The profession of the ferryman is embodied in Greek mythology in Charon, the boatman who transported souls across the River Styx to the Underworld.
Speculation that a pair of oxen propelled a ship having a water wheel can be found in 4th century Roman literature “Anonymus De Rebus Bellicis”. Though impractical, there is no reason why it could not work and such a ferry, modified by using horses, was used in Lake Champlain in 19th-century America. See “When Horses Walked on Water: Horse-Powered Ferries in Nineteenth-Century America" (Smithsonian Institution Press; Kevin Crisman, co-authored with Arthur Cohn, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum).
The first ferry service in the English North American colonies was established in Boston Harbor in the 1630s. The Massachusetts General Court put out bids for it. In the 1640s, several ferry routes in New York Harbor were first put into use. In the 17th Century, some ferries were Indian canoes operated by a tribe under a franchise negotiated as part of a peace treaty. After the turn of the 18th Century, white men began taking possession of desirable locations for ferries and pushed the Indians out of the trade. By the middle of the century, there might have been four hundred different services in operation, though not all of them were used daily.
This project is for our ancestors that were ferryman and ferry keepers as well as ferry owners and builders.
- LEWISTON (SILCOTT) FERRY - "William Craig" operated the first ferry at this site in 1861. He sold his boat to Theodore Schenk in 1864. Schenk soon after sold the business to "John Silcott", D. M. White, and E. C. Pearcy. Silcott left the partnership in the 1880's, but White and Pearcy continued as partners until they sold the operation to William Emerson in 1909. The ferry remained in business until the tolls were removed from the Lewiston-Clarkston bridge in 1913. At that time, the ferry was sold to John E. Boyer, who moved the operation to Truax.
- SWAN VALLEY FERRY - Established by the Higham brothers and William Hyde in 1885.
- CONANT VALLEY FERRY - Built at the upper end of Conant Valley on the south fork of Snake river in 1899. In 1900 L. Steele was granted a six-month renewal of his license to run a ferry across the south fork of the Snake River.
- LEWISVILLE FERRY - Located just north of Lewisville, the ferry was owned and operated by Clark and Swanson in July 1888.
- BIG BUTTE FERRY - In January 1888, H. Graehl & Co. "placed a good ferry boat on Snake River, about twelve miles above Market Lake making a direct route from Eagle Rock to Rexburg and the upper country."
- EAGLE ROCK FERRY - Eagle Rock Ferry was started in 1863 by Harry Rickard and William Hickman. In the summer of 1864, James Madison Taylorpurchased the property and located a stage station at the site.
- The first recorded ferry in Oregon was on the Willamette River near present-day Wheatland. This ferry was built during 1843–1844 and operated by "Jesse Applegate when he occupied the former Methodist Mission at Mission Bottom. Daniel Matheny later started the Wheatland Ferry in the 1850s around the same location.
- The Michel Laframboise Ferry operated on the Willamette running between Champoeg on the south bank and the north bank of the river.The ferry operated from 1850 to 1857.
- BOONE'S FERRY was operated, starting in 1847, by "Alphonso Boone", grandson of "Daniel Boone". This ferry remained in operation near Wilsonville until 1954, when a bridge was built over the Willamette near the ferry site.
- The ferry in Salem was started by "James White" in 1846. White later partnered with Salem founder William H. Willson. Captain White died in the explosion of the steamer Gazelle at Canemah on April 8, 1854. At one point, his widow became the sole proprietor of the ferry until she partnered with Jasper N. Matheny, whose family was involved with the ferry business at Wheatland. The widow White eventually sold out to Matheny, who later formed a partnership that included James N. Glover, the founder of Spokane, Washington. Ownership of the ferry company changed several times—at one point, ownership included judge Reuben P. Boise—until the Secretary of State declared the company defunct in 1905.
- HALL'S FERRY operated beginning in 1868 about six miles (10 km) south of Salem, and Halls Ferry Road still exists today. The ferry was started by "Isaac Leabo", who sold to it Benjamin Franklin (B. F.) Hall in either 1882 or 1884, when it became known as Halls Ferry.
- Robert Moore operated a ferry between Linn City and Oregon City beginning in 1849, and Hugh Burns also operated a ferry around that time at Oregon City.
Early Rhode Island Ferries
- CLARKE'S FERRY - So-called, for the reason that for many years it was in the possession of Samuel Clarke, was originally licensed May 4, 1700, to Thomas Winterton of Jamestown, who operated it for three years. In April, 1703, the franchise was secured by "Jonathan Marsh". August, 1709, there is evidence that "Robert Barker" obtained the franchise.
- ELLERY FERRY - Original owner was David Greene. Greene and his wife, Sarah, sold their ferry in July, 1752, to William Martin. The Martins conveyed this property to Benjamin Ellery of Newport, under date of April 16, 1770.
- HULL'S FERRY - "Capt. John Hull" of Jamestown was granted a license in 1756 to run a ferry from Long Wharf, Newport to the island, which, after passing through various hands, was finally purchased by Thomas R. Congdon.
- SLADE FERRY - Opened by William Slade in 1655.
- HOWLAND'S FERRY - "Daniel Howland"
- COLBERT'S FERRY - In 1789 Chief George Colbert operated the ferry across the otherwise uncrossable Tennessee. This ferry was located at the mouth of Bear Creek. It was the only crossing for the famed trade route the Natchez Trace, a former buffalo run.
- BLYTHE FERRY - Blythe Ferry was established by "William Blythe" and his Cherokee wife, Nancy Fields, around 1809. The ferry was an important river crossing on the "Great Road" between Chattanooga and Knoxville. Blythe sold the ferry in 1825.
- WASHINGTON FERRY - Established about 1807 by Conley Hastings.
- KINIGHT'S FERRY - In 1849, William Knight set up shop about twenty miles west of Sonora and literally a hop-and-skip over the conjunction of Stanislaus and Tuolumne Counties. Knight established a trading post and ferry service.
- PARROTT'S FERRY - Thomas H. Parrott operated a ferry service beginning in 1860 to connect the mining towns of Tuttletown and Vallecito.