New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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1897 The Great Steamboat Race

The race between the Robt E. Lee and the Natcheztook place 30 June 1870 between the Robt E. Lee I, captained by owner Capt John W. Cannon of New Orleans and the Natchez VI, captained by owner Capt. Thomas P. Leathers.

The Rob't E. Lee was a 285.5 foot wooden hulled sidewheel steam packet built at the DeWitt yard in New Albany, Indiana in 1866. The Natchez VI was a 301 foot sidewheeler built in Cincinnati in 1869.

Earlier in June 1870, theNatchez set a time from New Orleans to St. Louis of 3 days, 21 hours and 58 minutes, breaking an old record set by the riverboat J.M. White in 1844. This set up the confrontation with the Robt E. Lee: Capts Leathers
and Cannon being rivals of a sort.

The race began at 4:55 pm on 30 June 1870. Fog was encountered on the trip, which seemingly affected theNatchez in particular. The Rob't E. Lee arrived in St. Louis at 11:25 pm on 4 July 1870, 6 hours and 36 minutes ahead of Natchez, having set a new record of 3 days, 18 hours and 14 minutes. The Rob't E. Lee
pilots on this run were James Pell, George Clayton, Enoch King and Jesse Jameson. Most accounts say this record was never beaten, but one account says that Capt Anthony Medine, who had been on board the Robt E. Lee as a child of eleven during the race, beat the Robt E. Lee's record between New Orleans and Vicksburg aboard a later incarnation of the J.M. White.

Some accounts, such as one in The Wheeling Register, Monday, March 31, 1897, claimed that the Rob't E. Lee had refused all freight and passengers and stripped the boat of doors and windows to lighten it for the race. This account also claimed that the boats were never in sight of one another. Other accounts disagree (see links

Steamboat river race:

First Day Cover: < FONT


Clock from Rob't E. Lee:href="" orear045.htm?

Info on Rob't E. Lee:

Closeness of the boats: < FONT

Somewhat fictionalized account by Pell descendant:

Obituary of Capt Anthony Medine: