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From: "Roger E. Kammerer" <>
Subject: [NC-PCFR] Greenville Times Article...Early Steamboats on ContentneaCreek
Date: Sat, 16 Jul 2011 03:17:01 +0000




Early Steamboats on Contentnea Creek

Contentnea Creek,
formerly known as "Moccasin River," is a tributary of the Neuse River
and is as crooked as the reptile after which it was named. The creek passes
through the fertile counties of Wilson, Greene, Pitt, and Lenoir counties,
draining the exceedingly fertile country into the Neuse River below Grifton. Near the mouth of the Contentnea Creek are what were
called "The Narrows," where watermen contended with an army of tall
cypress, large gums and overhanging limbs. Its
navigation was confined to only slow and monotonous blunt-headed, clipper built
flat-boats and rafts of timber, until the advent of steamboats in 1877. It was said the Contentnea Creek had a
reliable 3-foot depth of water, and more during the eight or nine
"freshet" months of the year, as high as the town of Stantonsburg.
After the arrival of steamboats, the problem of enough water continued and
these "Line boats" would often meet flats coming down from Snow Hill
and Hookerton at Grifton and Jolly Old Field on the Neuse River.

The placing
of steamboats on the Contentnea Creek started with Cicero M. A. Griffin
(1828-1892) a merchant and mill man at Bell's Ferry, Pitt County, for whom the
town of Grifton is named. The story began in the fall of 1876, when Capt. W. T.
Taylor and Chauncey Gray, both of Kinston, conceived of the idea of placing a
screw propelled steam flat boat on the Neuse River and Contentnea Creek. They
made contracts for lumber, but not being supplied in time, they were induced to
examine an old flat boat that was up for repairs and re-bottoming at Bell's
Ferry, belonging to Cicero M. A. Griffin. Taylor and Gray concluded to buy the
flat boat, but instead went into co-partnership with Griffin to fit the flat
into a steam flat for navigating Contentnea Creek and Trent River. Capt.
Taylor, a machinist and engineer, manufactured the machinery at Kinston, and
placing it in the flat, had her towed to New Bern where a Mr. Edwards prepared
the boiler. The steam flat was completed in March 1877 and was christened the
"Contentnea." The steam flat Contentnea ran on a trial trip up the
Trent River to Trenton, Jones County and then up the Contentnea Creek to Snow
Hill, where she was heartily greeted by the people of the town and vicinity for
being the first steamer to visit Snow Hill.

In the
summer of 1877, Cicero M. A. Griffin
spent a large sum of money cutting a canal from Contentnea Creek to the Neuse
River, a distance of over a quarter of a mile. This cut off several miles for
his steam flat from the old route to Hookerton and Snow Hill. In October 1877,
the Contentnea left Hookerton loaded with cotton and accidently struck a post
at Edward's Bridge, which caused her to turn broadside against the bridge and
sink. She was raised and repaired.

In Dec.
1878, Messers Gates, Foy & Co., of New Bern acquired a fourth interest in
the Contentnea and in August 1879 the owners built a house and upper works on
her, transforming the flat into a little screw steamboat with a saloon and
passenger accommodations. It was said the screw propellers kept the creek
channel open, while the stern wheelers did not. The steamboat Contentnea, Capt.
W. T. Taylor, of the Clyde Line, which was said to glide over the thousands of
logs like a "terrapin," continued to run on the Contentnea River
until 1885, when the Contentnea was retired by the Neuse and Trent River Steamboat Co. and was broken up in New Bern in
January 1887.

In June
1879, it was reported that Capt. J. M. Corskadden of Hookerton was building a
flat boat 80 ft. long and planned to put a steam engine in her.

On Nov. 4,
1879 the Trent River Transportation Company was formed consisting of Cicero M.
A Griffin of Bell's Ferry, Chauncey Gray of Kinston, J. C. Whitty of
Pollocksville, Capt. W. T. Taylor, C. E. Foy, Thomas Gates and F. M. Simmons of
New Bern. Capital stock was $3,000. The steamboat Contentnea proved a success
for the company and in 1881 the company decided to build a new and better
steamboat, the "Trent."

After Gen.
Ransom cleaned out the Contentnea Creek to Snow Hill in 1881-82, navigation on
the creek began to expand. In 1881, John
Patrick of launched his flat boat, "The Hannibal," with a carrying
capacity of 200 bales of cotton. It made regular trips between Hookerton and
New Bern. In 1882, Capt. B. T. Webb built a new stern wheel steamboat named the
"Snow Hill." It had a Eclipse engine and could carry 100 bales of cotton. It was said that Capt. Webb had no difficulty
making most of the bends at 10 knots an hour. In Dec. 1882 the steamer Robert
E. Lee, Capt. Benders, arrived in New Bern from Snow Hill with 121 bales of
cotton.

On March 12,
1883, subscribers from Snow Hill and Hookerton formed a Company entitled
"The Farmers' and Merchants' Steamboat Company of Snow Hill." They
purchased the Sbt. Snow Hill from Capt. Webb of Kinston and hired him to
captain the boat. They also began steps to construct another boat larger and
better equipped than the Sbt. Snow Hill. The Sbt. Snow Hill, of the Red Line,
burned at Street's Ferry in January 1885.

In November
1883, the Sbt. Carolina, Capt. B. T. Webb, arrived in Kinston. She was described
as light draught, swift running, easily handled and sets on the water like a
"duck." She was on the New Bern to Snow Hill Line. By 1887, Sbt.
Carolina of the Red Line, the Sbt. Blanche and the Sbt. Kinston of the N. &
T. S. Line made periodic runs to Bell's Ferry, Snow Hill and Hookerton.

In Oct.
1888, the Sbt. L. A. Cobb was launched at Bell's Ferry and was built for
Messers. Cobb & Pittman Brothers (L. A Cobb and Robert E. Pittman and
brother Ellis Pittman) to run between Snow Hill and New Bern. The Cobb was a
stern-wheel, flat bottom boat 84 ft. long, 16 ft. wide on the bottom and 21 ft.
across the deck.. In 1892 it was remarked that the Steamer Cobb made enough
noise with her side exhaust pipes to awaken the dead in the National Cemetery.

With the
advent of the railroad in 1890, Grifton took on a life of its own. The river
bustled with trade as steamboats like the L. A. Cobb, Howard, Laura, Uncle Sam,
Blanche, Snow Hill, Nellie W., Nannie B., Pearlie May and Phillips, carried
goods and guano in and out of the port of Grifton. Two favorites, the steamboat
Carolina, Capt. David Styron, and the steamboat May Bell, Capt. R. E. Pittman,
were well known along the Grifton waterfront.

The river eventually silted up and transportation costs spelled the end to steamboats. Until World War I, a few steamboats continued to make the trip up the Contentnea Creek to Snow Hill carrying goods and fertilizer.


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