The Savannah Steam Ship Company


The 1819 William Scarbrough House, Savannah, Georgia,

now the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

By 1818 the merchants of Savannah were familiar with the steam-powered commercial boats trading with Augusta, 200 miles up the Savannah River. Moses Rogers soon became acquainted with some of these merchants on layovers of his frequent trips with the steamboat Charleston, and none would be more important to him than William Scarbrough, the principal investor in the Savannah Steam Ship Company, a venture launched in the spring of 1818.

Its purpose was to acquire a ship on which a steam engine and paddlewheels would be installed, and to send her to Europe under the captaincy of the experienced Moses Rogers to demonstrate the viability of steam propulsion for ocean-going ships. 

The Savannah newspaper described the company's plans in some detail, noting that "It is perhaps no disparagement to the claims of others to say that captain Rogers combines in himself more qualifications and requisites for the successful issue of such an experiment, than almost any person to be met with."  (quoted in Frank Braynard's S.S. Savannah - The Elegant Steam Ship.) 

Moses soon returned to his New York haunts in search of a ship already under construction that would allow a steam engine and paddlewheels to be placed amidships. At the East River shipyard of Fickett & Crockett he found what he was looking for: a 320 ton, three-masted sailing packet, 109 feet long with a 25-foot beam, which he boldly bought prior to her launch.

Under Moses's direction the engine components were produced and assembled by three different ironworkers and manufacturers: these included the main engine casting, the boilers, the cylinder/piston assembly, the smokestack, and a host of smaller parts. Collapsible paddlewheels were fabricated that could be lifted from the water when not in use.

Many shareholders, including William Scarbrough, came to New York early in 1819 to observe the ship's fitting out and her East River trials. These took place in February and March, after which Moses took her down to Georgia to prepare for the Atlantic crossing.

Note:  The 1819 William Scarbrough mansion, a National Historic Landmark, has been occupied by Savannah's Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum since 1994. Among the models in its collection is a cutaway of the Savannah showing her inner workings.