Wednesday, May 3, 2017

America's First Canal - The Santee Canal

South and slightly west of Georgetown lie remains of an engineering feat important to commerce in the new United States of America, the Santee Canal, linking inland plantations with their crops of indigo and cotton to the markets in Charleston for export to Europe.  

 Work began on the canal in 1793 with 1000 slave laborers loaned out from nearby plantations.  Built mostly of brick and stone, solely with picks and shovels and human power, the canal was completed seven years later.  It featured 10 locks and a tide gate, was 22 miles long, connected the Santee and Cooper Rivers, and was considered one of the first great engineering feats in the new country.

It cost $800,000 and was funded solely by its users.

Initially power for the narrow boats and barges was supplied through horses and mules on towpaths beside the water and later by slave polemen.  Lock tenders and their families who lived by each lock were also black. 
This reconstruction of one of the locks is the entrance to a small museum at the Old Santee Canal Park in Monck's Corners. 

For the first 16 years of its existence the canal was a success.  In 1830, 720 boats carried 70,000 bales of cotton to Charleston.  But after two years of severe drought that closed the canal completely, crumbling construction, and finally, the completion of a railroad, the canal was closed in 1853.
From the observation windows of the museum, it's easy to imagine a barge out there, low in the water and piled high with cotton bales, making its silent way along the canal.  The park is built at what was the southernmost portion of the Santee Canal.

Turtles lined up on a log were enjoying 
the sun the day we visited.
The Old Santee Canal today 
There are four miles of boardwalks and walking trails on its banks.


  1. A great feat of engineering, it is a pity lack of water was its downfall.

  2. Looks like a great place for a walk. Imagine people paying for something like that today and not waiting for the government to do it.

  3. It never fails to amaze me how save labor developed so much of the country.

  4. Incredible feat!
    Is that Santee area, the place that is mentioned in the
    movie - "The Patriot"? Mel Gibson the star with Heath Ledger.
    As usual your history lessons do you proud.
    Thanks and cheers

  5. Dear Cynthia, I have always been a history buff and I so enjoy learning new things about the United States and the world in general. Thus, your posting not only taught me something new, it made me think long, long thoughts of what we owe to those enslaved men and women who never knew freedom. Peace.

  6. Love the post very much.. those little histories are good to know, those cannot be found in any history book..

  7. Another great post, it is always a joy to learn something new. A great feat of engineering, strange that lack of water became its downfall.

  8. You always give us such a nice interesting history about your surroundings there. A dry canal we never have here, plenty of water around :)

  9. This post is interesting, thanks for sharing about it.

  10. It was interesting to read about the canal which has the same name as friends who live in Oregon!

  11. What an interesting post-seven years to build something that was used for sixteen years to be closed by drought...all that work. Loved that you spotted the turtles on the log!

  12. so funny to see those turtles lined up like that. $800,00.00 and funded by it's users, those were the good ole days for sure.
    Great post! Betsy

  13. Must have been good workers those slaves.
    Very interesting post..