Kelly Library Of St. Gregory’s University; Thanks To Alev Akman.
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THE PATHS OF INLAND COMMERCE, A CHRONICLE OF TRAIL, ROAD, AND WATERWAY
By Archer B. Hulbert
If the great American novel is ever written, I hazard the guess that its plot will be woven around the theme of American transportation, for that has been the vital factor in the national development of the United States. Every problem in the building of the Republic has been, in the last analysis, a problem in transportation. The author of such a novel will find a rich fund of material in the perpetual rivalries of pack-horseman and wagoner, of riverman and canal boatman, of steamboat promoter and railway capitalist. He will find at every point the old jostling and challenging the new pack-horsemen demolishing wagons in the early days of the Alleghany traffic; wagoners deriding Clinton’s Ditch; angry boatmen anxious to ram the paddle wheels of Fulton’s Clermont, which threatened their monopoly. Such opposition has always been an incident of progress; and even in this new country, receptive as it was to new ideas, the Washingtons, the Fitches, the Fultons, the Coopers, and the Whitneys, who saw visions and dreamed dreams, all had to face scepticism and hostility from those whom they would serve.
A. B. H.
I. THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE VISION
II. THE RED MAN’S TRAIL
III. THE MASTERY OF THE RIVERS
IV. A NATION ON WHEELS
V. THE FLATBOAT AGE
VI. THE PASSING SHOW OF 1800
VII. THE BIRTH OF THE STEAMBOAT
VIII. THE CONQUEST OF THE ALLEGHANIES IX. THE DAWN OF THE IRON AGE
X. THE PATHWAY OF THE LAKES
XI. THE STEAMBOAT AND THE WEST
THE PATHS OF INLAND COMMERCE
CHAPTER I. The Man Who Caught The Vision
Inland America, at the birth of the Republic, was as great a mystery to the average dweller on the Atlantic seaboard as the elephant was to the blind men of Hindustan. The reports of those who had penetrated this wilderness–of those who had seen the barren ranges of the Alleghanies, the fertile uplands of the Unakas, the luxuriant blue-grass regions, the rich bottom lands of the Ohio and Mississippi, the wide shores of the inland seas, or the stretches of prairie increasing in width beyond the Wabash–seemed strangely contradictory, and no one had been able to patch these reports together and grasp the real proportions of the giant inland empire that had become a part of the United States. It was a pathless desert; it was a maze of trails, trodden out by deer, buffalo, and Indian. Its great riverways were broad avenues for voyagers and explorers; they were treacherous gorges filled with the plunder of a million floods. It was a rich soil, a land of plenty; the natives were seldom more than a day removed from starvation. Within its broad confines could dwell a great people; but it was as inaccessible as the interior of China. It had a great commercial future; yet its gigantic distances and natural obstructions defied all known means of transportation.
Such were the varied and contradictory stories told by the men who had entered the portals of inland America. It is not surprising, therefore, that theories and prophecies about the interior were vague and conflicting nor that most of the schemes of statesmen and financiers for the development of the West were all parts and no whole. They all agreed as to the vast richness of that inland realm and took for granted an immense commerce therein that was certain to yield enormous profits. In faraway Paris, the ingenious diplomat, Silas Deane, writing to the Secret Committee of Congress in 1776, pictured the Old Northwest– bounded by the Ohio, the Alleghanies, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi–as paying the whole expense of the Revolutionary War.* Thomas Paine in 1780 drew specifications for a State of from twenty to thirty millions of acres lying west of Virginia and south of the Ohio River, the sale of which land would pay the cost of three years of the war.** On the other hand, Pelatiah Webster, patriotic economist that he was, decried in 1781 all schemes to “pawn” this vast westward region; he likened such plans to “killing the goose that laid an egg every day, in order to tear out at once all that was in her belly.” He advocated the township system of compact and regular settlement; and he argued that any State making a cession of land would reap great benefit “from the produce and trade” of the newly created settlements.
* Deane’s plan was to grant a tract two hundred miles square at the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi to a company on the condition that a thousand families should be settled on it within seven years. He added that, as this company would be in a great degree commercial, the establishing of commerce at the junction of those large rivers would immediately give a value to all the lands situated on or near them.
** Paine thought that while the new State could send its exports southward down the Mississippi, its imports must necessarily come from the East through Chesapeake Bay because the current of the Mississippi was too strong to be overcome by any means of navigation then known.
There were mooted many other schemes. General Rufus Putnam, for example, advocated the Pickering or “Army” plan of occupying the West; he wanted a fortified line to the Great Lakes, in case of war with England, and fortifications on the Ohio and the Mississippi, in case Spain should interrupt the national commerce on these waterways. And Thomas Jefferson theorized in his study over the toy states of Metropotamia and Polypotamia–brought his
…trees and houses out
And planted cities all about.
But it remained for George Washington, the Virginia planter, to catch, in something of its actual grandeur, the vision of a Republic stretching towards the setting sun, bound and unified by paths of inland commerce. It was Washington who traversed the long ranges of the Alleghanies, slept in the snows of Deer Park with no covering but his greatcoat, inquired eagerly of trapper and trader and herder concerning the courses of the Cheat, the Monongahela, and the Little Kanawha, and who drew from these personal explorations a clear and accurate picture of the future trade routes by which the country could be economically, socially, and nationally united.
Washington’s experience had peculiarly fitted him to catch this vision. Fortune had turned him westward as he left his mother’s knee. First as a surveyor for Lord Fairfax in the Shenandoah Valley and later, under Braddock and Forbes, in the armies fighting for the Ohio against the French he had come to know the interior as it was known by no other man of his standing. His own landed property lay largely along the upper Potomac and in and beyond the Alleghanies. Washington’s interest in this property was very real. Those who attempt to explain his early concern with the West as purely altruistic must misread his numerous letters and diaries. Nothing in his unofficial character shows more plainly than his business enterprise and acumen. On one occasion he wrote to his agent, Crawford, concerning a proposed land speculation: “I recommend that you keep this whole matter a secret or trust it only to those in whom you can confide. If the scheme I am now proposing to you were known, it might give alarm to others, and by putting them on a plan of the same nature, before we could lay a proper foundation for success ourselves, set the different interests clashing and in the end overturn the whole.” Nor can it be denied that Washington’s attitude to the commercial development of the West was characterized in his early days by a narrow colonial partisanship. He was a stout Virginian; and all stout Virginians of that day refused to admit the pretensions of other colonies to the land beyond the mountains. But from no man could the shackles of self-interest and provincial rivalry drop more quickly than they dropped from Washington when he found his country free after the close of the Revolutionary War. He then began to consider how that country might grow and prosper. And he began to preach the new doctrine of expansion and unity. This new doctrine first appears in a letter which he wrote to the Marquis de Chastellux in 1783, after a tour from his camp at Newburg into central New York, where he had explored the headwaters of the Mohawk and the Susquehanna: “I could not help taking a more extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States [the letter runs] and could not but be struck by the immense extent and importance of it, and of the goodness of that Providence which has dealt its favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them. I shall not rest contented till I have explored the Western country, and traversed those lines, or great part of them, which have given bounds to a new empire.”
“The vast inland navigation of these United States!” It is an interesting fact that Washington should have had his first glimpse of this vision from the strategic valley of the Mohawk, which was soon to rival his beloved Potomac as an improved commercial route from the seaboard to the West, and which was finally to achieve an unrivaled superiority in the days of the Erie Canal and the Twentieth Century Limited.
We may understand something of what the lure of the West meant to Washington when we learn that in order to carry out his proposed journey after the Revolution, he was compelled to refuse urgent invitations to visit Europe and be the guest of France. “I found it indispensably necessary,” he writes, “to visit my Landed property West of the Apalacheon Mountains…. One object of my journey being to obtain information of the nearest and best communication between Eastern & Western waters; & to facilitate as much as in me lay the Inland Navigation of the Potomack.”
On September 1, 1784, Washington set out from Mount Vernon on his journey to the West. Even the least romantic mind must feel a thrill in picturing this solitary horseman, the victor of Yorktown, threading the trails of the Potomac, passing on by Cumberland and Fort Necessity and Braddock’s grave to the Monongahela. The man, now at the height of his fame, is retracing the trails of his boyhood–covering ground over which he had passed as a young officer in the last English and French war–but he is seeing the land in so much larger perspective that, although his diary is voluminous, the reader of those pages would not know that Washington had been this way before. Concerning Great Meadows, where he first saw the “bright face of danger” and which he once described gleefully as “a charming place for an encounter,” he now significantly remarks: “The upland, East of the meadow, is good for grain.” Changed are the ardent dreams that filled the young man’s heart when he wrote to his mother from this region that singing bullets “have truly a charming sound.” Today, as he looks upon the flow of Youghiogheny, he sees it reaching out its finger tips to Potomac’s tributaries. He perceives a similar movement all along the chain of the Alleghanies: on the west are the Great Lakes and the Ohio, and reaching out towards them from the east, waiting to be joined by portage road and canal, are the Hudson, the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James. He foresees these streams bearing to the Atlantic ports the golden produce of the interior and carrying back to the interior the manufactured goods of the seaboard. He foresees the Republic becoming homogeneous, rich, and happy. “Open ALL the communication which nature has afforded,” he wrote Henry Lee, “between the Atlantic States and the Western territory, and encourage the use of them to the utmost…and sure I am there is no other tie by which they will long form a link in the chain of Federal Union.”
Crude as were the material methods by which Washington hoped to accomplish this end, in spirit he saw the very America that we know today; and he marked out accurately the actual pathways of inland commerce that have played their part in the making of America. Taking the city of Detroit as the key position, commercially, he traced the main lines of internal trade. He foresaw New York improving her natural line of communication by way of the Mohawk and the Niagara frontier on Lake Erie–the present line of the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railway. For Pennsylvania, he pointed out the importance of linking the Schuylkill and the Susquehanna and of opening the two avenues westward to Pittsburgh and to Lake Erie. In general, he thus forecast the Pennsylvania Canal and the Pennsylvania and the Erie railways. For Maryland and Virginia he indicated the Potomac route as the nearest for all the trade of the Ohio Valley, with the route by way of the James and the Great Kanawha as an alternative for the settlements on the lower Ohio. His vision here was realized in a later day by the Potomac and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Cumberland Road, the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, and by the James-Kanawha Turnpike and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.
Washington’s general conclusions are stated in a summary at the end of his Journal, which was reproduced in his classic letter to Harrison, written in 1784. His first point is that every State which had water routes reaching westward could enhance the value of its lands, increase its commerce, and quiet the democratic turbulence of its shut-in pioneer communities by the improvement of its river transportation. Taking Pennsylvania as a specific example, he declared that “there are one hundred thousand souls West of the Laurel Hill, who are groaning under the inconveniences of a long land transportation…. If this cannot be made easy for them to Philadelphia…they will seek a mart elsewhere…. An opposition on the part of [that] government…would ultimately bring on a separation between its Eastern and Western settlements; towards which there is not wanting a disposition at this moment in that part of it beyond the mountains.”
