The Comet was the first steamboat to go up the Arkansas River, arriving at Arkansas Post on March 31, 1820.
The Comet was built 1817, the second steamboat constructed at Cincinnati, Ohio. The 154-ton vessel featured a high-pressure, stern-wheel vibrating cylinder engine that had been patented by inventor Daniel French in 1809.
The Comet, under the command of a Captain Byrne, left New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 23, 1820, and headed toward Arkansas’s territorial capital at Arkansas Post. The journey of 149 running hours took eight days, and the vessel entered the mouth of the Arkansas River at noon on March 31. As night descended, the Comet ran aground on the bank of the river, which delayed its progress for two hours but caused no damage.
The Comet arrived at the Post, approximately fifty miles above the Arkansas’s junction with the Mississippi River, at 10:00 p.m. on March 31, and the Arkansas Gazette reported that “notwithstanding the lateness of the hour at which she arrived, many of our citizens assembled on the banks of the river, to testify their joy and greet her with a hearty welcome, on her approach to the landing.” The newspaper added that “it must certainly be gratifying to every citizen of this Territory, to learn that thus far the Arkansas affords no obstructions to steam-boat navigation.”
The Comet continued to ply the waters of the Mississippi River, returning to Arkansas Post in January 1821. The Post remained the highest point of Arkansas River travel until the steamboat Eagle arrived at Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1822.
The Comet sank after hitting a snag in 1823.
For additional information:
Arkansas Gazette, April 1, 1820, p. 3.
Biographical Sketch, Daniel French Papers 1796–1816, Indiana Historical Society. https://indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/daniel-french-papers-ca-1796-1816.pdf (accessed December 9, 2021).
Coleman, Roger E. The Arkansas Post Story: Arkansas Post National Memorial. Santa Fe, NM: National Park Service, 1987. Online at http://npshistory.com/publications/arpo/history/chap17.htm (accessed December 9, 2021).
History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio; Their Past and Present. Cincinnati: S. B. Nelson and Co., 1894, p. 281.
Hunter, Louis C. Steamboats on Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949.
Kane, Adam I. The Western River Steamboat, College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2004.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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