Important Message about LEARN NC

LEARN NC is evaluating its role in the current online education environment as it relates directly to the mission of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education (UNC-CH SOE). We plan to look at our ability to facilitate the transmission of the best research coming out of UNC-CH SOE and other campus partners to support classroom teachers across North Carolina. We will begin by evaluating our existing faculty and student involvement with various NC public schools to determine what might be useful to share with you.

Don’t worry! The lesson plans, articles, and textbooks you use and love aren’t going away. They are simply being moved into the new LEARN NC Digital Archive. While we are moving away from a focus on publishing, we know it’s important that educators have access to these kinds of resources. These resources will be preserved on our website for the foreseeable future. That said, we’re directing our resources into our newest efforts, so we won’t be adding to the archive or updating its contents. This means that as the North Carolina Standard Course of Study changes in the future, we won’t be re-aligning resources. Our full-text and tag searches should make it possible for you to find exactly what you need, regardless of standards alignment.

North River Steamboat

Robert Fulton's North River Steamboat, first launched in 1807. (From James Dabney McCabe, Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made (Philadelphia: George Maclean, 1871). More about the illustration)

A steamboat is propelled — not surprisingly — by steam, but that may seem impossible if your only experience with steam is watching it rise off a cup of cocoa. In a steamboat’s engine, wood or other fuel is burned to boil water, and the steam from the boiling water is forced through a small space to increase the speed at which it escapes (like releasing the valve on a pressure-cooker). The steam is then channeled into a closed cylinder, where it pushes a piston that turns a paddlewheel. The wheel’s paddles push against the water to propel the ship forward.

Inventors in Europe and America had been experimenting with steam-powered boats since the 1690s, but it was not until 1807 that the first commercially viable steamboat was introduced into the United States: the North River Steamboat,1 built by Robert Fulton, which successfully made the trip up New York’s Hudson River from New York City to Albany in thirty-two hours.

Not long after, the first steamboats appeared on North Carolina’s rivers. The Sea Horse of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was apparently first, steaming up the Roanoke River in 1818. That same year, the first steamboats were built in North Carolina. James Seawell built the Henrietta in 1817–1818 on his plantation near Fayetteville, and it began regular service on the Cape Fear River in October 1818. The Prometheus launched the same year, and when President James Monroe visited Wilmington in 1819, the Prometheus carried him to Smithville. As many as 100 different steamboats traveled North Carolina’s rivers between 1818 and 1861.2 Steamboats also worked the sounds and, by the 1830s, the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Because North Carolina’s rivers are not very deep, steamboats had to be built so that they could travel in shallow water. Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Washington all developed important shipbuilding industries that flourished until the Civil War.