Washington’s second proposal was the achievement of a new and lasting conquest of the West by binding it to the seaboard with chains of commerce. He thus states his point: “No well informed mind need be told that the flanks and rear of the United territory are possessed by other powers, and formidable ones too–nor how necessary it is to apply the cement of interest to bind all parts of it together, by one indissoluble bond–particularly
the middle States with the Country immediately back of them–for what ties let me ask, should we have upon those people; and how entirely unconnected should we be with them if the Spaniards on their right or Great Britain on their left, instead of throwing stumbling blocks in their way as they do now, should invite their trade and seek alliances with them?”
Some of the pictures in Washington’s vision reveal, in the light of subsequent events, an almost uncanny prescience. He very plainly prophesied the international rivalry for the trade of the Great Lakes zone, embodied today in the Welland and the Erie canals. He declared the possibility of navigating with oceangoing vessels the tortuous two-thousand-mile channel of the Ohio and the Mississippi River; and within sixteen years ships left the Ohio, crossed the Atlantic, and sailed into the Mediterranean. His description of a possible insurrection of a western community might well have been written later; it might almost indeed have made a page of his diary after he became President of the United States and during the Whiskey Insurrection in western Pennsylvania. He approved and encouraged Rumsey’s mechanical invention for propelling boats against the stream, showing that he had a glimpse of what was to follow after Fitch, Rumsey, and Fulton should have overcome the mighty currents of the Hudson and the Ohio with the steamboat’s paddle wheel. His proposal that Congress should undertake a survey of western rivers for the purpose of giving people at large a knowledge of their possible importance as avenues of commerce was a forecast of the Lewis and Clark expedition as well as of the policy of the Government today for the improvement of the great inland rivers and harbors.
“The destinies of our country run east and west. Intercourse between the mighty interior west and the sea coast is the great principle of our commercial prosperity.” These are the words of Edward Everett in advocating the Boston and Albany Railroad. In effect Washington had uttered those same words half a century earlier when he gave momentum to an era filled with energetic but unsuccessful efforts to join with the waters of the West the rivers reaching inland from the Atlantic. The fact that American engineering science had not in his day reached a point where it could cope with this problem successfully should in no wise lessen our admiration for the man who had thus caught the vision of a nation united and unified by improved methods of transportation.
CHAPTER II. The Red Man’s Trail
For the beginnings of the paths of our inland commerce, we must look far back into the dim prehistoric ages of America. The earliest routes that threaded the continent were the streams and the tracks beaten out by the heavier four-footed animals. The Indian hunter followed the migrations of the animals and the streams that would float his light canoe. Today the main lines of travel and transportation for the most part still cling to these primeval pathways.
In their wanderings, man and beast alike sought the heights, the passes that pierced the mountain chains, and the headwaters of navigable rivers. On the ridges the forest growth was lightest and there was little obstruction from fallen timber; rain and frost caused least damage by erosion; and the winds swept the trails clear of leaves in summer and of snow in winter. Here lay the easiest paths for the heavy, blundering buffalo and the roving elk and moose and deer. Here, high up in the sun, where the outlook was unobstructed and signal fires could be seen from every direction, on the longest watersheds, curving around river and swamp, ran the earliest travel routes of the aboriginal inhabitants and of their successors, the red men of historic times. For their encampments and towns these peoples seem to have preferred the more sheltered ground along the smaller streams; but, when they fared abroad to hunt, to trade, to wage war, to seek new, material for pipe and amulet, they followed in the main the highest ways.
If in imagination one surveys the eastern half of the North American continent from one of the strategic passageways of the Alleghanies, say from Cumberland Gap or from above Kittanning Gorge, the outstanding feature in the picture will be the Appalachian barrier that separates the interior from the Atlantic coast. To the north lie the Adirondacks and the Berkshire Hills, hedging New England in close to the ocean. Two glittering waterways lie east and west of these heights–the Connecticut and the Hudson. Upon the valleys of these two rivers converged the two deeply worn pathways of the Puritan, the Old Bay Path and the Connecticut Path. By way of Westfield River, that silver tributary which joins the Connecticut at Springfield, Massachusetts, the Bay Path surmounted the Berkshire highlands and united old Massachusetts to the upper Hudson Valley near Fort Orange, now Albany.
Here, north of the Catskills, the Appalachian barrier subsides and gives New York a supreme advantage over all the other Atlantic States–a level route to the Great Lakes and the West. The Mohawk River threads the smiling landscape; beyond lies the “Finger Lake country” and the valley of the Genesee. Through this romantic region ran the Mohawk Trail, sending offshoots to Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence, to the Susquehanna, and to the Allegheny. A few names have been altered in the course of years– the Bay Path is now the Boston and Albany Railroad, the Mohawk Trail is the New York Central, and Fort Orange is Albany–and thus we may tell in a dozen words the story of three centuries.
Upon Fort Orange converged the score of land and water pathways of the fur trade of our North. These Indian trade routes were slowly widened into colonial roads, notably the Mohawk and Catskill turnpikes, and these in turn were transformed into the Erie, Lehigh, Nickel Plate, and New York Central railways. But from the day when the canoe and the keel boat floated their bulky cargoes of pelts or the heavy laden Indian pony trudged the trail, the routes of trade have been little or nothing altered.
Traversing the line of the Alleghanies southward, the eye notes first the break in the wall at the Delaware Water Gap, and then that long arm of the Susquehanna, the Juniata, reaching out through dark Kittanning Gorge to its silver playmate, the dancing Conemaugh. Here amid its leafy aisles ran the brown and red Kittanning Trail, the main route of the Pennsylvania traders from the rich region of York, Lancaster, and Chambersburg. On this general alignment the Broadway Limited flies today toward Pittsburgh and Chicago. A little to the south another important pathway from the same region led, by way of Carlisle, Bedford, and Ligonier, to the Ohio. The “Highland Trail” the Indian traders called it, for it kept well on the watershed dividing the Allegheny tributaries on the north from those of the Monongahela on the south.
Farther to the south the scene shows a change, for the Atlantic plain widens considerably. The Potomac River, the James, the Pedee, and the Savannah flow through valleys much longer than those of the northern rivers. Here in the South commerce was carried on mainly by shallop and pinnace. The trails of the Indian skirted the rivers and offered for trader and explorer passageway to the West, especially to the towns of the Cherokees in the southern Alleghanies or Unakas; but the waterways and the roads over which the hogsheads of tobacco were rolled (hence called “rolling roads”) sufficed for the needs of the thin fringes of population settled along the rivers. Trails from Winchester in Virginia and Frederick in Maryland focused on Cumberland at the head of the Potomac. Beyond, to the west, the finger tips of the Potomac interlocked closely with the Monongahela and Youghiogheny, and through this network of mountain and river valley, by the “Shades of Death” and Great Meadows, coiled Nemacolin’s Path to the Ohio. Even today this ancient route is in part followed by the Baltimore and Ohio and the Western Maryland Railway.
A bird’s-eye view of the southern Alleghanies shows that, while the Atlantic plain of Virginia and the Carolinas widens out, the mountain chains increase in number, fold on fold, from the Blue Ridge to the ragged ranges of the Cumberlands. Few trails led across this manifold barrier. There was a connection at Balcony Falls between the James River and the Great Kanawha; but as a trade route it was of no such value to the men of its day as the Chesapeake and Ohio system over the same course is to us. As in the North, so in the South, trade avoided obstacles by taking a roundabout, and often the longest route. In order to double the extremity of the Unakas, for instance, the trails reached down by the Valley of Virginia and New River to the uplands of the Tennessee, and here, near Elizabethton, they met the trails leading up the Broad and the Yadkin rivers from Charleston, South Carolina.
To the west rise the somber heights of Cumberland Gap. Through this portal ran the famous “Warrior’s Path,” known to wandering hunters, the “trail of iron” from Fort Watauga and Fort Chiswell, which Daniel Boone widened for the settlers of Kentucky. To the southwest lay the Blue Grass region of Tennessee with its various trails converging on Nashville from almost every direction. Today the Southern Railway enters the “Sapphire Country,” in which Asheville lies, by practically the same route as the old Rutherfordton Trail which was used for generations by red man and pioneer from the Carolina coast. In our entire region of the Appalachians, from the Berkshire Hills southward, practically every old-time pathway from the seaboard to the trans-Alleghany country is now occupied by an important railway system, with the exception of the Warrior’s Trail through Cumberland Gap to central Ohio and the Highland Trail across southern Pennsylvania. And even Cumberland Gap is accessible by rail today, and a line across southern Pennsylvania was once planned and partially constructed only to be killed by jealous rivals.
These numerous keys to the Alleghanies were a challenge to the men of the seaboard to seize upon the rich trade of the West which had been early monopolized by the French in Canada. But the challenge brought its difficult problems. What land canoes could compete with the flotillas that brought their priceless cargoes of furs each year to Montreal and Quebec? What race of landlubbers could vie with the picturesque bands of fearless voyageurs who sang their songs on the Great Lakes, the Ohio, the Illinois, and the Mississippi?
In the solution of this problem of diverting trade probably the factor of greatest importance, next to open pathways through the mountain barriers, was the rich stock-breeding ground lying between the Delaware and the Susquehanna rivers, a region occupied by the settlers familiarly known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. In this famous belt, running from Pennsylvania into Virginia, originated the historic pack-horse trade with the “far Indians” of the Ohio Valley. Here, in the first granary of America, Germans, Scotch-Irish, and English bred horses worthy of the name. “Brave fat Horses” an amazed officer under Braddock called the mounts of five Quakers who unexpectedly rode into camp as though straight “from the land of Goshen.” These animals, crossed with the Indian “pony” from New Spain, produced the wise, wiry, and sturdy pack-horse, fit to transport nearly two hundred pounds of merchandise across the rough and narrow Alleghany trails. This animal and the heavy Conestoga horse from the same breeding ground revolutionized inland commerce.
The first American cow pony was not without his cowboy. Though the drivers were not all of the same type and though the proprietors, so to speak, of the trans-Alleghany pack-horse trade came generally from the older settlements, the bulk of the hard work was done by a lusty army of men not reproduced again in America until the picturesque figure of the cow-puncher appeared above the western horizon. This breed of men was nurtured on the outer confines of civilization, along the headwaters of the Susquehanna, the Potomac, the James, and the Broad–the country of the “Cowpens.” Rough as the wilderness they occupied, made strong by their diet of meat and curds, these Tatars of the highlands played a part in the commercial history of America that has never had its historian. In their knowledge of Indian character, of horse and packsaddle lore, of the forest and its trails in every season, these men of the Cowpens were the kings of the old frontier.
An officer under Braddock has left us one of the few pictures of these people*:
* “Extracts of Letters from an Officer” (London, 1755).
