Dubuque County Historical Society Images

The River People

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John W. Cannon

John W. Cannon was owner and captain of the Rob't E. Lee which beat the Natchez from New Orleans to St. Louis in 1870 in the most famous steamboat race of all time. Cannon was born in Kentucky and learned piloting on the Ouachita River. He narrowly escaped death when his first steamboat, the Louisiana, blew up spectacularly killing 86 people at New Orleans in 1849. He was ambitious but a quiet man, and determined to out-class all competition with his fleet of elegant steamboats on the lower Mississippi.

Following the Civil War, Cannon built a packet for the lower river cotton trade, shrewdly naming her the Rob't E. Lee. Irate Yankees forced the removal of the boat from Indiana to Kentucky when they spied the lettering being applied.

Other Cannon boats included the John W. Cannon and the J. M. White (Ill).

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