Appalachian Mountains, Great Lakes, Northwest Territory, Louisiana Territory and the Erie Canal

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 29th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published July 30th, 2013)

Everything grown on the West Side of the Appalachian Mountains eventually ended up on the Mississippi River

At the time of the Founding the American population was clustered around the East Coast.  And on major rivers that flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.  On land east of the Appalachian Mountains.  Not by choice.  But because of geography.  The Founding Fathers knew what great land lay west.  But getting there was another story.

The Great Lakes are huge.  The largest group of freshwater lakes in the world.  If you walked all the coastlines you’d walk so long and so far that you could have walked halfway around the world.  Getting on the lakes opened up the Northwest Territory.  Western New York.  Western Pennsylvania.  Ohio.  Michigan.  Indiana.  Illinois.  Wisconsin.  Minnesota.  And with some portaging, the great interior rivers.  Including the Mississippi River.  Opening up the Great Plains to the West.  And the rich fertile farmland of the interior.  But there was one great obstacle between all of this and the east coast.  Niagara Falls.  Which portaging around was a bitch.

The United States would become an agricultural superpower.  But until they had a way to transport food grown on the land west of the Appalachians that land was not as valuable as it could be.  There were some land routes.  George Washington crossed many times into the Ohio Country from Virginia.  And Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee.  Opening the Northwest Territory to settlement.  All the way up to the Mississippi River.  And its tributaries.  Including the Ohio River.  But none of these water routes offered a way back east.  Which is why everything grown on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains eventually ended up on the Mississippi River.  And traveled south.  To the Port of New Orleans.  But there was one major problem with that.  The Port of New Orleans belonged to the Spanish.

Thomas Jefferson fought Tirelessly against the Constitution to Restrict the Powers of the Executive Branch

At the time of the Founding there were four European nations jockeying for a piece of the New World.  Who all wanted to keep the Americans east of the Appalachians.  The French had lost New France to the British.  Which they hoped to get back.  And the farther the Americans moved west the harder that would be.  The British were in Canada.  With outposts still in the Northwest Territory.  Despite ceding that land to the Americans.  While the British were pressing in from the north the Spanish were pressing in from the south and the west.  Coming up from Mexico they were in New Orleans.  Texas.  The trans-Mississippi region (the land west of the Mississippi River.  And California and the West Coast.  Making navigation rights on the Mississippi River and the Port of New Orleans a hotly contested issue.

Time would solve that problem in America’s favor.  Napoleon would get the Louisiana Territory for France from the Spanish.  And was intent on rebuilding New France in the New World.  But with the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue—present day Haiti—Napoleon’s plans changed.  Instead of building New France he was focusing on saving Old France.  As the world war he launched wasn’t going all that well.  So he sold the Louisiana Territory to Thomas Jefferson, then president of the United States.  Making the navigation rights of the Mississippi River a moot point.  For it now belonged to the United States.  Which was great for Thomas Jefferson.  For, he, too, looked west.  And believed the young nation’s future was on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains.  Where yeoman farmers would work their land.  Forming the backbone of the new republic.  Honest men doing honest labor.  Not merchants, bankers and stockjobbers that were trying to destroy the new nation in the east.  The detestable moneyed men that Jefferson hated so.  No.  The winds of the Revolutionary spirit blew west.

This is why Jefferson jumped on the Louisiana Purchase.  In direct violation of the Constitution.  A document he hated because it gave way too much power to the president.  Making the president little different from a king.  Which was the whole point of the American Revolution.  To do away with king-like power.  Throughout his active political life he fought tirelessly against the Constitution.  Fighting to restrict the powers of the executive branch wherever he could.  But the Louisiana Territory?  President Jefferson suddenly had an epiphany.  It was good to be king.

The Erie Canal connected the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes without any Portages

Jefferson would resort to his anti-government positions following the Louisiana Purchase.  He may have violated everything he stood for but even the most stalwart limited government proponent no doubt approves of Jefferson’s actions.  Jefferson was happy.  As was everyone west of the Appalachians.  But it didn’t solve one problem.  The Great Lakes region upstream of Niagara Falls was still cutoff from the East Coast.  And the Port of New Orleans.  There were some routes to these destinations.  But they included some portaging between navigable waterways.  Which made it difficult to transport bulk goods into the region.  And out of the region.