“From the Heart of the Settlements we are now got into the Cow-pens; the Keepers of these are very extraordinary Kind of Fellows, they drive up their Herds on Horseback, and they had need do so, for their Cattle are near as wild as Deer; a Cow-pen generally consists of a very large Cottage or House in the Woods, with about four-score or one hundred Acres, inclosed with high Rails and divided; a small Inclosure they keep for Corn, for the family, the rest is the Pasture in which they keep their calves; but the Manner is far different from any Thing you ever saw; they may perhaps have a Stock of four or five hundred to a thousand Head of Cattle belonging to a Cow-pen, these run as they please in the Great Woods, where there are no Inclosures to stop them. In the Month of March the Cows begin to drop their Calves, then the Cow-pen Master, with all his Men, rides out to see and drive up the Cows with all their new fallen Calves; they being weak cannot run away so as to escape, therefore are easily drove up, and the Bulls and other Cattle follow them; and they put these Calves into the Pasture, and every Morning and Evening suffer the Cows to come and suckle them, which done they let the Cows out into the great Woods to shift for their Food as well as they can; whilst the Calf is sucking one Tit of the Cow, the Woman of the Cow-Pen is milking one of the other Tits, so that she steals some Milk from the Cow, who thinks she is giving it to the Calf; soon as the Cow begins to go dry, and the Calf grows Strong, they mark them, if they are Males they cut them, and let them go into the Wood. Every Year in September and October they drive up the Market Steers, that are fat and of a proper Age, and kill them; they say they are fat in October, but I am sure they are not so in May, June and July; they reckon that out of 100 Head of Cattle they can kill about 10 or 12 steers, and four or five Cows a Year; so they reckon that a Cow-Pen for every 100 Head of Cattle brings about 40 pounds Sterling per Year. The Keepers live chiefly upon Milk, for out of their Vast Herds, they do condescend to tame Cows enough to keep their Family in Milk, Whey, Curds, Cheese and Butter; they also have Flesh in Abundance such as it is, for they eat the old Cows and lean Calves that are like to die. The Cow-Pen Men are hardy People, are almost continually on Horseback, being obliged to know the Haunts of their Cattle”. “You see, Sir, what a wild set of Creatures Our English Men grow into, when they lose Society, and it is surprising to think how many Advantages they throw away, which our industrious Country-Men would be glad of: Out of many hundred Cows they will not give themselves the trouble of milking more than will maintain their Family.”
With such a race of born horsemen, every whit as bold and resourceful as the voyageurs, to bear the brunt of a new era of transportation, all that was needed to challenge French trade beyond the Alleghanies was competent and aggressive leadership. The situation called for men of means, men of daring, men closely in touch with governors and assemblies and acquainted with the web of politics that was being spun at Philadelphia, Williamsburg, New York, London, and Paris. Generations of tenacious struggle along the American frontier had developed such men. The Weisers, Croghans, Gists, Washingtons, Franklins, Walkers, and Cresaps were men of varied descent and nationality. They had the cunning, the boldness, and the resources to undertake successfully the task of conquering commercially the Great West. They were the first men of the colonies to be unafraid of that bugbear of the trader, Distance. We may aptly call them the first Americans because, though not a few were actually born abroad, they were the first whose plans, spirit, and very life were dominated by the vision of an America of continental dimensions.
The long story of French and English rivalry and of the war which ended it concerns us here chiefly as a commercial struggle. The French at Niagara (1749) had access to the Ohio by way of Lake Erie and any one of several rivers–the Allegheny, the Muskingum, the Scioto, or the Miami. The main routes of the English were the Nemacolin and Kittanning paths. The French, laboring under the disadvantages of the longer distance over which their goods had to be transported to the Indians and of the higher price necessarily demanded for them, had to meet the competition of the traders from the rival colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia, each of them jealous of and underbidding the other.
When Celoron de Blainville was sent to the Allegheny in 1749, by the Governor of New France, his message was that “the Governor of Canada desired his children on Ohio to turn away the English Traders from amongst them and discharge them from ever coming to trade there again, or on any of the Branches.” He sent away all the traders whom he found, giving them letters addressed to their respective governors denying England’s right to trade in the West. To offset this move, within two years Pennsylvania sent goods to the value of nine hundred pounds in order to hold the Indians constant. The Governor had already ordered the traders to sell whiskey to the Indians at “5 Bucks” per cask and had told the Indians, through his agent Conrad Weiser, that if any trader refused to sell the liquor at that price they might “take it from him and drink it for nothing.” There was but one way for the French to meet such competition. Without delay they fortified the Allegheny and began to coerce the natives. Driving away the carpenters of the Ohio Company from the present site of Pittsburgh, they built Fort Duquesne. The beginning of the Old French War ended what we may call the first era of the pack-horse trade.
The capture of Fort Duquesne by the English army under General Forbes in 1758 and the final conquest of New France two years later removed the French barrier and opened the way to expansion beyond the Alleghanies. Thereafter settlements in the Monongahela country grew apace. Pittsburgh, Uniontown, Morgantown, Brownsville, Ligonier, Greensburg, Connellsville–we give the modern names–became centers of a great migration which was halted only for a season by Pontiac’s Rebellion, the aftermath of the French War, and was resumed immediately on the suppression of that Indian rising. The pack-horse trade now entered its final and most important era. The earlier period was one in which the trade was confined chiefly to the Indians; the later phase was concerned with supplying the needs of the white man in his rapidly developing frontier settlements. Formerly the principal articles of merchandise for the western trade were guns, ammunition, knives, kettles, and tools for their repair, blankets, tobacco, hatchets, and liquor. In the new era every known product of the East found a market in the thriving communities of the upper Ohio. As time went on the West began to send to the East, in addition to skins and pelts, whiskey that brought a dollar a gallon. Each pony could carry sixteen gallons and every drop could be sold for real money. On the return trip the pack-horses carried back chiefly salt and iron.
Doddridge’s “Notes”, one of the chief sources of our information, gives this lively picture:
“In the fall of the year, after seeding time, every family formed an association with some of their neighbors, for starting the little caravan. A master driver was to be selected from among them, who was to be assisted by one or more young men and sometimes a boy or two. The horses were fitted out with packsaddles, to the latter part of which was fastened a pair of hobbles made of hickory withes,–a bell and collar ornamented their necks. The bags provided for the conveyance of the salt were filled with bread, jerk, boiled ham, and cheese furnished a provision for the drivers. At night, after feeding, the horses, whether put in pasture or turned out into the woods, were hobbled and the bells were opened. The barter for salt and iron was made first at Baltimore; Frederick, Hagerstown, Oldtown, and Fort Cumberland, in succession, became the places of exchange. Each horse carried two bushels of alum salt, weighing eighty-four pounds to the bushel. This, to be sure, was not a heavy load for the horses, but it was enough, considering the scanty subsistence allowed them on the journey. The common price of a bushel of alum salt, at an early period, was a good cow and a calf.
Thus, with the English flag afloat at Fort Pitt, as Duquesne was renamed after its capture, a new day dawned for the great region to the West. Beyond the Alleghanies and as far as the Rockies, a new science of transportation was now to be learned–the art of finding the dividing ridge. Here the first routes, like the “Great Trail” from Pittsburgh to Detroit, struck out with an assurance that is in marvelous agreement with the findings of the surveyors of a later day. The railways, when they came, found the valleys and penetrated with their tunnels the watersheds from the heads of the streams of one drainage area to the streams of another. Thus on the Pennsylvania, the Baltimore and Ohio, the Southern, the Chesapeake and Ohio, and other railroads, important tunnels are to be found lying immediately under the Red Man’s trail which clung to the long ascending slope and held persistently to the dividing ridges.
Even this necessarily brief survey shows plainly how that preeminently American institution, the ridge road, came about. East and west, it was the legitimate and natural successor to the ancient trail. With the coming of the wagon, whose rattle was heard among the hills as early as Braddock’s campaign, the process of lowering these paths from the heights was inevitably begun, and it was to the riverways that men first looked for a solution of the difficult problems of inland commerce. Eventually the paths of inland commerce constituted a vast network of canals, roads, and railway lines in those very valleys to which Washington had called the nation’s attention in 1784.
CHAPTER III. The Mastery Of The Rivers
It would perhaps have been well, in the light of later difficulties and failures, if the men who at Washington’s call undertook to master the capricious rivers of the seaboard had studied a stately Spanish decree which declared that, since God had not made the rivers of Spain navigable, it were sacrilege for mortals to attempt to do so. Even before the Revolution, Mayor Rhodes of Philadelphia was in correspondence with Franklin in London concerning the experiences of European engineers in harnessing foreign streams. That sage philosopher, writing to Rhodes in 1772, uttered a clear word of warning: “rivers are ungovernable things,” he had said, and English engineers “seldom or never use a River where it can be avoided.” But it was the birthright of New World democracy to make its own mistakes and in so doing to prove for itself the errors of the Old World.
As energetic men all along the Atlantic Plain now took up the problem of improving the inland rivers, they faced a storm of criticism and ridicule that would have daunted any but such as Washington and Johnson of Virginia or White and Hazard of Pennsylvania or Morris and Watson of New York. Every imaginable objection to such projects was advanced–from the inefficiency of the science of engineering to the probable destruction of all the fish in the streams. In spite of these discouragements, however, various men set themselves to form in rapid succession the Potomac Company in 1785, the Society for Promoting the Improvement of Inland Navigation in 1791, the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company in 1792, and the Lehigh Coal Mine Company in 1793. A brief review of these various enterprises will give a clear if not a complete view of the first era of inland water commerce in America.
The Potomac Company, authorized in 1785 by the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia, received an appropriation of $6666 from each State for opening a road from the headwaters of the Potomac to either the Cheat or the Monongahela, “as commissioners… shall find most convenient and beneficial to the Western settlers.” This was the only public aid which the enterprise received; and the stipulated purpose clearly indicates the fact that, in the minds of its promoters, the transcontinental character of the undertaking appeared to be vital. The remainder of the money required for the work was raised by public subscription in the principal cities of the two States. In this way 40,300 pounds was subscribed, Virginia men taking 266 shares and Maryland men 137 shares. The stock holders elected George Washington as president of the company, at a salary of thirty shillings a year, with four directors to aid him, and they chose as general manager James Rumsey, the boat mechanician. These men then proceeded to attack the chief impediments in the Potomac– the Great Falls above Washington, the Seneca Falls at the mouth of Seneca Creek, and the Shenandoah Falls at Harper’s Ferry. But, as they had difficulty in obtaining workmen and sufficient liquor to cheer them in their herculean tasks, they made such slow progress that subscribers, doubting Washington’s optimistic prophecy that the stock would increase in value twenty per cent, paid their assessments only after much deliberation or not at all. Thirty-six years later, though $729,380 had been spent and lock canals had been opened about the unnavigable stretches of the Potomac River, a commission appointed to examine the affairs of the company reported “that the floods and freshets nevertheless gave the only navigation that was enjoyed.” As for the road between the Potomac and the Cheat or the Monongahela, the records at hand do not show that the money voted for that enterprise had been used.
