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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: The need for canals to connect the Altamaha River
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Roger Allen

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

According to Loammi Baldwin, a Brunswick canal would connect "the immense and growing trade of the Altamaha river ... on the Ocmulgee as far as Macon, and four hundred miles to Milledgeville on the Oconee, with the capacious and beautiful harbor of Brunswick on the Turtle river."

Baldwin stated that in "the harbor of Brunswick ... no trade or boat at present is ever seen, and seldom any kind of vessels but the smallest coasting craft." This canal, he believed, would assure the growth of the port of Brunswick.

Baldwin stated, "The boats in use on the (Altamaha) river are 21 feet wide, and 80 or 90 long, and (up to) 115 in length ... (carrying) from various parts of the Altamaha and its branches, from 500 to 700 bales of cotton in bags of about 300 pounds each."

"Two kinds of steam-boats are also employed, (the most common being) 35 feet wide ... towing two boats loaded with cotton, one on each side," he explained. "They (offload) to ships ... at Doby (sic) Island 12 miles below."

He estimated that "130,000 bales of cotton (are) brought down the river annually ... (along with) timber, plank and scantling, brought down the river on rafts ... (which will be) carried by the canal to foreign ships in Brunswick harbor."

Finally, on Oct. 20, 1891, the Legislature incorporated the Brunswick and Altamaha Canal Company with new owners John E. DuBignon, W.E. Burbage, T.T. Lamb, H.F. Dunwody and W.G. Brantley.

They had formed the "new" Brunswick and Altamaha Canal Company from what would have been the Brunswick Canal and Railroad Company and planned to run from Turtle River (or bay) in Glynn County to the Altamaha River.

The Augusta Canal and its boom

In 1845, the Augusta City Council formed a canal board of commissioners. The board was led by Henry Cumming, Augusta's mayor's son, as its president. William D'Antignac drew up financing for this canal building enterprise.

The city issued bonds for $100,000 to be collected via a "canal tax" assessed on local property, for which citizens got "canal scrip" in return. In addition, four banks each kicked in $1,000 as project money.

Construction began in May 1845. The work force consisted of railroad laborers and both slaves and free blacks. After the canal began operation in November 1846, the board hired Jabez Smith, the noted builder of the textile center in Petersburg, Virginia.

Charles Olmstead, an Erie Canal engineer, was hired to enlarge and deepen the canal. Hundreds of Chinese were hired as laborers, which resulted in the formation of the oldest Chinese community in Georgia.

When completed, new factories sprang up, including Enterprise Textile Mill, Granite Flour Mill, Sibley Cotton Mill, Dartmouth Spinning Mill (later Sutherland Mill), Crescent Grain Mill (later Southern Mill), Globe Mill and J.P. King Textile Mill. With the new jobs, communities sprang up around the factories.

The canal was built in a total of 10 sections. It was 20 feet across at the bottom, and over its entirety, there were 24 bridges across and five culverts passing underneath.

The Canal Steamboat Company was incorporated in 1879 by investors W.T. Wheless, T.G. Barrett, W.A. Jordan, J.A. Bell, R.P. Sibley and N.W. Armstrong. They were given a charter to run "a line of steamboats to and from the City of Augusta on the Augusta Canal ... beginning ... at Clark's mill and ending at the Canal locks."

With the onset of war, Col. George W. Rains selected the Augusta Canal as the site for the massive Confederate Powder Works, a major player in the Confederacy's war effort.

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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