By the Collections team at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
Preface: This is the sixth in a blog series about Vergennes resident and steamboat captain Jahaziel Sherman. This series is based on the Museum’s digital exhibit Jahaziel Sherman of Vergennes, Steamboat Pioneer, which is free for all to explore online. We’ll be sharing more stories on Jahaziel and his work frequently; follow us on Facebook or Instagram for the next post.
As the second steamboat launched by the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company, Jahaziel’s Champlain was the poster child for an essential part of steamboat construction: recycling! With so few steamboats in existence at this early time, reusing parts of disabled or retired vessels was essential and common. Jahaziel purchased the salvaged engine and boilers from the Winans brothers’ disabled Vermont and hired the brothers to construct Champlain for the 1816 season.
Image: James Belton, U.S. Naval Fleet on Lake Champlain, ca. 1817. Watercolor on paper, 4 3/16 x 6 1/2. Shelburne Museum Collection, Museum purchase, 1957-691.1. Jahaziel Sherman’s Phoenix and Champlain were the only steamboats in operation on Lake Champlain in 1817, so it is likely that the boat in the foreground of Belton’s watercolor is one of these.
The following year, the Vermont engine was replaced with the original engine from Phoenix (itself secondhand from the Hudson River steamboat Perseverance), which boosted the speed of Champlain from four to six miles per hour. When the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company announced the new engine in April 1817, they boasted that Champlain (and the Company’s other vessel in operation at the time, Phoenix) will have “greater speed than any other Steam Boats now in operation” – a big plus for Champlain Valley residents and tourists who could now travel over water more quickly than ever before.
Image: Phoenix & Champlain, Lake Champlain Steamboat Company Poster, April 30, 1817 (detail). Ogden Ross, Steamboats of Lake Champlain.
Champlain and its sister steamboat Phoenix were the only steamers on the lake during the 1817 season. They left from opposite ends of the lake each Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, carrying both passengers and freight “at regular sloop prices.” Champlain offered the full Whitehall to Saint John’s run at just $9, while for ports in between the Company offered “passengers could pay one dollar for every fifteen miles – no one can be taken on board or put on shore, however short the distance, for less than one dollar…”
Image: Whitehall, NY – Construction of Lock No. 12, Champlain Canal, 1906. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Collection
Champlain only served the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company for two seasons – 1816 and 1817 – before burning at the Whitehall dock in September 1817. The cause of the fire remains unknown, and will likely always be a mystery. The Whitehall waterfront was altered and dredging removed obstructions to navigation several times during the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century, these practices continued as the city prepared to open the Champlain Canal. Champlain’s wreckage has never been located or identified by nautical archaeologists.
Although Champlain’s life was a short chapter in Jahaziel’s steamboat construction period, the engine from Champlain moved on to a third career when Jahaziel installed it in the first steamboat on nearby Lake George, Caldwell.
Image: Steamboat Caldwell on Lake George (detail), Russell Bellico: Sails and Steam in the Mountains