Stock certificate of the Chester River Steamboat Company, the successor to the Slaughter line. Source: oldstocks.com.

This Week’s Kent County History Quiz Question: When did daily steamboat service start on the Chester River?

A. 1807
B. 1848
C. 1860
D. 1867

Answer: C. 1860 should have been “None of the Above” as the correct year was 1861.

While there is evidence that daily service had been needed and planned in 1860, according to Jack Shaum’s quote in his excellent work Lost Chester River Steamboats: From Chestertown to Baltimore, “Daily service became a reality for the first time in 1861 when the Chester and Arrow began operating in tandem for Henry Slaughter. From the Kent News.”

Henry B. Slaughter (1817-1865) was that rare all-around combination of entrepreneur, farmer and scientist. The driving force behind forming his private steamboat company had been to get his products to market, but, while accomplishing that, he also provided the public service of daily passenger passage to and from Baltimore. In addition, he accommodated the area’s watermen by transporting their catches.

Preceding his involvement with steamships, Slaughter purchased a parcel of Maryland property to farm in 1843 near Crumpton. His crops were a diverse selection of produce with a special interest in peaches.
He took his interests a step further by experimenting and successfully devising methods of preserving a wide range of products, including produce and meat. According to Jack Shaum: “He was granted a patent on his new process on November 11, 1862, by which time he had been in the steamboat business for several years.”

The daily service to Baltimore was accomplished by using two steamboats alternating days. Providing service to and from Crumpton and Chestertown, with multiple stops along the Chester River, Slaughter tried to think of every way to assist the customer. He even provided a taxi service from Centreville to the Queenstown wharf for pickup since Centreville was not on the route.

Vintage painted postcard of the B.S. Ford, named for Col. B.S. Ford, the president of the Chester River Steamboat Company. The modern Chester River Bridge in the background. 

Henry Slaughter’s steamboat company was considered the best among the competitors. It was unfortunate that this amazing American pioneer in agricultural commerce and transportation, with an innate gift of focus on full customer service, succumbed to the dreaded typhoid fever so young–at age 48.

Slaughter was eulogized widely with great respect. His kindness and beneficence were described in superlatives along with his enterprising business acumen. His son, Joel, became the leader of the Slaughter Line.

Standing at the foot of Chestertown’s High Street today it is not hard to imagine it as the bustling Steamboat Wharf–comings and goings of people and produce–baskets of oysters and fresh catches-of-the-day, voices rising over it all–excitement in the air!
All aboard for Baltimore!

Our thanks to Jack Shaum for his revealing book that delightfully takes its readers through the exciting time period of steamboats.

The Kent County History Quiz is a weekly local brainteaser sponsored by The Peoples Bank. Kent County historian and author Joan Horsey, local newsman and history sleuth Kevin Hemstock, and columnist Kate Meehan contribute to the quiz’s development. Our goal is to create an opportunity for local learning and discussion.

Do you have a Kent County history question? Send it to steve@kentpilot.org.