Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Samuel Rhoads, 30 May 1772

From Samuel Rhoads

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Philada: May the 30th 1772

Dear Friend

Loxly going early in the Morning to Morrow for London, gives me the Opertunity of Acknowledging thy Favour per Falconer,5 which with several Canal Papers and Pamphlets came safe to Hand, and I hope will be usefull as I find the Reports of the great Engineers, Smeaton Brindly &ct concerning the Scotch Canal, contain a great deal of Instruction to us unexperiencd Americans. I confess my self much Oblig’d to them, and find by thy sending these Papers, and so far adopting the Project, Canalling grows more into Credit among us, at first it was look’d on as a wild Chemerical Project which all the Strength of America could never execute. Now it is hoped for in time to come. I should have made this Acknowledgment by Falconer, but was then out of Town with the Ingenious David Rittenhouse on an examination of the Ground in order to Judge of the Practicabillity of a Canal between Sculkill and Susquehann to save our Western Trade from total Loss.6 As he was taken sick on the Road, and I was not very well our discoveries are yet too Imperfect to communicate to thee, except that on Levelling the Waters of Schullkill we find that River to Ascend, or the Bed of it to rise, near sixty feet in less than twenty Miles, and suppose it to Continue the same Ascent upwards to Reading. As from its course it approaches the Susquehann, nearer at Reading by twenty Miles than at Philada. and by its Rise approaches the Height of the Middle Ground perhaps more than one hundred feet, Query may it not be best to make it part of the Passage to the back [country7] or will the Difficulties of this Navigation, [subject to all] the Inconveniencies of Innundations and [torn] Ice, be greater than the Expense of Locks Digging [torn] glad [?] of thy Opinion in this Matter and remain [torn]

Sl Rhoads

Addressed: To / Benjamin Franklin Esqr: / Agent for Pennsylvania / in / London / per Capt Loxly

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5The departure of Benjamin Loxley, Jr., master of the Carolina, was not announced until five days later: Pa. Gaz., June 4, 1772. BF’s letter by Falconer, who had left London in early February, has not survived.

6For John Smeaton (1724–92) and James Brindley (1716–72) see the DNB; one was the designer of the Forth and Clyde canal and the other of the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal, which BF had visited the year before (above, XVIII, 114–15). BF had provided Rhoads with information about canals early in 1771 (ibid., pp. 93–4), but this time Rhoads was inquiring in an official capacity. Thomas Gilpin had broached his ideas of possible canals in 1769, and had submitted a proposal to the APS. The response had been enthusiastic, both from the Society and from Philadelphia merchants in general, who looked on canals as a way to keep the trade with western Pennsylvania for Philadelphia, against the rising competition of Baltimore; a committee was appointed and brought in a report. See above, XVI, 217–18; XVII, 130; APS Trans., I (1771), 293–300 of 2nd pagination; Brooke Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America … (Chapel Hill, [1956]), pp. 210–12. The Pennsylvania Assembly then appointed a committee of its own to survey the Susquehanna, Schuylkill, and Lehigh Rivers, and in January, 1772, added Rhoads to this committee. He apparently persuaded David Rittenhouse, the mathematician, to accompany him on the expedition he mentions. The following September Rittenhouse in turn was added to the committee, which brought in its report four months later. 8 Pa. Arch., VIII, 6609–10, 6748, 6853; Brooke Hindle, David Rittenhouse (Princeton, 1964), pp. 94–6.

7Part of the conclusion has been torn out. We have supplied a few words on the basis of BF’s reply below, Aug. 22, in which he advised building a canal instead of trying to make the Schuylkill navigable.

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