The Potomac Company nevertheless had accomplished something: it had acquired an asset of the greatest value–a right of way up the strategic Potomac Valley; and it had furnished an object lesson to men in other States who were struggling with a similar problem. When, as will soon be apparent, New York men undertook the improvement of the Mohawk waterway there was no pattern of canal construction for them to follow in America except the inadequate wooden locks erected along the Potomac. It is interesting to know that Elkanah Watson, prominent in inland navigation to the North, went down from New York in order to study these wooden locks and that New Yorkers adopted them as models, though they changed the material to brick and finally to stone.
Pennsylvania had been foremost among the colonies in canal building, for it had surveyed as early as 1762 the first lock canal in America, from near Reading on the Schuylkill to Middletown on the Susquehanna. Work, however, had to be suspended when Pontiac’s Rebellion threw the inland country into a panic. But the enterprise of Maryland and Virginia in 1785 in developing the Potomac aroused the Pennsylvanians to renewed activity. The Society for Promoting the Improvement of Roads and Inland Navigation set forth a programme that was as broad as the Keystone State itself. Their ultimate object was to capture the trade of the Great Lakes. “If we turn our view,” read the memorial which the Society presented to the Legislature, “to the immense territories connected with the Ohio and Mississippi waters, and bordering on the Great Lakes, it will appear… that our communication with those vast countries (considering Fort Pitt as the port of entrance upon them) is as easy and may be rendered as cheap, as to any other port on the Atlantic tide waters.”
Pennsylvania, lying between Virginia and New York, occupied a peculiar position. Her Susquehanna Valley stretched northwest–not
so directly west as did the Potomac on the south and the Mohawk on the north. This more northerly trend led these early Pennsylvania promoters to believe that, while they might “only have a share in the trade of those [the Ohio] waters,” they could absolutely secure for themselves the trade of the Great Lakes, “taking Presq’ Isle [Erie, Pennsylvania] which is within our own State, as the great mart or place of embarkation.”
The plan which the Society proposed involved the improvement of water and land routes by way of the Delaware to Lake Ontario and Lake Otsego, and of eight routes by the Susquehanna drainage, north, northwest, and west. A bill which passed the Legislature on April 13, 1791, appropriated money for these improvements. Work was begun immediately on the Schuylkill-Susquehanna Canal, but only four miles had been completed by 1794, when the Lancaster Turnpike directed men’s attention to improved highways as an alternative more likely than canals to provide the desired facilities for inland transportation. The work on the canal was renewed, however, in 1821, when the rival Erie Canal was nearing completion, and was finished in 1827. It became known as the Union Canal and formed a link in the Pennsylvania canal system, the development of which will be described in a later chapter.
In New York State, throughout the period of the Old French and the Revolutionary wars, barges and keel boats had plied the Mohawk, Wood Creek, and the Oswego to Lake Ontario. Around such obstructions as Cohoes Falls, Little Falls, and the portage at Rome to Wood Creek, wagons, sleds, and pack-horses had transferred the cargoes. To avoid this labor and delay men soon conceived of conquering these obstacles by locks and canals. As early as 1777 the brilliant Gouverneur Morris had a vision of the economic development of his State when “the waters of the great western inland seas would, by the aid of man, break through their barriers and mingle with those of the Hudson.”
Elkanah Watson was in many ways the Washington of New York. He had the foresight, patience, and persistence of the Virginia planter. His “Journal” of a tour up the Mohawk in 1788 and a pamphlet which he published in 1791 may be said to be the ultimate sources in any history of the internal commerce of New York. As a result, a company known as “The President, Directors, and Company of the Western Inland Lock Navigation in the State of New York,” with a capital stock of $25,000, was authorized by act of legislature in March, 1792, and the State subscribed for $12,500 in stock. Many singular provisions were inserted in this charter, but none more remarkable than one which stipulated that all profits over fifteen per cent should revert to the State Treasury. This hint concerning surplus profits, however, did not cause a stampede when the books were opened for subscriptions in New York and Albany. In later years, when the Erie Canal gave promise of a new era in American inland commerce, Elkanah Watson recalled with a grim satisfaction the efforts of these early days. The subscription books at the old Coffee House in New York, he tells us, lay open three days without an entry, and at Lewis’s tavern in Albany, where the books were opened for a similar period, “no mortal” had subscribed for more than two shares.
The system proposed for the improvement of the waterways of New York was similar to that projected for the Potomac. A canal was to be cut from the Mohawk to the Hudson in order to avoid Cohoes Falls; a canal with locks would overcome the forty-foot drop at Little Falls; another canal over five thousand feet in length was to connect the Mohawk and Wood Creek at Rome; minor improvements were to be made between Schenectady and the mouth of the Schoharie; and finally the Oswego Falls at Rochester were to be circumvented also by canal. All the objections, difficulties, and discouragements which had attended efforts to improve waterways elsewhere in America confronted these New York promoters. They began in 1793 at Little Falls but were soon forced to cease owing to the failure of funds. Under the encouraging spur of a state subscription to two hundred shares of stock, they renewed their efforts in 1794 but were again forced to abandon the work before the year had passed. By November, 1795, however, they had completed the canal and in thirty days had received toll to the amount of about four hundred dollars.
The total actual work done is not clearly shown by the documents, but it is evident that the measure of success achieved was not equaled elsewhere on similar improvements on a large scale. From 1796 to 1804 the tolls received at Rome amounted to over fifteen thousand dollars, and at Little Falls to over fifty-eight thousand dollars–a sum which exceeded the original cost of construction. Dividends had crept up from three per cent in 1798 to five and a half per cent in 1817, the year in which work was begun on the Erie Canal.
No struggle for the mastery of an American river matches in certain respects the effort of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company to bridle the Lehigh and make it play its part in the commercial development of Pennsylvania. The failures and trials of the promoters of this company were no less remarkable than was the great success that eventually crowned the effort. In 1793 the Lehigh Coal Mine Company was organized and purchased some ten thousand acres in the Mauch Chunk anthracite region, nine miles from the Lehigh River. It then appropriated a sum of money to build a road from the mines to the river in the expectation that the State would improve the navigation of the waterway, for which, it has already been noted, an appropriation had been made in 1791, in accordance with the programme of the Society for Promoting the Improvement of Roads and Inland Navigation. Nothing was done, however, to improve the river, and the company, after various attempts at shipping coal to Philadelphia, gave up the effort and allowed the property, which was worth millions, to lie idle. In 1807 the Lehigh Coal Mine Company, in another effort to get its wares before the public, granted to Rowland and Butland, a private firm, free right to operate one of its veins of coal; but this operation also resulted in failure. In 1813 the company made a third attempt and granted to a private concern a lease of the entire property on the condition that ten thousand bushels of coal should be taken to market annually. Difficulties immediately made themselves apparent. No contractor could be found who would haul the output to the Lehigh River for less than four dollars a ton, and the man who accepted those terms lost money. Of five barges filled at Mauch Chunk three went to pieces on the way to Philadelphia. Although the contents of the other two sold for twenty dollars a ton, the proceeds failed to meet expenses, and the operating company threw up the lease.
But it happened that White and Hazard, the wire manufacturers who purchased this Lehigh coal, were greatly pleased with its quality. Believing that coal could be obtained more cheaply from Mauch Chunk than from the mines along the Schuylkill, White, Hauto, and Hazard formed a company, entered into negotiation with the owners of the Lehigh mines, and obtained the lease of their properties for a period of twenty years at an annual rental of one ear of corn. The company agreed, moreover, to ship every year at least forty thousand bushels of coal to Philadelphia for its own consumption, to prove the value of the property.
White and his partners immediately applied to the Legislature for permission to improve the navigation of the Lehigh, stating the purpose of the improvement and citing the fact that their efforts would tend to serve as a model for the improvement of other Pennsylvania streams. The desired opportunity “to ruin themselves,” as one member of the Legislature put it, was granted by an act passed March 20, 1818. The various powers applied for, and granted, embraced the whole range of tried and untried methods for securing “a navigation downward once in three days for boats loaded with one hundred barrels, or ten tons.” The State kept its weather eye open in this matter, however, for a small minority felt that these men would not ruin themselves. Accordingly, the act of grant reserved to the commonwealth the right to compel the adoption of a complete system of slack-water navigation from Easton to Stoddartsville if the service given by the company did not meet “the wants of the country.”
Capital was subscribed by a patriotic public on condition that a committee of stockholders should go over the ground and pass judgment on the probable success of the effort. The report was favorable, so far as the improvement of the river was concerned; but the nine-mile road to the mines was unanimously voted impracticable. “To give you an idea of the country over which the road is to pass,” wrote one of the commissioners, “I need only tell you that I considered it quite an easement when the wheel of my carriage struck a stump instead of a stone.” The public mind was divided. Some held that the attempt to operate the coal mine was farcical, but that the improvement of the Lehigh River was an undertaking of great value and of probable profit to investors. Others were just as positive that the river improvement would follow the fate of so many similar enterprises but that a fortune was in store for those who invested in the Lehigh mines.
The direct result of the examiners’ report and of the public debate it provoked was the organization of the first interlocking companies in the commercial history of America. The Lehigh Navigation Company was formed with a capital stock of $150,000 and the Lehigh Coal Company with a capital stock of $55,000. This incident forms one of the most striking illustrations in American history of the dependence of a commercial venture upon methods of inland transportation. The Lehigh Navigation Company proceeded to build its dams and walls while the Lehigh Coal Company constructed the first roadway in America built on the principle– later adopted by the railway–of dividing the total distance by the total descent in order to determine the grade. Not to be outdone in point of ingenuity, the Lehigh Navigation Company, then suffering from an unprecedented dearth of water, adopted White’s invention of sluice gates connecting with pools which could be filled with reserve water to be drawn upon as navigation required. By 1819 the necessary depth of water between Mauch Chunk and Easton was obtained. The two companies were immediately amalgamated under the title of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company and by 1823 had sent over two thousand tons of coal to market.
As most of the efforts to improve the rivers, however, met with indifferent success and many failures were recorded, the pendulum of public confidence in this aid to inland commerce swung away, and highway improvement by means of stone roads and toll road companies came into favor in the interval between the nation’s two eras of river improvement and canal building.
CHAPTER IV. A Nation On Wheels
In early days the Indian had not only followed the watercourses in his canoe but had made his way on foot over trails through the woods and over the mountains. In colonial days, Englishman and Frenchman followed the footsteps of the Indian, and as settlement increased and trade developed, the forest path widened into the highway for wheeled vehicles. Massachusetts began the work of road making in 1639 by passing an act which decreed that “the ways” should be six to ten rods wide “in common grounds,” thus allowing sufficient room for more than one track. Similar broad “ways” were authorized in New York and Pennsylvania in 1664; stumps and shrubs were to be cut close to the ground, and “sufficient bridges” were to be built over streams and marshy places. Virginia passed legislation for highways at an early date, but it was not until 1669 that strict laws were enacted with a view to keeping the roads in a permanently good condition. Under these laws surveyors were appointed to establish in each county roads forty feet wide to the church and to the courthouse. In 1700, Pennsylvania turned her local roads over to the county justices, put the King’s highway and the main public roads under the care of the governor and his council, and ordered each county to erect bridges over its streams.
