What was the fall line? Locate the fall line on the Potomac River. Where did Washington live?
What physical factors needed to be overcome before the Potomac River could be navigated?
(Little Falls: A 38-foot drop over two miles; Great Falls: (9 miles further upriver) a 77-foot drop in just over a mile; Seneca Falls, (8 miles futher upriver) a seven-foot drop in a mile; Shenandoah, (just below Harper's Ferry) 3-foot drop in mile. See National Geographic, June, 1987, p. 524 for an excellent pictorial map of the Potomac River.)
4. Ask students what they think would be needed to overcome these obstacles. You might begin by asking students what is needed to undertake such large projects. For example, what was needed before the United States was able to put a human on the moon? Brainstorm some of the factors which had to be considered. Organize the chart and place it on the chalkboard or overhead. Have students fill it in. Which of the tasks listed below was probably the most difficult to overcome?
5. How were each of the factors below overcome in the 1780's and 1790's?
A. Technological. Hire competent engineers who could achieve one of the following: Washington's plan was to dig a channel in the river and then pull or push boats upriver. Others believed canals should be dug around the several falls, which often involved blasting a ditch through solid rock, and using locks where necessary to raise and lower boats.
Discuss Student Handout Two : Powering Boats Upstream. Begin by asking:
Why was there so much competition rather than cooperation between Rumsey and Fitch?
How did the inventors power their boats?
How was the development of the steamboat related to navigation of the Potomac?
How where the state governments involved in the steamboat controversy?
How was navigation on the Potomac achieved?
B. Political: Encourage cooperation among the states, especially Maryland and Virginia.
Washington lobbied the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia to obtain a charter for the Potowmack Canal Company which would build and operate the navigational system on the Potomac. Washington became President of the company.
Maryland and Virginia signed the Mount Vernon Compact to cooperate in navigation along the Potomac River. [Note: By establishing the nation's capitol on the Potomac just below the fall line, Congress gave improving navigation on the Potomac another push since providing access to the nation's capital from the states in the west was crucial.]
C. Need for Resources. The company's charter allowed the company to raise capital by subscription, i.e. selling stock. [Note: When Maryland and Virgina chartered the Potowmack Canal Company, they subscribed to fifty shares each or one fifth of the total stock. Private investors subscribed to most of the rest of the stock, although many never paid the money due. As enthusiasm for the enterprise lessened, it became more and more difficult to raise the needed funds to complete the project. The company's directors continually appealed to the state legislature with some success, for additional funding. As part of the canal system was opened, tolls provided revenues, but these were used for maintenance, not dividends on their investment.]
The company hired James Z. Rumsey as Manager of the company. He lacked the needed engineering skills and management experience. He was dismissed after one year. Management was a constant problem for the company.
Labor presented difficulties. At first the company hired free whites, providing food wages and 'good and substantial provisions... and a responsible quantity of spirits' and offered large wages to thoses who proved most expert in boring and blowing up rocks. But this labor force proved turbulent and insubordinate. Consequently, the company turned to the use of indentured servents and slaves whom they hired from planters. Conflict broke out between the various classes of workers. Neighbors complainted about the workers' conduct. Many of the indentured servants ran away. Few workers had the needed skills for canal and lock building experience.
The navigation of this river is equal, if not superior to any in the Union...
this will become the great avenue into the Western Country." Geo. Washington (Barrett, pg. 724a)
D. Leadership was provided by the company's directors. The board met often to solve the various financial, labor and management problems that arose. George Washington, however, soon found his attention being turned more towards adopting a new form of goverment. Washington renewed his active interest in the company upon retiring from the Presidency.
6. Progress in the building of the canal and clearing the river for navigation was slow but by 1788 a difficult pass opened between the Great Falls and the Senca River. A towpath and a canal were nearly completed so by 1790 boats were navigating the canal. By December of 1801, the lock and the canal system had been opened for some 218 miles.
Upon completion of the reading of the handouts and classroom discussion, students will be divided up into five committees to develop a group product based on what they learned from this lesson. The groups will produce these, which will be used to assess their comprehension of the lesson: