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GREAT CANALS, ALONG THE ATLANTIC SEA COAST. - Albert Gallatin, Report of the Secretary of the Treasury; on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals 
Report of the Secretary of the Treasury; on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals; made in pursuance of a Resolution of the Senate, of March 2, 1807 (Washington: R.C. Weightman, 1808).
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GREAT CANALS, ALONG THE ATLANTIC SEA COAST.
The map of the United States will shew that they possess a tide-water inland navigation, secure from storms and enemies, and which, from Massachusetts to the southern extremity of Georgia, is principally, if not solely, interrupted by four necks of land.—These are the isthmus of Barnstable; that part of New Jersey, which extends from the Rariton to the Delaware; the peninsula between the Delaware and the Chesapeake; and that low and marshy tract which divides the Chesapeake from Albemarle sound. It is ascertained that a navigation for sea vessels, drawing eight feet of water, may be effected across the three last; and a canal is also believed to be practicable, not perhaps across the isthmus of Barnstable, but from the harbor of Boston to that of Rhode Island. The Massachusetts canal would be about 26, the New Jersey about 28, and each of the two southern about 22 miles in length, making altogether less than one hundred miles.
Should this great work, the expense of which, as will hereafter be shewn, is estimated at about three millions of dollars, be accomplished, a sea vessel entering the first canal in the harbor of Boston, would through the bay of Rhode Island, Long Island sound, and the harbor of New York, reach Brunswick on the Rariton; thence pass through the second canal to Trenton on the Delaware, down that river to Christiana, or New Castle, and through the third canal to Elk river, and the Chesapeake; whence sailing down that bay, and up Elizabeth river, it would, through the fourth canal, enter the Albemarle sound, and by Pamptico, Core and Bogue sounds, reach Beaufort and Swansborough, in North Carolina. From the last mentioned place, the inland navigation, through Stumpy and Toomer’s sounds, is continued with a diminished draft of water, and by cutting two low and narrow necks, not exceeding three miles together, to Cape Fear river; and thence, by an open but short and direct run along the coast, is reached that chain of islands between which and the main, the inland navigation is continued to St. Mary’s, along the coast of South Carolina, and Georgia. It is unnecessary to add any comments on the utility of the work, in peace or war, for the transportation of merchandize, or the conveyance of persons.
The several papers under the letter (A.) herewith transmitted, contain the information which has been received on those several intended communications. The substance will now be stated.
1. Sandwich isthmus, between Barnstable bay on the north, and Buzzard’s bay on the south, had first attracted the public attention. Surveys and levels were taken, for the purpose of ascertaining the practicability of opening a cross cut, to be supplied by the sea itself, from the mouth of Back river, in Buzzard’s bay, to the mouth of Scusset river, in Barnstable bay.
The distance was found to exceed 7 miles; the elevation of the highest intermediate ground is forty feet above low water mark in Barnstable bay; the depth of water at the mouth of Back river, does not at low water, exceed 7 feet and a half; and the channel to that spot through Buzzard bay, is obstructed by shoals. The tide which rises but three feet and and a half in that bay, rises three hours and a half later, and more than eighteen feet in that of Barnstable. The shore on which that formidable tide would operate, is an open beach, without any harbor or shelter whatever. Independent of other obstacles, it was apprehended that the same natural causes, which had formed the isthmus, might fill the canal, or make a bar at its entrance; and the project seems to have been abandoned.
2. The ground was also examined between Barnstable harbor on the north, and Hyannus harbor on the south, at some distance east of Sandwich. The breadth of the peninsula does not exceed here four miles and a half, and there would be an harbor at each end of the canal. The same difference exists in the tides which rise 4 feet in Hyannus, and 16 feet in Barnstable harbor. The entrance of this is obstructed by shoals; but the great obstacle to a cross cut, is the elevation of the intermediate ground, estimated at 80 feet above tide water. Navigable ponds on that high ground might perhaps form part of a lock canal, and supply the remainder with water. But a canal frozen in winter, would not have effected the great object in view, which was to enable vessels from sea, to proceed in winter from Martha’s Vineyard, to Boston, without sailing around Cape Cod. Although the difficulty of the navigation from Boston to Barnstable, diminishes the utility of this communication, as one of the great links in this line of inland navigation, it may be resorted to, should that which will be next mentioned, prove impracticable for sea vessels.
