header image for Handbook of North Louisiana
Archives and Special Collections Main Page Guide to the Collections Frequently Asked Questions, Forms, and Documents Indexes for the Shreveport Times Instructor Resources, Worksheets, etc


SHREVE, HENRY MILLER (1785-1851) was one of the founders of Shreveport and the Superintendent of Western Waterway Improvement for the Ohio, Mississippi and Red Rivers. He was also an inventor of two battering-ram steam vessels instrumental in removing the Great Raft of the Red River.

Henry Miller Shreve was born Oct. 21, 1785, in Burlington county, New Jersey, son of Israel Shreve and Mary Cokely Shreve. Israel Shreve, though a Quaker, served as a colonel in the American Revolutionary War and lost all his possessions at the hands of the British. In 1788 the Shreves along with twenty-one other settlers emigrated to land on the western Pennsylvania frontier.

When Israel Shreve died in 1799, Henry Shreve began to make trading voyages by keelboat and barge down the Monongahela and Ohio rivers. In 1807 he inaugurated the fur trade between St. Louis and Philadelphia, by way of Pittsburgh, and in 1810 he began carrying lead from Galena, Ill., near the upper Mississippi. He became a stockholder and skipper of the Enterprise (the second steamboat on the Mississippi), carrying supplies in 1814 for Andrew Jackson's army and taking part himself in the Battle of New Orleans. In May 1815 the Enterprise with Shreve at the helm became the first steamboat to ascend the Mississippi and Ohio to Louisville, Ky. Heroism notwithstanding, this adventure brought Shreve into direct conflict with the Fulton-Livingston interests that had pioneered commercial river steamers. Fulton-Livingston claimed the right to be paid for every steamboat on the western rivers.

Shreve's experience on the Enterprise convinced him of the need for a new design for river steamers. Unlike the early boats that Fulton-Livingston had put into service on the western rivers, which were designed like a seagoing steamer, Shreve had built to his specifications the Washington, with a flat, shallow hull, a high-pressure steam engine on the main deck instead of in the hold, and a second deck. His round trip in the Washington in 1816 from Pittsburgh to New Orleans and back to Louisville definitely established the Mississippi steamboat type.

Although Shreve's design differed from that of the Fulton-Livingston vessels both in outward appearance and engine design, that corporation sued citing an 1811 legislative franchise from Orleans territory granting them the exclusive right "to navigate all vessels propelled by fire and steam on the rivers in said territory." Shreve was compelled to defend the right to "free navigation." He was successful and the act of incorporation obtained by Fulton-Livingston was declared unconstitutional in 1816. The Heirs of Fulton and Livingston persisted, petitioning the United States District Court for the Louisiana district, which dismissed the case in 1817.

In 1827 Shreve was appointed superintendent of western river improvements and designed the first snag boat, Heliopolis, to remove sunken tree trunks from the river system that often wrecked steamboats. In the 1830s he undertook the removal of an accumulated underwater obstruction of the Red River known as the Great Raft; his success opened northern Louisiana to development. Shreve was well aware of the financial advantages that would flow from opening navigation on the Red River as a result of the work he was doing. In 1836, he joined in the purchase of a section of Caddo Indian land that had been reserved to Larkin Edwards in the treaty of cession signed July 1, 1835, between Commissioner Jehiel Brooks and twenty-five Caddo chiefs. Shreve became one of the seven organizers of the Shreve Town Company at the site of Edwards' section on the west bank of Bayou Pierre, some three miles south of present-day Shreveport. When work on the Great Raft ended for the 1836 season, Shreve returned to St. Louis. In the fall of 1836, he returned to Red River with a new snagboat and a map he had prepared for Shreve Town with street names lettered in. Some carried the name of heroes of the Alamo, which had fallen in March of that same year. City fathers renamed the settlement "Shreveport." Shreve stopped work in the spring of 1837 and returned to St. Louis to await a patent on his new twin-hulled snagboat design and appropriation of funds to complete work on the Raft. The funds came through in 1838, and the last of the Raft was pulled away by Shreve's crew in his absence in February 1839.

Shreve returned to Louisiana in April 1839 to find a new raft already forming north of Shreveport. He borrowed funds to clear it. When the task was finished in May 1839, Shreve went home to St. Louis never to return to the town that bore his name. He died in St. Louis on March 6, 1851.

Bibliography: Erwin, Neil T. "Henry Miller Shreve and the Need for a Myth of Shreveport Success." Paper presented to the Tarshar Society, Shreveport, LA, September 1990; Hardin, J. Fair. Northwestern Louisiana. Vol. 1. Louisville, KY: Historical Record Association, [1937], 221-282; "Henry Miller Shreve," Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed 02/03/2016, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-Miller-Shreve.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

"SHREVE, HENRY MILLER" Handbook of North Louisiana Online (http://www…….), accessed …………. Published by LSU-Shreveport.

Archives Description    Archives Contact Information    Archives Privacy Statement