FLATBOATMEN worked on roughly made rafts that carried goods downstream, especially on the Mississippi. The occupation dates from the invention of flatboats in
1750. Flatboating was an occasional rather than a fulltime job. Flatboatmen were often farmers or laborers out to see the country or on their way to dispose of the products of their farms. Wages varied greatly but were usually about fifty dollars for the voyage.
All river cities were important terminals for flatboat commerce, but the most important was New Orleans. Many flatboatmen often made annual voyages there. They bore a reputation for thievery, debauchery, and belligerence, which may be largely undeserved, but their battles with keelboatmen are infamous. Many flatboatmen died from disease, violence, or the perils of the downstream voyage. It was common for those who made the voyage and returned home to migrate southward and westward with their families to the new areas they had visited.
Besides the flatboatmen, there were immigrant families traveling downstream on flatboats, and all of these river travelers shared a distrust of the shore dwellers. Another class of flatboat people made annual voyages on boats fitted up as stores, outfitted with goods for sale to farmers and to settlers.
Baldwin, Leland D. Keelboat Age on Western Waters. 1941. Reprint, Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.
Ellis, David M., ed. The Frontier in American Development. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969.
Leland D.Baldwin/t. d.