3. The attention of the legislature of Massachusetts, under whose authority the grounds at Sandwich and Barnstable, had been examined, has lately been turned to a direct communication between Weymouth landing, within the harbor of Boston, and Taunton river, which empties into the bay of Rhode Island. A favorable report has been made, during the last session, of which a copy has lately been obtained. The distance from tide water to tide water, is 26 miles by one route, and 23 1-4 miles by another. The highest intermediate ground, is 133 feet above tide water, but may be reduced ten feet, by digging to that depth, the length of a mile. Two ponds known by the names of Weymouth and Cranberry, the largest and least elevated of which covers five hundred acres, and is 14 feet higher than the summit of the proposed canal, will supply the upper locks with water by feeders, four miles long. Whether the quantity of water contained in the ponds, and estimated equal to a daily supply of 450,000 cubic feet, will be sufficient for a sloop navigation; and whether any other ponds or streams may be brought in aid, does not seem to be fully ascertained. After descending twenty feet towards Weymouth, and seventy towards Taunton, an ample supply for the lower locks, will be derived from other large ponds, the principal of which are known by the names of Braintree and Nippinitic.
The expense may, on a supposition that the route is partly through a rocky soil, be estimated as follows:
New Jersey Canal.
A Company was incorporated some years ago, by the legislature of New Jersey, for opening a canal between the Rariton and the Delaware. Acting under the erroneous opinion that the navigation of small rivers might be improved and used as a canal, the company intended to have united, by a cross cut of one mile, the Assampink or Trenton Creek, with Stoney brook, a branch of Millstone river, and to have descended Trenton creek to the Delaware, and Stoney brook, and Millstone river, to the Rariton. The capital, which was inadequate, was not paid; but their survey of the intended route, has shewn the practicability of a canal for sea vessels, on a proper plan.
The distance from Brunswick to Trenton is 26 miles, and the only obstacle in the way is the “Sand hills,” some distance west of Brunswick. These may, it is said, be avoided by a deviation which would not encrease the distance more than two miles: and they may at all events be perforated, as has been done by the turnpike company, who have opened a road on a straight line between the two towns, without having in any place an angle of ascent of more than three degrees.
The highest intermediate ground between Assampink and Stoney brook, is only fifty feet above tide water; and it is suggested that the summit level may be taken seven feet lower, cutting seven miles through a level meadow, between the confluence of the Assampink, and Shippetankin creeks, and Rowley’s mill, near the confluence of Stoney brook and Millstone river.
An adequate supply of water will be drawn by short feeders, from Philip’s springs, Trenton creek, Stoney brook, and Millstone river, all of which are more elevated than the route of the canal, the “Sand hills” excepted.
The depth of water at the two extremities of the canal, taken at low water, are NA feet at Brunswick, and ten feet at Lamberton, one mile below Trenton.
Delaware and Chesapeake Canal.
A Company incorporated by the states of Delaware and Maryland, for opening this canal, has commenced its operations, now suspended for want of funds.
The canal will commence at Welsh point on Elk river, an arm of the Chesapeake, and terminate at a distance of 22 miles, on Christiana creek, a branch of the Delaware. At low water the depth of water in Christiana is nine feet, and in Elk twelve feet, within one hundred feet from the shore. The tide rises four feet in both rivers. The canal might, without encreasing the distance, be conducted to New Castle on the Delaware itself, instead of ending at Christiana creek.
