The Crossing: From Savannah to Liverpool and Beyond

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The Savannah departed for Europe on May 22, 1819, and arrived in England at the mouth of Liverpool's River Mersey on June 20. The route is shown on this map from John Laurence Busch's Steam Coffin: Captain Moses Rogers and the Steamship Savannah Break the Barrier (2010).

The transatlantic crossing was apparently uneventful, but given the pioneering use of steam power to help make it across, it was extraordinary. By adapting a conventional sailing ship with a custom-built steam engine and cleverly designed collapsible paddlewheels, Moses Rogers "broke the barrier," as John Laurence Busch puts it, showing the world that humans were not destined to remain subservient to natural forces such as the winds, tides, calms and currents with which ocean-going vessels had contended since ancient times.

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The Savannah's Log Book, held at the

National Museum of American History

of the Smithsonian Institution

The log book of the voyage was kept by ship's master Stevens Rogers. Frank Braynard relates that there were actually two log books - the one pictured here, kept in an abbreviated style, and another written out in greater detail, perhaps in the evenings. Stevens is said to have given the detailed log to "an English nobleman" visiting New London years later, and its whereabouts are unknown.

By far the most interesting events of the Savannah's voyage took place after she reached Europe, starting with the month she spent at Liverpool, continuing to the Baltic Sea by way of Helsingor, Denmark, the time spent at Stockholm, and finally the experience in Russia, first at Kronstadt, a fortified town protecting St. Petersburg, then at St. Petersburg itself.  

Compared with the straightforward business of crossing the Atlantic in a more or less straight line until reaching Ireland, the second part of the story is convoluted, being a series of demonstrations and discussions between Capt. Rogers and a colorful cast of American, British, Swedish and Russian diplomats, government officials, aristocrats, the King of Sweden and the Tsar of Russia.  The basis of the scenario was Moses's intention to sell the ship to an interested government, but the matter was complicated by, and ultimately succumbed to, the economic depression in the United States and intractable financial problems in Europe. The Savannah had been unable to attract either passengers or cargo, and her owners knew they would have to sell her in order to recoup their investment. Apparently the most promising potential buyer was the tsarist Russian government, but it was not to be.

John Laurence Busch and Frank Braynard narrate the story in detail. When all hope of a sale had evaporated the Savannah started for home in early October, stopping at Copenhagen, Denmark, and Arendal, Norway, where she again generated excitement among her many observers. Copenhagen was a well known port of call; less familiar was Arendal. When Moses put in to its well protected harbor to take refuge from a gale, Arendal was Norway's biggest shipping town, with a merchant fleet "larger than that of Denmark" according to Dorling-Kindersley's history-oriented Norway guidebook. An impressive Town Hall, befitting a major port, had opened for business just six years before the Savannah arrived, and is today a carefully preserved architectural landmark.  

Leaving Arendal, Savannah crossed the North Sea to the Orkney Islands, sailed across the North Atlantic to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, then traveled southward in favorable winds along the east coast of the United States, tying up at her namesake city on December 1.  

The Crossing: From Savannah to Liverpool and Beyond