Maiden Voyage of Otway Burns’s Prometheus, 1818

On May 6, 1818, 11 years after Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamship, Otway Burns launched a similar vessel in North Carolina.

"Prometheus" : First steamboat made in N.C. Built in 181 by Otway Burns, privateer in Wat of 1812. Shipyard located 350 feet S.W.

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. He 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. The vessel operated a route between what’s now Southport and Wilmington, which took about four hours and cost passengers $1 each way.

Perhaps two of the most famous of the passengers 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.

Visit: The N.C. Maritime Museums in Beaufort, Hatteras and Southport interpret maritime transportation in North Carolina history, and the N.C. Transportation Museum interprets transportation more broadly.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.