The highest intermediate ground, over which the canal will be carried on a level of 13 miles in length, is 74 feet above tide water, the descent being effected by nine locks on each side. The digging is generally easy: no expensive aqueducts or bridges, nor any other obstacles but those which have already been overcome in digging the feeder through a very rocky soil.
The supply of water drawn from Elk river, by a feeder six miles in length, already completed, which is itself a boat canal three and a half feet deep, united by a lock of ten feet lift with the main canal, is calculated to fill daily 144 locks; a quantity sufficient on an average for the daily passage of twenty four vessels. A reservoir covering thirty, and which may be encreased to 150 acres, will supply occasional deficiencies: other reservoirs may be added, and Christiana and White Clay creeks may hereafter be brought in aid of Elk river, if the supply should prove too scanty for an encreased navigation.
The canal 26 feet wide at the bottom, and 50 at the top on the water line, being dug at the depth of 8 feet, is intended for vessels of forty to 70 tons, drawing 7 1-2 feet water: but the banks twenty feet wide for towing paths, and one of which may be converted into a turnpike road, being raised three feet above the level of the water, will, by encreasing the height of the lock gates one foot, admit a depth of nine feet of water in the canal; at which depth it would perhaps be eligible to dig at once. The locks 80 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 8 (or 9) feet deep over the gate-sills, containing each 11,500 to 13,000 cubic feet of water, and with a lift of 8 to 9 feet each, will be constructed of hewn stone laid in tarras. Those dimensions both of the canal and locks, recommended by Mr. Latrobe, the engineer of the canal, may be adopted in all the other canals for sea vessels, on this line of communication.
The present annual carriage across the peninsula, which would be drawn through the canal, is estimated at forty two thousand tons, exclusively of passengers. This will be greatly encreased by the facility which the canal itself will afford to the commercial intercourse between the two bays, and to the conveyance of articles now carried through other channels, or too heavy for transportation, at the present expense of carriage. The coals wanted for Philadelphia, and which brought down from the sources of the Susquehanah and Potomac, but principally from the vicinity of Richmond, would naturally pass through the canal, have been alone estimated at more than one hundred thousand tons a year. The annual carriage of all articles may, in the present state of population, be fairly estimated at one hundred and fifty thousand tons, and the direct annual saving to the community at 300,000 dollars, being at the rate of 2 dollars a ton for the difference between land and water carriage across the peninsula, after paying the tolls. These, at the rate of fifty cents a ton, will give to the undertakers a revenue of 75,000 dollars, leaving, after a deduction of 10,000 dollars for annual repairs, and of 10,000 dollars more for attendance and contingencies, a nett income of 55,000 dollars.
The expenses of the whole work are estimated as followeth:
The interest on which sum, at 6 per cent. is 51,000 dollars.
The capital originally subscribed amounted to four hundred thousand dollars, divided into two thousand shares, of two hundred dollars each. One half of these has been forfeited after a small payment of five dollars on each share. One hundred thousand dollars paid by the other stockholders, have been expended in preparatory measures, in the purchase of water rights, and in digging the feeder, which was considered as the most difficult part of the work. Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars are still wanted to complete the work; of which sum, one hundred thousand dollars is payable by the stockholders, and the deficiency of 650,000 dollars, must be drawn from other sources.
Chesapeake and Albemarle.
1. The shortest communication between the Chesapeake and Albemarle sound, is from North landing at the head of the tide of North West river, which empties into Currituck inlet, the easternmost arm of Albemarle, to either Kempsville or Great Bridge, at the head of the tide of two different branches of the South branch of Elizabeth river, which passing by Norfolk, unites at Hampton roads, with James river, and the Chesapeake. The distance is stated at seven miles, and the levels said to be favorable. It is believed that the principal reason why this communication has not been attempted, is a bar in Currituck inlet, which does not admit the passage of vessels drawing five feet water.
2. A company incorporated by the states of Virginia and North Carolina, for opening a canal through the Dismal swamp, has made considerable progress in the work.
