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The Packet Boat Marshall

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The Packet Boat Marshall

A painting of the Packet Boat Marshall at Andrew Jackson’s funeral

Packet boats were small boats designed for domestic mail, passenger and freight transportation on North American rivers and canals.  Used, starting in the 17th century in Europe, packet boats in the United States were drawn through canals by teams of two or three horses or mules.  Compared to overland travel, the boats cut journey time in half and were much more comfortable.

The finest packet boat to travel the James River and Kanawha Canal, ‘the Queen of the James’ cost between three and four thousand dollars. 90′ long by 14′ at the beam with an 11″ draft, she was solidly built with creosoted wood rib frames on 12″ centers inside a hand formed iron hull that measured 3/16th of an inch thick.  The cabin interior was paneled with Dominican Mahogany and divided into staterooms (separate for men and women) and a main dining salon which converted into an area for fold down sleeping berths at night and a kitchen in which to prepare meals.  The Marshall was able to transport up to 60 passengers at a time.  The Packet Boat Marshall carried passengers from Richmond to Lynchburg, charging $8 for the 33 hour trip.  It averaged four miles per hour.

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded, near Chancellorsville, VA on May 2, 1863.  His body was transported by train from Fredericksburg to Richmond to Gordonsville to Lynchburg.  The train arrived in Lynchburg, VA about 6:30 pm on the 13th of May at which time the remains were removed, placed in a hearse and a procession began to the Packet Boat Marshall Landing at Ninth Street and the Kanawha Canal (Behind what is now the Depot Grill Restaurant.).  The Packet Boat Marshall left Lynchburg about 10:00 pm for the final portion of the journey to Lexington, VA., Jackson’s final resting place.  This trip is what is most remembered about the Packet Boat Marshall.

In 1864, after being partially burned when General David Hunter’s army road through Lexington the Marshall was repaired.  General Robert E. Lee rode as a passenger in the late 1860’s.  In 1877 a flood breached the packet boat on the river bank above Lynchburg.  In 1900 Corbin Spencer came to own the beached packet and lived in it with his sister Mary.  In 1913 the Spencers survived a flood that washed away the wooden superstructure of the old packet.  In 1936 the metal hull of the Marshall was unearthed and prepared for placement in Riverside Park for Lynchburg’s Sesquicentennial.  Between 1970 and 2003 the remains of the Marshall hull lay neglected and exposed to the elements, resulting in severe deterioration.  In 2003 the Lynchburg Historical Foundation undertook steps toward the preservation of the deteriorating hull by building a roof over the artifact, which was followed by a structure to further protect the historical boat.

Packet Boat Marshall

The hull of the Packet Boat Marshall is stored in Riverside Park

Each June between 12-18 packet boats recreate the journey between Lynchburg and Richmond.  This reenactment demonstrates how the boats were used to transport tobacco and people between the two cities in the mid-1700’s until the late 1800’s.  If you would like to see the packet boats in the James River Batteau Festival this June, give us a call at 434-846-1388 to make your reservations now or book on-line.