The word “roadmaking” was capable of several interpretations. In general, it meant outlining the course for the new thoroughfare, clearing away fallen timber, blazing or notching the trees so that the traveler might not miss the track, and building bridges or laying logs “over all the marshy, swampy, and difficult dirty places.”
The streams proved serious obstacles to early traffic. It has been shown already that the earliest routes of animal or man sought the watersheds; the trails therefore usually encountered one stream near its junction with another. At first, of course, fording was the common method of crossing water, and the most advantageous fording places were generally found near the mouths of tributary streams, where bars and islands are frequently formed and where the water is consequently shallow. When ferries began to be used, they were usually situated just above or below the fords; but when the bridge succeeded the ferry, the primitive bridge builder went back to the old fording place in order to take advantage of the shallower water, bars, and islands. With the advent of improved engineering, the character of river banks and currents was more frequently taken into consideration in choosing a site for a bridge than was the case in the olden times, but despite this fact the bridges of today, generally speaking, span the rivers where the deer or the buffalo splashed his way across centuries ago.
On the broader streams, where fording was impossible and traffic was perforce carried by ferry, the canoe and the keel boat of the earliest days gave way in time to the ordinary “flat” or barge. At first the obligation of the ferryman to the public, though recognized by English law, was ignored in America by legislators and monopolists alike. Men obtained the land on both sides of the rivers at the crossing places and served the public only at their own convenience and at their own charges. In many cases, to encourage the opening of roads or of ferries, national and state authorities made grants of land on the same principle followed in later days in the case of Western railroads. Such, for instance, was the grant to Ebenezer Zane, at Zanesville, Lancaster, and Chillicothe in the Northwest Territory. These monopolies sometimes were extremely profitable: a descendant of the owners of the famous Ingles ferry across New River, on the Wilderness Road to Kentucky, is responsible for the statement that in the heyday of travel to the Southwest the privilege was worth from $10,000 to $15,000 annually to the family. But as local governments became more efficient, monopolies were abolished and the collection of tolls was taken over by the authorities. The awakening of inland trade is most clearly indicated everywhere by the action of assemblies regarding the operation of ferries, and in general, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, tolls and ferries were being regulated by law.
But neither roads nor ferries were of themselves sufficient to put a nation on wheels. The early polite society of the settled neighborhoods traveled in horse litters, in sedan chairs, or on horseback, the women seated on pillions or cushions behind the saddle riders, while oxcarts and horse barrows brought to town the produce of the outlying farms. Although carts and rude wagons could be built entirely of wood, there could be no marked advance in transportation until the development of mining in certain localities reduced the price of iron. With the increase of travel and trade, the old world coach and chaise and wain came into use, and iron for tire and brace became an imperative necessity. The connection between the production of iron and the care of highways was recognized by legislation as early as 1732, when Maryland excused men and slaves in the ironworks from labor on the public roads, though by the middle of the century owners of ironworks were obliged to detail one man out of every ten in their employ for such work.
While the coastwise trade between the colonies was still preeminently important as a means of transporting commodities, by the beginning of the eighteenth century the land routes from New York to New England, from New York across New Jersey to Philadelphia, and those radiating from Philadelphia in every direction, were coming into general use. The date of the opening of regular freight traffic between New York and Philadelphia is set by the reply of the Governor of New Jersey in 1707 to a protest against monopolies granted on one of the old widened Indian trails between Burlington and Amboy. “At present,” he says, “everybody is sure, ONCE A FORTNIGHT, to have an opportunity of sending any quantity of goods, great or small, at reasonable rates, without being in danger of imposition; and the sending of this wagon is so far from being a grievance or monopoly, THAT BY THIS MEANS AND NO OTHER, a trade has been carried on between Philadelphia, Burlington, Amboy, and New York, which was never known before.”
The long Philadelphia Road from the Lancaster region into the Valley of Virginia, by way of Wadkins on the Potomac, was used by German and Irish traders probably as early as 1700. In 1728 the people of Maryland were petitioning for a road from the ford of the Monocacy to the home of Nathan Wickham. Four years later Jost Heydt, leading an immigrant party southward, broke open a road from the York Barrens toward the Potomac two miles above Harper’s Ferry. This avenue by way of the Berkeley, Staunton, Watauga, and Greenbrier regions to Tennessee and Kentucky–was the longest and most important in America during the Revolutionary period. The Virginia Assembly in 1779 appointed commissioners to view this route and to report on the advisability of making it a wagon road all the way to Kentucky. In 1795, efforts were made in Kentucky to turn the Wilderness Trail into a wagon road, and in this same year the Kentucky Legislature passed an act making the route from Crab Orchard to Cumberland Gap a wagon road thirty feet in width.
>From Pennsylvania and from Virginia commerce westward bound followed in the main the army roads hewn out by Braddock and Forbes in their campaigns against Fort Duquesne. In 1755, Braddock, marching from Alexandria by way of Fort Cumberland, had opened a passage for his artillery and wagons to Laurel Hill, near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. His force included a corps of seamen equipped with block and tackle to raise and lower his wagons in the steep inclines of the Alleghanies. Three years later, Forbes, in his careful, dogged campaign, followed a more northerly route. Advancing from Philadelphia and Carlisle, he established Fort Bedford and Fort Ligonier as bases of supply and broke a new road through the interminable forest which clothed the rugged mountain ranges. From the first there was bitter rivalry between these two routes, and the young Colonel Washington was roundly criticized by both Forbes and Bouquet, his second in command, for his partisan effort to “drive me down,” as Forbes phrased it, into the Virginia or Braddock’s Road. This rivalry between the two routes continued when the destruction of the French power over the roads in the interior threw open to Pennsylvania and her southern neighbors alike the lucrative trade of the Ohio country.
>From the journals of the time may be caught faint glimpses of the
toils and dangers of travel through these wild hill regions. Let the traveler of today, as he follows the track that once was Braddock’s Road, picture the scene of that earlier time when, in the face of every natural obstacle, the army toiled across the mountain chains. Where the earth in yonder ravine is whipped to a black froth, the engineers have thrown down the timber cut in widening the trail and have constructed a corduroy bridge, or rather a loose raft on a sea of muck. The wreck of the last wagon which tried to pass gives some additional safety to the next. Already the stench from the horse killed in the accident deadens the heavy, heated air of the forest. The sailors, stripped to the waist, are ready with ropes and tackle to let the next wagon down the incline; the pulleys creak, the ropes groan. The horses, weak and terror-stricken, plunge and rear; in the final crash to the level the leg of the wheel horse is caught and broken; one of the soldiers shoots the animal; the traces are unbuckled; another beast is substituted. Beyond, the seamen are waiting with tackle attached to trees on the ridge above to assist the horses on the cruel upgrade–and Braddock, the deceived, maligned, misrepresented, and misjudged, creeps onward in his brave conquest of the Alleghanies in a campaign that, in spite of its military failure, deserves honorable mention among the achievements of British arms.
Everywhere, north and south, the early American road was a veritable Slough of Despond. Watery pits were to be encountered wherein horses were drowned and loads sank from sight. Frequently traffic was stopped for hours by wagons which had broken down and blocked the way. Thirteen wagons at one time were stalled on Logan’s Hill on the York Road. Frightful accidents occurred in attempting to draw out loads. Jonathan Tyson, for instance, in 1792, near Philadelphia saw a horse’s lower jaw torn off by the slipping of a chain.
Save in the winter, when in the northern colonies snow filled the ruts and frost built solid bridges over the streams, travel on these early roads was never safe, rapid, nor comfortable. The comparative ease of winter travel for the carriage of heavy freight and for purposes of trade and social intercourse gave the colder regions an advantage over the southern that was an important factor in the development of the country.
No genuine improvement of roads and highways seems to have been attempted until the era heralded by Washington’s letter to Harrison in 1784. But the problem slowly forced itself upon all sections of the country, and especially upon Pennsylvania and Maryland, whose inhabitants began to fear lest New York, Alexandria, or Richmond should snatch the Western trade from Philadelphia or Baltimore. The truth that underlies the proverb that “history repeats itself” is well illustrated by the fact that the first macadamized road in America was built in Pennsylvania, for here also originated the pack-horse trade and the Conestoga horse and wagon; here the first inland American canal was built, the first roadbed was graded on the principle of dividing the whole distance by the whole descent, and the first railway was operated. Macadam and Telford had only begun to show the people of England how to build roads of crushed stone–an art first developed by the French engineer Tresaguet–when Pennsylvanians built the Lancaster Turnpike. The Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road Company was chartered April 9, 1792, as a part of the general plan of the Society for the Improvement of Roads and Inland Navigation already described. This road, sixty-two miles in length, was built of stone at a cost of $465,000 and was completed in two years. Never before had such a sum been invested in internal improvement in the United States. The rapidity with which the undertaking was carried through and the profits which accrued from the investment were alike astonishing. The subscription books were opened at eleven o’clock one morning and by midnight 2226 shares had been subscribed, each purchaser paying down thirty dollars. At the same time Elkanah Watson was despondently scanning the subscription books of his Mohawk River enterprise at Albany where “no mortal” had risked more than two shares.
The success of the Lancaster Turnpike was not achieved without a protest against the monopoly which the new venture created. It is true that in all the colonies the exercise of the right of eminent domain had been conceded in a veiled way to officials to whose care the laying out of roads had been delegated. As early as 1639 the General Court of Massachusetts had ordered each town to choose men who, cooperating with men from the adjoining town, should “lay out highways where they may be most convenient, notwithstanding any man’s property, or any corne ground, so as it occasion not the pulling down of any man’s house, or laying open any garden or orchard.” But the open and extended exercise of these rights led to vigorous opposition in the case of this Pennsylvania road. A public meeting was held at the Prince of Wales Tavern in Philadelphia in 1793 to protest in round terms against the monopolistic character of the Lancaster Turnpike. Blackstone and Edward III were hurled at the heads of the “venal” legislators who had made this “monstrosity” possible. The opposition died down, however, in the face of the success which the new road instantly achieved. The Turnpike was, indeed, admirably situated. Converging at the quaint old “borough of Lancaster,” the various routes–northeast from Virginia, east from the Carlisle and Chambersburg region and the Alleghanies, and southeast from the upper Susquehanna country–poured upon the Quaker City a trade that profited every merchant, landholder, and laborer. The nine tollgates, on the average a little less than seven miles apart, turned in a revenue that allowed the “President and Managers” to declare dividends to stockholders running, it is said, as high as fifteen per cent.
The Lancaster Turnpike is interesting from three points of view: it began a new period of American transportation; it ushered in an era of speculation unheard of in the previous history of the country; and it introduced American lawmakers to the great problem of controlling public corporations.
