports of nine states and two territories, which skirt its banks, must pass along its waters, tend materially to strengthen the claims which have been urged before Congress for the improvement of its navigation. Hundreds of thousands of persons are sailing upon its surface during the season of navigation — properties to the amount of millions of dollars are risked upon its waters. The merchants and manufacturers of the east are deeply interested in the subject, because the advance of freights is not less than 10 per cent, in consequence of the difficulties of navigation; and the losses of insurance companies, yearly, amount to no inconsiderable sum. Moreover, not one-tenth part of the land which skirts it has been subdued to cultivation; and the bright prospects of wealth and strength that are continually unfolding, from the developing resources of the soil, are ever adding to the value and importance of the desired improvement as a merely mercantile enterprise, important from the fact that, of the total number of steamboat losses throughout the whole country, the greater proportion occur upon the Mississippi river.
Passing by New Orleans, as well as the smaller intermediate ports, which now constitute valuable depots of trade, and points of shipment for the produce of the interior, we reach the city of St. Louis. That, from its geographical position, is doubtless destined to become one of the most opulent cities in the Mississippi valley; and to this point we shall now direct our special attention. This point, down to the year 1836, was but little more than a trading village; and its rapid advance may be pretty accurately judged from the fact that it now contains a population of about thirty thousand; and, although the first steamboat reached that port during the year 1817, it is not uncommon to notice the arrival and departure of from twenty to thirty boats during a single day. A considerable portion of the trade of the states of Illinois and Missouri, and the territories of Iowa and Wisconsin, center at this point. A vast amount of bricks are manufactured in the city. Lumber is produced in extensive quantities by the operation of nine steam sawmills. There are three mills for planning boards, two white-lead factories, three oil mills, and six merchant flour-mills, that grind annually eighty thousand barrels of flour, besides other
157minor manufactures. The measure of its trade may also be judged somewhat from the fact that the whole amount of marine insurances in the city, including boat-hulls and cargoes, and embracing only property at risk upon the rivers, is set down at $58,021,986; and adding to this the sum of 33 Ë percent for property not insured, or insured at other places, we have a total of $77,362,648.
The leading articles of export from St. Louis and the adjacent country, of which it is the commercial emporium, are lead, tobacco, furs and peltries, hemp, flour, wheat, and other agricultural products, as well as a large amount of horses, mules, hogs, and live cattle of various sorts, which are shipped to the south in flat or keelboats.
We turn our attention first to the article of lead, the greater part of which is received at St. Louis for export from the Galena mines, and that is either consumed in the city, sent to the Ohio, or shipped to New Orleans. The lead mines of Washington, and other southern counties, are, however, below St. Louis; yet the great bulk of this article is most commonly shipped from that port, through the agency of mercantile houses and by boats, to New Orleans. Subjoined is the statistical return of the receipts of lead at St. Louis, from the Galena mines, for three years, ending in 1841: —
The receipts of lead at New Orleans, for the same period, are as follows: —
Each pig averages 60 lbs., and accordingly the total amount may be estimated at 29,325,000 lbs., which, at three and a half cents per pound, would make the value of the trade $1,026,375. It is said that the lead mines in the southern part of Missouri yield only about one-fifth part of the product of the Galena mines; and, according to that estimate, the whole lead trade would scarcely fall short of one million and three hundred thousand dollars — more than a million dollars' worth of which is transported within a few hundred miles of the whole navigable length of the Mississippi.
Another principal item of St. Louis export consists of tobacco. Of the tobacco crop of Missouri, it is stated, by a house engaged in the trade, that the shipments from that port, during the year 1841, did not much vary from nine thousand hogsheads, of which eight thousand five hundred passed trough St. Louis, and of the subjoined quality and value; premising, however, that the present crop will range from twelve to fifteen thousand hogsheads.
