The Durham Boat was a large wooden boat produced by the Durham Boat Company of Durham, Pennsylvania. They were designed by company owner Robert Durham to navigate the Delaware River and thus transport the products produced by the Durham Forges and Durham Mills to Trenton, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They were flatbottomed boats with high vertical side which ran parallel to each other up to a point 12 to 14 feet from the boat's ends, where they then tapered. The boats were constructed of 1.25 inch thick planks and measured 60 feet long by 8 feet wide by 42 inches deep. They displaced a draft of 3.5 inches when light and 28 inches when fully loaded. They were designed to be able to carry a maximum load of 17 tons while traveling downstream and two tons while traveling upstream. Thus they could carry 150 barrels of flour or 600 bushels of corn. It took three men to operate the boats. Moving downstream they used 12 foot to 18 foot long "setting poles" mainly for steering and when moving upstream they used these poles to push the boats upriver. The crew walked back and forth on "walking boards" built into the sides of the boats. Some were later fitted for the use of oars. These boats are most famous for their use in Washington's crossing of the Delaware during the American Revolution.
The Durham boat in Delaware made its appearance and for years monopolized the carrying trade of the river. These boats were propelled by sails and setting poles, with a long steering oar at the helm. They were about twenty feet in length and manned by five men. They carried flour, grain, whiskey and other cargo, returning from Philadelphia with consignments of such supplies as were needed at Durham furnace and the farming country and towns by the river. Durham boats up to 1834, when the canal was in use, did all the carrying trade of the Delaware valley.
Durham boats hauled cargo such as ore, pig-iron, timber, and produce from upcountry mines, forests and farms down the Delaware River to Philadelphia's thriving markets and port. At the time, Philadelphia ranked second only to London in the value of its imports and exports. The largest Durham boats (up to 65 feet long and 8 feet in the beam) could transport up to 20 tons of iron or 150 barrels of flour downstream. Smaller loads of manufactured goods such as sugar and molasses were carried in these boats upstream from Philadelphia.
The Durham boat moved swiftly downstream with the current, aided by a pair of 18 foot oars and a 25 to 30 foot long sweep to steer through the rapids. When rigged with a 30-foot mast and triangular sail, this vessel was said to have moved silently and gracefully downstream. Traveling upstream against the current and through the treacherous rapids of the river above Trenton required a crew of six men and a captain. The crew captain at the stern wielded the long steering sweep, while two to four men pushed against the river bank or bottom with iron-tipped setting poles (12 to 18 feet long), and the rest of the crew oared against the current. Along each side of the vessel was a narrow gangway, which provided footing for the crew as it poled the boat upstream. When weather did not encourage sleeping in the open, the crew slept in the forward cabin. These craft were able to travel down the river through its many shallows because when fully loaded, they drew only about 24 inches of water. They were able to travel against the current and through the treacherous rapids up the Delaware River because when partially loaded with a cargo of about 2 tons, they drew only about 3 inches of water.