Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Complete James Rumsey Story

 Historian Donald J. Sharp recently completed an extensive interview about the history of the Lake Pontchartrain northshore with a focus on James Rumsey and his time spent in St. Tammany Parish working on his secret experiments. 

Donald J. Sharp and his Rumsey Research Materials

Rumsey lived in New Orleans for five years, Lacombe for a few years, then moved to Pearl Island at the mouth of the Pearl River for three years. But while Don's earlier talks dealt with Rumsey's success in developing a steam-propelled watercraft, this expanded version shows his other accomplishments, among them 20 patents for his improvements to the grist mill and the waterwheel, as well as his friendships with key early American historic figures.

Rumsey's work on steamboat propulsion in Lacombe helped bring about the arrival of steamboats coming down the Mississippi River just a few decades later, thus changing the history of New Orleans. 

According to multiple sources, Rumsey seemed to be a key player in the early American history. He worked as a superintendent of engineering for George Washington, was honored by Benjamin Franklin who started a society promoting Rumsey's inventions, and was friends with Thomas Jefferson while he was in Europe. Jefferson said that Rumsey was one of the most impressive geniuses he had ever met. 

Rumsey came to the American colonies from England as a member of the British army, was sent to Illinois Territory to help deal with the Native Americans, but then left the military to become a frontier merchant. As a merchant, he brought supplies to the settlers and traded with the Native Americans in the fur trade. As Britain frowned upon American colonists heading further and further westward, Rumsey found himself on the forefront of the westward movement.

After the fur trade business collapsed, Rumsey went to Natchez, MS, and on to New Orleans, where he made friends with the heads of the city. An opportunity arose for him to buy land in Lacombe, and it was a perfect place to conduct his research. 

When the American Revolution broke out, he re-located to Baltimore, where he finished work on his steam-powered watercraft and presented a successful demonstration of the boat on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, a few years later. 

There's a park and memorial dedicated to Rumsey in Shepherdstown, WV
Click on the above image to make it larger.

Here is a link to Don Sharp's latest historical presentation about James Rumsey and the history of the northshore area. 

Click on the "Play Triangle" above to see the interview

Sharp worked for decades to unveil Rumsey's true background, since many American historians had been led to believe that he was born in Maryland. Through extensive research in both history and genealogy, Sharp was able to track down Rumsey's actual birthplace as Bristol, England. His main incentive for developing the steamboat was an effort to make money to send to his bankrupt father back in England, who was a sugar broker who lost five ships and was financially strapped as a result. 

Rumsey was chief engineer on an interstate waterway project being pursued by George Washington, and when the Articles of Confederation posed some obstacles in the way of completing that project, Washington and others sought a new founding document that would allow two states to cooperate with each other on projects of mutual interest. That document wound up being the U.S. Constitution. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

James Rumsey Exhibit Debuts at Maritime Museum

  A large exhibit detailing the life and accomplishments of inventor James Rumsey is now on display at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum in Madisonville. 

The exhibit includes several panels and scale models representing the development of the steamboat, from its earliest incarnations to its large sternwheeler watercraft that plied the waters of the Mississippi River and made New Orleans what it is today. 

Donald J. Sharp provided the historical research that went into the creation of the James Rumsey exhibit, particularly the information on how Rumsey once lived on Bayou Rouville off Bayou Lacombe, and also on Pearl River Island southeast of Slidell. There is evidence that he worked in secret on his steamboat invention at those two locations, before being forced to re-locate to Baltimore, Maryland, by the American Revolution. 

The maritime museum exhibit celebrates the local contributions to the early steamboat design, an invention that changed the course of history.

A video featuring a detailed interview with Sharp explains the sequence of events that brought Rumsey to St. Tammany Parish, and how his contributions led to boats being able to overcome the current of a river and move upstream carrying people and goods to points all along the Mississippi River. 

One part of the exhibit tells about Don Sharp and his research

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Sharp Family Comes To St. Tammany

 Over the past six decades Donald J. Sharp has researched the history of how the Sharp family came to St. Tammany. Here are the results of his work. 

Sharp Family History Part 1

Click on the Play Triangle in the Above Window to view

Sharp Family History Part 2

The Sharp Family Genealogy Pedigree Chart

PDF Files
Click on the links below to see the documents

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Lighthouse History

In this interview taped on April 12, 2022, historian Don Sharp tells about the history of lighthouses on the Gulf Coast, with a focus on the Tchefuncte River lighthouse south of Madisonville, La. 

Click on the "play" triangle above to view the video. 

Lighthouse History Recap

Video With Recap of Lighthouse Information

Don Sharp

Friday, March 25, 2022

Aerial Photos from 1965

 Here are a couple of aerial photos from 1965 showing the Tchefuncte River from Madisonville to the lighthouse. 

Click on the images to make them larger. 



Thursday, January 27, 2022

Don Sharp Talks About History & The Historical Society

 Don Sharp recently did an interview telling about how he got started in historical research.

Click on the above "play triangle" to view the video.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Martime Museum Meeting

 Don Sharp, who celebrated his 92nd birthday recently, met with Jim MacPherson, executive director, and Jeanne Brooks, educator, both with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum, on Wednesday, August 18th, to share with them his extensive historical research into the "Tchefuncte River Corridor." The museum is located in Madisonville, just a few yards from the river itself, and Don's findings are of considerable interest to museum officials.