Four Months in a SneakBox - A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles Dow

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Four Months in a SneakBox - A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles Dow

Post by TacAir » Sat Mar 25, 2017 11:35 am

Four Months in a SneakBox - A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles Down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and Along the Gulf of Mexico.

Title - Four Months in a SneakBox - A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles Down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and Along the Gulf of Mexico

Author – Nathaniel H. Bishop (1837-1902)
Image of author, a man of slight build and pleasant disposition. (

First published in 1879

Publisher – this book is long out of print, but may be found on the Gutenberg Project page as a free download in multiple formats ( with and without a series of illustrations. Other on-line sources offer this as well
(An extended bio of Mr. Bishop is found at
The book may be had as a Classic Reprint, from multiple sources in both paperback and hardcover – cost is between ~$20 USD and $35 USD.

Let me begin this book review by stating that this book is not for everyone.

While the voyage itself was a grand adventure, it was written, and I suspect intended to be, a thoughtful set of observations of a man traveling the length of the US of A on a great river system.
His language is that of his times and may be offensive to the more tender souls who read the book. The "N" word is often found, as are depictions of the Irish, Indians and others in using a patois considered to be between racist and offensive in today's society. You have been warned.

Mr. Bishop lived almost completely in what many have come to characterize as the Victorian Era – (HRH Alexandrina Victoria; ruled the UK from 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) the lifespan of the author.
As such, the language, morality and outlook of Mr. Bishop may be very alien to many young people of today. In this, I see as the real value of the book and story.

Using a so-called Sneakbox dinghy, Nathaniel departed the headwaters of the Ohio River, taking the river to the confluence with the Mississippi, and then voyaged on into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way he meets, and describes in varying detail, many of the colorful characters living upon and near these massive rivers. Some might call it a travelogue, a popular book style of the times.

Using the boat itself as a kind of self-contained entity, he camped aboard the boat each night pulled onto a island or bay in the riverbanks. It was only when he reached the lower parts of the Mississippi and the Gulf that a tent was used for relief from the massive hordes of mosquitoes. To highlight the differences of then and now – the tent was a mere 6 foot square at its base and was, at times, used to house both Mr. Bishop and a sometime travel companion.

Sadly, the narrative lacks the kind of detail many would find useful for primitive camping/outings and so a reason for these enthusiasts to wade through the sometimes flowery prose is lost There is brief mention of some of the gear he used, but this outing was a blanket and campfire level of technology.

I do see this as a wonderful book for the young and young at heart. The trip was made before "Government" at all levels (city, county, borough, state or federal) had become an all-encompassing straightjacket of rules, regulations, restrictions, fees and fines we so sadly see today.

Such a trip would be impossible today, if for no other reason than the Mississippi has been dammed and locks must be used to travel the river. Towboats and massive barge strings present a deadly danger. Add in that crime today is such that camping at random spots long either river is a crapshooting with robbery or even death.

Despite that, the web is filled with folks today making the trip downriver – these may be found on-line. It may well be worth reading one of two if these modern adventure stories to contrast against the information in the book.

The boat featured in the book is unique enough and so exactly fills a need, that the type is built and in use even today. It may be rowed, poled, sailed or motor driven.

See the excellent information and images at for a complete description of the boat used in this story.


With a deck cover very much like Mr. Bishop's

The rounded bottom, unique to this dinghy. Note the slot cut for a dagger board, the owner must be anticipating some sailing in the future....

As a rowing boat as used by Mr. Bishop. No use of sail is mentioned in the book.

As a sailing enthusiast, I must post this. Note the low freeboard, certainly for saling in protected waters or on lakes.

After reading the story presented by Mr. Bishop, you may think this would be a fantastic book to gift to a young person who display a sense of adventure. I would agree – with the proviso that you first explain to your young reader the difference between the times then and world we see today.
TacAir - I'd rather be a disappointed pessimist than a horrified optimist
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Re: Four Months in a SneakBox - A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles

Post by Halfapint » Sat Mar 25, 2017 8:25 pm

Great review, I think my grandfather has this book, or something similar. He is a big collector of mid 1800's literature and history, civil war era being his favorite.
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Re: Four Months in a SneakBox - A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles

Post by MicroBalrog » Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:33 am

This may be pertinent, although it discusses sea journeys rather than river journeys. I really enjoyed Bombarde's book as a kid.

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Re: Four Months in a SneakBox - A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles

Post by ZombieGranny » Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:11 pm

" I plied my oars vigorously all day, and when darkness settled upon the land, was rewarded for my exertions by having my little craft shoot under the first bridge that connects Cincinnati with Kentucky.
Here steamers, coal-barges, and river craft of every description lined the Ohio as well as the Kentucky shore. Iron cages filled with burning coals were suspended from cranes erected upon flatboats for the purpose of lighting the river, which was most effectually done, the unwonted brilliancy giving to the busy scene a strange weirdness, and making a picture never to be forgotten."
Very descriptive writing.
Thanks for the heads-up on it.
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