|2,000 hhds. strips||worth in Europe||$175,||$350,000|
|2,500 firsts,||" N. Orleans||120,||300,000|
|2,500 seconds,||" "||70,||175,000|
|1,500 X's,||" "||50,||75,000|
|500 king's and bull's-eye||" "||25,||12,500|
Another peculiarly interesting feature of the commerce of St. Louis is the circumstance that the trade of the American Fur Company, and that of other independent traders, including the fur trade of nearly all the northern and northwestern Indians within the jurisdiction of the United States, concentrates at that point. The value, to that city, of the trade in cloths, blankets, and other fabrics used in the traffic, exclusive of annuities, the pay of hands, and the outfits for expeditions, boats, &c., has been estimated, by individuals familiar with the trade, as exceeding two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. It has been computed that the exportation of furs, buffalo-robes, and peltries, the proceeds of that trade which go to the Atlantic cities, independently of the home consumption and the amount sent to the Ohio and other parts of the west, during the year 1841, was between three hundred and fifty and four hundred thousand dollars; and that the entire fur trade for that year could not fall short of half a million of dollars. This trade includes the furs and skins that were collected by the various Indian tribes from the Mississippi to the Pacific and from the Columbia to the California. The American Fur Company, it is well known, was originally incorporated with a capital of a million of dollars: and into this, as well as the Messrs. Brent's company upon the Arkansas, have been merged several smaller companies. They employ a number of steam and other boats, and several thousands of men. These boats, at least once a year, ascend the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone, freighted exclusively with supplies for trade in furs with the several Indian tribes between the state line and that river, and also with the tribes extending thence to the Rocky mountains and the Pacific. The furs and peltries thus collected through that extensive tract of territory, as Well as those purchased by the Mexicans, traverse a considerable portion of the Mississippi and the interior rivers: but the trade has, as is well known, become diverted to other channels, and has suffered substantial drawbacks in consequence of a want of certainty in the plans upon which it has been prosecuted.
Another important staple of the commerce of St. Louis is that of hemp, which is now, in fact, becoming one of the most valuable products of this section of the country. Not only are there now in existence two large manufactories of bagging and bale rope, but several ropewalks, which produce this article with considerable profit. One thousand four hundred and sixty tons of hemp were exported last year, of which sixteen hundred tons, grown in the state, were shipped to Kentucky, and three hundred and eighty to New Orleans. It is estimated that the crop of 1841 was double that of the preceding year, and that, including the state of Illinois, the farmers of which are beginning to direct their attention to the manufacture of hemp, the total crop during the year 1842 was about ten thousand tons, which, in a raw state, is doubtless worth $200,000, but, when manufactured, as most of it is, and shipped to the south, would equal double that sum.
Another of the most valuable exports from St. Louis is pork, bacon and lard. The production of pork constitutes, in part, a prominent article of attention of the farmer for the market. Alton, Peoria, and most of the villages upon the upper part of the Mississippi and the Illinois river, export many thousand tons of pork in various states of preparation, as bulk and barreled pork, bacon and lard. The value of the trade of Illinois, in that article, is estimated at a million and a half of dollars,
159the Missouri and the Mississippi affording about an equal quantity, the larger portion of that produced on the upper Mississippi being consumed in the lead mines, by the Indians, and also at the various military posts in this quarter. A part of that which is provided upon the Missouri is consumed by the Indians, the far companies, and by the army of the United States, stationed upon the frontier. Flour and wheat also form a considerable portion of the export trade of St. Louis and in 1841 one hundred and seventy-four thousand barrels of flour and two hundred and thirty-seven thousand bushels of wheat were shipped from that port, besides a large amount of horses, mules, heads of cattle and hogs, which are sent southward by the flat or keelboats, which may be seen continually plying upon the river. Besides the articles which we have enumerated, the exhaustless fertility of the soil, stretching away in broad expanse upon the banks of the Mississippi, and the easy navigation afforded by that river, will, doubtless, give to the city of St. Louis a control of the southwestern market, and enable her to exchange the vast amount of beef, pork, corn, oats, potatoes, wheat, and the other agricultural products produced in the adjacent region, for eastern merchandize, and while the capacity of the surrounding region is amply sufficient to supply the UnitedStates with meat and bread stuffs, its mineral resources, and the coal to manufacture the metals, so largely yielded by the earth, will enable it to furnish to the entire country enough of iron and lead for its entire consumption.
