Friday, February 8, 2013

The Princess

Mississippi River, 

This Currier & Ives print titled “Wooding up on the Mississippi” depicts the steamboat Princess taking on firewood for its engines. Such pleasant and reassuring 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 had been over 4,000 fatalities on 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 most of those who lived it.1 An 1857 menu from the Princess provides unwitting historical evidence about this part of the American past.