Incidents on Board a Steamboat.

To some of our readers the following incidents may appear a little too strange to be true--bordering somewhat upon fiction, or at least, our account of it a little exaggerated ; but we assure you the whole affair actually occurred on a steamboat.--We will call no names, but give the boat the title of " Tobacco Plant" for the present occasion.

It is known to those who " have travelled," that generally there are persons travelling on board a steamboat, who may be termed " green," and although at home they appear to possess good common sense, yet when they go aboard a steamboat, there are so many strange sights, curious machinery, &c., they appear to be so much out of their element that ( to those on board who are daily accustomed to every thing pertaining to a boat,) they make themselves really foolish and troublesome. They are generally very inquisitive--ask ten thousand questions, and become extremely annoying, especially to the officers of the boat, and sometimes the strangest kind of answers are given to the different questions propounded, as the following scene will show :

The steamer Tobacco Plant was on her downward passage on the Missouri river.--She landed at one of the towns, where several passengers came on board, among them a stout athletic man, who observed as he came on board:

" Wal, I' ve got on tu one er these swimming allegators at last. I've hearn tell a good deal about these critters, and seen 'em running, but this is the first one I ever travelled on."

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This speech and the manner in which it was spoken created a little curiosity among the crew and passengers, and every one appeared anxious to explain to him the different curiosities of the boat. At last the customer thought he would like to command a boat--yes, he believed he " would make a first rate captain," and some mischievous wag told him that the Clerk was anxious to employ a commander, the one then commanding not suiting. Upon this intelligence the strangner forthwith accosted the Clerk.

" I'm told you want a Captain, sir, and as I have nothing perticlar to do, I reckon I'd as soon be a Captain as any thing else."

The Clerk, perceiving the game, followed suit, and answered as follows :

"Yes, sir, I want a Captain. I am about to discharge the one I now have--he don't suit me ; and if you and I can agree, as you have applied before any body else, you shall have the situation--'first come first serve.' "

" Wal, now," said the stranger, " I'm not much acquainted with a steamboat, but take me on land and I am thar--I've seen a good deal of the world--have been to Kentucky several times, and once to New Orleans, but I always went by land. But I suppose being a Captain is like every thing else--requires bravery, attention and a good understanding of human natur. Now, I've seen a good deal of the world and men--I driv stage wunst, and was a long time overseer on Col. Wheaton's plantation, but, Mr. Clerk, you must tell me a little about what a Captain has tu du, I want to know my duty thoroughly 'fore I commence you know."

" Yes," said the Clerk, " you must understand your duties well. The first thing a Captain--that is, my Captain--must do is, in the morning to see that the beds are well made, the berths well swept, and then call the roll of all the stewards, deck hands and servants, in order to see if any have been killed, or thrown overboard during the night, or if any are sick. Then

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he must consult me about breakfast and dinner--that is, if I am up and shaved--and if we have chickens or turkies in the coop, to count them and see that they are well fed, and see that every man on board does his duty, and never, when in port allow the chambermaid to go on shore without first leaving a lock of her hair, which must be deposited in the iron safe."

The stranger listened to this yarn with the greatest attention, believing it all gospel truth, and promised most sacredly strictly to comply with the rules.

It was not long before all on board, officers, passengers, and deck hands, were in the secret, and all played well their parts. Every hour the poor would-be-Captain grew more impatient to take command, and if he saw the Captain of the boat idle, or doing what appeared to him a little out of the way, he was sure to report the same to the Clerk, and urge his immediate discharge. The Clerk would apparently get in a great rage, curse the negligent Captain, and threatened to discharge him the moment he arrived in St. Louis.

" Wy, Mr. Clerk," said the stranger, " I seen that lazy, good-for-nothin' Captain of your'n sittin' up thar on the roof of the boat, laughin' and talking' with that tother man in the glass box, turnin' a wheel, and when I told him that his time was short, and that if he didn't look sharp he'd run on a log, and the boat would be tipped over,--he told me to ' go to the devil.' "

" He did!" said the Clerk. " Well, if that's the way he conducts himself--if that's the way he insults his is-to-be-successor--and if that's the way he neglects his duty, zounds ! I'll have him put ashore instantly--the scoundrel."

