Steamboat Times
Hannibal, A View From Mark Twain's Boyhood Home
'Hannibal ~ A View From Mark Twain's Boyhood Home in 1841,'  by John Stobart.


"S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin'!"    
"After all these years I can picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; ...the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun; the dense forest away on the other side; the 'point' above the town, and the 'point' below, bounding the river-glimpse and turning it into a sort of sea, and withal a very still and brilliant and lonely one.

Presently a film of dark smoke appears above one of those remote 'points;' instantly a negro drayman, famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the cry, 'S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin'!' and the scene changes! ...Drays, carts, men, boys, all go hurrying from many quarters to a common center, the wharf. Assembled there, the people fasten their eyes upon the coming boat as upon a wonder they are seeing for the first time.

And the boat IS rather a handsome sight, too. She is long and sharp and trim and pretty; she has two tall, fancy-topped chimneys, with a gilded device of some kind swung between them; a fanciful pilot-house, all glass and 'gingerbread', perched on top of the 'texas' deck behind them; the paddle-boxes are gorgeous with a picture or with gilded rays above the boat's name; the boiler deck, the hurricane deck, and the texas deck are fenced and ornamented with clean white railings; there is a flag gallantly flying from the jack-staff; the furnace doors are open and the fires glaring bravely; the upper decks are black with passengers; the captain stands by the big bell, calm, imposing, the envy of all; great volumes of the blackest smoke are rolling and tumbling out of the chimneys-- a husbanded grandeur created with a bit of pitch pine just before arriving at a town; the crew are grouped on the forecastle; the broad stage is run far out over the port bow, and an envied deckhand stands picturesquely on the end of it with a coil of rope in his hand; the pent steam is screaming through the gauge-cocks, the captain lifts his hand, a bell rings, the wheels stop; then they turn back, churning the water to foam, and the steamer is at rest.

Then such a scramble as there is to get aboard, and to get ashore, and to take in freight and to discharge freight, all at one and the same time; and such a yelling and cursing as the mates facilitate it all with!"
Mark Twain's Signature
~ Mark Twain, from Chapter 4 of Life on the Mississippi, published in 1882.

(The admired "negro drayman" was John Hannicks, a free black from Virginia who lived in Hannibal with his wife, Ellen, and their three children. He had the distinction of usually being the first to spot a steamboat's approach, and was known for his helpfulness. In 1851 the Hannibal Courier praised the "exertions of good-humored `JOHN,' the Drayman, in turning out with his dray and hauling water" to the scene of a fire. Mark Twain remembered him not only for his booming voice but also for his storytelling and his ready laughter. Hannick was one of some thirty free blacks in Twain's boyhood town, where the stain of slavery was a reality. Mark Twain later said that civilization began when slavery was abolished. "Civilization must surely mean the humanizing of a people.")



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SITE UPDATES:
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15 February 2011:
Flatboats page updated with many new images and revised text.

10 November 2010:
I've started expanding the Steamboats 1811~61 & Steamboats 1861~99 pages. I'm planning to put up about 200 images and descriptions of steamboats, which will take a while, albeit that's just a fraction of those that plied the Mississippi river system. Meantime, it's rafting season here (New Zealand), so I'm also out on the river. Thanks to those who have emailed me with their kind words and queries.

21 March 2010:
Mark Twain Lecturing
page completed.

9 March 2010:

Menu rebuild completed.

11 August 2009:
Many thanks to those who've visited and taken the time to let me know that they enjoy this site. My river conservation work in New Zealand has sidetracked me lately, so please forgive the unfinished pages you may find.

21 September 2008:
Mark Twain Family page completed.

03 August 2008:
Currier & Ives images added on the Currier & Ives page in the Artwork section. Text to follow ...

23 March 2008:
More pages coming. Have been rafting on the river for several months, and will complete some unfinished pages soon ...

4 September 2007:
Two Gallery pages have been added in the Mark Twain section. Please click 'Refresh' if some images don't load straightaway. All have been cleaned up, and links to some excellent hi-res versions are provided.

7 August 2007:
All 6 Artwork pages are finished. The Currier & Ives page remains unfinished.

3 August 2007:

The Artwork page has been expanded to 6 pages, 3 of which are still under construction.

1 August 2007:
The first 2 Mark Twain pages are finished. At the bottom of these pages, there are links to 7 other Mark Twain pages. All but the Piloting page are still under construction.

Please come back later to see some more as the pages grow. I will be loading much more from my collection ...




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2007  Steamboat Times
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