As Jefferson’s vision of limited government faded government grew.  As did government spending.  Especially on internal improvements.  For they had great political dividends.  They created a lot of jobs.  And brought a lot of federal money to communities with those internal improvements.  Which helped politicians win elections.  And back around the 1800s the big internal improvements were canals.  Such as the Erie Canal.  Connecting the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes.  Providing a waterway without any portages from the Hudson River that flows into the Atlantic Ocean at New York City.  All the way to the Great Lakes.  Near Buffalo.  Just above Niagara Falls.  Opening the Great Lakes regions to settlement.  And the Northwest Territory.  (Something George Washington wanted to do.  Who wanted to extend a canal into the West from the Potomac River.)  Creating a trade super highway between the Great Lakes region and the East Coast.  Through the Port of New York.  And on to the rest of the world.

The U.S. population moved west.  But still clung to rivers and coastlines.  Until another internal improvement came along.  The railroad.  Which did for the country’s interior what the Erie Canal did for the Great Lakes region.  With cities growing up along these rail lines.  Away from rivers and coastlines.  Then came the interstate highway system.  Which allowed cities to grow away from the rail lines.  There is now a road, rail or waterway that will take you pretty much anywhere in the United States.  And now we have the airplane.  Which can fly over the Appalachians.  Or the Niagara escarpment.  Allowing us today to move anyone or anything anywhere today.  Something George Washington and Thomas Jefferson desperately wanted.  But could only dream of.

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Appalachian Mountains, Great Lakes, Northwest Territory, Louisiana Territory and the Erie Canal

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 30th, 2013

History 101

Everything grown on the West Side of the Appalachian Mountains eventually ended up on the Mississippi River

At the time of the Founding the American population was clustered around the East Coast.  And on major rivers that flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.  On land east of the Appalachian Mountains.  Not by choice.  But because of geography.  The Founding Fathers knew what great land lay west.  But getting there was another story.

The Great Lakes are huge.  The largest group of freshwater lakes in the world.  If you walked all the coastlines you’d walk so long and so far that you could have walked halfway around the world.  Getting on the lakes opened up the Northwest Territory.  Western New York.  Western Pennsylvania.  Ohio.  Michigan.  Indiana.  Illinois.  Wisconsin.  Minnesota.  And with some portaging, the great interior rivers.  Including the Mississippi River.  Opening up the Great Plains to the West.  And the rich fertile farmland of the interior.  But there was one great obstacle between all of this and the east coast.  Niagara Falls.  Which portaging around was a bitch.

The United States would become an agricultural superpower.  But until they had a way to transport food grown on the land west of the Appalachians that land was not as valuable as it could be.  There were some land routes.  George Washington crossed many times into the Ohio Country from Virginia.  And Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee.  Opening the Northwest Territory to settlement.  All the way up to the Mississippi River.  And its tributaries.  Including the Ohio River.  But none of these water routes offered a way back east.  Which is why everything grown on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains eventually ended up on the Mississippi River.  And traveled south.  To the Port of New Orleans.  But there was one major problem with that.  The Port of New Orleans belonged to the Spanish.

Thomas Jefferson fought Tirelessly against the Constitution to Restrict the Powers of the Executive Branch

At the time of the Founding there were four European nations jockeying for a piece of the New World.  Who all wanted to keep the Americans east of the Appalachians.  The French had lost New France to the British.  Which they hoped to get back.  And the farther the Americans moved west the harder that would be.  The British were in Canada.  With outposts still in the Northwest Territory.  Despite ceding that land to the Americans.  While the British were pressing in from the north the Spanish were pressing in from the south and the west.  Coming up from Mexico they were in New Orleans.  Texas.  The trans-Mississippi region (the land west of the Mississippi River.  And California and the West Coast.  Making navigation rights on the Mississippi River and the Port of New Orleans a hotly contested issue.

Time would solve that problem in America’s favor.  Napoleon would get the Louisiana Territory for France from the Spanish.  And was intent on rebuilding New France in the New World.  But with the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue—present day Haiti—Napoleon’s plans changed.  Instead of building New France he was focusing on saving Old France.  As the world war he launched wasn’t going all that well.  So he sold the Louisiana Territory to Thomas Jefferson, then president of the United States.  Making the navigation rights of the Mississippi River a moot point.  For it now belonged to the United States.  Which was great for Thomas Jefferson.  For, he, too, looked west.  And believed the young nation’s future was on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains.  Where yeoman farmers would work their land.  Forming the backbone of the new republic.  Honest men doing honest labor.  Not merchants, bankers and stockjobbers that were trying to destroy the new nation in the east.  The detestable moneyed men that Jefferson hated so.  No.  The winds of the Revolutionary spirit blew west.

