Henry Miller Shreve

Is your surname Shreve?

Research the Shreve family

Henry Miller Shreve's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


Henry Miller Shreve

Birthplace: Columbus, New Jersey, United States
Death: Died in St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Place of Burial: St. Louis, Missouri
Immediate Family:

Son of Colonel Israel Shreve and Mary Shreve
Husband of Lydia Shreve and Mary Shreve
Father of Mary Hutchinson and Florence Shreve
Brother of Esther Briggs; George Greene Shreve; Rebecca Blair Moorehead; Benjamin Shreve; Mary McMillin and 1 other
Half brother of John Shreve; Elizabeth Shreve; Israel Shreve, Jr.; Sarah Shreve and Keziah Stevens

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Henry Miller Shreve

Henry Miller Shreve became famous (he's in modern day encyclopedias) for devising & building a shallow-draft boat with high pressure engines. He was the stockholder and skipper of the second steamboat on the Mississippi River; he established the practicability of steam navigation of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. He was Superintendent of Wester river improvements (1827-1841); designed first snag boat to clear river debris and founded work camp (1835) later known as Shreveport, La.(1839).

Shreveport is named after is co-founder, Henry Miller Shreve, who in 1833 laboriously removed a 160 Mi log jam of driftwood blocking navigation on the Red River. Shreveport became the confederate capital of Louisiana during the Civil War 1863-1865.


Henry Miller Shreve was a steamboat captain and inventor who is noted for performing much-needed clearance work on America’s major river systems during the first half of the nineteenth century. This work included using his own specially designed snag boat to clear large obstructions from the Arkansas River between Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and Little Rock (Pulaski County), greatly aiding steamboat travel and trade in the state of Arkansas.


BRIEF BIOGRAPHY: Henry Miller Shreve was born in NJ, but moved to Fayette Co., PA in 1788, where his father purchased a grist mill from George Washington. The piece of land was called Washington's Bottoms. Henry M's father died when Henry was fourteen. He had to assume a heavy responsibility and shortly became self-reliant and sturdy. He longed to follow the boatmen who sailed past the farm on their way to New Orleans.

When he was not yet twenty-two years old, he built at Brownsville, Fayette Co., on the Monongahela River, a barge of 35 tons. In forty days time after leaving Pittsburgh, he with his crew of ten men, made it to St. Louis in December 1807. He purchased a cargo of furs which he sent though Pittburgh to Philadelphia.

In 1810, Shreve engaged in a new enterprise, that of breaking into trade with the Indians, a practice previously monopolized by the British. He expanded this business to include trading lead in the upper Mississippi River tributaries (Galena, IL). This was the beginning of the American lead trade.

He returned to Brownsville and married Mary Blair on 28 Feb 1811. Two children were born to the couple.

In 1810, he built at Brownsville a barge of 95 tons and plied a thriving trade between Pittsburgh and New Orleans and continued this for four years. Each voyage was attended with extreme danger and required excessive toil. Each voyage was also expensive and required six months to complete. The barge would float down the river quietly, but many times the progress was impeded by snags, planters and sawyers. A barge struck by a sawyer goes down in a moment. In ascending the river, "cordelle" was used, and this required the employment of trained men who dragged the boat by main force.

Shreve noted the advent of Fulton's "New Orleans" in 1812. The small vessel could not navigate the river above Natchez. Shreve determined to solve the problem of the steamboat's inability to travel against the current of the Mississippi River.

After becoming a stockholder in a Brownsville shipbuilding company and becoming manager, he determined to build a small boat of 45 tons, built on a patent by French. He was absent on a trip to New Orleans when this boat was launched. Later, he was in command of the Enterprise, his first steam vessel. For a time, Shreve and Fulton contested the right to ply the Mississsippi with steamboats.

During the War of 1812, he made several strategic trips, one of which concerned itself with running a British battery on the bank of the Mississippi, nine miles below New Orleans. The purpose of the journey was to bring supplies to Fort St. Philip. Shreve had the side of the vessel most exposed to gunfire by the enemy coverred with cotton bales. By midnight, a dense fog covered the river and screened all objects from view. Shreve put his vessel in motion under a slow head of steam with muffled wheel, enjoining the strictest silence upon the crew. His ploy was successful and he returned the same way, with only a few spent balls reaching the protecting cotton bales.

