While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Jean L. Epperson

CAYUGA. The small river steamer Cayuga, the first commercially successful steamboat in Texas, played an important role during the Texas Revolution. She carried supplies for the revolutionary army, transported government officials and refugees, and was the floating capitol of Texas in April 1836. The Cayuga, an eighty-eight-ton side-wheeler, was built in 1832 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She was 96'11" long, 17'4" wide, and 5'4" deep. The Cayuga had one deck, two boilers, a high-compression engine, a cabin on deck, a plain head, and a pointed stern.

The steamer's first owners were Pennsylvanians who sold her to Mississippi interests; they in turn sold to J. F. Aisles of New Orleans. William P. Harris and Robert Wilson,qqv Texas entrepreneurs and partners, bought the vessel in 1834 from Aisles. Having been in the Mississippi steamboat trade, Harris and Wilson knew the virtues of river transportation, and in order to finance their purchase they secured pledges from Texas investors for 5,000 acres of land and $800. The Cayuga cleared New Orleans for Galveston Bay on August 1, 1834, under Capt. John E. Ross.

The Cayuga was the only steamer in Texas at this time. She operated on the Brazos River during the fall of 1834 under the command of Capt. William P. Harris and ascended the river as high as Washington. The necessity of waiting for three different rises of the river in running upstream and three in going downstream gave Harris the opportunity to clear and plant corn on 300 acres of the pledged land. On January 8, 1835, a ball was given in San Felipe, the capital of Stephen F. Austin's colony, in honor of the arrival of the Cayuga. The steamer left San Felipe on January 15 and ran aground downstream. Throughout 1835 she continued to ply the Brazos River, Galveston Bay, and Buffalo Bayou, where Harris and Wilson maintained a store, warehouse, and sawmill at Harrisburg.

In April 1836 David G. Burnet, ad interim president of the new Republic of Texas, impressed the Cayuga for public service. The ship began transporting provisions to the Texas army and rescuing officials and citizens fleeing the advancing Mexican armies. On April 15 Captain Harris, in command of the steamer, evacuated Harrisburg just ahead of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna and his troops. The refugees included President Burnet, his cabinet, and all the inhabitants of the town. After stopping at Lynch's Ferry and New Washington the Cayuga preceded to Anahuac and Galveston, where the passengers disembarked. The cabinet members remained aboard and on April 19 were rejoined by Burnet, who had left the steamer at Lynch's Ferry to get his family and had narrowly escaped being captured by the Mexicans at New Washington. The business of the republic was conducted through April 26 on the Cayuga, the temporary capitol. During this time the republic bought the steamer for $5,000 from Harris.

The Republic of Texas spent $300 for repairs on the Cayuga and by the end of the year authorized the secretary of the navy to sell it. The steamer was sold at auction on December 15, 1836, at Lynch's Ferry. The new owners refitted the vessel and renamed her the Branch T. Archer; she was thus one of two Texas ships named after Branch Tanner Archer. The Archer remained in the Houston-Galveston trade during 1837 and 1838. In June 1838 the ship was reported to have ascended the Trinity River as far as the Coushatta Indian Village. John E. Ross was captain of the vessel during these years.

The last mention of the little steamer was a Liberty County sheriff's sale on September 4, 1839, advertising all the right, title, and interest of John Huffman in the steamboat Pioneer, the late Branch T. Archer, together with the tackle and furniture. The vessel lay near the residence of Robert Wiseman in the Old River. The sale was to settle claims of John E. Ross and Robert Adkinson.

William Fairfax Gray, From Virginia to Texas, 1835 (Houston: Fletcher Young, 1909, 1965). Telegraph and Texas Register, November 26, 1836, June 9, 1838, September 4, 1839. John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (10 vols., Austin: Presidial Press, 1973). Pamela A. Puryear and Nath Winfield, Jr., Sandbars and Sternwheelers: Steam Navigation on the Brazos (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1976).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Jean L. Epperson, "CAYUGA," accessed July 11, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qtc01.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...