Nor are the imports of this inland city of less importance than its exports. A large amount of goods, of various sorts, required by the population along its shores, was, in 1841, imported from the east, the south, and the Ohio, and estimated at the value of twenty millions of dollars; all traversing the waters of the Mississippi. Some of those articles imported into St. Louis, such as hardware, queens and china ware, German and French goods, linens, wines and liquors, to the amount of several thousands of dollars, were received directly from Europe. Besides, an extensive trade is carried on between that city and Santa Fe, and the states of New Mexico, annually amounting in value to the sum of four hundred thousand dollars. These goods are often purchased here and transported by boats to Independence, upon the Missouri, and thences are carried in wagons across the country. This trade employs from one hundred to one hundred and fifty wagons. No inconsiderable an item to the trade of the place is furnished by the supplies for the United States army, such as arms, clothing, and rations, which amount to nearly a million of dollars, and which it is necessary to transport over the rivers to their destined points. It may be mentioned, as indicating the extent of the commerce of the Mississippi by steam, that, upon this river and its tributaries, four hundred and thirty-seven boats regularly plied during the year 1841, of which one hundred and fifty were employed in the St. Louis trade, and eighty-three steamboats were, in part, owned by citizens of that place; some of them being run from the Ohio to Peoria, upon the Illinois, and to Galena upon the Mississippi, while others are now employed in a direct trade from New Orleans to various points upon the Missouri, making St. Louis a stopping point. It may serve to give some idea of the character of the commerce of the river, to state that the exports from St. Louis to New Orleans by steamboats, keel, or flatboats, either carried direct or sold along the coast, consist of flax-seed, tobacco,
160wheat, whiskey, shot, hides, hemp, castor oil, corn, meal, buffalo robes beeswax, rope, butter, bagging, beans, furs and peltries, green fruit, dried, tallow, bacon, beef, dried corn, flour, lard, lead, oats, potatoes, pork onions, and live cattle.
But notwithstanding the importance of St. Louis as an inland city, that, from its position, must be the centre of the trade of a wide extent of surrounding territory, we advance by the cities of Vicksburg, Natchez and other minor places, serving as valuable points of shipment for the produce of the interior, and soon reach the commercial emporium at its mouth the city of New Orleans. Here is the grand entrepot of foreign commerce, and the natural point of export. The mighty stream of products which are continually pouring down through the Mississippi, finds in New Orleans its grand reservoir, and here also is the depot, whence a considerable portion of the freights imported from abroad are shipped into the interior. Here, also, is the rallying point of commercial enterprise and population, the seat of mingled yet refined manners, opulence and want, splendor and poverty; exhibiting all the characteristics of an Atlantic city in its thronged marts and its tumultuous and crowded streets. Standing upon its levee, one may behold, during the season of navigation, fleets of vessels, either setting sail for foreign ports, or taking in their canvas and running into the docks, laden with freights from Great Britain and France and the most prominent ports of Europe. It is here that the cargoes of cotton and tobacco, sugar and molasses, and other agricultural products, either transported from the interior to the frontier or brought down the river in the puffing low pressure steamer, or the numerous strange water craft which ply upon that stream, are accumulated for export to our northern states or to foreign ports; and it is here that one may find the most thorough representation of the mingled population scattered along the Mississippi valley. We may judge somewhat of the amount of this commerce from the fact, that, besides the four hundred and thirty-seven steamboats which regularly ply upon the river, and that vast train of keel and flatboats that are sent down from the upper ports with produce or live stock from the interior, there were in the month of December, 1842, as we learn from the New Orleans price current of that date, in its port one hundred and twenty-eight ships, forty-six barques, forty four brigs, and nineteen schooners, either unloading, taking in their cargoes, or awaiting a more auspicious season for future voyages. We conclude this condensed view of the commerce of the Mississippi with an expression of our thanks to the chamber of commerce of the city of St. Louis for their valuable document, to which we are much indebted in the preparation of the present paper; and we trust that this important commercial avenue of the west may receive such aid as its prominence as a national highway would seem to invoke.