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River Queen (steamboat)
Hsl-River queen-neg.jpg
Sidewheeler ferry River Queen
Owner: Fall River lines, Vineyard Company, Nantucket & Cape Cod Steamboat Company, and Mount Vernon & Marshall Hall Steamboat Company[1]
Builder: Benjamin C Terry
Completed: 1864[1]
Out of service: 1911
Fate: burned
General characteristics
Tonnage: 426
Length: 181 ft (55 m)

The Peacemakers by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1868, depicts the historic 1865 meeting on the River Queen

Sidewheeler ferry River Queen at the wharf in Nantucket, probably during the late 1860s.

The River Queen was a sidewheel steamer operating as a ferry serving the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket during the late 19th century. It is closely associated with President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant, and was used for an unsuccessful peace conference during the last year of the American Civil War.


River Queen was built at Keyport, New Jersey in 1864.[1][2][3] It was initially owned by Alfred Van Santvoord,[4] and later was one of four steamers operating for the New Bedford, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamboat Co when that concern was organized in March 1886. (The other three vessels were Island Home, Martha's Vineyard and Monohansett.)[5] River Queen had sailed this route since 1871 for the company's predecessors.[2]

Civil War service

Chartered by the U.S. Department of War, the River Queen was used by General Ulysses S. Grant as his private dispatch boat on the Potomac River in 1865.[2] On February 3, 1865, the Hampton Roads Conference took place on the River Queen in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate an end to the American Civil War. While the conference was being held in the saloon of the ship, the River Queen was lashed to the Mary Martin, another ship.

Abraham Lincoln met with General William T. Sherman, Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter and General Grant aboard the River Queen near the end of the Civil War. Both Lincoln and Grant liked this vessel; Lincoln rode it two days before his assassination.[1] Capt. Nathan B. Saunders of the Fall River steamer line was captain of the River Queen during its Civil War service.[1]

Ferry career

After the war, River Queen was operated by the Newport Steamboat Company between Providence, R.I. and Newport, R.I.[2] The American Lloyd's Register of American and Foreign Shipping during 1865-1872 records the River Queen as a 500-ton vessel with a homeport in Providence. Its owner was listed as R. Buffon and its master as Capt. Williams.[3]

River Queen was sold by the New Bedford, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamboat Co. in 1893 [5] to the Mount Vernon & Marshall Hall Steamboat Co. of Washington, D.C.[2] During 1897-1900 the Record of American and Foreign Shipping lists the River Queen as a 181' long, 426-ton sidewheeler hailing out of New Bedford, owned by "Mt. Vernon & Marshall Hall S. B. Co." and under the command of a Capt. Wood.[3]

River Queen was still operating in 1910 on the Potomac River, by that time among the oldest side-wheelers still in service.[2] In July 1911, newspapers reported the burning of the River Queen "to the water's edge" following the explosion of a signal lantern on board. The press reported that "For the past year or two the River Queen has been used as an excursion boat for Negroes."[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Dayton, Fred Erving (1925). "Steamboat Days". Frederick A. Stokes company. pp. 243–5. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Turner, Harry B. The Story of the Island Steamers (The Inquirer and Mirror Press, 1910) [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ship and Yacht Register Search
  4. "Alfred Van Santvoord", New York Times, July 2, 1899
  5. 5.0 5.1 Vineyard Gazette Online
  6. The Vineyard Gazette, July 13, 1911 issue. (Story reprinted from a Washington newspaper.)


  • [2] - reprint of an 1906 article in the Vineyard Gazette
  • [3] - reprint of a 1940 article in the Vineyard Gazette
  • [4] - 1860s photographs of Nantucket
  • [5] - Mystic Seaport - G. W. Blunt White Library - Ship & Yacht Register
  • Turner, Harry B. The Story of the Island Steamers (The Inquirer and Mirror Press, 1910)[6]

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