New Bern-Craven County
Public Library

a member of the Craven-Pamlico Regional Library System

Clubfoot and Harlowe Creek Canal (Part 1)

[From: The Daily Journal, August 6, 1882]

The following paper will explain itself:


The commissioners appointed by the act of last session of the General Assembly, to receive subscriptions for additional stock in the Clubfoot & Harlowe’s Creek Canal Company, give notice that books will be opened for that purpose on the first day of March next at the Bank of Newbern, in the town of Newbern, under the direction of Alexander Henderson and M.C. Stephens, agents, appointed by said commissioners, and shall remain open unless all the additional shares be sooner subscribed.
Beaufort, Feby. 11, 1822.

We find, after the books were opened, this appeal made to our citizens:

By an act of the General Assembly, passed at its last session books are directed to be opened to receive an additional subscription of the stock to the Club Foot and Harlowe Creek Canal Company. In pursuance of this act the books are this day opened at the Bank of Newbern under the direction of Alexander Henderson and M.C. Stevens and will continue open thirty days. The Board of Internal Improvements have instructed the public treasurer to subscribe for fifty additional shares on the part of the State. Twenty-five or thirty shares more on the part of individuals will make up the funds wanted for the completion of this undertaking.
It is confidently believed that no public improvement has been completed in State which is at the same time so favorable and so important as that in question. The length of the canal is 5,600 yards, and the greatest elevation of the ground through which it passes is eleven feet. A recent examination made by the principal engineer, by actually boring through the various strata of the soil, has shown conclusively that there are no quicksands or rocks to be met with. Several years since, while the canal was private property, a very extensive excavation was made, estimated to be equal to one-fourth of the required work. Lately the company has finished one thousand yards of the canal and a large lie-by bay have dug down to the towing path for one-fourth of the entire length of the canal: have removed from the edge of the canal, almost for the whole way, the earth heretofore dug up and have finished ditches on each side to receive and carry off water from the adjacent country. The canal is to be four (4) feet deep, fourteen (14) feet wide at the bottom, and twenty-six (26) feet at the water surface. The funds of the company, independent of the $5,000 authorized to be subscribed by the State, are now about $7,500. They have fifty-seven hands at work, and in the course of the present month will have one hundred. It is therefore morally certain that with a little help from individuals this long delayed work will in a few months more be finished.
To the growth of our town and the improvement of the neighboring country one great obstacle has heretofore opposed itself as insurmountable. The one cannot grow and the other cannot thrive for the want of a safe, expeditious and convenient navigation. This obstacle can now be removed, and for a smaller advance of money than a fourth of what is annually wasted in the expense of lighterage. At Beaufort there is an inlet from the ocean, wide, direct, and having eighteen feet of water, and a harbor perfectly safe and capable of containing fifteen hundred sail, and from which a vessel may reach the ocean in one hour’s sailing. The canal is but ten miles from Beaufort and twenty-seven from Newbern. In twelve hours boats carrying three hundred barrels may pass from Newbern to the shipping at Beaufort. Our merchants will no longer have to dread Ocracoke Bar and the Swash. They will be saved the constant drain of lighterage, the heavy expenses of detention, and the dreadful hazards which are the necessary attendants on our present miserable navigation. Instead of being restricted to the use of petty sea craft, fit only to pole along shore, they may carry on their commercial enterprises in vessels of such burthen and draft as may best suit their purposes. Our farmers will not then have to pay double taxes to those who interpose between them and the consumers of their produce. They now sell the productions of their industry to the Newbern merchant, at such a price as can enable him to ship it with advantage to New York—and he can only ship it to advantage when it will enable him to pay the freight and insurance of a navigation over Ocracoke Bar and the Swash, and give a profit beside to the New York merchant. This is like a double tax in the way of enhancement of price on imported articles which have gone through two transhipments. Every agent between the grower and the consumer must make a profit, and this must be paid indirectly either by the grower or the consumer.
If the stock in the canal should not yield a cent of income it would even then be enlightened economy in the citizens of Newbern and the farmers of Neuse and Trent to aid in the undertaking. But they are not called on to subscribe one hundred dollars by way of donation to a great public object, but to invest money in stock that must give an advantageous return. The stock cannot but be good property. A moderate toll, and that in perpetuity, upon boats passing through the canal must yield a handsome revenue.
The trade now carried on from Newbern may continue. With regard to foreign trade and large vessels Beaufort or Lenoxville, or some spot near one of these towns, will be the shipping port. Newbern must be the spot where the farmer and merchant meet, and where the capital will be fixed and employed. To fear that it would be impaired by the growth of a great port below would be as idle as to apprehend that the increase of Wilmington would injure Fayetteville, the growth of Norfolk break down Petersburg and Richmond, the success of Liverpool destroy Manchester, or that Savannah ruin Augusta.
Observations and reason concur to demonstrate that the town would be incalculably benefited by an immediate connection with a point safe, capacious and convenient to the ocean. Four hours would suffice in a steamboat (and one is already in expectancy) to transport Captains, Supercargoes, Agents, Foreign Traders, etc. etc. from the purchasing to the shipping town. Instead of grass grown streets and idle Negroes, we may then expect to see the bustle of industry, and to hear the hum of business. North Carolina may then be able to show that it produces something to export, instead of sending like a tributary, its cotton, grain and port to swell the list of exports of another State. And it may then claim by its commerce to be considered by the general government, not in the light of a mere appendage to some neighboring commonwealth, but as entitled to respect, and to a share of the national patronage and national expenditure.
Newbern, March 1st, 1822.

