Kaintucks

Flatboats could carry heavy loads in shallow water.
Flatboats were ideal for carrying heavy loads down rivers.  Even the Ohio and Mississippi rivers could be shallow in places during dryer seasons.

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Although they were known as "Kaintucks," these boatmen floated merchandise down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from states throughout the Ohio River valley. Agricultural goods, coal, and livestock were among the many products that were floated to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. Once the goods on the boats were sold, the boats were often dismantled and sold as lumber. Before the age of the steamboat, Kaintucks had little use for these flatboats once they reached their destinations.

From Natchez, the boatmen would begin the long walk home. They traveled the Natchez Trace to Nashville, Tennessee. From there, they used more established roads to take them to their homes further north and east. Research indicates that more than 10,000 Kaintucks traveled the Old Trace in the year 1810 alone. The 500 mile trip on foot typically took about 35 days. Lucky travelers that rode horses could expect to cover it in 20 to 25 days.

 
An etching of a river flatboat carrying men and horses An etching of a river flatboat carrying men and horses

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In the late 1700s, farmers, miners, and other merchants built flat-bottom boats to transport their goods...
Credit: Hadley Exhibit, Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center

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...down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the ports of Natchez and New Orleans.

 
A painting of white men dressed in pioneer clothing on a trail. A painting of white men dressed in pioneer clothing on a trail.

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Some of these men came from Kentucky, others from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states. They sold flower, salt pork, tobacco, hemp, coal, iron, millstones, and whiskey.

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…but they all became known as Kaintucks.  Walking home on a well used trail, the Old Trace was their best option to return home.

 
The sun setting over a wide river with trees on each bank. The sun setting over a wide river with trees on each bank.

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One of the most difficult obstacles they faced was crossing the swift-moving Tennessee River.
Credit: (NPS  © Marc Muench)

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The opening of Colbert Ferry in the early 1800s was a rare convenience on their long, dangerous journey.

 
A man in pioneer clothing walking on a trail through the woods.
The Kaintuck period, from 1785 to 1830, marked the heaviest use of the Old Trace. After the steamboat became popular for travel, travel on the Old Trace declined.

NPS Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center Exhibit

 

Last updated: August 25, 2021

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2680 Natchez Trace Parkway
Tupelo, MS 38804

Phone:

(800) 305-7417
The Visitor Center is open during normal business hours seven days a week. The visitor center is closed Thanksgiving, December 25th and January 1st.

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