Steamboat History

Steamboats Captains

Lives spent on the Lake
The steamboat captain was ultimately responsible for the safe operation of his vessel, as well as its crew, cargo and passengers.  Captains kept logs, or diaries containing records of wind, temperature water conditions and other elements of the operation of their vessel.  Some captains enlivened these logs with colorful accounts of daily activities; some simply kept factual records of weather conditions and cargo.
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Early Stereoscopic view depicting the ruins at Fort Ticonderoga, NY
Captain Ell Barnum Rockwell.

The Oldest Captain

Captain Ell Barnum Rockwell was born at North Hero, Vermont, on February 18, 1830.  At the age of 12, he began his career on Lake Champlain – first as a cabin boy on the schooner Cynthia.  He went on to serve on many of the lake’s sloops and schooners and was promoted to first mate on the steamboat Canada in 1853.

 

For the next 75 years Rockwell would serve on Lake Champlain, working for the Champlain Transportation Company and shipping companies as pilot, mate and captain. When he died in 1928 at the age of 98 years, he was believed to be the oldest steamboat captain in the world.

Captain Philomene Daniels and her boat, the Victor
The First Woman Captain
Born in 1843, the first woman licensed as a pilot for steamboats was Philomene Daniels, or "Captain Phil."  She worked alongside her husband Louis Daniels, Jr., as they ran  the "Daniels Boat Line" on Lake Champlain and on the Otter Creek.
 
Captain Louis Daniels operated the daily ferry, "The Water Lily", which ran between Vergennes, VT and Westport, NY.  When Philomene Daniels became the first licensed female steamboat captain in the United States, she had already acquired 10 years of experience working alongside her husband.  After gaining her license, she operated her own boat, "The Victor" to run excursions, allowing wealthy passengers from Vergennes and Westport to travel to New York City. The Daniels Boat Line stopped at all the summer resorts and private landings in the area.
 
When Captain Louis Daniels died in 1903, Philomene Daniels continued to run the business until her son, Mitchell, and his wife, Helen, took over.  She died in 1929.

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