Back | About this image

Mississippi Flatboat

Mississippi Flatboat

As he neared adulthood, Abraham Lincoln yearned to leave his father's house and the back breaking farm labor he detested. While still in Indiana he had unsuccessfully sought a position on one of the flatboats plying the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. When his family removed to Illinois, Lincoln quickly found work building and flatboat for the merchant Denton Offutt. With his cousin John Hanks and a crew of several other men Lincoln then took the craft, resembling that pictured above, down river to New Orleans. There they sold its cargo of farm products and returned to Illinois via steamboat. Lincoln's journey brought him to the Sangamon River community of New Salem, Illinois, where his boat became lodged on a mill dam. Water began to pour over the boat's low stern. Unable to push the heavy boat over the dam, the crew feared they would lose their cargo. But Lincoln thought quickly, boring a hole in the flatboat's bow and unloading enough cargo from the rear of the boat to tilt it upward. As the water trapped on the boat's deck poured forward toward the bow, it drained through the hole. The flatboat, growing lighter as the water drained away, then floated over the dam.

Image source: Northern Illinois University
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project