The canal extends 22 miles in length from Deep creek, a branch of the South branch of Elizabeth river, 7 miles above Norfolk, to Joyce’s creek, a branch of Pasquotank river, a northern arm of Albemarle sound. Vessels drawing 8 to 9 feet water may ascend both creeks to each extremity of the canal.
The intervening ground along the eastern margin of the Dismal swamp, is almost level, the rise towards the middle not exceeding two feet above the two extremities, which are only 18 feet and 9 inches above tide water. The digging is very easy; the only obstacles arise from the stumps and roots of trees, and are nearly overcome; and a single aqueduct or rather culvert over a small run emptying into the North West river is necessary.
The swamp itself supplies at the depth at which the canal is cut, the water which has heretofore been wanted; and a sufficient supply may be drawn by a feeder of 5 miles and a half in length, cut through a perfect level from lake Drummond, a natural reservoir in the center of the swamp, of fifteen miles in circumference, and about six feet higher than the water in the canal.
The canal as cut by the company is 24 feet wide, and 6 feet deep, with one bank on the west side for a towing path, 18 feet broad. The whole digging, with the exception of two miles which must be deepened 3 feet, and of three quarters of a mile in another place not entirely finished, has been completed. The locks at the two extremities of the canal are not built; but two have been erected at some distance from each extremity; probably in order to save some digging in the intervening space: they are made of square juniper logs, and have cost only three hundred dollars each.
The expense of digging has not exceeded 4,000 dollars a mile; the whole capital expended, amounts to one hundred thousand dollars, of which the state of Virginia has furnished 17,500; and it is stated that the whole work may be completed in one year, and will not, including the locks and the payment of some debts contracted by the company, exceed 25,000 dollars. But the canal, which by the original act of incorporation was to be 32 feet wide, and 8 feet deep, can on its present plan be considered only as a local object, the principal utility of which consists in bringing to market the otherwise useless lumber of the swamp. The only boats which navigate it are flats, forty feet long, six feet wide, drawing two feet of water and carrying eight thousand shingles.
It must, in order to become a national object, be capable of receiving the vessels which navigate Albemarle sound, and for that purpose be restored to its first intended dimensions, or rather be widened and deepened, on the plan adopted for the Chesapeake and Delaware canal. The expense would be as followeth:
3. The last mentioned canal is in the most direct line of the communication through Albemarle to Pamtico sound, and the adjacent Southern sounds. It has been objected, that the navigation of Pasquotank river was intricate, and that it would be more advantageous to open a communication with Chowan river, which passing by Edenton, and then uniting with the Roanoke, forms Albemarle sound.
A company was incorporated for that purpose; but the capital was not filled, and no other operation performed, but surveying the ground. The intended canal on that route, would commence at Suffolk, on Nansemond river, which empties into James river, a few miles above, and west of the mouth of Elizabeth river; and passing along the western margin of the Dismal swamp, would reach at a computed distance of thirty miles, Gates’ court house on Bennet’s creek, a branch of Chowan river, which vessels drawing ten feet of water may ascend to that spot.
The highest intermediate ground is 28 feet above tide water and consequently higher than the surface of lake Drummond. But Bennet’s creek and Curripeake swamp were considered as affording a sufficient supply of water. Should this prove adequate, the principal objection to this route will be, that the canal lands at Suffolk instead of Norfolk. This consideration, and the capital already expended on the canal from Elizabeth river to Pasquotank, seem to give a preference to this course. To which may be added, that if it be preferable to strike the waters of Chowan river, a lateral canal may be hereafter opened, along the southern margin of the Dismal swamp, from the southern extremity of the Elizabeth and Pasquotank canal, to Bennet’s creek or Edenton. Whatever route may, after a critical examination of the ground, be thought the most eligible, the opening of this communication will be more easy and less expensive than either of the three northern canals.
The following table is a recapitulation of the distance to be cut on the whole line, and of the estimated expense.