Fifteen batteaux set off from Lynchburg down the James River to near Richmond Saturday morning as the 37th annual James River Batteau Festival got underway in Lynchburg. The festival will continue through next Saturday, June 25, when the boats come out of the water at Maiden’s Landing.

The batteaux are hand-built to the same specifications as the watercraft which hauled tobacco, flour, and other cargo along the James and multiple other rivers in Virginia from the late 1700s up through about 1840 when they were mostly replaced with canal boats and railroads. In fact, one of the batteau is named for Anthony Rucker, an Amherst County tobacco grower, who is credited with inventing the Virginia batteau with his brother Benjamin. Previous versions of the Anthony Rucker were among the original recreations when the festival began in the 1980s.

The weather for the launch of the batteaux is generally hot and sticky along the river, typical for June in Virginia. But Saturday, humidity was low, temperatures were mild, and several hundred people on both the Lynchburg and Amherst sides of the river watched the launch. 

As usual, multiple kayaks and canoes accompanied the fleet downstream, with dogs and small children playing in the shallow water before the traditional cannon blast that starts the festival. The batteau crews will camp along the way each night.

For background story on what a batteau is, see our previous story, “Celebrating eight days on the James.”

The route. Map by Robert Lunsford.

Joe Stinnett is retired editor of The News & Advance and The Roanoke Times. He is a member of the...