52 Ancestors,
in 52 Weeks
Week 28:
Family Finds Charter Oak

Transportation: Flatboats

All of my ancestors arrived in America using the only form of transportation then available for crossing the Atlantic: sailing ships. Once in America they would have traveled by the various means of transportation for 17th and 18th century Colonial Americans. Those modes of transport would seem slow and tedious compared to how we travel today. But, one set of my immigrant ancestors used a form of transportation after their arrival, that although probably slow, sounds interesting to me: flatboats.

David and Margaret McCash

My fourth-great grandparents, David (1758-1807) and Margaret (1758-1804) McCash, arrived at the port of Philadelphia in 1787. [1] They had immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to make a better life for themselves and their children. Their three children who traveled with them were all under the age of five. After provisioning themselves, they joined a group traveling overland to Pittsburgh. Once there, they boarded a flatboat and went down the Ohio River to Limestone, KY with the intent of acquiring land and homesteading. In Scotland, David McCash had been a blacksmith, but probably had some farming skills.


In 1782 a Pennsylvania farmer named Jacob Yoder became the first person to successfully navigate a flatboat from Brownsville, PA to New Orleans. This feat demonstrated how the rivers could be used to reach distant markets and to settle the West. [2] The typical flatboat for families going west was about 16 ft. wide by 55 ft. long. With a shed aft for horses and cattle, and a cabin in the fore for people. A basic flatboat only had a sandbox fireplace. For navigation, all flatboats were propelled by “sweeps” which were mounted on the sides and used for directing the flatboat into the current, they also had a rudder and a short oar in front. The flatboat was often called “the boat that never came back.” It typically was broken up at the end of the journey and the lumber used for building houses for the homesteaders. [3]

Flatboat on Ohio River

Another use for the flatboats was discovered by General Josiah Harmar, 1753-1813. General Harmar was Commander of the US Army at Ohio, and he had noticed the large number of flatboats descending the Ohio River. He ordered an account of the boats that passed the garrison at Muskingum, OH. From the 10th of October 1786, until the 12th of May 1787, 127 boats, 2,689 people, 1,333 horses, 756 cattle and 102 wagons passed Muskingum bound for Limestone. General Harmar recognized the value of the boats. In 1788 he purchased at Limestone about 50 flatboats at the moderate price of $1 to $2 each. He used the lumber from the boats to construct Fort Washington at Cincinnati. [4]

While researching flatboats I came across a charming old movie intended for school children. This “Instructional sound film” by ERPI Classroom Films, Inc. in 1941, run time 10:18, black and white, with the help of Thomas D. Clark from the University of Kentucky is part of the Prelinger Archive on archive.org. [5] Follow this link to view the movie: https://archive.org/details/flatboatmen_of_the_frontier

Limestone, Mason County, Kentucky

European-American settlers traveling down the Ohio River in the late 18th and early 19th century found a natural harbor at Limestone Creek on the Kentucky side of the river. At Limestone the boats became so numerous they frequently were set adrift in order to make room for others. In 1784 a man named Simon Kenton built a blockhouse at the site and founded Kenton’s Station. Then, in 1786, John May acquired the land at Limestone and renamed the place Maysville, as it is called today. [6]

Limestone Landing mural

 Mural at Maysville, KY celebrating their flatboat history


My McCash ancestors, after surviving the river journey to Kentucky, became homesteaders. It was there, near Limestone, that my 3rd great grandfather James McCash was born on August 26, 1788. The family evidently were successful farmers and also traders. I discovered David McCash mentioned in a book about the early history of Cincinnati, OH. In 1792 David arrived by small boat at the Stone Landing near present-day Cincinnati bearing all manner of fresh produce. At this time the settlement was primarily Fort Washington and the arrival of quality foodstuff was very welcome. [7] A year later David moved his young family to the north side of the river and established a homestead in present-day Cincinnati near the current intersection of Walnut and Third Streets. [8] Steps away from the baseball stadium and probably beneath I-71. There, the family continued to farm and supply provisions to the Army. [9]


I like to imagine my McCash ancestors arriving at their first homestead on a flatboat for their transportation with just the necessities to begin a new life in America. Making the trip across Pennsylvania and then down the river with three very small children is hard to imagine though. It must have taken determination and grit. All three of their immigrant children survived well into adulthood. Their eldest son William, 1783-1871, and their American born son James, 1788-1871, have thousands of descendants alive today.

Cincinnati 1800
McCash Boys ca. 1865

William and James McCash, 1865
at left, Cincinnati about 1800


  1. Profile of David McCash, Website: Ancestry.com, Family tree: Osborne; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/-60123635/facts
  2. Website, Wikipedia: Flatboat; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatboat
  3. Website, The Paths of Inland Commerce, by Archer B. Hulbert, Chapter 5: Flatboat Age; https://www.history1700s.com/index.php/18th-century-history-the-basics/18th-century-e-text-archive/192-classic-historical-works/paths-of-inland-commerce/912-chapter-v-the-flatboat-age.html
  4. Website, Wikipedia: Josiah Harmar; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Harmar
  5. Website, Archive.org; Video, Flatboatmen of the Frontier, by ERPI Classroom Films, Inc., pub: 1941, run time: 10:18; https://archive.org/details/flatboatmen_of_the_frontier
  6. Website, Wikipedia: Maysville, KY; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maysville,_Kentucky
  7. Book, Sketches and Statistics of Cincinnati in 1859, pg. 129, by Charles Cist, pub: 1859, Cincinnati, OH. Access online: https://archive.org/details/sketchesstatisti01cist
  8. Book, History of Cincinnati, Ohio, with illustrations and biographical sketches, pg. 46, by Henry A. Ford, pub: 1881, LA Williams and Co., Cleveland, OH. Access online: https://archive.org/details/cu31924032193520
  9. Book, Cincinnati, the Queen City : 1788-1912, pg. 81, by Charles Frederic Goss, Pub: 1912, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., Chicago. Access online: https://archive.org/details/cincinnatiqueenc02goss


