Looking at a North Carolina map, one can see that the state is rich in flowing waters. But in the 1700s and 1800s, when transportation on the water was the most efficient means of travel, our unhelpful rivers were a barrier to colonization and an impediment to growth of the state’s economy.
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For most of North Carolina History, bridges were not common, and travelers confronted by one of our state’s many, many streams simply had to find a place where they could cross over. Those coveted spots – river fords – often dictated where we live today.
After 63 years of speculation on feasibility of a Dismal Swamp Canal, and after four years of acrimonious debate on government’s role in such an undertaking, actual excavation began. There was no civil engineer engaged. There was no understanding of how many canal locks would be required. There was no estimate of how much the project would cost. And yet…
The age of steamboats began in North Carolina in 1818, when the vessels Norfolk, Henrietta, and Prometheus began huffing and puffing along our waterways. Prometheus, a little sternwheeler, was built in Swansboro by the naval hero, chartered privateer, and entrepreneur, Otway Burns.
When waterways were our superhighways, bateaux ruled the rivers. These open, shallow-draft boats did the heavy lifting that drove North Carolina’s economy. They transported the bounty of upland farms to markets on the coast, and they returned with manufactured goods, coffee and sugar.