The above appeal to the people had the desired effect and the work on the canal thereafter was pushed with vigor as the subjoined advertisement for hands make known.


The Directors of the Clubfoot and Harlowe’s Creek Canal Company want to hire immediately from 40 to 50 stout, able bodied negro men to work on the canal. Those who have hands to hire will please apply to Samuel Simpson, who can inform them of the wages given. All the hands now at the canal are healthy and well satisfied with their employment.
President Canal Co.
Beaufort, April 8, 1822.

The canal in due time was completed as its projectors desired and boats passed through it, yet, its profits were far below their expectation and the stock was soon of little or no value. A good hotel was erected at the “haulover,” the entrance to the canal from Harlowe’s creek, where there was originally a small lock. There too the canal was crossed by a bridge on the old stage road from Newbern to Beaufort. A year ago we visited the place with Capt. Marshal Parks and Mr. Courtwright, his engineer, passing through Harlowe’s creek in a boat. After spending some two or three hours with Mrs. Gideon Bell and her daughter, who treated us with great courtesy and kindness, we returned in the same way to Morehead City, some time before night. Mrs. Bell owns the plantation on which was the canal hotel and her handsome residence is part of it modernized. The yard towards the canal was beautiful with a variety of blooming flowers.

Messrs. Editors, if you have never been there, you would be astonished to see such a lovely place, locked as it were, now in the woods. Our fathers failed in their efforts to make the canal useful and profitable by getting it too small. If they had had the machinery now in use for cutting canals, undoubtedly, it would have been dug to a width and depth sufficient to take through our sea going vessels and would have been an entire success. It was dug by negro men on the land and in the water with ordinary spades and shovels. Consequently the fear of sickness made it difficult to get hands and impossible to dig the canal to give more than four feet water. Many curious things during the progress of the work were dug up and some of these days I may tell what they were as this article is too long already to give them at present.

But to go back to our fathers, who showed a spirit for works of improvement far in advance of many around us in this day, we will find the Indians, long ere they were civilized and christianized at the muzzle of the gun and mouth of the rum bottle by the adventurers, thieves and land pirates from Europe, had cut a canal for their boats from near the mouth of Neuse river through the waters of Core sound. This prevented their exposure to the high winds and seas of the sound and enabled them to pass and repass when they otherwise could not have done so.

How many of our own people, even at this time, both in town and country, would suffer greater annoyances and loss than the Indians did without trying the conveniences they have at hand to remedy them. Look at our bad public roads and the swollen streams every where, the people setting down waiting for the water to run off and the mud to dry ere they can get their produce to market. You could count the number by thousands as well as the loss of dollars by this delay. Yet the roads are as bad now and the streams and branches are without bridges, as they were a century ago. Is it not so?


Return to The Writings of John D. Whitford