A friendship grew between General Jackson and Shreve as a result of this exploit, even though Shreve had flaunted Jackson's authority on one notable occasion.

On May 6, 1815, he managed to ascend the river, the first steam vessel that ever performed the voyage. About this time, Shreve moved his family to St. Louis where the couple had the misfortune to lose a child, still an infant.

In 1816, he built the first "two-decker" driven by a "double high pressure engine". This boat was named the Washington. She was in every detail, unlike any other steam vessel ever known. He managed to make the trip in record time.

The nineteenth boat, the Ohio, 443 tons, was built at New Albany, IN, in 1818 by Shreve and Blair. The twentieth boat, the Napoleon, 322 tons, was built by Shreve, Miller and Breckenridge of Louisville. He continued to improve his boats. All steamers then in use were constructed like sea-vessels and drew too much water for river navigation. Steamboat building grew rapidly in these years because many passengers were moving westward. He built another boat by the name of Washington in 1824, constructed upon a new model which continued in use for fifty years.

Some of his partners had refused to engage in the experiment on the ground that the boat would be top heavy, but he proved to them by mathematical calculations that he was right. This boat constructed with side wheels to be worked by separate engines, was completely under the control of the pilot and could make a sudden turn in the river or be managed as easily as a skiff with oars. Shreve had to endure much ridicule while this boat was being built; but for some years after her appearance, people would travel in none other than a Shreve model.

Starting in 1824, Shreve worked closely with the government on a new project. This was to free the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from snags, sawyers and planters. He held a position of Superintendent of Western River Improvements from late 1826 until 1841. His first snag-boat, the Helipolis, was at work by July 22, 1829.

He also figured in the first attempt to carry mail in steamboats with the use of his boat named the Post Boy.

In 1832, Shreve was commissioned to proceed to the Red River for the purose of removing the Great Raft, the afore-mentoned tangle of floating timbers and debris. His camp for workmen later became Shreveport, LA.

By 1848, Shreve was present at another "first." This time it was his message sent by telegraph from the banks of the Mississippi to the President of the United States on the tide waters of the Atlantic.

Prior to this time he had purchased a plantation in St. Louis County. He had married a second time, a Miss Lydia R. Rogers and in 1841, he turned to improving agriculture. He died in 1851 and is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery, near St. Louis, MO



Henry Miller Shreve (October 21, 1785 – March 6, 1851) was the American inventor and steamboat captain who opened the Mississippi, Ohio and Red rivers to steamboat navigation. Shreveport, Louisiana, is named in his honor.

Shreve was also instrumental in breaking the Fulton-Livingston monopoly on steamboat traffic on the lower Mississippi. He was the first riverboat captain to travel the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and back, as well as the first to bring a keelboat from the Ohio River up the Mississippi to the Fever River in Illinois. Shreve also made significant improvements to the steamboat and the steam engine, such as separate boilers to power side paddlewheels independently, horizontal cylinders, and multiple decks to allow for passengers and entertainment.

Early life

Shreve was born to Israel Shreve, a Quaker who had served with honor in the American Revolution, and the former Mary Cokely at Mount Pleasant, the family homestead near Columbus in Burlington County, New Jersey. On July 7, 1788, the Shreves left New Jersey for their new home on property owned by George Washington in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Young Henry's new home was close to the Youghiogheny River near the present day borough of Perryopolis. After his father's death in 1799, Shreve served on several riverboats to help support his family. After purchasing his own boat Shreve began trading between Brownsville, Pennsylvania, where he resided, and ports as far away as New Orleans. On a voyage in 1814, Shreve's barge was registered at New Orleans on February 11. After his boat was loaded with cargo, Shreve and crew hauled and poled the vessel 2,200 miles against strong river currents, probably reaching Brownsville before July, 1814.

