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The Paths of Inland Commerce, A Chronicle of Trail, Road, by Archer B. Hulbert

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Marietta, where the bad condition of the winter roads prevented a
visit to a famous Indian mound, he reached Limestone. In due time
he sighted Columbia, the metropolis of the Miami country.
According to Baily, the sale of European goods in this part of
the Ohio Valley netted the importers a hundred per cent. Prices
varied with the ease of navigation. When ice blocked the Ohio the
price of flour went up until it was eight dollars a barrel;
whiskey was a dollar a gallon; potatoes, a dollar a bushel; and
bacon, twelve cents a pound. At these prices, the total produce
which went by Fort Massac in the early months of 1800 would have
been worth on the Ohio River upwards of two hundred thousand
dollars! In the preceding summer Baily quoted flour at Norfolk as
selling at sixty-three shillings a barrel of 196 pounds, or
double the price it was bringing on the ice-gorged Ohio. It is by
such comparisons that we get some inkling of the value of western
produce and of the rates in western trade.

After a short stay at Cincinnati, Baily set out for the South on
an "Orleans boat" loaded with four hundred barrels of flour. At
the mouth of Pigeon Creek he noted the famous path to "Post St.
Vincent's" (Vincennes), over which he saw emigrants driving
cattle to that ancient town on the Wabash. At Fort Massac he met
Captain Zebulon M. Pike, whose tact in dealing with intoxicated
Indians he commended. At New Madrid Baily made a stay of some
days. This settlement, consisting of some two hundred and fifty
houses, was in the possession of Spain. It was within the
province of Louisiana, soon to be ceded to Napoleon. New Orleans
supplied this district with merchandise, but smuggling from the
United States was connived at by the Spanish officials.

>From New Madrid Baily proceeded to Natchez, which then contained
about eighty-five houses. The town did not boast a tavern, but,
as was true of other places in the interior, this lack was made
up for by the hospitality of its inhabitants. Rice and tobacco
were being grown, Baily notes, and Georgian cotton was being
raised in the neighborhood. Several jennies were already at work,
and their owners received a royalty of one-eighth of the product.
The cotton was sent to New Orleans, where it usually sold for
twenty dollars a hundred weight. From Natchez to New Orleans the
charge for transportation by flatboat was a dollar and a half a
bag. The bags contained from one hundred and fifty to two hundred
and fifty pounds, and each flatboat carried about two hundred and
fifty bags. Baily adds two items to the story of the development
of the mechanical operation of watercraft. He tells us that in
the fall of 1796 a party of "Dutchmen," in the Pittsburgh region,
fashioned a boat with side paddle wheels which were turned by a
treadmill worked by eight horses under the deck. This strange
boat, which passed Baily when he was wrecked on the Ohio near
Grave Creek, appeared "to go with prodigious swiftness." Baily
does not state how much business the boat did on its downward
trip to New Orleans but contents, himself with remarking that the
owners expected the return trip to prove very profitable. When he
met the boat on its upward voyage at Natchez, it had covered
three hundred miles in six days. It was, however, not loaded, "so
little occasion was there for a vessel of this kind." As this run
between New Orleans and Natchez came to be one of the most
profitable in the United States in the early days of
steamboating, less than fifteen years later, the experience of
these "Flying Dutchmen" affords a very pretty proof that
something more than a means of transportation is needed to create
commerce. The owners abandoned their craft at Natchez in disgust
and returned home across country, wiser and poorer.

Baily also noted that a Dr. Waters of New Madrid built a schooner
"some few years since" at the head of the Ohio and navigated it
down the Ohio and Mississippi and around to Philadelphia, "where
it is now employed in the commerce of the United States." It is
thus apparent, solely from this traveler's record, that an
ocean-going vessel and a side-paddle-wheel boat had been seen on
the Western Waters of the United States at least four years
before the nineteenth century arrived.

Baily finally reached New Orleans. The city then contained about
a thousand houses and was not only the market for the produce of
the river plantations but also the center of an extensive Indian
trade. The goods for this trade were packed in little barrels
which were carried into the interior on pack-horses, three
barrels to a horse. The traders traveled for hundreds of miles
through the woods, bartering with the Indians on the way and
receiving, in exchange for their goods, bear and deer skins,
beaver furs, and wild ponies which had been caught by lariat in
the neighboring Apalousa country.

Baily had intended to return to New York by sea, but on his
arrival at New Orleans he was unable to find a ship sailing to
New York. He therefore decided to proceed northward by way of the
long and dangerous Natchez Trace and the Tennessee Path. Though
few Europeans had made this laborious journey before 1800, the
Natchez Trace had been for many years the land route of thousands
of returning rivermen who had descended the Mississippi in
flatboat and barge. In practically all cases these men carried
with them the proceeds of their investment, and, as on every
thoroughfare in the world traveled by those returning from
market, so here, too, highwaymen and desperadoes, red and white,
built their lairs and lay in wait. Some of the most revolting
crimes of the American frontier were committed on these northward
pathways and their branches.

Joining a party bound for Natchez, a hundred and fifty miles
distant overland, Baily proceeded to Lake Pontchartrain and
thence "north by west through the woods," by way of the ford of
the Tangipahoa, Cooper's Plantation, Tickfaw River, Amite River,
and the "Hurricane" (the path of a tornado) to the beginning of
the Apalousa country. This tangled region of stunted growth was
reputed to be seven miles in width from "shore to shore" and
three hundred miles in length. It took the party half a day to
reach the opposite "shore," and they had to quench their thirst
on the way with dew.

At Natchez, Baily organized a party which included the five
"Dutchmen" whose horse boat had proved a failure. For their
twenty-one days' journey to Nashville the party laid in the
following provisions: 15 pounds of biscuit, 6 pounds of flour, 12
pounds of bacon, 10 pounds of dried beef, 8 pounds of rice, 1 1/2
pounds of coffee, 4 pounds of sugar, and a quantity of pounded
corn, such as the Indians used on all their journeys. After
celebrating the Fourth of July, 1797, with "all the inhabitants
who were hostile to the Spanish Government," and bribing the
baker at the Spanish fort to bake them a quarter of a
hundredweight of bread, the party started on their northward

They reached without incident the famous Grindstone Ford of Bayou
Pierre, where crayfishes had destroyed a pioneer dam. Beyond, at
the forks of the path where the Choctaw Trail bore off to the
cast the party pursued the alternate Chickasaw Trail by Indian
guidance, and soon noted the change in the character of the soil
from black loam to sandy gravel, which indicated that they had
reached the Piedmont region. Indian marauders stole one horse
from the camp, and three of the party fell ill. The others,
pressed for food, were compelled to leave the sick men in an
improvised camp and to hasten on, promising to send to their aid
the first Indian they should meet "who understood herbs." After
appalling hardships, they crossed the Tennessee and entered the
Nashville country, where the roads were good enough for coaches,
for they met two on the way. Thence Baily proceeded to Knoxville,
seeing, as he went, droves of cattle bound for the settlements of
west Tennessee. With his arrival at Knoxville, his journal ends
abruptly; but from other sources we learn that he sailed from New
York on his return to England in January, 1798. His interesting
record, however, remained unpublished until after his death in

Not only to Francis Baily but to scores of other travelers, even
those of unfriendly eyes, do modern readers owe a debt of
gratitude. These men have preserved a multitude of pictures and a
wealth of data which would otherwise have been lost. The men of
America in those days were writing the story of their deeds not
on parchment or paper but on the virgin soil of the wilderness.
But though the stage driver, the tavern keeper, and the burly
riverman left no description of the life of their highways and
their commerce, these visitors from other lands have bequeathed
to us their thousands of pages full of the enterprising life of
these pioneer days in the history of American commerce.

CHAPTER VII. The Birth Of The Steamboat

The crowds who welcomed the successive stages in the development
of American transportation were much alike in essentials--they
were all optimistic, self-congratulatory, irrepressible in their
enthusiasm, and undaunted in their outlook. Dickens, perhaps,
did not miss the truth widely when, in speaking of stage
driving, he said that the cry of "Go Ahead!" in America and of
"All Right!" in England were typical of the civilizations of the
two countries. Right or wrong, "Go Ahead!" has always been the
underlying passion of all men interested in the development of
commerce and transportation in these United States.

During the era of river improvement already described, men of
imagination were fascinated with the idea of propelling boats by
mechanical means. Even when Washington fared westward in 1784, he
met at Bath, Virginia, one of these early experimenters, James
Rumsey, who haled him forthwith to a neighboring meadow to watch
a secret trial of a boat moved by means of machinery which worked
setting-poles similar to the ironshod poles used by the rivermen
to propel their boats upstream. "The model," wrote Washington,
"and its operation upon the water, which had been made to run
pretty swift, not only convinced me of what I before thought next
to, if not quite impracticable, but that it might be to the
greatest possible utility in inland navigation." Later he
mentions the "discovery" as one of those "circumstances which
have combined to render the present epoch favorable above all
others for securing a large portion of the produce of the western
settlements, and of the fur and peltry of the Lakes, also."

>From that day forward, scarcely a week passed without some new
development in the long and difficult struggle to improve the
means of navigation. Among the scores of men who engaged in this
engrossing but discouraging work, there is one whom the world is
coming to honor more highly than in previous years--John Fitch,
of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. As early as August,
1785, Fitch launched on a rivulet in Bucks County, Pennsylvania,
a boat propelled by an engine which moved an endless chain to
which little paddles were attached. The next year, Fitch's second
boat, operated by twelve paddles, six on a side--an arrangement
suggesting the "side-wheeler" of the future--successfully plied
the Delaware off "Conjuror's Point," as the scene of Fitch's
labors was dubbed in whimsical amusement and derision. In 1787
Rumsey, encouraged by Franklin, fashioned a boat propelled by a
stream of water taken in at the prow and ejected at the stern. In
1788 Fitch's third boat traversed the distance from Philadelphia
to Burlington on numerous occasions and ran as a regular packet
in 1790, covering over a thousand miles. In this model Fitch
shifted the paddles from the sides to the rear, thus anticipating
in principle the modern stern-wheeler.

It was doubtless Fitch's experiments in 1785 that led to the
first plan in America to operate a land vehicle by steam. Oliver
Evans, a neighbor and acquaintance of Fitch's, petitioned the
Pennsylvania Legislature in 1786 for the right of operating
wagons propelled by steam on the highways of that State. This
petition was derisively rejected; but a similar one made to the
Legislature of Maryland was granted on the ground that such
action could hurt nobody. Evans in 1802 took fiery revenge on the
scoffers by actually running his little five-horse-power carriage
through Philadelphia. The rate of speed, however, was so slow
that the idea of moving vehicles by steam was still considered
useless for practical purposes. Eight years later, Evans offered
to wager $3000 that, on a level road, he could make a carriage
driven by steam equal the speed of the swiftest horse, but he
found no response. In 1812 he asserted that he was willing to
wager that he could drive a steam carriage on level rails at a
rate of fifteen miles an hour. Evans thus anticipated the belief
of Stephenson that steam-driven vehicles would travel best on
railed tracks.

