The Filson Historical Society Digital Projects

Shantyboat Predecessors

Flat-Boat Life on the Ohio – Scene on a Boat at the Opening of Navigation

“My river is the Ohio, whose channel from the first has borne the dreams of men from the old and known to the new and strange.” Harlan Hubbard 

During frontier times, groups of pioneers and families were able to move quickly to settlements in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana by means of a keelboat or flatboat. These unpowered riverboats and barges transported both people and cargo downstream. The boats were long and cigar-shaped, often having one cabin on the 50 to 80-foot-long and 15-foot-wide deck. Once the group arrived at their destination of choice, the lumber composing the boat could easily be traded or utilized to build a home on the shore. In the years before the Civil War, this frontier family boat evolved into a shantyboat, which was likely a marriage of a downsized flatboat hull and shotgun house.

Cincinnati, Ohio, im Jahre 1800, 1888

Emigrants Passing Down the Ohio, 1883