The Enterprise

A group of Brownsville investors had formed a stock company, the Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company, to conduct steamboat commerce on the Western rivers. To this end, the company commissioned a new steamboat to be constructed at Brownsville. During the winter and spring of 1814, while Shreve was on the voyage to New Orleans, the Enterprise, with an engine and power train designed and built by Daniel French, was constructed. Between June and December 1814, the Enterprise, under the command of Israel Gregg, made two successful voyages transporting passengers and cargo to ports between Brownsville and Louisville, Kentucky. By December, the company had decided to send the Enterprise to New Orleans with a cargo of munitions for General Andrew Jackson's troops to defend the city against an invasion by British forces. Command of the Enterprise was transferred to Henry Shreve because of his firsthand knowledge of the hazards to navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The Enterprise departed Pittsburgh on December 21, 1814 with the munitions. The Enterprise passed the Falls at Louisville on December 28, 1814. The Enterprise arrived at New Orleans on January 9, 1815.

After the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans, a lawsuit was brought by the heirs of Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston against Shreve and the owners of the Enterprise for violating the formers' monopoly against any unauthorized navigation of Louisiana waters by steamboat. Soon after being released from jail, Shreve commanded the Enterprise from New Orleans to Louisville, the first time a northbound steamboat was able to reach that city. Then he navigated the Enterprise to Pittsburgh and finally to her homeport of Brownsville. This long and difficult voyage by the Enterprise, more than 2,200 miles against the currents of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, demonstrated the ability of steamboats to navigate the western rivers.

The Washington

Shreve and four partners commissioned George White to build a new steamboat, named the Washington, at Wheeling, Virginia (later West Virginia). The engine and drive train of the Washington were built by Daniel French at Brownsville. The Washington was first launched in 1816. It was the first steamboat with two decks, the predecessor of the showboats of later years. The main deck was used for the boiler, and the upper deck was reserved for passengers.

Shreve, for the second time, piloted a steamboat to New Orleans where he once again was sued by the heirs of the Fulton-Livingston monopoly. Shreve took the Washington from New Orleans to Louisville and returned to the Crescent City on March 12, 1817. Shreve and several counterparts were subjected to lawsuits initiated by the monopolists. On March 25, Shreve departed New Orleans and piloted the Washington upriver. He reached Louisville in twenty-five days, equal to the record set by the Enterprise nearly two years earlier. On April 21, Judge Dominic C. Hall declared that the court did not have jurisdiction and hence dismissed all of the suits. This decision eliminated any enforcement of the Livingston-Fulton monopoly in Louisiana courts. Hall's decision and the Washington's recent voyage from New Orleans to Louisville heralded the forthcoming steamboat era on the western rivers.

Clearing the Great Raft

The American rivers were still difficult to navigate, however, because of the presence of dead wood called snags, sawyers, or log jams. Shreve was appointed Superintendent of Western River Improvements in 1826 and charged with finding a solution to this problem. He had been working on a design for a "snagboat" since 1821, and he finally had it built in 1837. This craft, the Heliopolis, had a steam-powered windlass used to pull large concentrations of dead wood from the water. As a result of the success of his design, Shreve was ordered in 1832 by Secretary of War Lewis Cass to clear the Great Raft, 150 miles of dead wood on the Red River. Shreve successfully removed the Raft (despite inadequate funding) by 1839. The area of the Red River where the Raft was most concentrated is today his namesake city of Shreveport. Shreve helped to establish Shreveport via the Shreve Town Company. In 1841, Shreve was relieved of his superintendent's duties by the nominally Whig U.S. President John Tyler. He hence retired to his farm near St. Louis.

Later life

Shreve was twice married. There were three children from his first marriage to the former Mary M. Blair on February 28, 1811, and two children from his union with the former Lydia Rogers of Boston. Shreve spent his final years with his daughter Rebecca's family in St. Louis. He died in the home of his son-in-law, Walker Randolph Carter, and is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

view all 34

Henry Miller Shreve's Timeline

October 21, 1785
Columbus, New Jersey, United States
November 1811
Age 26
Pennsylvania, United States

Henry Miller becomes owner of a keelboat. He makes first fur-trading voyage to St. Louis, MO.