In the development of the steamboat almost all earlier means of
propulsion, natural and artificial, were used as models by the
inventors. The fins of fishes, the webbed feet of amphibious
birds, the paddles of the Indian, and the poles and oars of the
riverman, were all imitated by the patient inventors struggling
with the problem. Rumsey's first effort was a copy of the old
setting-pole idea. Fitch's model of 1785 had side paddle wheels
operated by an endless chain. Fitch's second and third models
were practically paddle-wheel models, one having the paddles at
the side and the other at the stern. Ormsbee of Connecticut made
a model, in 1792, on the plan of a duck's foot. Morey made what
may be called the first real stern-wheeler in 1794. Two years
later Fitch ran a veritable screw propeller on Collect Pond near
New York City. Although General Benjamin Tupper of Massachusetts
had been fashioning devices of this character eight years
previously, Fitch was the first to apply the idea effectively. In
1798 he evolved the strange, amphibious creation known as his
"model of 1798," which has never been adequately explained. It
was a steamboat on iron wheels provided with flanges, as though
it was intended to be run on submerged tracks. What may have been
the idea of its inventor, living out his last gloomy days in
Kentucky, may never be known; but it is possible to see in this
anomalous machine an anticipation of the locomotive not
approached by any other American of the time. Thus, prior to 1800
almost every type of mechanism for the propulsion of steamboats
had been suggested and tried; and in 1804, Stevens's twin-screw
propeller completed the list.

It is not alone Fitch's development of the devices of the endless
chain, paddle wheel, and screw propeller and of his puzzling
earth-and-water creature that gives luster to his name. His
prophetic insight into the future national importance of the
steamboat and his conception, as an inventor, of his moral
obligations to the people at large were as original and striking
in the science of that age as were his models.

The early years of the national life of the United States were
the golden age of monopoly. Every colony, as a matter of course,
had granted to certain men special privileges, and, as has
already been pointed out, the questions of monopolies and
combinations in restraint of trade had arisen even so early as
the beginning of the eighteenth century. Interwoven inextricably
with these problems was the whole problem of colonial rivalry,
which in its later form developed into an insistence on state
rights. Every improvement in the means of transportation, every
development of natural resources, every new invention was
inevitably considered from the standpoint of sectional interests
and with a view to its monopolistic possibilities. This was
particularly true in the case of the steamboat, because of its
limitation to rivers and bays which could be specifically
enumerated and defined. For instance, Washington in 1784 attests
the fact that Rumsey operated his mechanical boat at Bath in
secret "until he saw the effect of an application he was about to
make to the Assembly of this State, for a reward." The
application was successful, and Rumsey was awarded a monopoly in
Virginia waters for ten years.

Fitch, on the other hand, when he applied to Congress in 1785,
desired merely to obtain official encouragement and intended to
allow his invention to be used by all comers. Meeting only with
rebuff, he realized that his only hope of organizing a company
that could provide working capital lay in securing monopolistic
privileges. In 1786 he accordingly applied to the individual
States and secured the sole right to operate steamboats on the
waterways of New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and
Virginia. How different would have been the story of the
steamboat if Congress had accepted Fitch at his word and created
a precedent against monopolistic rights on American rivers!

Fitch, in addition to the high purpose of devoting his new
invention to the good of the nation without personal
considerations, must be credited with perceiving at the very
beginning the peculiar importance of the steamboat to the
American West. His original application to Congress in 1785
opened: "The subscriber begs leave to lay at the feet of
Congress, an attempt he has made to facilitate the internal
Navigation of the United States, adapted especially to the Waters
of the Mississippi." At another time with prophetic vision he
wrote: "The Grand and Principle object must be on the Atlantick,
which would soon overspread the wild forests of America with
people, and make us the most oppulent Empire on Earth. Pardon me,
generous public, for suggesting ideas that cannot be dijested at
this day."

Foremost in exhibiting high civic and patriotic motives, Fitch
was also foremost in appreciating the importance of the steamboat
in the expansion of American trade. This significance was also
clearly perceived by his brilliant successor, Robert Fulton. That
the West and its commerce were always predominant in Fulton's
great schemes is proved by words which he addressed in 1803 to
James Monroe, American Ambassador to Great Britain: "You have
perhaps heard of the success of my experiments for
navigating boats by steam engines and you will feel the
importance of establishing such boats on the Mississippi and
other rivers of the United States as soon as possible." Robert
Fulton had been interested in steamboats for a period not
definitely known, possibly since his sojourn in Philadelphia in
the days of Fitch's early efforts. That he profited by the other
inventor's efforts at the time, however, is not suggested by any
of his biographers. He subsequently went to London and gave
himself up to the study and practice of engineering. There he
later met James Rumsey, who came to England in 1788, and by him
no doubt was informed, if he was not already aware, of the
experiments and models of Rumsey and Fitch. He obtained the loan
of Fitch's plans and drawings and made his own trial of various
existing devices, such as oars, paddles, duck's feet, and Fitch's
endless chain with "resisting-boards" attached. Meanwhile Fulton
was also devoting his attention to problems of canal construction
and to the development of submarine boats and submarine
explosives. He was engaged in these researches in France in 1801
when the new American minister, Robert R. Livingston, arrived,
and the two men soon formed a friendship destined to have a vital
and enduring influence upon the development of steam navigation
on the inland waterways of America.

Livingston already had no little experience in the same field of
invention as Fulton. In 1798 he had obtained, for a period of
twenty years, the right to operate steamboats on all the waters
of the State of New York, a monopoly which had just lapsed owing
to the death of Fitch. In the same year Livingston had built a
steamboat which had made three miles an hour on the Hudson. He
had experimented with most of the models then in existence--
upright paddles at the side, endless-chain paddles, and stern
paddle wheels. Fulton was soon inspired to resume his efforts by
Livingston's account of his own experiments and of recent
advances in England, where a steamboat had navigated the Thames
in 1801 and a year later the famous sternwheeler Charlotte Dundas
had towed boats of 140 tons' burden on the Forth and Clyde Canal
at the rate of five miles an hour. In this same year Fulton and
Livingston made successful experiments on the Seine.

It is fortunate that, in one particular, Livingston's influence
did not prevail with Fulton, for the American Minister was
distinctly prejudiced against paddle wheels. Although Livingston
had previously ridden as a passenger on Morey's sternwheeler at
the rate of five miles an hour, yet he had turned a deaf ear when
his partner in experimentation, Nicholas J. Roosevelt, had
insisted strongly on "throwing wheels over the sides." At the
beginning, Fulton himself was inclined to agree with Livingston
in this respect; but, probably late in 1803, he began to
investigate more carefully the possibilities of the paddle wheel
as used twice in America by Morey and by four or five
experimenters in Europe. In 1804 an eight-mile trip which Fulton
made on the Charlotte Dundas in an hour and twenty minutes
established his faith in the undeniable superiority of two
fundamental factors of early navigation--paddle wheels and
engines. Fulton's splendid fame rests, and rightly so, on his
perception of the fact that no mere ingenuity of design could
counterbalance weakness, uncertainty, and inefficiency in the
mechanism which was intended to make a steamboat run and keep
running. As early as November, 1803, Fulton had written to
Boulton and Watt of Birmingham that he had "not confidence in any
other engines" than theirs and that he was seeking a means of
getting one of those engines to America. "I cannot establish the
boat without the engine," he now emphatically wrote to James
Monroe, then Ambassador to the Court of St. James. "The question
then is shall we or shall we not have such boats."

But there were difficulties in the way. Though England forbade
the exportation of engines, Fulton knew that, in numerous
instances, this rule had not been enforced, and he had hopes of
success. "The British Government," Fulton wrote Monroe, "must
have little friendship or even civility toward America, if they
refuse such a request." Before the steamboat which Fulton and
Livingston proposed to build in America could be operated there
was another obstacle to be surmounted. The rights of steam
navigation of New York waters which Livingston had obtained on
the death of Fitch in 1798 had lapsed because of his failure to
run a steamboat at the rate of four miles an hour, which was one
provision of the grant. In April, 1803, the grant was renewed to
Livingston, Roosevelt, and Fulton jointly for another period of
twenty years, and the date when the boat was to make the required
four miles an hour was extended finally to 1807.

Any one who is inclined to criticize the Livingston-
Roosevelt-Fulton monopoly which now came into existence should
remember that the previous state grants formed a precedent of no
slight moment. The whole proceeding was in perfect accord with
the spirit of the times, for it was an era of speculation and
monopoly ushered in by the toll-road and turnpike organizations,
when probably no less than two hundred companies were formed. It
was young America showing itself in an unmistakable manner--
"conceived in liberty" and starting on the long road to learn
that obedience to law and respect for public rights constitute
true liberty. Finally, it must be pointed out that Fulton, like
his famous predecessor, Fitch, was impelled by motives far higher
than the love of personal gain. "I consider them [steamboats] of
such infinite use in America," he wrote Monroe, "that I should
feel a culpable neglect toward my country if I relaxed for a
moment in pursuing every necessary measure for carrying it into
effect." And later, when repeating his argument, he says: "I
plead this not for myself alone but for our country."

It is now evident why the alliance of Fulton with Livingston was
of such epoch-making importance, for, although it may have in
some brief measure delayed Fulton's adoption of paddle wheels, it
gave him an entry to the waters of New York. Livingston and
Fulton thus supplemented each other; Livingston possessed a
monopoly and Fulton a correct estimate of the value of paddle
wheels and, secondly, of Boulton and Watt engines. It was a rare
combination destined to crown with success a long period of
effort and discouragement in the history of navigation.

After considerable delay and difficulty, the two Americans
obtained permission to export the necessary engine from Great
Britain and shipped it to New York, whither Fulton himself
proceeded to construct his steamboat. The hull was built by
Charles Brown, a New York shipbuilder, and the Boulton and Watt
machinery, set in masonry, was finally installed.

The voyage to Albany, against a stiff wind, occupied thirty-two
hours; the return trip was made in thirty. H. Freeland, one of
the spectators who stood on the banks of the Hudson when the boat
made its maiden voyage in 1807, gives the following description:

"Some imagined it to be a sea-monster whilst others did not
hesitate to express their belief that it was a sign of the
approaching judgment. What seemed strange in the vessel was the
substitution of lofty and straight smoke-pipes, rising from the
deck, instead of the gracefully tapered masts...and, in place
of the spars and rigging, the curious play of the walking-beam
pistons, and the slow turning and splashing of the huge and naked
paddlewheels, met the astonished gaze. The dense clouds of smoke,
as they rose, wave upon wave, added still more to the wonderment
of the rustics.... On her return trip the curiosity she
excited was scarcely less intense...fishermen became
terrified, and rode homewards, and they saw nothing but
destruction devastating their fishing grounds, whilst the wreaths
of black vapor and rushing noise of the paddle-wheels, foaming
with the stirred-up water, produced great excitement...."

With the launching of the Clermont on the Hudson a new era in
American history began. How quick with life it was many of the
preceding pages bear testimony. The infatuation of the public for
building toll and turnpike roads was now at its height. Only a
few years before, a comprehensive scheme of internal improvements
had been outlined by Jefferson's Secretary of the Treasury,
Albert Gallatin. When a boy, it is said, he had lain on the floor
of a surveyor's cabin on the western slopes of the Alleghanies
and had heard Washington describe to a rough crowd of Westerners
his plan to unite the Great Lakes with the Potomac in one mighty
chain of inland commerce. Jefferson's Administration was now
about to devote the surplus in the Treasury to the construction
of national highways and canals. The Cumberland Road, to be built
across the Alleghanies by the War Department, was authorized by
the president in the same year in which the Clermont made her
first trip; and Jesse Hawley, at his table in a little room in a
Pittsburgh boarding house, was even now penning in a series of
articles, published in the Pittsburgh Commonwealth, beginning in
January, 1807, the first clear challenge to the Empire State to
connect the Hudson and Lake Erie by a canal. Thus the two next
steps in the history of inland commerce in America were ready to
be taken.