Along this thirty-seven-foot road, of which twenty-four feet were laid with stone, the new era of American inland travel progressed. The array of two-wheeled private equipages and other family carriages, the stagecoaches of bright color, and the carts, Dutch wagons, and Conestogas, gave token of what was soon to be witnessed on the great roads of a dozen States in the next generation. Here, probably, the first distinction began to be drawn between the taverns for passengers and those patronized by the drivers of freight. The colonial taverns, comparatively few and far between, had up to this time served the traveling public, high and low, rich and poor, alike. But in this new era members of Congress and the elite of Philadelphia and neighboring towns were not to be jostled at the table by burly hostlers, drivers, wagoners, and hucksters. Two types of inns thus came quickly into existence: the tavern entertained the stagecoach traffic, while the democratic roadhouse served the established lines of Conestogas, freighters, and all other vehicles which poured from every town, village, and hamlet upon the great thoroughfare leading to the metropolis on the Delaware.
Among American inventions the Conestoga wagon must forever be remembered with respect. Originating in the Lancaster region of Pennsylvania and taking its name either from the horses of the Conestoga Valley or from the valley itself, this vehicle was unlike the old English wain or the Dutch wagon because of the curve of its bed. This peculiarly shaped bottom, higher by twelve inches or more at each end than in the middle, made the vehicle a safer conveyance across the mountains and over all rough country than the old straight-bed wagon. The Conestoga was covered with canvas, as were other freight vehicles, but the lines of the bed were also carried out in the framework above and gave the whole the effect of a great ship swaying up and down the billowy hills. The wheels of the Conestoga were heavily built and wore tires four and six inches in width. The harness of the six horses attached to the wagon was proportionately heavy, the back bands being fifteen inches wide, the hip straps ten, and the traces consisting of ponderous iron chains. The color of the original Conestoga wagons never varied: the underbody was always blue and the upper parts were red. The wagoners and drivers who manned this fleet on wheels were men of a type that finds no parallel except in the boatmen on the western rivers who were almost their contemporaries. Fit for the severest toil, weathered to the color of the red man, at home under any roof that harbored a demijohn and a fiddle, these hardy nomads of early commerce were the custodians of the largest amount of traffic in their day.
The turnpike era overlaps the period of the building of national roads and canals and the beginning of the railway age, but it is of greatest interest during the first twenty-five years of the nineteenth century, up to the time when the completion of the Erie Canal set new standards. During this period roads were also constructed westward from Baltimore and Albany to connect, as the Lancaster Turnpike did at its terminus, with the thoroughfares from the trans-Alleghany country. The metropolis of Maryland was quickly in the field to challenge the bid which the Quaker City made for western trade. The Baltimore-Reisterstown and Baltimore-Frederick turnpikes were built at a cost of $10,000 and $8,000 a mile respectively; and the latter, connecting with roads to Cumberland, linked itself with the great national road to Ohio which the Government built between 1811 and 1817. These famous stone roads of Maryland long kept Baltimore in the lead as the principal outlet for the western trade. New York, too, proved her right to the title of Empire State by a marvelous activity in improving her magnificent strategic position. In the first seven years of the nineteenth century eighty-eight incorporated road companies were formed with a total capital of over $8,000,000. Twenty large bridges and more than three thousand miles of turnpike were constructed. The movement, indeed, extended from New England to Virginia and the Carolinas, and turnpike companies built all kinds of roads–earth, corduroy, plank, and stone.
In many cases the kind of road to be constructed, the tolls to be charged, and the amount of profit to be permitted, were laid down in the charters. Thus new problems confronted the various legislatures, and interesting principles of regulation were now established. In most cases companies were allowed, on producing their books of receipts and expenditures, to increase their tolls until they obtained a profit of six per cent on the investment, though in a number of cases nine per cent was permitted. When revenues increased beyond the six per cent mark, however, the tendency was to reduce tolls or to use the extra profit to purchase the stock for the State, with the expectation of ultimately abolishing tollgates entirely. The theories of state regulation of corporations and the obligations of public carriers, extending even to the compensation of workmen in case of accident, were developed to a considerable degree in this turnpike era; but, on the other hand, the principle of permitting fair profit to corporations upon public examination of their accounts was also recognized.
The stone roads, which were passable at all seasons, brought a new era in correspondence and business. Lines of stages and wagons, as well known at that time as are the great railways of today, plied the new thoroughfares, provided some of the comforts of travel, and assured the safer and more rapid delivery of goods. This period is sometimes known in American history as “The Era of Good Feeling” and the turnpike contributed in no small degree to make the phrase applicable not only to the domain of politics but to all the relations of social and commercial life.
While road building in the East gives a clear picture of the rise and growth of commerce and trade in that section, it is to the rivers of the trans-Alleghany country that we must look for a corresponding picture in this early period. The canoe and pirogue could handle the packs and kegs brought westward by the files of Indian ponies; but the heavy loads of the Conestoga wagons demanded stancher craft. The flatboat and barge therefore served the West and its commerce as the Conestoga and turnpike served the East.
CHAPTER V. The Flatboat Age
In the early twenties of the last century one of the popular songs of the day was “The Hunters of Kentucky.” Written by Samuel Woodworth, the author of “The Old Oaken Bucket,” it had originally been printed in the New York Mirror but had come into the hands of an actor named Ludlow, who was playing in the old French theater in New Orleans. The poem chants the praises of the Kentucky riflemen who fought with Jackson at New Orleans and indubitably proved
That every man was half a horse
And half an alligator.
Ludlow knew his audience and he saw his chance. Setting the words to Risk’s tune, “Love Laughs” at Locksmiths, donning the costume of a Western riverman, and arming himself with a long “squirrel” rifle, he presented himself before the house. The rivermen who filled the pit received him, it is related, with “a prolonged whoop, or howl, such as Indians give when they are especially pleased.” And to these sturdy men the words of his song made a strong appeal:
We are a hardy, freeborn race,
Each man to fear a stranger;
Whate’er the game, we join in chase, Despising toil and danger;
And if a daring foe annoys,
No matter what his force is,
We’ll show him that Kentucky boys
The title “alligator-horse,” of which Western rivermen were very proud, carried with it a suggestion of amphibious strength that made it both apt and figuratively accurate. On all the American rivers, east and west, a lusty crew, collected from the waning Indian trade and the disbanded pioneer armies, found work to its taste in poling the long keel boats, “corralling” the bulky barges–that is, towing them by pulling on a line attached to the shore–or steering the “broadhorns” or flatboats that transported the first heavy inland river cargoes. Like longshoremen of all ages, the American riverman was as rough as the work which calloused his hands and transformed his muscles into bands of tempered steel. Like all men given to hard but intermittent labor, he employed his intervals of leisure in coarse and brutal recreation. Their roistering exploits, indeed, have made these rivermen almost better known at play than at work. One of them, the notorious Mike Fink, known as “the Snag” on the Mississippi and as the “Snapping Turtle” on the Ohio, has left the record, not that he could load a keel boat in a certain length of time, or lift a barrel of whiskey with one arm, or that no tumultuous current had ever compelled him to back water, but that he could “out-run, out-hop, out-jump, throw down, drag out, and lick any man in the country,” and that he was “a Salt River roarer.”
Such men and the craft they handled were known on the Atlantic rivers, but it was on the Mississippi and its branches, especially the Ohio, that they played their most important part in the history of American inland commerce. Before the beginning of the nineteenth century wagons and Conestogas were bringing great loads of merchandise to such points on the headwaters as Brownsville, Pittsburgh, and Wheeling. As early as 1782, we are told, Jacob Yoder, a Pennsylvania German, set sail from the Monongahela country with the first flatboat to descend the Ohio and Mississippi. As the years passed, the number of such craft grew constantly larger. The custom of fixing the widespreading horns of cattle on the prow gave these boats the alternative name of “broadhorns,” but no accurate classification can be made of the various kinds of craft engaged in this vast traffic. Everything that would float, from rough rafts to finished barges, was commandeered into service, and what was found unsuitable for the strenuous purposes of commercial transportation was palmed off whenever possible on unsuspecting emigrants en route to the lands of promise beyond.
Flour, salt, iron, cider and peach brandy were staple products of the Ohio country which the South desired. In return they shipped molasses, sugar, coffee, lead, and hides upon the few keel boats which crept upstream or the blundering barges which were propelled northward by means of oar, sail, and cordelle. It was not, however, until the nineteenth century that the young West was producing any considerable quantity of manufactured goods. Though the town of Pittsburgh had been laid out in 1764, by the end of the Revolution it was still little more than a collection of huts about a fort. A notable amount of local trade was carried on, but the expense of transportation was very high even after wagons began crossing the Alleghanies. For example, the cost from Philadelphia and Baltimore was given by Arthur Lee, a member of Congress, in 1784 as forty-five shillings a hundredweight, and a few months later it is quoted at sixpence a pound when Johann D. Schoph crossed the mountains in a chaise–a feat “which till now had been considered quite impossible.” Opinions differed widely as to the future of the little town of five hundred inhabitants. The important product of the region at first was Monongahela flour which long held a high place in the New Orleans market. Coal was being mined as early as 1796 and was worth locally threepence halfpenny a bushel, though within seven years it was being sold at Philadelphia at thirty-seven and a half cents a bushel. The fur trade with the Illinois country grew less important as the century came to its close, but Maynard and Morrison, cooperating with Guy Bryan at Philadelphia, sent a barge laden with merchandise to Illinois annually between 1790 and 1796, which returned each season with a cargo of skins and furs. Pittsburgh was thus a distributing center of some importance; but the fact that no drayman or warehouse was to be found in the town at this time is a significant commentary on the undeveloped state of its commerce and manufacture.
After Wayne’s victory at the battle of the Fallen Timber in 1794 and the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which ended the earlier Indian wars of the Old Northwest and opened for settlement the country beyond the Ohio, a great migration followed into Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, and the commercial activity of Pittsburgh rapidly increased. By 1800 a score of profitable industries had arisen, and by 1803 the first bar-iron foundry was, to quote the advertisement of its owner, “sufficiently upheld by the hand of the Almighty” to supply in part the demand for iron and castings. Glass factories were established, and ropewalks, sail lofts, boatyards, anchor smithies, and brickyards, were soon ready to supply the rapidly increasing demands of the infant cities and the countryside on the lower Ohio. When the new century arrived the Pittsburgh district had a population of upwards of two thousand.
One by one the other important centers of trade in the great valley beyond began to show evidences of life. Marietta, Ohio, founded in 1788 by Revolutionary officers from New England, became the metropolis of the rich Muskingum River district, which was presently sending many flatboats southward. Cincinnati was founded in the same year as Marietta, with the building of Fort Washington and the formal organization of Hamilton County. The soil of the Miami country was as “mellow as an ash heap” and in the first four months of 1802 over four thousand barrels of flour were shipped southward to challenge the prestige of the Monongahela product. Potters, brickmakers, gunsmiths, cotton and wool weavers, coopers, turners, wheelwrights, dyers, printers, and ropemakers were at work here within the next decade. A brewery turned out five thousand barrels of beer and porter in 1811, and by the next year the pork-packing business was thoroughly established.
