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Zadok Cramer
(1773 - 1814)

Hoosier Connection: Zadok Cramer collected stories and travel accounts of the Ohio River and wrote about his findings along the way. His famous book The Navigator helped many immigrants find their way along the river through detailed descriptions of the landscape.

Works Discussed: The Navigator

The lives of non-steam western rivermen were ones of bravery, accomplishments, and discoveries. Flatboatmen, keelboatmen, and raftsmen who braved the Ohio River led dangerous and lonely lives, but uncovered beautiful parts of the country on their journeys down the river and into the smaller streams. Most of the rivermen were illiterate, leaving little written documentation of their findings. The few documents that the rugged boatmen did leave behind help in uncovering the land of Indiana as they discovered and experienced it.

keelboat on the ohio river
Keelboat on the Ohio River

Zadok Cramer, author of The Navigator, recorded these discoveries. He documented what the landscape of Indiana surrounding the Ohio River was like for the boatmen. In a time of westward expansion, Cramer's The Navigator helped many common people learn about the river, as well as where and what to look for when purchasing a boat. The Navigator was published in 1801 and in less than twenty-five years went through twelve editions.

Sold for a dollar a copy, Cramer's book helped people navigate their way down the Ohio River in search of their new homes. Descriptions of characteristics of the river and towns were subjects of The Navigator. He took you through towns, describing the scene and what to watch for while going down the river. While traveling through Jeffersonville, Indiana, the common person could pull out his copy of The Navigator and read:

In point of natural advantages and beauty, there are few or no situations on the Ohio more eligible for a town. The bank is very high, and surrounded with a rich, level and fertile country. The current and channel of the Ohio for several miles above, are on the N.W. shore, and the depth of the water being sufficiently great at any season of the year for boats or vessels of any burden, afford at all times an easy landing place, and good harbor for boats descending the Ohio. In descending the Ohio, the first place of landing is at Bloom's Eddy; - this eddy is just below the first and greatest obstacle in the rapids - it is a large and convenient landing place for boats at a low stage of the water, and from which, flat boats may pass the balance of the falls with their loading at a low stage of the water. It is thought it will become the principal landing place for boats having to unload above the falls (122-123).

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Advertisement for adventures of the rivermen

Jeffersonville was an important landing place for people traveling the Ohio River, because it was one of only a few towns where people could stop before taking on the Great Falls. Michael Allen, contemporary author and admirer of the lifestyles of the river boatmen wrote in his book, Western Rivermen, 1763-1861, that "an oblique limestone ridge crossing the Ohio River created the Great Falls, the worst single navigation hazard on the western waters" (38).

Many contemporary authors admire and enjoy Cramer's work, as well as the adventures of the boatmen. One such author is Allen. From Cramer's work as well as other documents, Allen was able to describe the scene the early boatmen saw of the Ohio River as "a humid, lush, green world inhabited by a myriad of wild animals, fish, fowl, and insects" (27).

The works of both Cramer and Allen make it obvious why the French originally called the Ohio River "La Belle Riviere," which means the beautiful river. As boatmen made the journey through the Lower Ohio, Allen found that they documented catfish, perch, doves, redheaded woodpeckers, and nighthawks. They also passed under poplars, beech trees, hickories, walnuts, oaks, grapevines, red maples, willows, and cottonwoods. This vegetation made up the lush forests that surrounded the river.

rivermen on a flatboat

Rivermen on a flatboat


The rivermen and common men who braved the journey down the Ohio River experienced beautiful and scenic landscapes as well as the familiar harsh waters of the Ohio. Authors like Cramer who's guide The Navigator helps us know today what the Ohio River experience was like for the unknowing traveler two hundred years ago. He showed them the way and told them what to look for in way of danger and unforgettable landscapes. In documenting these facts, Cramer was unknowingly capturing the landscapes of the river and its beautiful landmarks for years and generations to come.



Allen, Michael. Western Rivermen, 1763-1861. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge: 1990.

Cramer, Zadok. The Navigator. University Microfilms, Inc. Ann Arbor: 1966.

Links: Cramer biography

Description of The Navigator