CHAPTER VIII. The Conquest Of The Alleghanies

The two great thoroughfares of American commerce in the first
half of the nineteenth century were the Cumberland Road and the
Erie Canal. The first generation of the new century witnessed the
great burst of population into the West which at once gave Ohio,
Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin a place of national
importance which they have never relinquished. So far as pathways
of commerce contributed to the creation of this veritable new
republic in the Middle West, the Cumberland Road and the Erie
Canal, cooperating respectively with Ohio River and Lake Erie
steamboats, were of the utmost importance. The national spirit,
said to have arisen from the second war with England, had its
clearest manifestation in the throwing of a great macadamized
roadway across the Alleghanies to the Ohio River and the digging
of the Erie Canal through the swamps and wildernesses of New

Both of these pathways were essentially the fruition of the
doctrine to which Washington gave wide circulation in his letter
to Harrison in 1784, wherein he pictured the vision of a vast
Republic united by commercial chains. Both were essentially
Western enterprises. The highway was built to fulfil the promise
which the Government had made in 1802 to use a portion of the
money accruing from the sale of public lands in Ohio in order to
connect that young State with Atlantic waters. It was proposed to
build the canal, according to one early plan, with funds to be
obtained by the sale of land in Michigan. So firmly did the
promoters believe in the national importance of this project that
subscriptions, according to another plan, were to be solicited as
far afield as Vermont in the North and Kentucky in the Southwest.
All that Washington had hoped for, and all that Aaron Burr is
supposed to have been hopeless of, were epitomized in these great
works of internal improvement. They bespoke cooperation of the
highest existing types of loyalty, optimism, financial skill, and
engineering ability.

Yet, on the other hand, the contrasts between these undertakings
were great. The two enterprises, one the work of the nation and
the other that of a single State, were practically
contemporaneous and were therefore constantly inviting
comparison. The Cumberland Road was, for its day, a gigantic
government undertaking involving problems of finance, civil
engineering, eminent domain, state rights, local favoritism, and
political machination. Its purpose was noble and its successful
construction a credit to the nation; but the paternalism to which
it gave rise and the conflicts which it precipitated in Congress
over questions of constitutionality were remembered soberly for a
century. The Erie Canal, after its projectors had failed to
obtain national aid, became the undertaking of one commonwealth
conducted, amid countless doubts and jeers, to a conclusion
unbelievably successful. As a result many States, foregoing
Federal aid, attempted to duplicate the successful feat of New
York. In this respect the northern canal resembled the Lancaster
Turnpike and tempted scores of States and corporations to
expenditures which were unwise in circumstances less favorable
than those of the fruitful and strategic Empire State.

In the conception of both the roadway and the canal, it should be
noted, the old idea of making use of navigable rivers still
persisted. The act foreshadowing the Cumberland Road, passed in
1802, called for "making public roads leading from the navigable
waters emptying into the Atlantic, to the Ohio, to said State
Ohio and through the same"; and Hawley's original plan was to
build the Erie Canal from Utica to Buffalo using the Mohawk from
Utica to the Hudson.

Historic Cumberland, in Maryland, was chosen by Congress as the
eastern terminus of the great highway which should bind Ohio to
the Old Thirteen. Commissioners were appointed in 1806 to choose
the best route by which the great highway could reach the Ohio
River between Steubenville, Ohio and the mouth of Grave Creek;
but difficulties of navigation in the neighborhood of the Three
Sister Islands near Charlestown, or Wellsburg, West Virginia, led
to the choice of Wheeling, farther down, as a temporary western

The route selected was an excellent compromise between the long
standing rival claims of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to
the trade of the West. If Baltimore and Alexandria were to be
better served than Philadelphia, the advantage was slight; and
Pennsylvania gained compensation, ere the State gave the National
Government permission to build the road within its limits, by
dictating that it should pass through Uniontown and Washington.
In this way Pennsylvania obtained, without cost, unrivaled
advantages for a portion of the State which might otherwise have
been long neglected.

The building of the road, however satisfactory in the main, was
not undertaken without arousing many sectional and personal hopes
and prejudices and jealousies, of which the echoes still linger
in local legends today. Land-owners, mine-owners, factory-owners,
innkeepers and countless townsmen and villagers anxiously watched
the course of the road and were bitterly disappointed if the new
sixty-four-foot thoroughfare did not pass immediately through
their property. On the other hand, promoters of toll and turnpike
companies, who had promising schemes and long lists of
shareholders, were far from eager to have their property taken
for a national road. No one believed that, if it proved
successful, it would be the only work of its kind, and everywhere
men looked for the construction of government highways out of the
overflowing wealth of the treasury within the next few years.

In April, 1811, the first contracts were let for building the
first ten miles of the road from its eastern terminus and were
completed in 18191. More contracts were let in 1812, 1813, and
1815. Even in those days of war when the drain on the national
treasury was excessive, over a quarter of a million dollars was
appropriated for the construction of the road. Onward it
crawled, through the beautiful Cumberland gateway of the Potomac,
to Big Savage and Little Savage Mountains, to Little Pine Run
(the first "Western" water), to Red Hill (later called "Shades of
Death" because of the gloomy forest growth), to high-flung Negro
Mountain at an elevation of 2325 feet, and thence on to the
Youghiogheny, historic Great Meadows, Braddock's Grave, Laurel
Hill, Uniontown, and Brownsville, where it crossed the
Monongahela. Thence, on almost a straight line, it sped by way of
Washington to Wheeling. Its average cost was upwards of thirteen
thousand dollars a mile from the Potomac to the Ohio. The road
was used in 1817, and in another year the mail coaches of the
United States were running from Washington to Wheeling, West
Virginia. Within five years one of the five commission houses
doing business at Wheeling is said to have handled over a
thousand wagons carrying freight of nearly two tons each. The
Cumberland Road at once leaped into a position of leadership,
both in volume of commerce and in popularity, and held its own
for two famous decades. The pulse of the nation beat to the
steady throb of trade along its highway. Maryland at once
stretched out her eager arms, along stone roads, through
Frederick and Hagerstown to Cumberland, and thus formed a single
route from the Ohio to Baltimore. Great stagecoach and freight
lines were soon established, each patronizing its own stage house
or wagon stand in the thriving towns along the road. The
primitive box stage gave way to the oval or football type with
curved top and bottom, and this was displaced in turn by the more
practical Concord coach of national fame. The names of the
important stagecoach companies were quite as well known, a
century ago, as those of our great railways today. Chief among
them were the National, Good Intent, June Bug, and Pioneer lines.
The coaches, drawn by four and sometimes six horses, were usually
painted in brilliant colors and were named after eminent
statesmen. The drivers of these gay chariots were characters
quite as famous locally as the personages whose names were borne
by the coaches. Westover and his record of forty-five minutes for
the twenty miles between Uniontown and Brownsville, and "Red"
Bunting, with his drive of a hundred and thirty-one miles in
twelve hours with the declaration of war against Mexico, will be
long famous on the curving stretches of the Cumberland Road.

Although the freight and express traffic of those days lacked the
picturesqueness of the passenger coaches, nothing illustrates so
conclusively what the great road meant to an awakening West as
the long lines of heavy Conestogas and rattling express wagons
which raced at "unprecedented" speed across hill and vale.
Searight, the local historian of the road, describes these large,
broad-wheeled wagons covered with white canvas as

"visible all the day long, at every point, making the highway
look more like a leading avenue of a great city than a road
through rural districts.... I have staid over night with
William Cheets on Nigger [Negro] Mountain when there were about
thirty six-horse teams in the wagon yard, a hundred Kentucky
mules in an adjoining lot, a thousand hogs in their enclosures,
and as many fat cattle in adjoining fields. The music made by
this large number of hogs eating corn on a frosty night I shall
never forget. After supper and attention to the teams, the
wagoners would gather in the bar-room and listen to the music on
the violin furnished by one of their fellows, have a Virginia
hoe-down, sing songs, tell anecdotes, and hear the experiences of
drivers and drovers from all points of the road, and, when it was
all over, unroll their beds, lay them down on the floor before
the bar-room fire side by side, and sleep with their feet near
the blaze as soundly as under the parental roof."

Meanwhile New York, the other great rival for Western trade, was
intent on its own darling project, the Erie Canal. In 1808, three
years before the building of the Cumberland Road, Joshua Forman
offered a bill in favor of the canal in the Legislature of New
York. In plain but dignified language this document stated that
New York possessed "the best route of communication between the
Atlantic and western waters," and that it held "the first
commercial rank in the United States." The bill also noted that,
while "several of our sister States" were seeking to secure "the
trade of that wide extended country," their natural advantages
were "vastly inferior." Six hundred dollars was the amount
appropriated for a brief survey, and Congress was asked to vote
aid for the construction of the "Buffalo-Utica Canal." The matter
was widely talked about but action was delayed. Doubt as to the
best route to be pursued caused some discussion. If the western
terminus were to be located on Lake Ontario at the mouth of the
Oswego, as some advocated, would produce not make its way to
Montreal instead of to New York? In 1810 a new committee was
appointed and, though their report favored the paralleling of the
course of the Mohawk and Oswego rivers, their engineer, James
Geddes, gave strength to the party which believed a direct canal
would best serve the interests of the State. It is worth noting
that Livingston and Fulton were added to the committee in 1811.

The hopes of outside aid from Congress and adjacent States met
with disappointment. In vain did the advocates of the canal in
1812 plead that its construction would promote "a free and
general intercourse between different parts of the United States,
tend to the aggrandizement and prosperity of the country, and
consolidate and strengthen the Union." The plan to have the
Government subsidize the canal by vesting in the State of New
York four million acres of Michigan land brought out a protest
from the West which is notable not so much because it records the
opposition of this section as because it illustrates the
shortsightedness of most of the arguments raised against the New
York enterprise. The purpose of the canal, the detractors
asserted, was to build up New York City to the detriment of
Montreal, and the navigation of Lake Ontario, whose beauty they
touchingly described, was to be abandoned for a "narrow, winding
obstructed canal...for an expense which arithmetic dares not
approach." It was, in their minds, unquestionably a selfish
object, and they believed that "both correct science, and the
dictates of patriotism and philanthropy [should] lead to the
adoption of more liberal principles." It was a shortsighted
object, "predicated on the eternal adhesion of the Canadas to
England." It would never give satisfaction since trade would
always ignore artificial and seek natural routes. The attempting
of such comparatively useless projects would discourage worthy
schemes, relax the bonds of Union, and depress the national
character. But though these Westerners thus misjudged the
possibilities of the Erie Canal, we must doff our hats to them
for their foresight in suggesting that, instead of aiding the
Erie Canal, the nation ought to build canals at Niagara Falls and

The War of 1812 suspended all talk of the canal, but the subject
was again brought up by Judge Platt in the autumn of 1816. With
alacrity strong men came to the aid of the measure. De Witt
Clinton's Memorial of 1816 addressed to the State Legislature may
well rank with Washington's letter to Harrison in the documentary
history of American commercial development. It sums up the
geographical position of New York with reference to the Great
Lakes and the Atlantic, her relationship to the West and to
Canada, the feasibility of the proposed route from an engineering
standpoint, the timeliness of the moment for such a work of
improvement, the value that the canal would give to the state
lands of the interior, and the trade that it would bring to the
towns along its pathway.

The Erie Canal was born in the Act of April 14, 1817, but the
decision of the Council of Revision, which held the power of
veto, was in doubt. An anecdote related by Judge Platt tends to
prove that fear of another war with England was the straw that
broke the camel's back of opposition. Acting-Governor Taylor,
Chief Justice Thompson, Chancellor Kent, Judge Yates, and Judge
Platt composed the Council. The two first named were open
opponents of the measure; Kent, Yates, and Platt were warm
advocates of the project, but one of them doubted if the time was
ripe to undertake it.