This is why Jefferson jumped on the Louisiana Purchase.  In direct violation of the Constitution.  A document he hated because it gave way too much power to the president.  Making the president little different from a king.  Which was the whole point of the American Revolution.  To do away with king-like power.  Throughout his active political life he fought tirelessly against the Constitution.  Fighting to restrict the powers of the executive branch wherever he could.  But the Louisiana Territory?  President Jefferson suddenly had an epiphany.  It was good to be king.

The Erie Canal connected the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes without any Portages

Jefferson would resort to his anti-government positions following the Louisiana Purchase.  He may have violated everything he stood for but even the most stalwart limited government proponent no doubt approves of Jefferson’s actions.  Jefferson was happy.  As was everyone west of the Appalachians.  But it didn’t solve one problem.  The Great Lakes region upstream of Niagara Falls was still cutoff from the East Coast.  And the Port of New Orleans.  There were some routes to these destinations.  But they included some portaging between navigable waterways.  Which made it difficult to transport bulk goods into the region.  And out of the region.

As Jefferson’s vision of limited government faded government grew.  As did government spending.  Especially on internal improvements.  For they had great political dividends.  They created a lot of jobs.  And brought a lot of federal money to communities with those internal improvements.  Which helped politicians win elections.  And back around the 1800s the big internal improvements were canals.  Such as the Erie Canal.  Connecting the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes.  Providing a waterway without any portages from the Hudson River that flows into the Atlantic Ocean at New York City.  All the way to the Great Lakes.  Near Buffalo.  Just above Niagara Falls.  Opening the Great Lakes regions to settlement.  And the Northwest Territory.  (Something George Washington wanted to do.  Who wanted to extend a canal into the West from the Potomac River.)  Creating a trade super highway between the Great Lakes region and the East Coast.  Through the Port of New York.  And on to the rest of the world.

The U.S. population moved west.  But still clung to rivers and coastlines.  Until another internal improvement came along.  The railroad.  Which did for the country’s interior what the Erie Canal did for the Great Lakes region.  With cities growing up along these rail lines.  Away from rivers and coastlines.  Then came the interstate highway system.  Which allowed cities to grow away from the rail lines.  There is now a road, rail or waterway that will take you pretty much anywhere in the United States.  And now we have the airplane.  Which can fly over the Appalachians.  Or the Niagara escarpment.  Allowing us today to move anyone or anything anywhere today.  Something George Washington and Thomas Jefferson desperately wanted.  But could only dream of.

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Prevailing Winds, Channel Markers, Buoys, Portage, Canals, Locks, Niagara Falls and the Welland Canal

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 30th, 2013

Technology 101

The Lateen-Rigged Sail allows Ships to Maneuver onto the Prevailing Winds Superhighways

Oceans are deep.  Allowing ships to cross them without fear of striking bottom.  Which helped the age of sail.  As sailors could use the prevailing winds to fill large masts of square-rigged sails to blow them across oceans.  Sailing to the New World with the trade winds (near the equator) and polar easterlies (near the poles) filling their sails.  And sailing from the New World with the westerlies (in the middle latitudes in both hemispheres) filling their sails.  The deep oceans let these sailing vessels move unrestricted to find the best wind.

That is, once these sailing vessels got to the proper latitude.  Getting there they had to use another kind of sail.  A lateen-rigged sail.  A triangular sail with a leading edge that cut into the wind.  Splitting the wind so part of it filled the sail.  The sail blew out and redirected the wind to the stern of the ship.  While the wind passing over the top of the curved sail created lift.  Like on an aircraft wing.  Pulling the ship forward.  This allows a wind blowing in from the side of a ship to propel it forward.  Which allows a sailing vessel to sail into the wind.  By sailing in a zigzag path.  Or beating.  After sailing in one direction they come about.  Or tack.  Turning the bow through the wind so it blows in from the other side of the ship.

The wide open and deep oceans let these sailing vessels maneuver at will to catch the wind.  Propelling them forward at speed.  Without fear of grounding out on the bottom.  Taking them to the great superhighways across the oceans.  To the trade winds and polar easterlies to sail west.  And to the westerlies to sail east.  Where these winds could fill multiple squared-rigged sails on a single mast.  On ships with multiple masts.  Allowing them to catch a lot of wind.  And to drive them forward to their destination.