Louisville, the “Little Falls” of the West, was the entrepot of the Blue Grass region. It had been a place of some importance since Revolutionary days, for in seasons of low water the rapids in the Ohio at this point gave employment to scores of laborers who assisted the flatboatmen in hauling their cargoes around the obstruction which prevented the passage of the heavily loaded barges. The town, which was incorporated in 1780, soon showed signs of commercial activity. It was the proud possessor of a drygoods house in 1783. The growth of its tobacco industry was rapid from the first. The warehouses were under government supervision and inspection as early as 1795, and innumerable flatboats were already bearing cargoes of bright leaf southward in the last decade of the century. The first brick house in Louisville was erected in 1789 with materials brought from Pittsburgh. Yankees soon established the “Hope Distillery”; and the manufacture of whiskey, which had long been a staple industry conducted by individuals, became an incorporated business of great promise in spite of objections raised against the “creation of gigantic reservoirs of this damning drink.”
Thus, about the year 1800, the great industries of the young West were all established in the regions dominated by the growing cities of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville. But, since the combined population of these centers could not have been over three thousand in the year 1800, it is evident that the adjacent rural population and the people living in every neighboring creek and river valley were chiefly responsible for the large trade that already existed between this corner of the Mississippi basin and the South.
In this trade the riverman was the fundamental factor. Only by means of his brawn and his genius for navigation could these innumerable tons of flour, tobacco, and bacon have been kept from rotting on the shores. Yet the man himself remains a legend grotesque and mysterious, one of the shadowy figures of a time when history was being made too rapidly to be written. If we ask how he loaded his flatboat or barge, we are told that “one squint of his eye would blister a bull’s heel.” When we inquire how he found the channel amid the shifting bars and floating islands of that tortuous two-thousand-mile journey to New Orleans, we are informed that he was “the very infant that turned from his mother’s breast and called out for a bottle of old rye.” When we ask how he overcame the natural difficulties of trade–lack of commission houses, varying standards of money, want of systems of credit and low prices due to the glutting of the market when hundreds of flatboats arrived in the South simultaneously on the same freshet–we are informed that “Billy Earthquake is the geniwine, double-acting engine, and can out-run, out-swim, chaw more tobacco and spit less, drink more whiskey and keep soberer than any other man in these localities.”
The reason for this lack of information is that our descriptions of flatboating and keel boating are written by travelers who, as is always the case, are interested in what is unusual, not in what is typical and commonplace. It is therefore only dimly, as through a mist, that we can see the two lines of polemen pass from the prow to the stern on the narrow running-board of a keel boat, lifting and setting their poles to the cry of steersman or captain. The struggle in a swift “rife” or rapid is momentous. If the craft swerves, all is lost. Shoulders bend with savage strength; poles quiver under the tension; the captain’s voice is raucous, and every other word is an oath; a pole breaks, and the next man, though half-dazed in the mortal crisis, does for a few moments the work of two. At last they reach the head of the rapid, and the boat floats out on the placid pool above, while the “alligator-horse” who had the mishap remarks to the scenery at large that he’d be “fly-blowed before sun-down to a certingty” if that were not the very pole with which he “pushed the broadhorn up Salt River where the snags were so thick that a fish couldn’t swim without rubbing his scales off.” Audubon, the naturalist-merchant of the Mississippi, has left us a clear picture of the process by which these heavy tubs, loaded with forty or fifty tons of freight, were forced upstream against a swift current:
“Wherever a point projected so as to render the course or bend below it of some magnitude, there was an eddy, the returning current of which was sometimes as strong as that of the middle of the great stream. The bargemen, therefore, rowed up pretty close under the bank and had merely to keep watch in the bow lest the boat should run against a planter or sawyer. But the boat has reached the point, and there the current is to all appearance of double strength and right against it. The men, who have rested a few minutes, are ordered to take their stations and lay hold of their oars, for the river must be crossed, it being seldom possible to double such a point and proceed along the same shore. The boat is crossing, its head slanting to the current, which is, however, too strong for the rowers, and when the other side of the river has been reached, it has drifted perhaps a quarter of a mile. The men are by this time exhausted and, as we shall suppose it to be 12 o’clock, fasten the boat to a tree on the shore. A small glass of whiskey is given to each, when they cook and eat their dinner and, after resting from their fatigue for an hour, recommence their labors. The boat is again seen slowly advancing against the stream. It has reached the lower end of a sandbar, along the edge of which it is propelled by means of long poles, if the bottom be hard. Two men, called bowsmen, remain at the prow to assist, in concert with the steersman, in managing the boat and keeping its head right against the current. The rest place themselves on the land side of the footway of the vessel, put one end of their poles on the ground and the other against their shoulders and push with all their might. As each of the men reaches the stern, he crosses to the other side, runs along it and comes again to the landward side of the bow, when he recommences operations. The barge in the meantime is ascending at a rate not exceeding one mile in the hour.”
Trustworthy statistics as to the amount and character of the Western river trade have never been gathered. They are to be found, if anywhere, in the reports of the collectors of customs located at the various Western ports of entry and departure. Nothing indicates more definitely the hour when the West awoke to its first era of big business than the demand for the creation of “districts” and their respective ports, for by no other means could merchandise and produce be shipped legally to Spanish territory beyond or down the Mississippi or to English territory on the northern shores of the Great Lakes.
Louisville is as old a port of the United States as New York or Philadelphia, having been so created when our government was established in 1789, but oddly enough the first returns to the National Treasury (1798) are credited to the port of Palmyra, Tennessee, far inland on the Cumberland River. In 1799 the following Western towns were made ports of entry: Erie, Sandusky, Detroit, Mackinaw Island, and Columbia (Cincinnati). The first port on the Ohio to make returns was Fort Massac, Illinois, and it is from the collector at this point that we get our first hint as to the character and volume of Western river traffic. In the spring months of March, April, and May, 1800, cargoes to the value of 28,581 pounds, Pennsylvania currency, went down the Ohio. This included 22,714 barrels of flour, 1017 barrels of whiskey, 12,500 pounds of pork, 18,710 pounds of bacon, 75,814 pounds of cordage, 3650 yards of country linen, 700 bottles, and 700 barrels of potatoes. In the three autumn months of 1800, for instance, twenty-one boats ascended the Ohio by Fort Massac, with cargoes amounting to 36 hundredweight of lead and a few hides. Descending the river at the same time, flatboats and barges carried 245 hundredweight of drygoods valued at $32,550. When we compare these spring and fall records of commerce downstream we reach the natural conclusion that the bulk of the drygoods which went down in the fall of the year had been brought over the mountains during the summer. The fact that the Alleghany pack-horses and Conestogas were transporting freight to supply the Spanish towns on the Mississippi River in the first year of the nineteenth century seems proved beyond a doubt by these reports from Fort Massac.
The most interesting phase of this era is the connection between western trade and the politics of the Mississippi Valley which led up to the Louisiana Purchase. By the Treaty of San Lorenzo in 1795 Spain made New Orleans an open port, and in the next seven years the young West made the most of its opportunity. But before the new century was two years old the difficulties encountered were found to be serious. The lack of commission merchants, of methods of credit, of information as to the state of the market, all combined to handicap trade and to cause loss. Pittsburgh shippers figured their loss already at $60,000 a year. In consequence men began to look elsewhere, and an advocate of big business wrote in 1802: “The country has received a shock; let us immediately extend our views and direct our efforts to every foreign market.”
One of the most remarkable plans for the capture of foreign trade to be found in the annals of American commerce originated almost simultaneously in the Muskingum and Monongahela regions. With a view to making the American West independent of the Spanish middlemen, it was proposed to build ocean-going vessels on the Ohio that should carry the produce of the interior down the Mississippi and thence abroad through the open port of New Orleans. The idea was typically Western in its arrogant originality and confident self-assertion. Two vessels were built: the brig St. Clair, of 110 tons, at Marietta, and the Monongahela Farmer, of 250 tons, at Elizabeth on the Monongahela. The former reached Cincinnati April 27, 1801; the latter, loaded with 750 barrels of flour, passed Pittsburgh on the 13th of May. Eventually, the St. Clair reached Havana and thus proved that Muskingum Valley black walnut, Ohio hemp, and Marietta carpenters, anchor smiths, and skippers could defy the grip of the Spaniard on the Mississippi. Other vessels followed these adventurers, and shipbuilding immediately became an important industry at Pittsburgh, Marietta, Cincinnati, and other points. The Duane of Pittsburgh was said by the Liverpool “Saturday Advertiser” of July 9, 1803, to have been the “first vessel which ever came to Europe from the western waters of the United States.” Probably the Louisiana of Marietta went as far afield as any of the one hundred odd ships built in these years on the Ohio. The official papers of her voyage in 1805, dated at New Orleans, Norfolk (Virginia), Liverpool, Messina, and Trieste at the head of the Adriatic, are preserved today in the Marietta College Library.
The growth of the shipbuilding industry necessitated a readjustment of the districts for the collection of customs. Columbia (Cincinnati) at first served the region of the upper Ohio; but in 1803 the district was divided and Marietta was made the port for the Pittsburgh-Portsmouth section of the river. In 1807 all the western districts were amalgamated, and Pittsburgh, Charleston (Wellsburg), Marietta, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Fort Massac were made ports of entry.
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 gave a marked impulse to inland shipbuilding; but the embargo of 1807, which prohibited foreign trade, following so soon, killed the shipyards, which, for a few years, had been so busy. The great new industry of the Ohio Valley was ruined. By this time the successful voyage of Fulton’s steamboat, the Clermont, between New York and Albany, had demonstrated the possibilities of steam navigation. Not a few men saw in the novel craft the beginning of a new era in Western river traffic; but many doubted whether it was possible to construct a vessel powerful enough to make its way upstream against such sweeping currents as those of the Mississippi and the Ohio. Surely no one for a moment dreamed that in hardly more than a generation the Western rivers would carry a tonnage larger than that of the cities of the Atlantic seaboard combined and larger than that of Great Britain!
As early as 1805, two years before the trip of the Clermont, Captain Keever built a “steamboat” on the Ohio, and sent her down to New Orleans where her engine was to be installed. But it was not until 1811 that the Orleans, the first steamboat to ply the Western streams, was built at Pittsburgh, from which point she sailed for New Orleans in October of that year. The Comet and Vesuvius quickly followed, but all three entered the New Orleans-Natchez trade on the lower river and were never seen again at the headwaters. As yet the swift currents and flood tides of the great river had not been mastered. It is true that in 1815 the Enterprise had made two trips between New Orleans and Louisville, but this was in time of high water, when counter currents and backwaters had assisted her feeble engine. In 1816, however, Henry Shreve conceived the idea of raising the engine out of the hold and constructing an additional deck. The Washington, the first doubledecker, was the result. The next year this steamboat made the round trip from Louisville to New Orleans and back in forty-one days. The doubters were now convinced.
For a little while the quaint and original riverman held on in the new age, only to disappear entirely when the colored roustabout became the deckhand of post-bellum days. The riverman as a type was unknown except on the larger rivers in the earlier years of water traffic. What an experience it would be today to rouse one of those remarkable individuals from his dreaming, as Davy Crockett did, with an oar, and hear him howl “Halloe stranger, who axed you to crack my lice?”–to tell him in his own lingo to “shut his mouth or he would get his teeth sunburnt”–to see him crook his neck and neigh like a stallion–to answer his challenge in kind with a flapping of arms and a cock’s crow–to go to shore and have a scrimmage such as was never known on a gridiron–and then to resolve with Crockett, during a period of recuperation, that you would never “wake up a ringtailed roarer with an oar again.”