Taylor opposed the canal on the ground that the late treaty with
England was a mere truce and that the resources of the State
should be husbanded against renewed war.

"Do you think so, Sir?" Chancellor Kent is said to have asked the

"Yes, Sir," was the reported reply. "England will never forgive
us for our victories, and, my word for it, we shall have another
war with her within two years."

The Chancellor rose to his feet with determination and sealed the
fate of the great enterprise in a word.

"If we must have war," he exclaimed, "I am in favor of the canal
and I cast my vote for this bill."

On July 4, 1817, work was formally inaugurated at Rome with
simple ceremonies. Thus the year 1817 was marked by three great
undertakings: the navigation of the Mississippi River upstream
and down by steamboats, the opening of the national road across
the Alleghany Mountains, and the beginning of the Erie Canal. No
single year in the early history of the United States witnessed
three such important events in the material progress of the

What days the ancient "Long House of the Iroquois" now saw! The
engineers of the Cumberland Road, now nearing the Ohio River,
had enjoyed the advantage of many precedents and examples; but
the Commissioners of the Erie Canal had been able to study only
such crude examples of canal-building as America then afforded.
Never on any continent had such an inaccessible region been
pierced by such a highway. The total length of the whole network
of canals in Great Britain did not equal that of the waterway
which the New Yorkers now undertook to build. The lack of roads,
materials, vehicles, methods of drilling and efficient business
systems was overcome by sheer patience and perseverance in
experiment. The frozen winter roads saved the day by making it
possible to accumulate a proper supply of provisions and
materials. As tools of construction, the plough and scraper with
their greater capacity for work soon supplanted the shovel and
the wheelbarrow, which had been the chief implements for such
construction in Europe. Strange new machinery born of Mother
Necessity was now heard groaning in the dark swamps of New York.
These giants, worked by means of a cable, wheel, and endless
screw, were made to hoist green stumps bodily from the ground
and, without the use of axe, to lay trees prostrate, root and
branch. A new plough was fashioned with which a yoke of oxen
could cut roots two inches in thickness well beneath the surface
of the ground.

Handicaps of various sorts wore the patience of commissioners,
engineers, and contractors. Lack of snow during one winter all
but stopped the work by cutting off the source of supplies.
Pioneer ailments, such as fever and ague, reaped great harvests,
incapacitated more than a thousand workmen at one time and for a
brief while stopped work completely.

For the most part, however, work was carried on simultaneously on
all the three great links or sections into which the enterprise
was divided. Local contractors were given preference by the
commissioners, and three-fourths of the work was done by natives
of the State. Forward up the Mohawk by Schenectady and Utica to
Rome, thence bending southward to Syracuse, and from there by way
of Clyde, Lyons, and Palmyra, the canal made its way to the giant
viaduct over the Genesee River at Rochester. Keeping close to the
summit level on the dividing ridge between Lake Ontario streams
and the Valley of the Tonawanda, the line ran to Lockport, where
a series of locks placed the canal on the Lake Erie level, 365
miles from and 564 feet above Albany. By June, 1823, the canal
was completed from Rochester to Schenectady; in October boats
passed into the tidewaters of the Hudson at Albany; and in the
autumn of 1825 the canal was formally opened by the passage of a
triumphant fleet from Lake Erie to New York Bay. Here two kegs of
lake water were emptied into the Atlantic, while the Governor of
the State of New York spoke these words:

"This solemnity, at this place, on the first arrival of vessels
from Lake Erie, is intended to indicate and commemorate the
navigable communication, which has been accomplished between our
Mediterranean Seas and the Atlantic Ocean, in about eight years,
to the extent of more than four hundred and twenty-five miles, by
the wisdom, public spirit, and energy of the people of the State
of New York; and may the God of the Heavens and the Earth smile
most propitiously on this work, and render it subservient to the
best interests of the human race."

Throughout these last seven years, the West was subconsciously
getting ready to meet the East halfway by improving and extending
her steamboat operations. Steamboats were first run on the Great
Lakes by enterprising Buffalo citizens who, in 1818, secured
rights from the Fulton-Livingston monopoly to build the
Walk-in-the-Water, the first of the great fleet of ships that now
whiten the inland seas of the United States. Regular lines of
steamboats were now formed on the Ohio to connect with the
Cumberland Road at Wheeling, although the steamboat monopoly
threatened to stifle the natural development of transportation on
Western rivers.

The completion of the Erie Canal--coupled with the new
appropriation by Congress for extending the Cumberland Road from
the Ohio River to Missouri and the beginning of the Pennsylvania
and the Chesapeake and Ohio canals, reveal the importance of
these concluding days of the first quarter of the nineteenth
century in the annals of American transportation. Never since
that time have men doubted the ability of Americans to accomplish
the physical domination of their continent. With the conquest of
the Alleghanies and of the forests and swamps of the "Long House"
by pick and plough and scraper, and the mastery of the currents
of the Mississippi by the paddle wheel, the vast plains beyond
seemed smaller and the Rockies less formidable. Men now looked
forward confidently, with an optimist of these days, to the time
"when circulation and association between the Atlantic and
Pacific and the Mexican Gulf shall be as free and perfect as they
are at this moment in England" between the extremities of that
country. The vision of a nation closely linked by wellworn paths
of commerce was daily becoming clearer. What further westward
progress was soon to be made remains to be seen.

CHAPTER IX. The Dawn Of The Iron Age

Despite the superiority of the new iron age that quickly followed
the widespreading canal movement, there was a generous spirit and
a chivalry in the "good old days" of the stagecoach, the
Conestoga, and the lazy canal boat, which did not to an equal
degree pervade the iron age of the railroad. When machinery takes
the place of human brawn and patience, there is an indefinable
eclipse of human interest. Somehow, cogs and levers and
differentials do not have the same appeal as fingers and eyes and
muscles. The old days of coach and canal boat had a
picturesqueness and a comradeship of their own. In the turmoil
and confusion and odd mixing of every kind of humanity along the
lines of travel in the days of the hurtling coach-and-six, a
friendliness, a robust sympathy, a ready interest in the
successful and the unfortunate, a knowledge of how the other half
lives, and a familiarity with men as well as with mere places,
was common to all who took the road. As Thackeray so vividly
describes it:

"The land rang yet with the tooting horns and rattling teams of
mail-coaches; a gay sight was the road in those days, before
steam-engines arose and flung its hostelry and chivalry over. To
travel in coaches, to know coachmen and guards, to be familiar
with inns along the road, to laugh with the jolly hostess in the
bar, to chuck the pretty chamber-maid under the chin, were the
delight of men who were young not very long ago. The road was an
institution, the ring was an institution. Men rallied around
them; and, not without a kind of conservatism expatiated on the
benefits with which they endowed the country, and the evils which
would occur when they should be no more decay of British spirit,
decay of manly pluck, ruin of the breed of horses, and so forth
and so forth. To give and take a black eye was not unusual nor
derogatory in a gentleman: to drive a stage-coach the enjoyment,
the emulation, of generous youth. Is there any young fellow of
the present time, who aspires to take the place of a stoker? One
sees occasionally in the country a dismal old drag with a lonely
driver. Where are you, charioteers? Where are you, O rattling
Quicksilver, O swift Defiance? You are passed by racers stronger
and swifter than you. Your lamps are out, and the music of your
horns has died away.

Behind this change from the older and more picturesque days which
is thus lamented there lay potent economic forces and a strong
commercial rivalry between different parts of the country. The
Atlantic States were all rivals of each other, reaching out by
one bold stroke after another across forest, mountain, and river
to the gigantic and fruitful West. Step after step the inevitable
conquest went on. Foremost in time marched the sturdy
pack-horsemen, blazing the way for the heavier forces quietly
biding their time in the rear--the Conestogas, the steamboat, the
canal boat, and, last and greatest of them all, the locomotive.

Through a long preliminary period the principal center of
interest was the Potomac Valley, towards whose strategic head
Virginia and Maryland, by river-improvement and road-building,
were directing their commercial routes in amiable rivalry for the
conquest of the Western trade. Suddenly out from the southern
region of the Middle Atlantic States went the Cumberland National
Road to the Ohio. New York instantly, in her zone, took up the
challenge and thrust her great Erie Canal across to the Great
Lakes. In rapid succession, Pennsylvania and Maryland and
Virginia, eager not to be outdone in winning the struggle for
Western trade, sent their canals into the Alleghanies toward the

It soon developed, however, that Baltimore, both powerful and
ambitious, was seriously handicapped. In order to retain her
commanding position as the metropolis of Western trade she was
compelled to resort to a new and untried method of transportation
which marks an era in American history.

It seems plain that the Southern rivals of New York City--
Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Alexandria--had relied for a while
on the deterring effect of a host of critics who warned all men
that a canal of such proportions as the Erie was not practicable,
that no State could bear the financial drain which its
construction would involve, that theories which had proved
practical on a small scale would fail in so large an undertaking,
that the canal would be clogged by floods or frozen up for half
of each year, and that commerce would ignore artificial courses
and cling to natural channels. But the answer of the Empire State
to her rivals was the homely but triumphant cry "Low Bridge!"--
the warning to passengers on the decks of canal boats as they
approached the numerous bridges which spanned the route. When
this cry passed into a byword it afforded positive proof that the
Erie Canal traffic was firmly established. The words rang in the
counting-houses of Philadelphia and out and along the Lancaster
and the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh turnpikes--"Low Bridge! Low
Bridge!" Pennsylvania had granted, it has been pointed out, that
her Southern neighbors might have their share of the Ohio Valley
trade but maintained that the splendid commerce of the Great
Lakes was her own peculiar heritage. Men of Baltimore who had
dominated the energetic policy of stone-road building in their
State heard this alarming challenge from the North. The echo ran
"Low Bridge!" in the poor decaying locks of the Potomac Company
where, according to the committee once appointed to examine that
enterprise, flood-tides "gave the only navigation that was
enjoyed." Were their efforts to keep the Chesapeake metropolis in
the lead to be set at naught?

There could be but one answer to the challenge, and that was to
rival canal with canal. These more southerly States, confronted
by the towering ranges of the Alleghanies to the westward, showed
a courage which was superb, although, as time proved in the case
of Maryland, they might well have taken more counsel of their
fears. Pennsylvania acted swiftly. Though its western waterway--
the roaring Juniata, which entered the Susquehanna near
Harrisburg--had a drop from head to mouth greater than that of
the entire New York canal, and, though the mountains of the
Altoona region loomed straight up nearly three thousand feet,
Pennsylvania overcame the lowlands by main strength and the
mountain peaks by strategy and was sending canal boats from
Philadelphia to Pittsburgh within nine years of the completion of
the Erie Canal.

The eastern division of the Pennsylvania Canal, known as the
Union Canal, from Reading on the Schuylkill to Middletown on the
Susquehanna, was completed in 1827. The Juniata section was then
driven on up to Hollidaysburg. Beyond the mountain barrier, the
Conemaugh, the Kiskiminitas, and the Allegheny were followed to
Pittsburgh. But the greatest feat in the whole enterprise was the
conquest of the mountain section, from Hollidaysburg to
Johnstown. This was accomplished by the building of five inclined
planes on each slope, each plane averaging about 2300 feet in
length and 200 feet in height. Up or down these slopes and along
the intermediate level sections cars and giant cradles (built to
be lowered into locks where they could take an entire canal boat
as a load) were to be hauled or lowered by horsepower, and later,
by steam. After the plans had been drawn up by Sylvester Welch
and Moncure Robinson, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the
work in 1831, and traffic over this aerial route was begun in
March, 1834. In autumn of that year, the stanch boat Hit or Miss,
from the Lackawanna country, owned by Jesse Crisman and captained
by Major Williams, made the journey across the whole length of
the canal. It rested for a night on the Alleghany summit "like
Noah's Ark on Ararat," wrote Sherman Day, "descended the next
morning into the Valley of the Mississippi, and sailed for St.

