The “Virginia” is the first steamboat to reach Fort Snelling. Needed supplies are missing from the cargo, though the boat does carry the umbrella-wielding Italian count Giacomo Beltrami.*
Today’s meditation is on the relevance of the arrival of steamboats in the state of Minnesota. For the author, the practical is spiritual, and often the super-normal is the basis of the super-natural. Therefore, if I want to hear what my Good Father is saying to me today, I may have to slow my thoughts to the speed of a paddle-wheeler headed upstream. That said, below is a succinct general history to amplify this event:
“As early as the 17th Century a handful of explorers, hardy French voyageurs, and missionaries had ventured into the environs of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. Through a variety of relationships that included cooperation, intermingling, and competition with the native inhabitants of the region, several temporary encampments and forts had been established to support the lucrative fur trade. But most historians agree that nothing changed the frontier as quickly as steam transportation.
In April, 1823 the small steam packet Virginia backed out into the channel of the Mississippi from the St. Louis levee to become the first boat to ascend the Father of Waters into what would later become the Minnesota Territory. This remarkable journey was chronicled by Giacomo Constantine Beltrami, the Italian explorer who went on to play an important role in Minnesota history. A Kentucky family en route to the lead mines of southern Wisconsin on board the 118-foot vessel represented the first trickle of what would soon become a deluge of immigration. Also on board the Virginia for this historic trip was Captain William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805.
Imagine the contrast of traveling in the relative ease and comfort of this sturdy little boat given his experience of just a few years earlier.” **
There is much here to ponder: the new technology of the steamboat, how this technology changed history, and what timeless truths can we grasp from it? Lord of Mighty Rivers hear my simple thoughts and prayers.
Strong Creator, thank You for the scientific properties of water. It’s truly amazing! It’s like Your character, it can appear as ice, liquid, or steam, yet it is always the same substance. You put it into Your creative children to harness this transitional power for the betterment of humankind. Which of their ancestors would imagine that one day their boiling tea kettle would power massive loads upstream against the might of the Mississippi?
Here is my first confession and petition. Lord forgive our lack of imagination, both for ourselves, and for the dreams of others. May we practice to spur this generation to dream, and to the enjoyable discipline necessary to their fulfillment. May we be a voice of encouragement that pushes others to defy the current! Thank You for the symbolic value of the lonely Virginia moving slowly to its destination!
Next, new technology often makes the impossible possible, and the impractical practical. Again, who in the 18th century would think that their steaming iron maple syrup pot could actually become a boiler? And that that boiler would have the power to move unthinkable payloads up and downstream? And that those payloads would enable trade and previously unimaginable lifestyle for the average American?
We, in the 21st century, have the luxury to throw away old socks and t-shirts. Cotton products have become so accessible they are practically disposable. We do not know or remember that our ancestors may have experienced the incredible comfort of cotton articles from the South for the first time because of this steamboat’s success. Conversely, those in the South were likely amazed at the beautiful white flour Minnesota could send them so affordably.
Lord, we don’t often pause to remember what it’s like to do without. We do not see the masterful design of a plain white cotton t-shirt, or ponder that in past generations, it was a garment fit for a king. Or that the greatest chefs of Paris were astounded at the silky wheat flour from some unknown place called Minnesota. It was “Incroyable”!
Incredible Dreamer, thanks that You are not offended by our inventions! Thanks that this steamboat enabled Beltrami to better share his discoveries with a much wider audience. Ultimately, thanks that You take pleasure in our discoveries! May this river valley yield new discoveries and discoverers who make the impossible possible! (Just like You!)
*Note – PrayThroughHistory uses the timeline located for several years at the Minnesota Historical Society Web site, at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm . The current URL is www.dipity.com/Minnesota/History/Minnesota-History/ and only works if typed, not pasted, in browser. It is worth the effort!