in North Carolina
The earliest steamboat to ply the North Carolina waters apparently was the Sea Horse in 1818, followed closely by the Steamer Norfolk. The first steamboat built in North Carolina was the Henrietta, constructed in Fayetteville and launched April 1818. However, the Prometheus, also
| built in 1818 (Swansboro),
began service first.
North Carolina rivers always posed problems with their shallow waters, especially beyond the tide water areas. Operating in the coastal portion of the Cape Fear River, the Prometheus could sail as soon as ready, while the Henrietta was held up due to low water.
A complete listing of merchant (passenger and freight) steamboats working North Carolina rivers can be accessed by clicking on these hyperlinks,
Steamers in North Carolina from 1812 to 1849 (click link)
Steamers in North Carolina from 1850 to 1860 (click link)
Steamers in North Carolina from 1861 to 1880 (click link)
Steamers in North Carolina from 1881 to 1899 (click link)
as well as a list of early steamboat companies and lines.
Click here for an alphabetic listing of 19th Century Steamboats.
For this site, steamships are considered a separate category. Steamships were generally ocean-going vessels with a combination of sails and a steam engine(s), propelling side wheels or screw drives. In the future, this web site will also list steamships arriving and debarking from North Carolina ports.
Transportation always posed problems for residents of North Carolina. Barrier islands and limited rivers with poor navigation were just a couple
of problems faced by farmers and businessmen.
North Carolina rivers are generally not very deep, leading to development of steamboats that could draft over the numerous shallows. Plus there were many efforts to keep rivers dredged and occasionally building locks to increase river depths or circumvent rapids.
The first steamboats concentrated in the Wilmington area, the state's best port. Steamboats could go up the Cape Fear River as far as Fayetteville, which boomed as a market city in the early 35 years of the 1800s.
Wilmington also was a port of call for many of the ocean-going steamships traveling between Charleston, SC, and ports up the East Coast.
Steamboats also started working the sounds behind the Outer Bank, and later in the late 1820s and 30s the Dismal Swamp Canal from the sounds to Norfolk/Portsmouth, VA.
A significant shipbuilding industry was created in Fayetteville, Wilmington and Washington, NC. The heyday of steamboating was from 1818 to the Civil War, although steamboats continued to operate in North Carolina into the first two decades of the 20th Century.