north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     Eleven years after Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamship, Otway Burns constructed a similar vessel in North Carolina. Burns, known for his privateering during the War of 1812, built the Prometheus at his waterfront lot, number six, at the mouth of the White Oak River in Swansboro in 1818. Burns attracted the attention of North Carolina newspapers as he strove to launch the Prometheus before the Henrietta, built that year in Fayetteville. The steamship Prometheus entered service on the Cape Fear River by the summer of 1818, shortly before the Henrietta.
     
     Although most histories describe the Prometheus as a sidewheeler, all known illustrations picture it as a sternwheeler. The vessel operated a route between Smithville (now Southport) and Wilmington, which took about four hours and cost passengers one dollar each way. The most famous of the commuters on the Prometheus were President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who rode the steamship to inspect Fort Johnston in April 1819.


References:
Jacksonville Daily News, March 27, 1976
Tucker R. Littleton, “North Carolina’s First Steamboat,” The State (November 1977), 8-10
William M. Lytle, Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1807-1868 (reprint edition, 1952)
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Otway Burns

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources