Arkadelphia City [Steamboat]

The Arkadelphia City was a Ouachita River steamboat that suffered a disastrous boiler explosion on April 25, 1863, that killed six people.

The Arkadelphia City was a fifty-three-ton sternwheel paddleboat built by Tennison, Britton & Carpenter at New Albany, Indiana, in 1859 for the Arkadelphia Home Packet Company, using machinery salvaged from the steamer Joe Jakes. Owned by Captain T. R. Tennyson and Captain M. S. Carpenter, the vessel “was run regularly on the Ouachita River” under the command of Captain W. A. Britton.

On April 25, 1863, the Arkadelphia City was steaming on the Ouachita River near DeCeipher Shoals about twelve miles below Arkadelphia (Clark County) when it was “blown to pieces…by the bursting of her boilers.” The vessel’s mate, a Mr. Pierson, and five African American deckhands, two of them enslaved by A. H. Johnson, were killed in the disaster.

A contemporary article stated that “the boat is regarded as being a total wreck. Her loss will be seriously felt by the citizens of the upper Ouachita.”

A twentieth-century account stated that Captain Britton, his wife, and their baby were in the pilot house of the Arkadelphia City and were blown onto the shore by the force of the explosion: “The baby came down into the soft foliage of a willow tree and was not hurt,” while Britton and his wife suffered “painful but not serious injuries.”

The Arkadelphia City disaster is one of many examples of the dangers of steamboat travel in Arkansas waters in the nineteenth century, with boiler explosions also causing mass casualties on the Car of Commerce in 1828, the Rob Roy in 1836, the Persian in 1840, the St. Joseph in 1850, the J. Wilson in 1853, the Forest Rose in 1857, the Pennsylvania in 1858, the St. Nicholas in 1859, the Sultana in 1865, and the Miami in 1866.

For additional information:
“A Few Facts.” Southern Standard, March 18, 1909, p. 1.

“An Interesting Communication.” Southern Standard, March 25, 1909, p. 4.

“Loss of the Steamer Arkadelphia City.” Washington Telegraph, May 6, 1863, p. 1.

Halliburton, W. H. “Steamboats on the Ouachita.” Arkansas Gazette Magazine Section, October 11, 1942, p. 15.

Way, Frederick, Jr. Way’s Packet Directory. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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