Henry Miller Shreve
October 21, 1785 - March 06, 1851
Henry Miller Shreve was the ninth child of Israel Shreve and fifth by Mary Cokely, his second wife. Henry was born on the Rancocas Creek, Burlington Co., New Jersey
Colonel Israel Shreve, who maintained
lands for George Washington, sold land to Benjamin Martin in 1738. John F. Martin purchased land in Fayette Co. in 1731. The Shreve Family was associated with the Martin's in Fayette Co. PA. The British forces had complete control of New Jersey by the end of 1776. They ransacked and looted and burned the homes; including Col. Israel Shreves'. The British took over the farm and Israel moved to Fayette Co., PA around 1789.
When his dad, Israel died 1799, in Fayette Co., Pennsylvania, Henry began to make trading voyages by keelboat and barge down the Monongahela and Ohio rivers.
Many historians have called Henry Miller Shreve the "Master of the Mississippi," others refer to him as the "Father of the Mississippi Steamboat." Shreve was a native of Burlington County, New Jersey and grew up in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. From an early age, he loved the river. Its rippling waters offered the most natural, rapid form of transport. Henry began his career on the river by river working on keelboats in the Ohio and Mississippi valley. By his mid-twenties he was captaining his own vessel and transporting goods between New Orleans and various other Midwestern cities along the river. In 1807, Shreve made his first trip to St. Louis and landed his boat at the foot of Market Street. Shreve unloaded his goods at a warehouse operated by Auguste Chouteau, the city's most important business and civic leader. He was impressed by Chouteau, who was well-known throughout the Midwestern territories. By the time Shreve set off he knew he would return to St. Louis and, for the next three years, he operated a St. Louis-to-Pittsburgh fur trading business. During the War of 1812, he carried military supplies in support of Andrew Jackson's forces. His steamship Washington revolutionized transportation on inland rivers. Though many predicted the new steamship would fail, its shallow hu11 and deck-mounted engine allowed for easier navigation. Within a few years he had a fleet of steamships. In 1838, Shreve also patented the snagboat, a boat used to clear fallen trees and other debris that often clogged the rivers. Shreve's success on the river led to his 1827 appointment by President John Quincy Adams to Superintendent of Western River Improvements. He held that position for 14 years through both the Jackson and Van Buren administrations. His biggest accomplishment during this period was the removal of driftwood that blocked 160 miles of the Red River in Louisiana. In 1835, Henry helped establish a port in Louisiana and four years later, the town adopted the name Shreveport. The next year he purchased 300 acres of land four miles northwest of St. Louis, between what is now Euclid and Taylor avenues near Bellefontaine Cemetery. He retired there 1n his new home, Gallatin Place. He spent his time on his farm and he often returned to the riverfront to visit old acquaintances. In 1844, a great flood hit the area and the Mississippi River widened to six miles in some places. Steamboat traffic slowed to a crawl, much of the riverfront was underwater, and businesses that counted on the river suffered badly. Warehouses were flooded and merchandise was ruined. Shreve personally felt the effects of the flood as well as much of his farmhand at Gallatin Place was flooded and he could not plant the spring crop. During this time, Henry's wife Mary became ill and died February 25, at the age of 54. And though Henry initially was greatly distraught by the loss, a new housekeeper, by the name of Lydia Rodgers, brought a youthful vigor into the household and lifted the spirits of Shreve. The two were married within a year; she was 30 years his junior. They had a daughter, Mary, named after his first wife. With a new found purpose in life, Captain Shreve became more involved in civic leadership with his friend John O'Fallon. He was the leading authority on the steamship business and the river and his expertise was often called on to settle problems. He later took part in the expansion of the railroads into Missouri. In 1847 St. Louis became the first city west of the Mississippi to have a direct connection to the eastern cities via the telegraph. In the ceremony to open the telegraph service Shreve was chosen to send the first message, a greeting from St. Louisians to President Polk in Washington D. C. Two years later, the city's morale was greatly undermined by the disasters of 1849. Flooding hurt businesses on the riverfront and the Great Fire destroyed warehouses in the central business district, including those in which Shreve had a financial interest. Henry's granddaughter, Virginia, died of cholera on the same day the "Great Fire" began. That day also marked the beginning of the decline in Shreve's physical and mental health. He had his second and last child with Lydia later that year who brought him one of the final joys in his life. They named her Florence. Another wave of cholera hit 5t. Louis in 1850 and took two more of Shreve's grandchildren. The final blow came in January with the death of his daughter Florence. By March, weakened by his life's hardships, he was ready to die. From his home he could hear the faint sound of the steamboat whistles on the river. He is said to have remarked, "When it reaches you from somewhere in the distance, a steamboat whistle is the sweetest music in the world." Henry Shreve died peacefully on March 6, 1851 and was buried the same day. The Missouri Republican paid tribute to him the next day: He was for nearly forty years closely identified with the commerce of the West, either in flat-boat or steamboat navigation. His name has become historically connected with western river navigation, and will be cherished by his numerous friends throughout this valley. Shreve was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery quite near his Gallatin place estate. His first wife, Mary, was reinterred on his left. Lydia who outlived him by 41 years, is buried on his right. Also beside him is a small monument inscribed, "Amour Little Florie." The monument of his friend, John O'Fallon, towers behind him. His monument faces he river."
Bellefontaine Cemetery, St Louis,Missouri tombstone photos courtesy of Warren Shreve