Well did Robert Stephenson, the famous English engineer, say
that, in boldness of design and difficulty of execution, this
Pennsylvania scheme of mastering the Alleghanies could be
compared with no modern triumph short of the feats performed at
the Simplon Pass and Mont Cenis. Before long this line of
communication became a very popular thoroughfare; even Charles
Dickens "heartily enjoyed" it--in retrospect--and left
interesting impressions of his journey over it:

"Even the running up, bare-necked, at five o'clock in the morning
from the tainted cabin to the dirty deck; scooping up the icy
water, plunging one's head into it, and drawing it out, all fresh
and glowing with the cold; was a good thing. The fast, brisk walk
upon the towing-path, between that time and breakfast, when every
vein and artery seemed to tingle with health; the exquisite
beauty of the opening day, when light came gleaming off from
everything; the lazy motion of the boat, when one lay idly on the
deck, looking through, rather than at, the deep blue sky; the
gliding on, at night, so noiselessly, past frowning hills, sullen
with dark trees, and sometimes angry in one red burning spot high
up, where unseen men lay crouching round a fire; the shining out
of the bright stars, undisturbed by noise of wheels or steam, or
any other sound than the liquid rippling of the water as the boat
went on; all these were pure delights."*

* "American Notes" (Gadshill Edition), pp. 180-181.

Dickens also thus graphically depicts the unique experience of
being carried over the mountain peaks on the aerial railway:

"There are ten inclined planes; five ascending and five
descending; the carriages are dragged up the former, and let
slowly down the latter, by means of stationary engines; the
comparatively level spaces between being traversed, sometimes by
horse, and sometimes by engine power, as the case demands.
Occasionally the rails are laid upon the extreme verge of a giddy
precipice; and looking from the carriage window, the traveler
gazes sheer down, without a stone or scrap of fence between, into
the mountain depths below. The journey is very carefully made,
however; only two carriages traveling together; and while proper
precautions are taken, is not to be dreaded for its dangers.

"It was very pretty traveling thus, at a rapid pace along the
heights of the mountain in a keen wind, to look down into a
valley full of light and softness; catching glimpses, through the
tree-tops, of scattered cabins; children running to the doors;
dogs bursting out to bark, whom we could see without hearing;
terrified pigs scampering homewards; families sitting out in
their rude gardens; cows gazing upward with a stupid
indifference; men in their shirt-sleeves looking on at their
unfinished houses, planning out tomorrow's work; and we riding
onward, high abode them, like a whirl-wind. It was amusing, too,
when we had dined, and rattled down a steep pass, having no other
motive power than the weight of the carriages themselves, to see
the engine released, long after us, come buzzing down alone, like
a great insect, its back of green and gold so shining in the sun,
that if it had spread a pair of wings and soared away, no one
would have had occasion, as I fancied, for the least surprise.
But it stopped short of us in a very business-like manner when we
reached the canal; and, before we left the wharf, went panting up
this hill again, with the passengers who had waited our arrival
for the means of traversing the road by which we had come."*

* Op. cit.

This Pennsylvania route was likewise famous because it included
the first tunnel in America; but with the advance of years,
tunnel, planes, and canal were supplanted by what was to become
in time the Pennsylvania Railroad, the pride of the State and one
of the great highways of the nation.

In the year before Pennsylvania investigated her western water
route, a joint bill was introduced into the legislatures of the
Potomac Valley States, proposing a Potomac Canal Company which
should construct a Chesapeake and Ohio canal at the expense of
Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The plan was of
vital moment to Alexandria and Georgetown on the Potomac, but
unless a lateral canal could be built to Baltimore, that city--
which paid a third of Maryland's taxes--would be called on to
supply a great sum to benefit only her chief rivals. The bitter
struggle which now developed is one of the most significant in
commercial history because of its sequel.

The conditions underlying this rivalry must not be lost sight of.
Baltimore had done more than any other Eastern city to ally
herself with the West and to obtain its trade. She had
instinctively responded to every move made by her rivals in the
great game. If Pennsylvania promoted a Lancaster Turnpike,
Baltimore threw out her superb Baltimore-Reisterstown boulevard,
though her northern road to Philadelphia remained the slough that
Brissot and Baily had found it. If New York projected an Erie
Canal, Baltimore successfully championed the building of a
Cumberland Road by a governmental godmother. So thoroughly and
quickly, indeed, did she link her system of stone roads to that
great artery, that even today many well-informed writers seem to
be under the impression that the Cumberland Road ran from the
Ohio to Washington and Baltimore. Now, with canals building to
the north of her and canals to the south of her, what of her
prestige and future?

For the moment Baltimore compromised by agreeing to a Chesapeake
and Ohio canal which, by a lateral branch, should still lead to
her market square. Her scheme embraced a vision of conquest regal
in its sweep, beyond that of any rival, and comprehending two
ideas worthy of the most farseeing strategist and the most astute
politician. It called not only for the building of a transmontane
canal to the Ohio but also for a connecting canal from the Ohio
to the Great Lakes. Not only would the trade of the Northwest be
secured by this means--for this southerly route would not be
affected by winter frosts as would those of Pennsylvania and New
York--but the good godmother at Washington would be almost
certain to champion it and help to build it since the proposed
route was so thoroughly interstate in character. With the backing
of Maryland, Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and probably
several States bordering the Inland Lakes, government aid in the
undertaking seemed feasible and proper.

Theoretically the daring scheme captured the admiration of all
who were to be benefited by it. At a great banquet at Washington,
late in 1823, the project was launched. Adams, Clay, and Calhoun
took the opportunity to ally themselves with it by robustly
declaring themselves in favor of widespread internal
improvements. Even the godmother smiled upon it for, following
Monroe's recommendation, Congress without hesitation voted thirty
thousand dollars for the preliminary survey from Washington to
Pittsburgh. Quickly the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company and the
connecting Maryland Canal Company were formed, and steps were
taken to have Ohio promote an Ohio and Lake Erie Company.

As high as were the hopes awakened by this movement, just so deep
was the dejection and chagrin into which its advocates were
thrown upon receiving the report of the engineers who made the
preliminary survey. The estimated cost ran towards a quarter of a
billion, four times the capital stock of the company; and there
were not lacking those who pointed out that the Erie Canal had
cost more than double the original appropriation made for it.

The situation was aggravated for Baltimore by the fact that
Maryland and Virginia were willing to take half a loaf if they
could not get a whole one: in other words, they were willing to
build the canal up the Potomac to Cumberland and stop there.
Baltimore, even if linked to this partial scheme, would lose her
water connection with the West, the one prized asset which the
project had held out, and her Potomac Valley rivals would, on
this contracted plan, be in a particularly advantageous position
to surpass her. But the last blow was yet to come. Engineers
reported that a lateral canal connecting the Potomac and
Chesapeake Bay was not feasible. It was consequently of little
moment whether the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal could be built
across the Alleghanies or not, for, even if it could have been
carried through the Great Plains or to the Pacific, Baltimore
was, for topographical reasons, out of the running.

The men of Baltimore now gave one of the most striking
illustrations of spirit and pluck ever exhibited by the people of
any city. They refused to accept defeat. If engineering science
held a means of overcoming the natural disadvantages of their
position, they were determined to adopt that means, come what
would of hardship, difficulty, and expenditure. If roads and
canals would not serve the city on the Chesapeake, what of the
railroad on which so many experiments were being made in England?

The idea of controlling the trade of the West by railroads was
not new. As early as February, 1825, certain astute
Pennsylvanians had advocated building a railroad to Pittsburgh
instead of a canal, and in a memorial to the Legislature they had
set forth the theory that a railroad could be built in one-third
of the time and could be operated with one-third of the number of
employees required by a canal, that it would never be frozen, and
that its cost of construction would be less. But these arguments
did not influence the majority, who felt that to follow the line
of least resistance and to do as others had done would involve
the least hazard. But Baltimore, with her back against the wall,
did not have the alternative of a canal. It was a leap into the
unknown for her or commercial stagnation.

It is regrettable that, as Baltimore began to break this fresh
track, she should have had political as well as physical and
mechanical obstacles to overcome. The conquest of the natural
difficulties alone required superhuman effort and endurance. But
Baltimore had also to fight a miserable internecine warfare in
her own State, for Maryland immediately subscribed half a million
to the canal as well as to the newly formed Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad. In rival pageants, both companies broke ground on July
4, 1828, and the race to the Ohio was on. The canal company clung
doggedly to the idle belief that their enterprise was still of
continental proportions, since it would connect at Cumberland
with the Cumberland Road. This exaggerated estimate of the
importance of the undertaking shines out in the pompous words of
President Mercer, at the time when construction was begun:

"There are moments in the progress of time, which are counters of
whole ages. There are events, the monuments of which, surviving
every other memorial of human existence, eternize the nation to
whose history they belong, after all other vestiges of its glory
have disappeared from the globe. At such a moment have we now

This oracular language lacks the simple but winning
straightforwardness of the words which Director Morris uttered on
the same day near Baltimore and which prove how distinctly
Western the new railway project was held to be:

"We are about opening a channel through which the commerce of the
mighty country beyond the Allegheny must seek the ocean--we are
about affording facilities of intercourse between the East and
West, which will bind the one more closely to the other, beyond
the power of an increased population or sectional differences to

The difficulties which faced the Baltimore enthusiasts in their
task of keeping their city "on the map" would have daunted men of
less heroic mold. Every conceivable trial and test which nature
and machinery could seemingly devise was a part of their day's
work for twelve years struggles with grades, locomotives, rails,
cars. As Rumsey, Fitch, and Fulton in their experiments with
boats had floundered despondently with endless chains, oars,
paddles, duck's feet, so now Thomas and Brown in their efforts to
make the railroad effective wandered in a maze of difficulties
testing out such absurd and impossible ideas as cars propelled by
sails and cars operated by horse treadmills. By May, 1830,
however, cars on rails, running by "brigades" and drawn by
horses, were in operation in America. It was only in this year
that in England locomotives were used with any marked success on
the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad; yet in August of this year
Peter Cooper's engine, Tom Thumb, built in Baltimore in 1829,
traversed the twelve miles between that city and Ellicott's Mills
in seventy-two minutes. Steel springs came in 1832, together with
car wheels of cylindrical and conical section which made it
easier to turn curves.

The railroad was just beginning to master its mechanical problems
when a new obstacle confronted it in the Potomac Valley. It could
not cross Maryland to the Cumberland mountain gateway unless it
could follow the Potomac. But its rival, the canal, had inherited
from the old Potomac Company the only earthly asset it possessed
of any value--the right of way up the Maryland shore. Five years
of quarreling now ensued, and the contest, though it may not have
seriously delayed either enterprise, aroused much bitterness and
involved the usual train of lawsuits and injunctions.

