Friday, February 8, 2013

The Princess

Mississippi River, 
1857 


This Currier & Ives print titled “Wooding up on the Mississippi” depicts the legendary steamboat Princess taking on firewood for its steam engines. Pleasant and reassuring, such scenes were produced for the American masses, creating romantic images that linger to this day. Of course, the reality of everyday life along the banks of lower Mississippi was far from idyllic. By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were over 4,000 fatalities on the riverboats due to boiler explosions alone. In addition to such hazards, there was the pervading institution of slavery. Having erected its economic edifice...on the shifting sands of opportunism and moral brigandage, the Antebellum South was an unpleasant and hellish society for many of those who lived it.1 With much still to discover about this period, an 1857 menu from the Princess provides unwitting historical evidence of this part of the American past.