George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 3 August 1785]

Wednesday 3d. Wind at No. West & tolerably pleasant with appearances of Rain, without any falling.

Having provided Canoes and being joined by Mr. Rumsay the principal Manager, & Mr. Stewart an Assistant to him, in carrying on the Works, we proceeded to examine the falls; and beginning at the head of them went through the whole by water, and continued from the foot of them to the Great fall. After which, returning back to a Spring on the Maryland Side between the Seneca & Great Falls, we partook (about 5 O’clock) of another cold Collation which a Colo. Orme, a Mr. Turner & others of the Neighbourhood, had provided and returned back by the way of Mr. Bealls Mill to our old Quarters at Mr. Goldsboroughs. The distance as estimated 8 Miles.

The Water through these Falls is of sufficient depth for good Navigation; and as formidable as I had conceived them to be; but by no means impracticable. The principal difficulties lye in rocks which occasion a crooked passage. These once removed, renders the passage safe without the aid of Locks & may be effected for the Sum mentioned in Mr. Jno. Ballendine’s estimate (the largest extant) but in a different manner than that proposed by him. It appearing to me, and was so, unanimously determined by the Board of Directors, that a channel through the bed of the river in a strait direction, and as much in the course of the currant as may be, without a grt. increase of labour & expence, would be preferable to that through the Gut which was the choice of Mr. Ballendine for a Canal with Locks—the last of which we thought unnecessary, & the first more expensive in the first instance, besides being liable to many inconveniences which the other is not, as it would, probably be frequently choaked with drift wood—Ice—and other rubbish which would be thrown therein through the several inlets already made by the rapidity of the currts. in freshes and others which probably would be made thereby; whereas a navigation through the bed of the river when once made will, in all probability, remain forever, as the currt. here will rather clear, than contribute to choak, the passage. It is true, no track path can be had in a navigation thus ordered, nor does there appear a necessity for it. Tracking, constitutes a large part of Mr. Ballendines estimate—The want of which, in the rapid parts of the river, (if Mr. Rumseys plan for working Boats against stream by the force of Mechanical powers should fail) may be supplied by chains buoyed up to haul by which would be equally easy, more certain, and less dangerous than setting up with Poles—whilst track paths, it is apprehended can not be made to stand, and may endanger the Banks if the Wood is stripped from them, which is their present security against washing.

The distance between the Seneca & Great Falls, is about 5 Miles; and except in one place within ¾ of a Mile of the latter, the navigation now is, or easily may be made, very good; and at this place, the obstruction arises from the shallowness of the Water. Boats may go almost to the Spout with safety. To the place where the water passes when the river is full it is quite easy & safe to descend to, being in a Cove of still Water.

Col. Archibald Orme (1730–1812), of the Rock Creek neighborhood in Montgomery County, Md., was an active surveyor in the area. Mr. Turner may be Samuel Turner, who was living in that neighborhood in 1790, or Hezekiah Turner (1739–c.1812), of Fauquier County, Va., who was active after the Revolution as a surveyor of lands in the upper Potomac Valley (HEADS OF FAMILIES, MD. description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: Maryland. 1907. Reprint. Baltimore, 1965. description ends , 88; MACKENZIE [1] description begins George Norbury Mackenzie, ed. Colonial Families of the United States of America. 7 vols. 1907-20. Reprint. Baltimore, 1966. description ends , 2:564; SCHARF [3] description begins J. Thomas Scharf. History of Western Maryland. Being a History of Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties from the Earliest Period to the Present Day; Including Biographical Sketches of Their Representative Men. 2 vols. 1882. Reprint. Baltimore, 1968. description ends , 1:744; BLUM description begins Willetta Baylis Blum and William Blum, Sr., comps. The Baylis Family of Virginia. Washington, D.C., 1958. description ends , 426).

track path: The problem GW is discussing is that of aiding boats to ascend the Seneca Falls (actually rapids). The track path was a towing path used to tow the boats through the rapid part of the river. GW disliked the cost of constructing and maintaining canals and locks and accepted the necessity of cutting a canal only when locks were clearly necessary, as at the Great Falls (GW to Edmund Randolph, 16 Sept. 1785, DLC:GW). the spout: The point in a river where the banks formed a narrow channel, thus creating rapids, was called a spout. In his tour this week GW passes through three such sections of the Potomac, referring to each as “the Spout.” For the sake of clarity, each spout will be referred to by the name of the rapids or falls associated with it. This one is the Great Falls Spout, described in 1760 by Andrew Burnaby: “the channel of the river is contracted by hills; and is . . . narrow. . . . It is clogged moreover with innumerable rocks; so that the water for a mile or two flows with accelerated velocity” (BURNABY description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Burnaby’s Travels through North America. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 68–69).

Index Entries