In 1833 the canal company yielded the railroad a right of way
through the Point of Rocks--the Potomac chasm through the Blue
Ridge wall, just below Harper's Ferry on condition that the
railroad should not build beyond Harper's Ferry until the canal
was completed to Cumberland. But probably nothing but the
financial helplessness of the canal company could have brought a
solution satisfactory to all concerned. A settlement of the long
quarrel by compromise was the price paid for state aid, and, in
1835 Maryland subsidized to a large degree both canal and
railroad by her famous eight million dollar bill. The railroad
received three millions from the State, and the city of Baltimore
was permitted to subscribe an equal amount of stock. With this
support and a free right of way, the railroad pushed on up the
Potomac. Though delayed by the financial disasters of 1837, in
1842 it was at Hancock; in 1851, at Piedmont; in 1852, at
Fairmont; and the next year it reached the Ohio River at

Spurred by the enterprise shown by these Southerners,
Pennsylvania and New York now took immediate steps to parallel
their own canals by railways. The line of the Union Canal in
Pennsylvania was paralleled by a railroad in 1834, the same year
in which the Allegheny Portage Railway was constructed. New York
lines reached Buffalo in 1842. The Pennsylvania Railroad, which
was incorporated in 1846, was completed to Pittsburgh in 1854.

It is thus obvious that, with the completion of these lines and
the building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway through the
"Sapphire Country" of the Southern Alleghanies, the new railway
era pursued its paths of conquest through the very same mountain
passageways that had been previously used by packhorseman and
Conestoga and, in three instances out of four, by the canal boat.
If one motors today in the Juniata Valley in Pennsylvania, he can
survey near Newport a scene full of meaning to one who has a
taste for history. Traveling along the heights on the highway
that was once the red man's trail, he can enjoy a wide prospect
from this vantage point. Deep in the valley glitters the little
Juniata, route of the ancient canoe and the blundering barge.
Beside it lies a long lagoon, an abandoned portion of the
Pennsylvania Canal. Beside this again, as though some monster had
passed leaving a track clear of trees, stretches the right of way
of the first "Pennsylvania," and a little nearer swings the
magnificent double-tracked bed of the railroad of today. Between
these lines of travel may be read the history of the past two
centuries of American commerce, for the vital factors in the
development of the nation have been the evolution of
transportation and its manifold and far-reaching influence upon
the expansion of population and commerce and upon the rise of new

Thus all the rivals in the great contest for the trade of the
West speedily reached their goal, New York with the Erie and the
New York Central, and Pennsylvania and Maryland with the
Pennsylvania and the Baltimore and Ohio. But what of this West
for whose commerce the great struggle was being waged? When the
railheads of these eager Atlantic promoters were laid down at
Buffalo on Lake Erie and at Pittsburgh on the Ohio they looked
out on a new world. The centaurs of the Western rivers were no
less things of the far past than the tinkling bells borne by the
ancient ponies of the pack-horse trade. The sons of this new West
had their eyes riveted on the commerce of the Great Lakes and the
Mississippi Valley. With road, canal, steamboat, and railway,
they were renewing the struggle of their fathers but for prizes
greater than their fathers ever knew.

New York again proved the favored State. Her Mohawk pathway gave
her easiest access to the West and here, at her back door on the
Niagara frontier, lay her path by way of the Great Lakes to the
North and the Northwest.

As one stands in imagination at the early railheads of the West--
on the Ohio River at the end of the Cumberland Road, or at
Buffalo, the terminus of the Erie Canal--the vision which
Washington caught breaks upon him and the dream of a nation made
strong by trans-Alleghany routes of commerce. Link by link the
great interior is being connected with the sea. Behind him all
lines of transportation lead eastward to the cities of the coast.
Before him lies the giant valley where the Father of Waters
throws out his two splendid arms, the Ohio and the Missouri, one
reaching to the Alleghanies and the other to the Rockies.
Northward, at the end of the Erie Canal, lies the empire of the
Great Lakes, inland seas that wash the shores of a Northland
having a coastline longer than that of the Atlantic from Maine to

Ships and conditions of navigation were much the same on the
lakes as on the ocean. It was therefore possible to imagine the
rise of a coasting trade between Illinois and Ohio as profitable
as that between Massachusetts and New York. Yet the older
colonies on the Atlantic had an outlet for trade, whereas the
Great Lakes had none for craft of any size, since their northern
shores lay beyond the international boundary. If there had been
danger from Spain in the Southwest, what of the danger of
Canada's control of the St. Lawrence River and of the trade of
the Northwest through the Welland Canal which was to join Lake
Ontario to Lake Erie? But in those days the possibility of
Canadian rivalry was not treated with great seriousness, and many
men failed to see that the West was soon to contain a very large
population. The editor of a newspaper at Munroe, New York,
commenting in 1827 on a proposed canal to connect Lake Erie with
the Mississippi by way of the Ohio, believed that the rate of
Western development was such that this waterway could be expected
only "some hundred of years hence." Even so gifted a man as Henry
Clay spoke of the proposed canal between Lake Michigan and Lake
Superior in 1825 as one relating to a region beyond the pale of
civilization "if not in the moon." Yet in twenty-five years
Michigan, which had numbered one thousand inhabitants in 1812,
had gained two hundredfold, and Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois had
their hundreds of thousands who were clamoring for ways and means
of sending their surplus products to market.

Early in the century representatives of the Fulton-Livingston
monopoly were at the shores of Lake Ontario to prove that their
steamboats could master the waves of the inland sea and serve
commerce there as well as in tidewater rivers. True, the luckless
Ontario, built in 1817 at Sackett's Harbor, proved unseaworthy
when the waves lifted the shaft of her paddle wheels off their
bearings and caused them to demolish the wooden covering built
for their protection; but the Walk-in-the-Water, completed at
Black Rock (Buffalo) in August, 1818, plied successfully as far
as Mackinac Island until her destruction three years later. Her
engines were then inherited by the Superior of stronger build,
and with the launching of such boats as the Niagara, the Henry
Clay, and the Pioneer, the fleet builders of Buffalo, Cleveland,
and Detroit proved themselves not unworthy fellow-countrymen of
the old seafarers of Salem and Philadelphia.

But how were cargoes to reach these vessels from the vast regions
beyond the Great Lakes? Those thousands of settlers who poured
into the Northwest had cargoes ready to fill every manner of
craft in so short a space of time that it seems as if they must
have resorted to arts of necromancy. It was not magic, however,
but perseverance that had triumphed. The story of the creating of
the main lakeward-reaching canals is long and involved. A period
of agitation and campaigning preceded every such undertaking; and
when construction was once begun, financial woes usually brought
disappointing delays. When a canal was completed after many
vicissitudes and doubts, traffic overwhelmed every method
provided to handle it: locks proved altogether too small; boats
were inadequate; wharfs became congested; blockades which
occurred at locks entailed long delay. In the end only lines and
double lines of steel rails could solve the problem of rapid and
adequate transportation, but the story of the railroad builders
is told elsewhere.*

* See "The Railroad Builders," by John Moody (in "The Chronicles
of America").

Ohio and Illinois caught the canal fever even before the Erie
Canal was completed, and the Ohio Canal and the Illinois-Michigan
Canal saw preliminary surveying done in 1822 and 1824
respectively. Ohio particularly had cause to seek a northern
outlet to Eastern markets by way of Lake Erie. The valleys of the
Muskingum, Scioto, and Miami rivers were producing wheat in large
quantities as early as 1802, when Ohio was admitted to the Union.
Flour which brought $3.50 a barrel in Cincinnati was worth $8 in
New York. There were difficulties in the way of transportation.
Sometimes ice prevented produce and merchandise from descending
the Ohio to Cincinnati. At other times merchants of that city had
as many as a hundred thousand barrels awaiting a rise in the
river which would make it possible for boats to go over the falls
at Louisville. As these conditions involved a delay which often
seemed intolerable, the project to build canals to Lake Erie met
with generous acclaim. A northward route, though it might be
blocked by ice for a few months each winter, had an additional
value in the eyes of numerous merchants whose wheat, sent in bulk
to New Orleans, had soured either in the long delay at Louisville
or in the semi-tropical heat of the Southern port.

The Ohio Legislature in 1822 authorized the survey of all
possible routes for canals which would give Ohio an outlet for
its produce on Lake Erie. The three wheat zones which have been
mentioned were favored in the proposed construction of two canals
which, together, should satisfy the need of increased
transportation: the Ohio Canal to connect Portsmouth on the Ohio
River with Cleveland on Lake Erie and to traverse the richest
parts of the Scioto and Muskingum valleys, and to the west the
Miami Canal to pierce the fruitful Miami and Maumee valleys and
join Cincinnati with Toledo. De Witt Clinton, the presiding
genius of the Erie Canal, was invited to Ohio to play godfather
to these northward arteries which should ultimately swell the
profits of the commission merchants of New York City, and amid
the cheers of thousands he lifted the first spadefuls of earth in
each undertaking.

The Ohio Canal, which was opened in 1833, had a marked effect
upon the commerce of Lake Erie. Before that date the largest
amount of wheat obtained from Cleveland by a Buffalo firm had
been a thousand bushels; but in the first year of its operation
the Ohio Canal brought to the village of Cleveland over a quarter
of a million bushels of wheat, fifty thousand barrels of flour,
and over a million pounds of butter and lard. In return, the
markets of the world sent into Ohio by canal in this same year
thirty thousand barrels of salt and above five million pounds of
general merchandise.

Ever since the time when the Erie Canal was begun, Canadian
statesmen had been alive to the strong bid New York was making
for the trade of the Great Lakes. Their answer to the Erie Canal
was the Welland Canal, built between 1824 and 1832 and connecting
Lake Erie with Lake Ontario by a series of twenty-seven locks
with a drop of three hundred feet in twenty-six miles. This
undertaking prepared the way for the subsequent opening of the
St. Lawrence canal system (183 miles) and of the Rideau system by
way of the Ottawa River (246 miles). There was thus provided an
ocean outlet to the north, although it was not until 1856 that an
American vessel reached London by way of the St. Lawrence.

With the Hudson and the St. Lawrence in the East thus competing
for the trade of the Great Lakes, it is not surprising that the
call of the Mississippi for improved highways was presently
heard. From the period of the War of 1812 onward the position of
the Mississippi River in relation to Lake Michigan was often
referred to as holding possibilities of great importance in the
development of Western commerce. Already the old portage-path
links between the Fox and Wisconsin and the Chicago and Illinois
rivers had been worn deep by the fur traders of many generations,
and with the dawning of the new era enthusiasts of Illinois were
pointing out the strategic position of the latter route for a
great trade between Lake Michigan and the Gulf of Mexico. Thus
the wave of enthusiasm for canal construction that had swept New
York and Ohio now reached Indiana and Illinois. Indian ownership
of land in the latter State for a moment seemed to block the
promotion of the proposed Illinois and Michigan Canal, but a
handsome grant of a quarter of a million acres by the Federal
Government in 1827 came as a signal recognition of the growing
importance of the Northwest; and an appropriation for the
lighting and improving of the harbor of the little village of
Chicago was hailed by ardent promoters as sure proof that the
wedding of Lake Michigan and the Mississippi was but a matter of

All the difficulties encountered by the advocates of earlier
works of this character, in the valleys of the Potomac, the
Susquehanna, and the Mohawk, were the portion of these dogged
promoters of Illinois. Here, as elsewhere, there were rival
routes and methods of construction, opposition of jealous
sections not immediately benefited, estimates which had to be
reconsidered and augmented, and so on. The land grants pledged to
pay the bonds were at first of small value, and their advance in
price depended on the success of the canal itself, which could
not be built unless the State underwrote the whole enterprise--if
the lands were not worth the bonds. Thus the argument ran in a
circle, and no one could foresee the splendid traffic and
receipts from tolls that would result from the completed canal.