" Soon after this, the boat ' rounded to' for wood, and, as usual, the Captain went on shore to see if every thing was right. The stranger watched him close, and seeing that he did not assist the hands in ' toting' the wood on the boat, thought it was great negligence ; and, to show the Clerk that he would not be negligent in his duty, off with his coat and commenced ' lug-

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ging' in the fuel in good earnest. This of course created a great laugh, which enraged the hero to distraction--he cursed the Captain, the mate, and all hands.--The Clerk of course kept out of sight, and when the boat was again under way, the faithful candidate for the captaincy took particular pains to relate the whole proceedings to his supposed employer, urging at the same time the immediate discharge of that " rascally captain."

The Clerk, perceiving the poor man was getting highly excited, and that if the joke went much further that serious consequences might ensue, thought he would continue the game with the passengers, and according, with as grave a face as possible, said to his afflicted friend :

" Well, Captain, (by this time every body on board called the poor devil " Captain," [1]) I can see but one way for you to manage now ; you must call the passengers together, state to them your cause, and then request them to sign a petition recommending you to the captaincy of the Tobacco Plant ; don't be afraid now--take a bold stand and demand your right."

" Wal," said the stanger, " I reckon that it is the best course ; but how shall I get them together ?"

" O, tell the steward to ring the dinner bell."

" Steward ! steward ! you black rascal, ring the bell, and call the passengers together. Capt. ------- wishes to consult them on important business," vociferated the stranger in a very commanding tone.

" Hush up, old Snoodlepup," replied the steward, in a significant tone.

" What, you scoundrel, do you know who you are talking to ; you scoundrel, I'll let you know who I am ;" and collaring the steward, was about to flog the rascal, when the mate came up, and a general battle ensued, in which the poor " Captain" got a bloody nose, black eye, and his coat nearly torn off from his back. The clerk made it convenient to step up about this time,

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" Why, Captain, is it possible that I see you fighting? Have you so soon lost sight of the dignity of your station ? What will the passengers think ?" said the Clerk in a very solemn tone. [2]

During this controversy, most of the passengers assembled, [3] and all were making anxious inquiries if " Capt. ------ was injured ?"

The word was now whispered about for passengers to be seated, when all obeyed, when the Clerk informed the Captain that it was expected that he would then give the passengers a true history of his genealogy and of his life, and to be particular in stating all he knew about Fulton, steamboats, and steam saw mills, &c., and then ask them to sign a petition recommending him to the responsible station of master of the Tobacco Plant. Accordingly, he mounted a chair, and commenced his speech, and although the passengers interrupted him by asking foolish questions, and would break out in a roar of laughter, &c., still the infatuated Captain continued supposing the passengers were pleased with his remarks. After having repeated the tale some half a dozen times, the Clerk getting tired of the harangue, whispered to him, " You have said enough now--the passengers expect you to treat them, and then they will sign your petition." So elated was he, that he called for wine, and soon ran up a big bill, and the passengers had a glorious time of it. It was not long before the Captain got quite merry--in fact, dead drunk, and he was taken to his berth, where he lay till the next morning, when the Clerk waited upon the Captain, and apparently very sorry at the unfortunate affair, addressed him thus :

" Captain, are you aware of your behaviour last night ? You were drunk, sir, yes sir, beastly drunk--and it becomes my painful duty to inform you that I can't have a drunken Captain on my boat. Good morning, sir."

At this intelligence, the stranger, must chagrined--begged, apologized, and even cried--but all to no purpose--his prospects were blasted forever.

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By this time the boat had nearly reached St. Louis, and one of the passengers, out of kindness to the stranger, went to him, and told him the whole secret--the game that had been played upon him, and advised him to go into his berth, and there remain till after the boat landed, and then leave the boat with all convenient despatch.


Source: Southern and Southwestern Sketches: Fun, Sentiment, and Adventure. Edited by a Gentleman of Richmond. Richmond: J.W. Randolph, n.d. 145-150.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Original omits final quotation mark.
[2] Original ends sentence with a comma.
[3] Original replaces comma with a period.

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