  1. Cheryl Schulte

    This is so very interesting. Since my ancestors didn’t arrive in this country until much later than yours I had never heard of flatboats. You have done a tremendous amount of research on this subject. Great job. Your post should win an award for detail!

  2. Tonya Ferguson

    Your information is very interesting. Some of my family took flatboats down the Ohio %river to the Mississippi River in the 1780s. How they got those boats up the river I will never know. I really like your webpage design.

    • Barb

      Thank you, Tonya!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Remember Me and I Will Live

Frank Takeo Flucawa

Born Takeo Furukawa on 15 March 1883 in Tottori-Ken, Tokyo, Japan, little is documented of his early childhood. Family oral history stories say that the young Takeo experienced hunger, poverty and the loss of his family. Additionally, the stories tell of friendship, spiritual learning and scholarship.

David L. Osborne: His Indianapolis Homes

My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne, lived at over 20 addresses around Indianapolis between 1876 and 1942. I thought it would be interesting to see all the old buildings and homes where he lived in my hometown of Indianapolis.

The Marriage of David and Jennie Osborne

My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne (1848-1942), was a widower with two young sons in 1886 when he married Jennie Warbington (1857-1918) in Minneapolis on the 27th of May. I decided it was time to put sources to the story.

Do You See A Resemblance?

While working on a family photo project I decided it would be fun to compare side-by-side my father and his parents, at similar ages, to try and discover a family resemblance.

Probate of Jesse King 1868

Jesse King was born in Ohio (probably in the vicinity of Chillicothe) in 1805, he was a son of Philip King and Mary Leah Wright, both of Pennsylvania. Philip King was a farmer, he married Leah Wright in 1801 in Somerset, PA, they had six children, of whom Jesse was the third.

Letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary

A handwritten letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary to the then president of the United States, Grover Cleveland. It was her last appeal for a War of 1812 pension, sadly the pension was denied. The letter gives a glimpse of a woman who had no formal education, a poor farmers wife, then widow, mother of nine, she probably just wanted some independence through an income of her own.

Sarah Smith: Challenge

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Challenge
So much about genealogy research is a challenge, perhaps the most common challenge is the ‘brick wall,’ meet Sarah Smith. 18?? – 1846

Laferre to LaFara: Unusual Name

The surnames in my tree are typical of common western European names. However, the name that is unusual among these names is MY surname: LaFara.

Luella Pressell: Surprise!

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 6: Surprise!
Just when you think you know everything about an ancestor, surprise! I thought I knew most everything about my paternal great grandfather David L. Osborne, 1848-1942.

Rumple Family Photo 1895

For all of us who are procrastinating about labeling photos I have one thing to say, “Be considerate of the genealogist of the future!” My maternal grandmother was very good about labeling old family photos, and there is one, in particular, I found very informative.

Conrad Rumple: Bachelor Uncle

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 10: Bachelor Uncle
My uncles are the marrying kind, sometimes more than once!
I had to go back four generations for a bachelor uncle, my great-great-great uncle Conrad Rumple, 1833-1911.
Conrad was an older brother to my great-great grandfather on my matrilineal line, William Rumple, 1839-1912.

George Lafary and Catherine Landon: Large Family

My great-great grandparents, George Lafary and Catherine Landon, had a relatively small family, three of their six children survived to adulthood. However, they both came from large families of nine siblings and nearly all survived to marry and have children.

In The Paper

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 13: In The Paper
It’s fun to find articles in the paper mentioning one of my relatives. Mostly they are birth, marriage, divorce and death events. But, it’s the oddball articles in the papers I like the most.

Genealogy Brick Walls

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 14: Brick Wall
We all have a brick wall, that one ancestor who defies all research. I decided I would work at my brick walls by generation, I broke through the last of my 3rd great grandparent brick walls, now I am working on 4th great grandparents.

Catherine Landon: Out of Place

I realized I did not have a date of death for my great, great grandmother, Catherine Landon Lafary. A fresh search uncovered the date and much more. Out of place, but once discovered, everything fell into place.

Immigrant Ancestors, Fresh Start

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week1: Fresh Start.
The varied reasons my European ancestors immigrated to North America for a fresh start.

William and Uva Lafara: Favorite Photo

I have many favorite photos among my collection of family artifacts. Currently, my favorite photo is of two little children from 1916 who were a complete mystery to me until last spring.

Close to Home

My grandparents. Earl and Pearl, met at church, close to home, in 1914,

So Far Away

My great-uncle Frank immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1905 to further his education, so far away

Same Name

I get excited when I discover an ancestor with the same name as a friend, or co-worker, or neighbor. Maybe we are related!