The commissioners in charge of the project performed one
interesting service in these early days by putting Chicago on the
map; but the two terminals, Ottawa on the Illinois and Chicago on
Lake Michigan--both plotted in 1830--were very largely figures of
speech at that time. The day of miracles was at hand, however,
for the little town of one hundred people at the foot of Lake
Michigan. The purchase of the lands of the Potawatomies, the
Black Hawk War in 1832, which brought steamboats to Chicago for
the first time, and the decision of Illinois in 1836 to pledge
her good name in favor of the Illinois and Michigan Canal made
Chicago a city of four thousand people by the panic year of 1837.
So absorbed were these Chicago folk in the building of their
canal and in wresting from their lake firm foothold for a city
(reclaiming four hundred feet of lake bed in two years) that the
panic affected their town less than it did many a rival. Although
the canal enterprise came to an ominous pause in 1842, after the
expenditure of five millions, the pledge of the State stood the
enterprise in good stead. Local financiers, together with New
York and Boston promoters, advanced about a quarter of a million,
while French and English bankers, notably Baring Brothers,
contributed about three-quarters of a million. With this
assistance the work was carried to a successful ending. On April
10,1848, the first boat passed over the ninety-mile route from
Chicago to Ottawa, and the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Basin
were united by this Erie Canal of the West. Though its days of
greatest value were soon over, no one can exaggerate the
importance of this waterway in the growth and prosperity of
Chicago between 1848 and 1860. By 1857 Chicago was sending north
and south annually by boat over twenty million bushels of wheat
and corn.

The awakening of the lands behind Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake
Michigan brought forth innumerable demands for roads, canals, and
railways to the ports of Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit,
Milwaukee, and Chicago. There were actually hundreds of these
enterprises undertaken. The development of the land behind Lake
Superior was particularly spectacular and important, not only
because of its general effect on the industrial world but also
because out of it came the St. Mary's River Ship Canal. Nowhere
in the zone of the Great Lakes has any region produced such
unexpected changes in American industrial and commercial life as
did the region of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota contributory
to Lake Superior. If, as the story goes, Benjamin Franklin said,
when he drew at Paris the international boundary line through
Lake Superior, that this was his greatest service to America, he
did not exaggerate. The line running north of Isle Royale and
thence to the Lake of the Woods gave the United States the lion's
share of that great inland seaboard and the inestimably rich
deposits of copper and iron that have revolutionized American

>From earliest days rumors of deposits of bright copper in the
land behind Lake Superior had been reported by Indians to fur
traders who in turn had passed the story on to fur company agents
and thus to the outside world. As a result of her "Toledo War"--
as her boundary dispute was called--Michigan had reluctantly
accepted the northern peninsula lying between Lake Superior and
Lake Michigan in lieu of the strip of Ohio territory which she
believed to be hers. If Michigan felt that she had lost by this
compromise, her state geologist, Douglass Houghton, soon found a
splendid jewel in the toad's head of defeat, for the report of
his survey of 1840 confirmed the story of the existence of large
copper deposits, and the first rush to El Dorado followed. Amid
the usual chaos, conflict, and failure incident to such
stampedes, order and system at last triumphed and the richest
copper mines of the New World were uncovered. Then came the
unexpected finding of the mammoth iron-ore beds by William A.
Burt, inventor of the solar compass. The circumstance of this
discovery is of such national importance that a contemporary
description by a member of Burt's party which was surveying a
line near Marquette, Michigan, is worth quoting:

"I shall never forget the excitement of the old gentleman when
viewing the changes of the variation. He kept changing his
position to take observations, all the time saying "How would
they survey this country without my compass" and "What could be
done here without my compass." At length the compassman called
for us all to "come and see a variation which will beat them
all." As we looked at the instrument, to our astonishment, the
north end of the needle was traversing a few degrees to the south
west. Mr. Burt called out "Boys, look around and see what you can
find." We all left the line, some going to the east, some going
to the west, and all of us returned with specimens of iron ore."

But it was not enough that this Aladdin's Land in the Northwest
should revolutionize the copper and steel industry of the world,
for as soon as the soil took to its bosom an enterprising race of
agriculturists it bade fair to play as equally important a part
in the grain industry. Copper and iron no less came out of the
blue of this cold northern region than did the mighty crops of
Minnesota wheat, corn, and oats. In the decade preceding the
Civil War the export of wheat from Lake Superior rose from
fourteen hundred bushels to three and a quarter millions of
bushels, while in 1859 nearly seven million bushels of corn and
oats were sent out to the world.

The commerce of Lake Superior could not await the building of a
canal around the foaming rapids of the St. Mary's River, its one
outlet to the lower lakes. In the decade following the discovery
of copper and iron more than a dozen ships, one even of as much
as five hundred tons, were hauled bodily across the portage
between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. The last link of navigation
in the Great Lake system, however, was made possible in 1852 by a
grant by Congress of 750,000 acres of Michigan land. Although
only a mile in length, the work proved to be of unusual
difficulty since the pathway for the canal had to be blasted
throughout practically its whole length out of solid rock. It was
completed in 1855, and the princely empire "in the moon" was in a
position to make its terms with the coal fields of Pennsylvania
and to usher in the iron age of transportation and construction.

It is only in the light of this awakening of the lands around the
Great Lakes that one can see plainly the task which fell to the
lot of the successors of the frail Walk-in-the-Water and sturdier
Superior of the early twenties. For the first fifteen years the
steamboat found its mission in carrying the thousands of
emigrants pouring into the Northwest, a heterogeneous multitude
which made the Lake Erie boats seem, to one traveler at least,
filled with "men, women and children, beds, cradles, kettles, and
frying pans." These craft were built after the pattern of the
Walk-in-the-Water--side-wheelers with a steering wheel at the
stern. No cabins or staterooms on deck were provided; and amid
such freight as the thriving young towns provided were to be
found the twenty or thirty cords of wood which the engines
required as fuel.

The second period of steamboating began with the opening of the
Ohio Canal and the Welland Canal about 1834 and extended another
fifteen years to the middle of the century, when it underwent a
transformation owing to the great development of Chicago, the
completion of the Illinois and Michigan and St. Mary's canals,
and the new railways. This second period was marked by the
building of such steamers as the Michigan, the Great Western, and
the Illinois. These were the first boats with an upper cabin and
were looked upon with marked suspicion by those best acquainted
with the severe storms upon the Great Lakes. The Michigan, of 475
tons, built by Oliver Newberry at Detroit in 1833, is said to
have been the first ship of this type. These boats proved their
seaworthiness and caused a revolution in the construction of lake
craft. Later in this period freight transportation saw an equally
radical advance with the building of the first propellers. The
sloop-rigged Vandalia, built by Sylvester Doolittle at Oswego on
Lake Ontario in 1842, was the first of the propeller type and
was soon followed by the Hercules, the Samson, and the Detroit.

One very great handicap in lake commerce up to this time had been
the lack of harbors. Detroit alone of the lake ports was
distinctly favored in this respect. The harbors of Buffalo,
Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago were improved slowly, but it
was not until the great Chicago convention of 1846 that the
nation's attention was focused on the needs of Western rivers and
harbors, and there dawned a new era of lighthouses and buoys,
breakwaters and piers, and dredged channels. Another handicap to
the volume of business which the lake boats handled in the period
just previous to the Civil War was the inadequacy of the feeders,
the roads, riverways, and canals. The Erie Canal was declared too
small almost before the cries of its virulent opponents had died
away, and the enlargement of its locks was soon undertaken. The
same thing proved true of the Ohio and Illinois canals. The
failure of the Welland Canal was similarly a very serious
handicap. Although its locks were enlarged in 1841, it was found
by 1850 that despite the improvements it could not admit more
than about one-third of the grain-carrying boats, while only one
in four of the new propellers could enter its locks.

As late as the middle forties men did not in the least grasp the
commercial situation which now confronted the Northwest nor could
they foresee that the land behind the Great Lakes was about to
deluge the country with an output of produce and manufactures of
which the roads, canals, ships, wharfs, or warehouses in
existence could handle not a tenth part. They did not yet
understand that--this trade was to become national. It was well
on in the forties before the Galena lead mines, for instance,
were given up as the terminal of the Illinois Central Railroad
and the main line was directed to Chicago. The middle of the
century was reached before the Lake Shore was considered at
Cleveland or Chicago as important commercially as the neighboring
portage paths which by the Ordinance of 1787 had been created
"common highways forever free." The idea of joining Buffalo,
Cleveland, and Chicago with the interior--an idea as old as the
Indian trails thither--still dominated men's minds even in the
early part of the railroad epoch. Chicago desired to be connected
with Cairo, the ice-free port on the Mississippi; and Cleveland
was eager to be joined to Columbus and Cincinnati. The
enthusiastic railway promoters of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois
drew splendid plans for uniting all parts of those States by
railway lines; but the strategic position of the cities on the
continental alignment from New York to the Pacific by way of
South Pass never came within their horizon. The ten million
dollar Illinois scheme did not even contemplate a railway running
eastward from Chicago. But the future of the commerce of the
Great Lakes depended absolutely upon this development. There was
no hope of any canals being able to handle the traffic of the
mighty empire which was now awake and fully conscious of its
power. The solution lay in joining the cities to each other and
to the Atlantic world markets by iron rails running east and

This railroad expansion is what makes the last decade before the
Civil War such a remarkable series of years in the West. In the
half decade, 1850-55, the Baltimore and Ohio and Pennsylvania
railways reached the Ohio River; the links of the present Lake
Shore system between Buffalo and Chicago by way of Cleveland and
Toledo were constructed; and the Pennsylvania line was put
through from Pittsburgh to Chicago. The place of the lake country
on the continental alignment and the imperial situation of
Chicago, and later of Omaha, came to be realized. The new view
transformed men's conceptions of every port on the Great Lakes in
the chain from Buffalo to Chicago. At a dozen southern ports on
Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Michigan, commerce now touched the
swiftest and most economical means of transcontinental traffic.
This development culminated in the miracle we call Chicago. In
1847 not a line of rail entered the town; its population then
numbered about twenty-five thousand and its property valuation
approximated seven millions. Ten years later four thousand miles
of railway connected with all four points of the compass a city
of nearly one hundred thousand people, and property valuation had
increased five hundred per cent. The growth of Buffalo,
Cleveland, and Detroit during this period was also phenomenal.

When the crisis of 1861 came, the service performed by the
Walk-in-the-Water and her successors was seen in its true light.
The Great Lakes as avenues of migration had played a providential
part in filling a northern empire with a proud and loyal race;
from farm and factory regiment on regiment marched forth to fight
for unity; from fields without number produce to sustain a nation
on trial poured forth in abundance; enormous quantities of iron
were at hand for the casting of cannon and cannon balls; and,
finally, pathways of water and steel were in readiness in the
nick of time to carry these resources where they would count
tremendously in the four long years of conflict.

CHAPTER XI. The Steamboat And The West

Two great fields of service lay open before those who were to
achieve by steam the mastery of the inland waterways. On the one
hand the cotton kingdom of the South, now demanding great stores
of manufactured goods, produce, and machinery, was waiting to be
linked to the valleys and industrial cities of the Middle West;
and, on the other hand, along those great eastward and westward
rivers, the Ohio and Missouri, lay the commerce of the prairies
and the Great Plains. But before the steamboat could serve the
inland commerce of the West, it had to be constructed on new
lines. The craft brought from the seaboard were of too deep draft
to navigate shallow streams which ran through this more level

The task of constructing a great inland river marine to play the
dual role of serving the cotton empire and of extending American
migration and commerce into the trans-Mississippi region was
solved by Henry Shreve when he built the Washington at Wheeling
in 1816. Shreve was the American John Hawkins. Hawkins, that
sturdy old admiral of Elizabethan days, took the English ship of
his time, trimmed down the high stern and poop decks, and cut
away the deep-lying prow and stern, after the fashion of our
modern cup defenders, and in a day gave England the key to sea
mastery in the shape of a new ship that would take sail and
answer her rudder beyond anything the maritime world until then
had known. Shreve, like Hawkins, flagrantly ignoring the
conventional wisdom of his day and craft, built the Washington to
sail on the water instead of in it, doing away altogether with a
hold and supplying an upper deck in its place.

