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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Improving navigation becomes priority on Savannah River
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is part of a series of columns exploring the use of rivers in the early history of Georgia and Bulloch County.

The "Acts of the General Assembly" (1835) included a report from the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives that examined "the swamp lands on the Savannah River."

The committee concluded that "if the waters (of the river) were ... confined to their natural channel, the sand and mud bars (would) ... be washed away ... and the bed of the river ... consequently materially deepened."

According to the "1799 Watkins Digest of (Georgia) Statutes," in 1793, the "Commissioners of Pilotage" had taken over the lower Savannah River improvement as well as harbor operations and maintenance.

Between 1815 and 1826, the Georgia Legislature set aside monies for river improvements. This included $100,000 for the length of the Savannah River between Augusta and Savannah.

The first official federal appropriations for the Savannah River came in an act on May 18, 1826, which authorized $50,000 for the "lighthouses and light vessels ... (and) removing obstructions in the (lower) river Savannah."

The sponsors of the bill were Georgia Sen. John McPherson Berrien and Savannah Mayor Dr. William Coffee Daniell. Daniell's Oglethorpe Plantation was one of the largest Savannah River rice plantations.

To oversee the work on the Savannah River, Daniell was appointed U.S. commissioner and superintendent of the work "of removing obstructions from the river Savannah."

U.S. Navy Lt. R.F. Stockton's survey reported that the major impediments were "the Knowl," "the Oyster Beds," "the Mud Flat," "the Four Mile Point Shoal" and "the Wrecks."

On Feb. 27, 1827, Daniell, along with pilotage Commissioner Abraham Nicholls and engineer John Martineau, informed Congress that the cost of the repairs would be $30,389.60.

In 1828, the steamer Metropolis arrived with a steam-dredging machine. After spending $45,916.59, the Congressional Report (1830) stated that "improved conditions in the river appear to have been almost nil."

This led to a full-fledged brouhaha in Congress, with charges and counter-charges being levied against both sides concerning corruption and incompetence.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

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