Steamboat Natchez has been the fastest ship on the Mississippi for two centuries. Usually, she’s a luxurious showboat — and the last one in New Orleans

Steamboats used to be the lifeblood of the Deep South. For years they sailed up and down the Mississippi transporting passengers and freight to and from New Orleans, pushed along by their huge paddles. In the 19th century, packetboats and showboats used to cruise up and down providing entertainment for their passengers and the riverside towns they docked in. One of the most famous is Steamboat Natchez.

Steamboat Natchez is a showboat — a floating palace devoted to the pleasure of its passengers. On top of that, she’s a racer. The Natchez is the fastest paddleship on the Mississippi, and one of the most famous. The current ship is the Natchez IX and follows in a long line — the first took to the water in 1823. A riverboat trip is one of the most romantic ways to see New Orleans. You can relive the heady days of the deep south in style with dinner, drinks, and live jazz from the Dukes of Dixieland.

The storied history of the Natchez

Two women wave from the back of the Natchez. A sign reads: "Steamboat Natchez, Port of new Orleans" in a typeface reminiscent of the Wild West
As the last steamboat in New Orleans, the Natchez is perfect for a taste of the old Deep South
A steamboat sits in dock at sunset. An American flag flies from her stern

Enjoy Dinner, drinks and jazz ONBOARD the natchez

With a lineage stretching so far back in time, the various Natchez ships have seen their share of history. Natchez VI carried Jefferson Davis from his home once he had been made president of the Confederacy, and often carried Confederate troops during the Civil War. She was burned to stop her from falling into Union hands.

Natchez VII is the most famous for her feats in racing. In June 1870, a contest was held on the Mississippi between New Orleans and St. Louis. The Natchez held the speed record and was challenged by another steamer, the Robert E. Lee. The Lee was stripped down to the bone for the race, carried no cargo and only made one stop. 

The Natchez carried her normal load of 5,500 cotton bales and made her usual stops. In the end, the Robert E. Lee won the race, covering the distance in 3 days, 18 hours and 14 minutes. With a band playing, colors flying and a party on the decks, the Natchez casually steamed in just six hours later and took the pride but not the glory. No commercial ship has ever beaten the Robert E. Lee’s time for the trip.

Natchezes II to VIII were owned by a captain called Thomas P. Leathers. He was a savage, competitive man, but a good captain. He made many trips without incident, and the Natchez VI had no accidents during her 401 sailings. Leathers was a staunch conservative and profited off the slave-picked cotton trade. For years after the end of the Civil War, his boats flew the Confederate Stars and Bars. When the Natchez VIII burned In 1889, Leathers decided he was too old to continue.

Still the fastest boat in the Deep South

A wide shot of the Steamboat Natchez sailing down the Mississippi. Her red paddlewheel is churning the water behind her
The Natchez IX is still the fastest ship on the Mississippi, and has never lost a race

The current Natchez has been in operation since 1975. She is modeled after the showboats Hudson and Virginia, considered to have been two of the most beautiful ships ever built. The steam engines were taken from the Clairton, and the bell, made of 250 melted silver dollars, from the J.D. Ayres.

Like her predecessors, the Natchez IX is quick. She has never lost a steamboat race. Most famously, she took part in the Great Steamboat Race in 1982. This is held every year before the Kentucky Derby and was traditionally between the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen. Neither could hold a candle to the Natchez once she had a head of steam up.

When she’s not racing, the Natchez carries passengers along the Mississippi in New Orleans on pleasure cruises in a far more relaxed style. As the only steamboat left on the river in New Orleans, she is renowned for her dinner, drinks and jazz as she steams through the city.

A wide shot of a paddleboat steaming down the Mississippi

Enjoy the jazz as you see the sights of Louisiana from the last steamboat in new orleans

Posted in New Orleans, United States
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