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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Making the Canoochee and the Altamaha navigable
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Roger Allen

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

Adiel Sherwood wrote in his "A Gazetteer of the State of Georgia" (1837) that the "Cannouchee River ... runs S.E. between Bulloch and Tattnall ... into Ogeechee above Hill's Bridge ... (and is) navigable 50 miles, to Cedar Creek."

Congressman John Calhoun Nicholls of Georgia introduced H.R. 4487 to the House Committee on Commerce. This bill asked that $5,000 be set aside for the survey of the Canoochee River in the state of Georgia.

"A Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia" (1851) records that on Nov. 26, 1796, a lottery was established to raise $3,000 for the first official efforts "clearing out and improving the navigation of the ... Canuchee Rivers."

No matter the work that was done, navigation on the Canoochee was always limited to rafting lumber downstream. In fact, the Seaboard Air Line Railway was sued in 1908 by area lumbermen when the railroad put up a bridge.

The lumbermen's rafts were up to 24 feet wide, while the bridge's arches were 17 feet across at the widest. Their rafts couldn't get through. A local judge agreed with their complaint.

Therefore, the railway went to the higher appeals court. In the Court of Appeals Case No. 766 of March 16, 1908, they instead agreed with the Seaboard's definition of a navigable river.

According to the journal "Southeastern Reporter" (1908), the railway claimed, "A 'navigable stream' is one capable of bearing upon its bosom, either for the whole or a part of the year, boats loaded with freight in the regular course of trade."

It continued that "the mere rafting of timber, or transporting wood in small boats, does not make a stream navigable." The original judge did not question which "highway" had precedence: a railway used daily, or a waterway used seasonally and infrequently.

As to the Canoochee's name? A.S. Gatsche's "A Migration Legend" (1884) declared "Canosi, mentioned in (Spanish explorer) Juan del la Vandera's narrative (1569) ... is Creek."

The book "The American Indian" (1888) declared the name "Cannouchee came from the Creek word 'ikano dashi,' or 'graves are there.' " The book "Place Names of Georgia" (1975) stated that "the name is more likely from 'Kanoochie,' meaning 'little ground.' "

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names (later the U.S. Geographic Board) stepped into the fray. After they studied the matter, they selected "Canoochee" for the river's official name spelling in 1910.

The Altamaha River

"The Annual Report of the Committee on Commerce" (1892) declared that "the Altamaha is the most important river in Georgia lying entirely within the boundaries of that State ... formed by the confluence of the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers."

The Congressional Record (1911) included the "Survey of the Altamaha, Oconee, and Ocmulgee Rivers" written by D.C. Kingman, the chief engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It stated, "The length of the Altamaha River ... from the mouth of the southern branch of its delta to 'The Forks' is 144 miles; of the Oconee to Milledgeville, 145 miles; and of the Ocmulgee to Macon,
205 miles."

The book "Georgia: A Guide to Its Cities, Towns, Scenery" by J.T. Derry (1878) declared that the "Altamaha tributaries the Oconee and Ocmulgee ... are each navigable for two hundred miles or more."

A $3,000 lottery was authorized by the Georgia Legislature in 1798, this time for "clearing out and improving the navigation of the Altamaha and Oconee Rivers, commencing from the sea ... as far as Rock Landing."

In 1826, the Legislature appropriated $401,000 for more river improvements, including the Oconee River below Carter's Bridge and the Ocmulgee above Macon.

In 1836, $20,000 was appropriated for "the removal of obstructions in the Ocmulgee River, below Milledgeville ... (and) for the improvement of the Ocmulgee River."

The Executive Documents (1891) included the "Survey Report of the Altamaha River" by A.S. Cooper, assistant engineer, which was started in October 1888, discontinued due to low water, then restarted in October 1889.

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



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