Jahaziel’s Two Worlds: The Hudson River and the Champlain Valley

By the Collections Team at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum 

Preface: This is the eighth story 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. 

The early 1820s were an active time for Jahaziel and the steamboat industry overall. Jahaziel’s expertise in steamboat design and construction was widely known and his services were in demand. After the hubbub around the 1822 smuggling scandal had died down, Jahaziel was invited back to the Hudson River in 1824 to supervise construction of a new steamboat. 

Image: Scene on the Hudson, 1850-1900. Unidentified maker. Oil on canvas, 24 x 31 5/16 in. Shelburne Museum Collection, Museum purchase, acquired from Maxim Karolik. 1957-690.18.

Jahaziel had left the Hudson River Valley in 1813 because the steamboat monopoly granted by New York State to Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston prevented competing steamboat companies from operating on the Hudson. But other steamboat investors and stakeholders fought to loosen those restrictions. Their efforts eventually reached the U. S. Supreme Court with the Gibbons vs. Ogden case. Chief Justice John Marshall handed down the landmark decision on March 2, 1824 to repeal the monopoly, ruling that states could not grant transportation monopolies that impeded interstate commerce. 

This ruling unleashed a boom for new steamboat companies. Jahaziel was hired by the New York-based Hudson River Steamboat Association to oversee the construction and launch of Chief Justice Marshall, named for the judge who made the favorable decision. Jahaziel’s eldest son, Richard W., took the helm for its maiden voyage on March 15, 1825, and signed on with the Association as Marshall’s captain. 

Image: Wedding of the Lakes with the Ocean. Benson John Lossing, Our Country, a Household History of the United States for All Readers, from the Discovery of America to the Present Time (New York, Johnson & Bailey, [c1895]) page 1331. New York State Library.

In early November that year, Chief Justice Marshall joined the procession of steamboats down river from Albany to celebrate the opening of the Erie Canal. The canal boat Niagara was towed astern, onlookers were regaled with martial music from the ship’s band, and celebratory blasts from rockets and “saluting guns” were discharged on the journey to New York Harbor. The Farmer’s Register of Troy, New York, jubilantly recorded on November 22, 1825, “To say that the Marshall was not surpassed by any boat in the line, high as the compliment is, would, perhaps, fall short of doing him justice.”  

After seeing Chief Justice Marshall and Richard W. off to a strong start, Jahaziel returned to the Champlain Valley late in 1826 to supervise the assembly of another – his fifth – Lake Champlain steamboat, Franklin. This time, he joined with the newest company on the lake, the Champlain Transportation Company (CTC), founded that year by a consortium of Burlington businessmen.  

Intent on outperforming the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company’s now-aging Congress and Phoenix II, the CTC directors were impressed with Jahaziel, who had just come from the cutting-edge Hudson River steamer market. As the new superintendent, Jahaziel oversaw construction of Franklin at the Company’s shipyard at Saint Albans Bay, Vermont.  

Image: Steamboat Franklin Postcard. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Collection. One of a series of postcards featuring the lake’s early steamboats published at Basin Harbor by the Winans Brothers in 1909, at the time of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration.

Launched on the last day of July in 1827, Franklin was the paramount Lake Champlain steamer in both luxury and engineering. Following the latest trends, Franklin offered more air and light by installing the ladies’ cabin on the main deck. The gentlemen’s cabin below decks was also greatly expanded – altogether there were sleeping quarters for eighty-four paying customers. Franklin’s boilers were mounted on the main deck’s guards, which better protected the hull and the passengers in the event of an explosion. The 75-horsepower low-pressure engine and modern paddle machinery and boilers made the Champlain Transportation Company’s inaugural steamer state-of-the-art. Franklin’s top speed of ten miles an hour was a new record on the lake, far outpacing the 45-horsepower engines of its competitor, Phoenix II.  

Jahaziel captained the vessel on its maiden voyage, September 29, 1827, and stayed at the helm through October and November of that year. When his son Richard W. finished his three-year contract aboard Chief Justice Marshall, Richard returned to the Champlain Valley to captain Franklin for the next nine years. 

The Champlain Transportation Company directors were pleased with Jahaziel and Franklin’s success, and elected him to the governing board at its first stockholder meeting in January 1828. At 58 years old, Jahaziel, who had ties to both of the major competing steamboat companies on the lake, took a break from commanding steamers. Four years would pass before Jahaziel began the final phase of his maritime career.