By: Jean L. Epperson

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: August 11, 2020

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, 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).

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

Jean L. Epperson, “Cayuga,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 11, 2020