Channel Markers and Buoys are Color-Coded telling Ship Captains ‘Red Right Returning’

Of course it’s these destinations that really matter.  For sailing around in the middle of the ocean is worthless unless you can load and unload cargo somewhere.  Getting to these ports was a little trickier.  Because it required sailing closer to land.  Where the ocean floor rises up quickly from great depths.  Making sailing near shores hazardous.  As hidden shoals and reefs hide just below the surface.  Threatening to cut a deep gash in a ship’s hull.  Or a ship could run aground in the shallows.  Where they may have to wait for a rising tide to free them.  All the while risking being damaged by any storm that blew in.

The first sailors who arrived in the New World had no navigational aids like we do today.  Often having to rely on the experience of a grizzled captain who could see and smell dangers in the water.  Or they dropped anchor away from the shore and explored the coast in smaller boats to sound out sea approaches to a deep-water harbor.  As time passed lighthouses dotted the shoreline.  And other navigational aids guided ship captains.  To warn them of dangerous waters.  And show safe channels to navigate.    Channel markers and buoys are color-coded.  With paint for day navigation.  And lights for night navigation.  In the New World (and Japan, South Korea and the Philippines) the colors are red and green.  When entering a harbor or river from the sea the red is kept on the right of a ship.  Mariners learn this with the memory device ‘red right returning’.

When the French sailed up the Saint Lawrence River they founded the oldest walled-city in North America.  Quebec City.  They then sailed as far upstream as they could.  Founding the city of Montreal.  Going beyond Montreal required portaging around the rapids at Montreal.  And a few others until they got to Lake Ontario.  Where they could re-embark ships and sail across Lake Ontario and into the Niagara River.  Where they had to portage around the rapids.  And Niagara Falls.  Where they once again could re-embark ships and enter Lake Erie.  Then sail up the Detroit River.  Across Lake St. Clair.  Up the St. Clair River.  And into Lake Huron.  Where they could sail through the Straits of Mackinac and into Lake Michigan.  Or up the St. Marys River.  Where they could portage around the rapids in the St. Marys River.  Reentering the river upstream of the rapids to let them sail into Lake Superior.  Where they could sail all the way to Minnesota.  And take on iron ore.  Mined from the great iron ore deposits beyond Lake Superior.  To feed the blast furnaces of America’s steel industry.

A Lock consists of a Chamber with Watertight Gates at each end and some Valves

Of course, iron ore is heavy.  As is a lot of the bulk freight shipping on the Great Lakes.  Making those portages around rapids and falls difficult and costly.  They needed to find a better way.  And they have.  Which is why Great Lakes freighters can travel from the western end of Lake Superior to the Saint Lawrence River.  And ocean-going freighters can enter the Saint Lawrence River and travel to the western end of Lake Superior.  Without a single portage.  Thanks to canals.  And locks.

A canal provides a passage around rapids or falls.  And locks in the canal can raise or lower a ship to the water level at either side of the rapids or falls.  Getting around the rapids between Montreal and Lake Ontario and in the St. Marys River didn’t require long canals.  Just enough to provide a passage around the rapids.  The Niagara River posed a bigger problem.  For there were both rapids.  And Niagara Falls.  As well as a great change in water levels.  The level in Lake Erie is 326.5 feet above the level in Lake Ontario.  As the typical lock doesn’t raise and lower water 326.5 feet one lock just wasn’t a solution.  So they used 8 (7 for raising and lowering ships and the 8th as a control lock).   And dug a canal across the Niagara peninsula.   The Welland Canal.  From Port Weller on Lake Ontario to Port Colborne on Lake Erie.  Interconnected by 26 miles of canal.  Allowing fully loaded bulk freighters to travel between Lakes Erie and Ontario.  And ocean-going freighters to travel from the Atlantic ocean (and the world beyond) to the western end of Lake Superior.

So how does a lock work?  Are there massive pumps to pump in water to raise a ship?  No.  There are no pumps.  Just a couple of valves.  A lock consists of a chamber with watertight gates at each end.  The gates swing open towards the upstream side.  When they close they form an 18-degree angle that points upstream.  So when the water level is higher on the upstream side the force of the water presses the gates closed and makes a watertight seal.  When the water level is equal on both sides of the gate they can easily open the gates.  When a ship enters a lock both gates seal.  If they are lowering a ship they open valves between the chamber and the canal on the downstream side.  The high water level inside the chamber drains until the water levels equalize.  If they are raising a ship they open valves between the chamber and the canal on the upstream side.  Water from the canal enters the chamber until the water levels equalize.  Then the appropriate gate opens and the ship goes on its way.  A very simple and low-tech process.  Allowing ships with deep drafts to travel the oceans.  Rivers.  And inland lakes.  Thanks to navigational aids.  Canals.  And locks.

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