On the Flat-Boat
Works for Mr. GentryA Flat-boat Trip to New Orleans proposedAccount of FlatboatingConsent of Parents to goHis Mothers ApprehensionsPreparationsTalk with Miss Roby on AstronomyWhat She thought Forty Years AfterThe Trip describedA Rough LifeA Bloody Contest with Madame Bushane's SlavesThe SequelThe Trip successfulReturn Home
On the 1st of March, 1828, Abraham went to work for old Mr. Gentry, the proprietor of Gentryville. Here, again, he was a man-of-all-work, doing whatsoever his employer found for him to do. Mr. Gentry had a son by the name of Allen, with whom Abraham worked. He was a little older than Abraham, and a suitable companion for him.
How would you like to run a flat-boat to New Orleans, Abe? said Mr. Gentry to him, early in April. I believe you are used to boating.
I know something about it, Abraham replied. I should like to go to New Orleans. How far is it?
About eighteen hundred miles. Im thinking of letting Allen take a trip there if you will go with him.
Just as soon as you can get ready. I have a load of bacon and other produce on hand now. Its some work to get ready.
Well, Ill be ready any time you say, if father dont object, and I dont think he will, added Abraham.
He wont care if I pay you well for it, responded Mr. Gentry. I shall give you eight dollars a month, and pay your passage home on a steamer. You and Allen together can manage such a trip well.
Abrahams service of four or five weeks had satisfied Mr. Gentry that he was just the hand to send on a trading expedition to New Orleans. His tact, strength, and fidelity were three essential requisites to ensure a successful expedition. Flat-boating on the Western waters, at that time, was an exciting and perilous business; and some account of it here will reflect light upon Abrahams venture.
For some years there had been a class of boatmen, fearless, hardy, athletic men, who traversed the longest rivers, penetrated the most remote wilderness upon their watery routes, and kept up a trade and intercourse between the most distant points.
They were exposed to great perils, and were out shelterless in all kinds of weather. With no bed but the deck of their boats on which to lie at night, and no covering but a blanket, they spent months and years of their existence.
It was on such boats that the rich cargoes ascending the Mississippi were carried. By human labour they were propelled against the strong current for nearly two thousand miles; and it was a labour that required great muscular strength and remarkable powers of endurance. The result was that a class of men were trained in this business of unusual courage, and proud only of their ability to breast storms and endure hardships.
In addition to this class, whose life-business it was to propel these Western boats, there were those who occasionally made a trip to New Orleans to sell their stores. Sometimes several farmers, or other persons, would club together and make out a cargo, and send it down to New Orleans; and sometimes one alone would do the same. This was the case with Mr. Gentry. He had a quantity of stores suited to meet the wants of the sugar plantations in Louisiana, and he wanted to convert them into cash. Money was very scarce, and many families like that of Mr. Lincoln saw but little. What was in circulation was brought into the Western country by people moving thither from the East, or was obtained, as Mr. Gentry proposed to obtain some, by sending a boat-load of stores to New Orleans.
Abraham consulted his father, who readily consented. His mother remarked:
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