In March 1856, a dead body washed onto the shore of the Mississippi River. Nothing out of the ordinary. In those days, people fished corpses from the river with alarming frequency. But this body, with its arms and legs tied to a chair, struck an especially eerie chord. The body belonged to a man who had been a passenger on the luxurious steamboat known as the Ohio Belle, and he was the son of a southern planter. Who had bound and pitched this wealthy man into the river? Why? As reports of the killing spread, one newspaper shuddered, "The details are truly awful and well calculated to cause a thrill of horror."
Drawing on eyewitness accounts, Murder on the Ohio Belle uncovers the mysterious circumstances behind the bloodshed. A northern vessel captured by secessionists, sailing the border between slave and free states at the edge of the frontier, the Ohio Belle navigated the confluence of nineteenth-century America's greatest tensions. Stuart W. Sanders dives into the history of this remarkable steamer -- a story of double murders, secret identities, and hasty getaways -- and reveals the bloody roots of antebellum honor culture, classism, and vigilante justice.
"Stuart Sanders's meticulous unpacking of two notorious murders on the Ohio River dives deeply into the antebellum South's culture of honor and masculine violence. Deeply researched and wise, this is the best kind of microhistory." -- Kenneth W. Noe, author of Reluctant Rebels, The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861.
"In this lively, insightful read, Stuart Sanders follows the steamboat Ohio Belle as it transports tons of cargo, actresses, enslaved men and women, gamblers, dead men and their murderers, thieves, and Civil War soldiers. Like the vessel about which he writes, Sanders's book is full of fascinating characters. With his deft interweaving of historical context, he illuminates antebellum American attitudes about class, politics, slavery, southern honor, personal identity, and war." -- Anne Marshall, author of Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State
"Few people know as much about the Civil War era in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley as Stuart Sanders. Viewing history through the lens of the Ohio Belle, Sanders shifts the story from an isolated murder to a much more complex series of events that speak directly to the sectional tensions already permeating the United States in 1856. Caught between these sections while plying the Ohio River, the Ohio Belle was the perfect host for issues involving slavery, honor, violence, and ultimately murder." -- Dr. Brian McKnight, author of Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia
"As vast and varied as the storied vessels, the story of Murder on the Ohio Belle captures the clash of class and cultures between the North and the South, between wealthy southerners and those they deemed to be lower-class in living color." -- Cleveland Review of Books
"[Stuart Sanders] has produced a carefully crafted microhistory of a riverboat and life on the Western rivers that reveals the tensions and realities of America on the eve of civil war. He handsomely succeeds in fulfilling his intention to show how 'a forgotten murder on a 19th-century steamboat can illuminate a more important broader narrative about our past.'... Sanders has crafted a complex story full of plot twists that, again, Agatha Christie and other mystery writers of her ilk would have greatly admired." -- America's Civil War Review