The riverman, his art, his language, his traffic, seem to belong to days as distant as those of which Homer sang.
CHAPTER VI. The Passing Show Of 1800
Foreign travelers who have come to the United States have always proved of great interest to Americans. From Brissot to Arnold Bennett while in the country they have been fed and clothed and transported wheresoever they would go–at the highest prevailing prices. And after they have left, the records of their sojourn that these travelers have published have made interesting reading for Americans all over the land. Some of these trans-Atlantic visitors have been jaundiced, disgruntled, and contemptuous; others have shown themselves of an open nature, discreet, conscientious, and fair-minded.
One of the most amiable and clear-headed of such foreign guests was Francis Baily, later in life president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain, but at the time of his American tour a young man of twenty-two. His journey in 1796-97 gave him a wide experience of stage, flatboat, and pack-horse travel, and his genial disposition, his observant eye, and his discriminating criticism, together with his comments on the commercial features of the towns and regions he visited, make his record particularly interesting and valuable to the historian.* Using Baily’s journal as a guide, therefore, one can today journey with him across the country and note the passing show as he saw it in this transitional period.
* “Journal of a Tour in Unsettled Parts of North America in 1796 and 1797” by the late Francis Baily (London, 1856).
Landing at Norfolk, Virginia, Baily was immediately introduced to an American tavern. Like most travelers, he was surprised to find that American taverns were “boarding-places,” frequented by crowds of “young, able-bodied men who seemed to be as perfectly at leisure as the loungers of ancient Europe.” In those days of few newspapers, the tavern everywhere in America was the center of information; in fact, it was a common practice for travelers in the interior, after signing their names in the register, to add on the same page any news of local interest which they brought with them. The tavern habitues, Baily remarks, did not sit and drink after meals but “wasted” their time at billiards and cards. The passion for billiards was notorious, and taverns in the most out-of-the-way places, though they lacked the most ordinary conveniences, were nevertheless provided with billiard tables. This custom seems to have been especially true in the South; and it is significant that the first taxes in Tennessee levied before the beginning of the nineteenth century were the poll tax and taxes on billiard tables and studhorses!
>From Norfolk Baily passed northward to Baltimore, paying a fare of ten dollars, and from there he went on to Philadelphia, paying six dollars more. On the way his stagecoach stuck fast in a bog and the passengers were compelled to leave it until the next morning. This sixty-mile road out of Baltimore was evidently one of the worst in the East. Ten years prior to this date, Brissot, a keen French journalist, mentions the great ruts in its heavy clay soil, the overturned trees which blocked the way, and the unexampled skilfulness of the stage drivers. All travelers in America, though differing on almost every other subject, invariably praise the ability of these sturdy, weather-beaten American drivers, their kindness to their horses, and their attention to their passengers. Harriet Martineau stated that, in her experience, American drivers as a class were marked by the merciful temper which accompanies genius, and their perfection in their art, their fertility of resource, and the gentleness with which they treated female fears and fretfulness, were exemplary.
In the City of Brotherly Love Baily notes the geniality of the people, who by many travelers are called aristocratic, and comments on Quaker opposition to the theater and the inconsequence of the Peale Museum, which travelers a generation later highly praise. Proceeding to New York at a cost of six dollars, he is struck by the uncouthness of the public buildings, churches excepted, the widespread passion for music, dancing, and the theater, the craze for sleighing, and the promise which the harbor gave of becoming the finest in America. Not a few travelers in this early period gave expression to their belief in the future greatness of New York City. These prophecies, taken in connection with the investment of eight millions of dollars which New Yorkers made in toll-roads in the first seven years of this new century, incline one to believe that the influence of the Erie Canal as a factor in the development of the city may have been unduly emphasized, great though it was.
>From New York Baily returned to Baltimore and went on to Washington. The records of all travelers to the site of the new national capital give much the same picture of the countryside. It was a land worn out by tobacco culture and variously described as “dried up,” “run down,” and “hung out to dry.” Even George Washington, at Mount Vernon, was giving up tobacco culture and was attempting new crops by a system of rotation. Cotton was being grown in Maryland, but little care was given to its culture and manufacture. Tobacco was graded in Virginia in accordance with the rigidity of its inspection at Hanover Court House, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and Cabin-Point: leaf worth sixteen shillings at Richmond was worth twenty-one at Hanover Court House; if it was refused at all places, it was smuggled to the West Indies or consumed in the country. Meadows were rapidly taking the place of tobacco-fields, for the planters preferred to clear new land rather than to enrich the old.
At Washington Baily found that lots to the value of $278,000 had been sold, although only one-half of the proposed city had been “cleared.” It was to be forty years ere travelers could speak respectfully of what is now the beautiful city of Washington. In these earlier days, the streets were mudholes divided by vacant fields and “beautified by trees, swamps, and cows.”
Departing for the West by way of Frederick, Baily, like all travelers, was intensely interested upon entering the rich limestone region which stretched from Pennsylvania far down into Virginia. It was occupied in part by the Pennsylvania Dutch and was so famous for its rich milk that it was called by many travelers the “Bonnyclabber Country.” Most Englishmen were delighted with this region because they found here the good old English breed of horses, that is, the English hunter developed into a stout coach-horse. Of native breeds, Baily found animals of all degrees of strength and size down to hackneys of fourteen hands, as well as the “vile dog-horses,” or packhorses, whose faithful service to the frontier could in no wise be appreciated by a foreigner.
This region of Pennsylvania was as noted for its wagons as for its horses. It was this wheat-bearing belt that made the common freight-wagon in its colors of red and blue a national institution. It was in this region of rich, well-watered land that the maple tree gained its reputation. Men even prophesied that its delightful sap would prove a cure for slavery, for, if one family could make fifteen hundred pounds of maple sugar in a season, eighty thousand families could, at the same rate, equal the output of cane sugar each year from Santo Domingo!
The traveler at the beginning of the century noticed a change in the temper of the people as well as a change in the soil when the Bonnyclabber Country was reached. The time-serving attitude of the good people of the East now gave place to a “consciousness of independence” due, Baily remarks, to the fact that each man was self-sufficient and passed his life “without regard to the smiles and frowns of men in power.” This spirit was handsomely illustrated in the case of one burly Westerner who was “churched” for fighting. Showing a surly attitude to the deacon-judges who sat on his case, he was threatened with civil prosecution and imprisonment. “I don’t want freedom,” he is said to have replied, bitterly; “I don’t even want to live if I can’t knock down a man who calls me a liar.”
Pushing on westward by way of historic Sideling Hill and Bedford to Statlers, Baily found here a prosperous millstone quarry, which sold its stones at from fifteen to thirty dollars a pair. Twelve years earlier Washington had prophesied that the Alleghanies would soon be furnishing millstones equal to the best English burr. As he crossed the mountains Baily found that taverns charged the following schedule: breakfast, eighteen pence; dinner and supper from two shillings to two shillings and sixpence each. Traversing Laurel Hill, he reached Pittsburgh just at the time when it was awakening to activity as the trading center of the West.
In order to descend the Ohio, Baily obtained a flatboat, thirty-six feet long and twelve feet broad, which drew eighteen inches of water and was of ten tons burden. On the way downstream, Charleston and Wheeling were the principal settlements which Baily first noted. Ebenezer Zane, the founder of Wheeling, had just opened across Ohio the famous landward route from the Monongahela country to Kentucky, which it entered at Limestone, the present Maysville. This famous road, passing through Zanesville, Lancaster, and Chillicothe, though at that time safe only for men in parties, was a common route to and from Kentucky.
On such inland pathways as this, early travelers came to take for granted a hospitality not to be found on more frequented thoroughfares. In this hospitality, roughness and good will, cleanliness and filth, attempts to ape the style of Eastern towns and habits of the most primitive kind, were singularly blended. In one instance, the traveler might be cordially assigned by the landlord to a good position in “the first rush for a chance at the head of the table”; at the next stopping place he might be coldly turned away because the proprietor “had the gout” and his wife the “delicate blue-devils”; farther on, where “soap was unknown, nothing clean but birds, nothing industrious but pigs, and nothing happy but squirrels,” Daniel Boone’s daughter might be seen in high-heeled shoes, attended by white servants whose wages were a dollar a week, skirting muddy roads under a ten-dollar bonnet and a six-dollar parasol. Or, he might emerge from a lonely forest in Ohio or Indiana and come suddenly upon a party of neighbors at a dreary tavern, enjoying a corn shucking or a harvest home. Immediately dubbed “Doctor,” “Squire,” or “Colonel” by the hospitable merrymakers, the passer-by would be informed that he “should drink and lack no good thing.” After he had retired, as likely as not his quarters would be invaded at one or two o’clock in the morning by the uproarious company, and the best refreshment of the house would be forced upon him with a hilarity “created by omnipotent whiskey.” Sometimes, however, the traveler would encounter pitiful instances of loneliness in the widespreading forests. One man in passing a certain isolated cabin was implored by the woman who inhabited it to rest awhile and talk, since she was, she confessed, completely overwhelmed by “the lone!”
Every traveler has remarked upon the yellow pallor of the first inhabitants of the western forests and doubtless correctly attributed this sickly appearance to the effects of malaria and miasma. The psychic influences of the forest wilderness also weighed heavily upon the spirits of the settlers, although, as Baily notes, it was the newcomers who felt the depression to an exaggerated degree. As he says:
“It is a feeling of confinement, which begins to damp the spirits, from this complete exclusion of distant objects. To travel day after day, among trees of a hundred feet high, is oppressive to a degree which those cannot conceive who have not experienced it; and it must depress the spirits of the solitary settler to pass years in this state. His visible horizon extends no farther than the tops of the trees which bound his plantation- -perhaps five hundred yards. Upwards he sees the sun, and sky, and stars, but around him an eternal forest, from which he can never hope to emerge:—not so in a thickly settled district; he cannot there enjoy any freedom of prospect, yet there is variety, and some scope for the imprisoned vision. In a hilly country a little more range of view may occasionally be obtained; and a river is a stream of light as well as of water, which feasts the eye with a delight inconceivable to the inhabitants of open countries.”
In direct contradiction to this longing for society was the passion which the first generation of pioneers had for the wilderness. When the population of one settlement became too thick, they were seized by an irresistible impulse to “follow the migration,” as the expression went. The easy independence of the first hunter-agriculturalist was upset by the advance of immigration. His range was curtailed, his freedom limited. His very breath seems to have become difficult. So he sold out at a phenomenal profit, put out his fire, shouldered his gun, called his dog, and set off again in search of the solitude he craved.
Severe winter weather overtook Baily as he descended the Ohio River, until below Grave Creek floating ice wrecked his boat and drove him ashore. Here in the primeval forest, far from “Merrie England,” Baily spent the Christmas of 1796 in building a new flatboat. This task completed, he resumed his journey. Passing