To few inventors, indeed, does America owe a greater debt of
thanks than to this Ohio River shipbuilder. A dozen men were on
the way to produce a Clermont had Fulton failed; but Shreve had
no rival in his plan to build a flat-bottomed steamboat. The
remarkable success of his design is attested by the fact that in
two decades the boats built on his model outweighed in tonnage
all the ships of the Atlantic seaboard and Great Lakes combined.
Immediately the Ohio became in effect the western extension of
the great national highway and opened an easy pathway for
immigration to the eastern as well as the western lands of the
Mississippi Basin. The story goes that an old phlegmatic negro
watched the approach of one of the first steamboats to the wharf
of a Southern city. Like many others, he had doubted the
practicability of this new-fangled Yankee notion. The boat,
however, came and went with ease and dispatch. The old negro was
converted. "By golly," he shouted, waving his cap, "the
Mississippi's got her Massa now."

The Mississippi had indeed found her master, but only by slow
degrees and after intervals of protracted rebellion did she
succumb to that master. Luckily, however, there was at hand an
army of unusual men--the "alligator-horses" of the flatboat era--
upon whom the steamboat could call with supreme confidence that
they would not fail. Theodore Roosevelt has said of the Western
pioneers that they "had to be good and strong--especially,
strong." If these men upon whom the success of the steamboat
depended were not always good, they were beyond any doubt
behemoths in strength.

The task before them, however, was a task worthy of Hercules. The
great river boldly fought its conquerors, asking and giving no
quarter, biding its time when opposed by the brave but crushing
the fearful on sight. In one respect alone could it be depended
upon--it was never the same. It is said to bring down annually
four hundred million tons of mud, but its eccentricity in
deciding where to wash away and where to deposit its load is
still the despair of river pilots. The great river could destroy
islands and build new ones overnight with the nonchalance of a
child playing with clay. It could shorten itself thirty miles at
a single lunge. It could move inland towns to its banks and leave
river towns far inland. It transferred the town of Delta, for
instance, from three miles below Vicksburg to two miles above it.
Men have gone to sleep in one State and have wakened unharmed in
another, because the river decided in the night to alter the
boundary line. In this way the village of Hard Times, the
original site of which was in Louisiana, found itself eventually
in Mississippi. Were La Salle to descend the river today by the
route he traversed two and a half centuries ago, he would follow
dry ground most of the way, for the river now lies practically
everywhere either to the right or left of its old course.

If the Mississippi could perform such miracles upon its whole
course without a show of effort, what could it not do with the
little winding canal through its center called by pilots the
"channel"? The flatboatmen had laboriously acquired the art of
piloting the commerce of the West through this mazy, shifting
channel, but as steamboats developed in size and power the man at
the wheel had to become almost a superman. He needed to be. He
must know the stage of water anywhere by a glance at the river
banks. He must guess correctly the amount of "fill" at the head
of dangerous chutes, detect bars "working down," distinguish
between bars and "sand reefs" or "wind reefs" or "bluff reefs" by
night as well as by day, avoid the" breaks" in the "graveyard"
behind Goose Island, navigate the Hat Island chutes, or find the
"middle crossing" at Hole-in-the-Wall. He must navigate his craft
in fogs, in storms, in the face of treacherous winds, on black
nights, with thousands of dollars' worth of cargo and hundreds of
lives at stake.

As the golfer knows each knoll and tuft of grass on his home
links, so the pilot learned his river by heart. Said one of these
pilots to an apprentice:

"You see this has got to be learned .... A clear starlight night
throws such heavy shadows that if you didn't know the shape of a
shore perfectly you would claw away from every bunch of timber
because you would take the black shadow of it for a solid cape;
and you see you would be getting scared to death every fifteen
minutes by the watch. You would be fifty yards from shore all the
time when you ought to be within fifty feet of it. You can't see
a snag in one of those shadows, but you know exactly where it is,
and the shape of the river tells you when you are coming to it.
Then there's your pitch-dark night; the river is a very different
shape on a pitch-dark night from what it is on a starlight night.
All shores seem to be straight lines, then, and mighty dim ones,
too; and you'd run them for straight lines only you know better.
You boldly drive your boat right into what seems to be a solid,
straight wall (you knowing very well that in reality there is a
curve there) and that wall falls back and makes way for you. Then
there's your gray mist. You take a night when there's one of
these grisly, drizzly, gray mists, and then there isn't any
particular shape to a shore. A gray mist would tangle the head of
the oldest man that ever lived. Well, then, different kinds of
MOONLIGHT change the shape of the river in different ways....
You only learn the shape of the river; and you learn it with such
absolute certainty that you can always steer by the shape that's
IN YOUR HEAD and never mind the one that's before your eyes."*

* Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi," pp. 103-04.

No wonder that the two hundred miles of the Mississippi from the
mouth of the Ohio to St. Louis in time contained the wrecks of
two hundred steamboats.

The river trade reached its zenith between 1840 and 1860, in the
two decades previous to the Civil War, that period before the
railroads began to parallel the great rivers. It was a time which
saw the rise of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and
Arkansas, and which witnessed the spread of the cotton kingdom
into the Southwest. The story of King Cotton's conquest of the
Mississippi South is best told in statistics. In 1811, the year
of the first voyage which the New Orleans made down the Ohio
River, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi exported five
million pounds of cotton. In 1834 these same States exported
almost two hundred million pounds of cotton. To take care of this
crop and to supply the cotton country, which was becoming
wealthy, with the necessaries and luxuries of life, more and more
steamboats were needed. The great shipyards situated, because of
the proximity of suitable timber, at St. Louis, Cincinnati, and
Louisville became busy hives, not since paralleled except by such
centers of shipbuilding as Hog Island in 1917-18, during the time
of the Great War. The steamboat tonnage of the Mississippi Valley
(exclusive of New Orleans) in the hustling forties exceeded that
of the Atlantic ports (exclusive of New York City) by 15,000
tons. The steamboat tonnage of New Orleans alone in 1843 was more
than double that of New York City.

Those who, if the old story is true, ran in fear to the hills
when the little New Orleans went puffing down the Ohio, in 1811,
would have been doubly amazed at the splendid development in the
art of boat building, could they have seen the stately Sultana or
Southern Belle of the fifties sweep swiftly by. After a period of
gaudy ornamentation (1830-40) steamboat architecture settled
down, as has that of Pullman cars today, to sane and practical
lines, and the boats gained in length and strength, though they
contained less weight of timber. The value of one of the greater
boats of this era would be about fifty thousand dollars. When
Captain Bixby made his celebrated night crossing at Hat Island a
quarter of a million dollars in ship and cargo would have been
the price of an error in judgment, according to Mark Twain,* a
good authority.

*Op. cit., p. 101

The Yorktown, built in 1844 for the Ohio-Mississippi trade, was
typical of that epoch of inland commerce. Her length was 182
feet, breadth of beam 31 feet, and the diameter of wheels 28
feet. Though her hold was 8 feet in depth, yet she drew but 4
feet of water light and barely over 8 feet when loaded with 500
tons of freight. She had 4 boilers, 30 feet long and 42 inches in
diameter, double engines, and two 24-inch cylinders. The
stateroom cabin had come in with Captain Isaiah Sellers's Prairie
in 1836, the first boat with such luxuries ever seen in St.
Louis, according to Sellers. The Yorktown had 40 private cabins.
It is interesting to compare the Yorktown with The Queen of the
West, the giant British steamer built for the Falmouth-Calcutta
trade in 1839. The Queen of the West had a length of 310 feet, a
beam of 31 feet, a draft of 15 feet, and 16 private cabins. The
building of this great vessel led a writer in the New York
American to say: "It would really seem that we as a nation had no
interest in this new application of steam power, or no energy to
appropriate it to our own use." The statement--written in a day
when the Mississippi steamboat tonnage exceeded that of the
entire British Empire--is one of the best examples of provincial
ignorance concerning the West.

On these steamboats there was a multiplicity of arrangements and
equipments for preventing and for fighting fire. One of the
innovations on the new boats in this particular was the
substitution of wire for the combustible rope formerly used to
control the tiller, so that even in time of fire the pilot could
"hold her nozzle agin' the bank." Much of the great loss of life
in steamboat fires had been due to the tiller-ropes being burned
and the boats becoming unmanageable.

The arrival of the railroad at the head of the Ohio River in the
early fifties brought the East into an immediate touch with the
Mississippi Valley unknown before. But however bold railway
engineers were in the face of the ragged ranges of the
Alleghanies, they could not then outguess the tricks of the Ohio,
the Mississippi, or the Missouri, and railway promoters could not
afford to take chances on having their stations and tracks
unexpectedly isolated, if not actually carried away, by swirling,
yellow floods. The Mississippi, too, had been known at times to
achieve a width of seventy miles, and tributaries have overflowed
their banks to a proportionate extent. It was several decades ere
the Ohio was paralleled by a railway, and the Mississippi for
long distances even today has not yet heard the shrill cry of the
locomotive. So the steamboat entered its heyday and encountered
little competition. Until the Civil War the rivers of the West
remained the great arteries of trade, carrying grain and
merchandise of every description southward and bringing back
cotton, rice, and sugar.

The rivalries of the great lines of packets established in these
days of the steamboat, however, equaled anything ever known in
railway competition, and, in the matter of fast time, became more
spectacular than anything of its kind in any line of
transportation in our country. With flags flying, boilers heated
white with abundance of pine and resin, and bold and skillful
pilots at the steering wheels, no sport of kings ever aroused the
enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands to such a pitch as did many
of the old-time races northward from New Orleans.

The J. M. White and her performances stand out conspicuously in
the annals of the river. Her builder, familiarly known to a
generation of rivermen as Billy King, deserves to rank with Henry
Shreve. Commissioned in 1844 to build the J. M. White for J. M.
Converse of St. Louis, with funds supplied by Robert Chouteau of
that city, King proceeded to put into effect the knowledge which
he had derived from a close study of the swells made by
steamboats when under way. When the boat was being built in the
famous shipyards at Elizabeth, on the Monongahela, the wheel
beams were set twenty feet farther back than was customary.
Converse was struck with this unheard-of radicalism in design,
and balked; King was a man given to few words; he was resolved to
throw convention to the winds and trust his judgment; he refused
to build the boat on other lines. Converse felt compelled to let
Chouteau pass on the question; in time the laconic answer came:
"Let King put the beams where he pleases."

Thus the craft which Converse thought a monstrosity became known
far and wide for both its design and its speed. In 1844 the J. M.
White made the record of three days, twenty-three hours, and nine
minutes between New Orleans and St. Louis.* Of course the secret
of Billy King's success soon became known. He had placed his
paddle wheels where they would bite into the swell produced by
every boat just under its engines. He had transformed what had
been a handicap into a positive asset. It is said that he
attempted to shield his prize against competition by destroying
the model of the J. M. White, as well as to have refused large
offers to build a boat that would beat her. But it is said also
that an exhibition model of the boat was a cherished possession
of E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, and that it hung in his
office during Lincoln's administration.

* This performance is illustrated by the following comparative
table showing the best records of later years between New Orleans
and St. Louis, a distance estimated in 1844 as 1300 miles but in

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