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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Making the Ogeechee River a navigable waterway
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is the first of a series of columns exploring the 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 "Ogeechee River ... separates Burke and Emanuel; Scriven and Effingham from Bulloch ... and discharges its waters into Ossabaw sound."

Sherwood continued, "It is more than 200 miles long, and navigable to Louisville for boats of
30 tons burthen. The canal from the Alatamaha to Savannah passes this river near Fort Argyle."

The name "Ogeechee" is said to have come from the Creek Indian term for "River of Songs" or the Muskogee Indian term for "River of the Yuchis" - or both.

The Ogeechee River has also been known over time as the Great Hogoheechee River, the Great Ogeechee River and the Big Ogeechee River. There are actually three Little Ogeechee rivers.

In 1793, the Georgia Legislature passed an "Act for Opening and Keeping Clear the Navigation of Ogeechee River," showing what an important means of commerce the Ogeechee already was in the state.

The act provided that "all male inhabitants between the ages of sixteen and forty years ... from the lower line of Effingham, to the mouth of Horse Creek, shall be ... made liable to work on Ogeechee."

However, it limited the amount of time one had to devote to such work: "No person ... shall be obligated to work more than eight days in a year, or more than four days at one time."

There was a penalty for refusing to comply: "Any person made liable to work ... who shall neglect or refuse to comply ... shall forfeit and pay half a dollar for each day he shall be absent."

"A Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia" (1851) recorded 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 Ogeechee."

Another $3,000 lottery was authorized in February 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."

The second River Navigation Act of 1826 was passed for the clearing of the river "below the mouth of Rocky Comfort Creek, provided the Ogeechee Navigation Company would relinquish all right of toll."

In it, the Georgia Legislature appropriated $401,000 for more river improvements, including the Ogeechee below the mouth of Rocky Comfort.

Boats on the Ogeechee River

"The Plan and Estimate of Cost of Improvement, of Ogeechee and Cannouchee Rivers" in the House Documents (1906) wrote about the current difficult state of navigation on the Ogeechee River.

The report revealed that "this river has never been improved by the U.S. It was improved by the State of Georgia," and "the river is blocked up by cypress trees growing out in the middle of the river."

The earliest boats to pick up cargo on the Ogeechee were likely the Schooners Hamilton and the Wave, with upward of 2,900 bushels of rough rice, and the Sloops Macon and Science, with upward of 3,700 bushels of rough rice.

The specially built canal packet boat the Alexander Telfair set out from the dock at the Stiles Plantation heading up the Ogeechee Canal on one daytime excursion on a number of occasions.

The March 1915 "Preliminary Examination of the Ogeechee River," written by Maj. W.P. Stokey, declared that "the river is badly (blocked by) snags and fallen trees, as the banks are generally heavily timbered."

He then added that "the only commerce is on the lower river, where there is a very good channel ... the rafting of timber brought down from the Cannouchee River."

"It is reported by pilots ... (a boat with a draft of)
7 feet at low water can be carried as far as King's Ferry, and that 8 feet at high water can be carried as far as the Ogeechee Canal.

"The river is paralleled on both banks by railroads. ... A channel for light-draft steamboats or barges could be maintained. ... There is no indication ... which would justify its establishment."

The "Report of the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors," written by Col. Frederic V. Abbot on Sept. 15, 1915, reported that "the division engineer states that very little interest has been shown regarding the improvement ... no indication that it would be used ... (and) expresses the opinion that the stream is not worthy of improvement."

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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