The donors, Mr. & Mrs. Herbert T. Mullen discovered this collection in a barn formerly owned by H. T. Mullen & Annie Laurie Mullen, ca. 2005.
Benjamin Jones (ca. 1757-1806), William Aitchison (1755-1804) and Thomas Harvey, were three of the five directors of the Dismal Swamp Canal Company which had been established to dig a canal between Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. The company was named for the vast swamp along the Virginia – North Carolina border which the canal had to cross. Together, the three men established a partnership to own and operate a general store, in South Mills, NC, which provided sundries, provisions, livestock, spirits, and tools to local residents and to workers on the lower canal. The store also milled lumber brought out of the swamp, and sold boards, flats, and shingles. The majority of the transactions consisted of barter between the company and its customers. William Aitchison (1755-1804) was the son of a Loyalist during the American Revolution. He was involved in a mercantile company in Virginia with James Parker, 1763 – 1804.
William Bagley (1824 - 1875) a farmer and businessman, operated a general store in South Mills, NC and sold a variety of goods to the local residents.
Elizabeth “Bettie” Bagley (1861 - 1931) was the daughter of William Bagley (1824 - 1875), a farmer and businessman, and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth Old (1838 - 1868), of Mackey's Ferry Post Office, Plymouth, NC; she compiled her diary while living with her aunt Ms. I. A. Taylor in South Mills, NC and recorded her day-to-day activities, particularly gardening, sewing, and visitations, throughout the year of 1880 in the back of the Daybook she found.
Thomas Harvey was a Camden, NC landowner and partner with Benjamin Jones, Thomas Harvey, Enoch Sawyer, and Frederick Sawyer in a company authorized by the North Carolina Legislature, in 1804, “to cut a navigable canal, and make a road thereon, through the Great Dismal Swamp, from Dismal Swamp Canal, near the head of the woods in Camden county, to the White Oak Spring Marsh in Gates County, and to demand and receive toll thereon."
Benjamin Jones (ca. 1757-1806), was from Camden, NC. Extremely wealthy, he owned about 12,000 acres in North Carolina and at least 36 slaves (six more than the next largest slave owner). He also was a very active business buying and selling land continually. He was also a partner with Nathaniel Allen in a mercantile business and possibly a store in River Bridge, NC. He also owned at least one smaller canal company and built mills to supply water for the canal. He was the only North Carolinian among the five directors.
Transportation between northeastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia was extremely difficult in the 17th and 18th centuries and greatly interefered with economic development of the region. The only routes were overland by primitive trails through the Dismal Swamp, or by a sailing ship from Albemarle Sound via Point Harbor and Currituck Sound North to Norfolk, Virginia; or from Albemarle Sound via a southern route into the Pamlico Sound to Virginia. These were both long, difficult, expensive and dangerous journeys.
In 1786, Virginia and North Carolina commissioners met to find a way to make transportation between the two areas easier, cheaper, safer, and quicker. Their ultimate proposal was to dig a canal connecting the north-flowing Elizabeth River in North Carolina to the south flowing Elizabeth River in Virginia. The federal government then authorized the Dismal Swamp Canal Company to sell shares to fund the building of the canal. Investors would share in the revenue generated by the tolls that would be paid by users of the canal. Among the early shareholders were James Madison, Benjamin Harrison, Patrick Henry, Thomas Nelson, and George Washington. Washington had surveyed and charted Lake Drummond in the center of the swamp and had owned a considerable expanse of the swamp since before the Revolution, when he had invested in a speculation company to drain and fell the timbers of the swamp. In 1790, a road was constructed along the course of the canal to assist in the transportation of workers and in 1793 construction of the canal began.
By 1805, the canal was navigable from Chesapeake Bay to Albemarle Sound and open to barge traffic. Over the next few decades, the company made continual improvements to the canal, including new feeder creeks and locks, until 1830. To spur completion of the improvements, the General Assembly of North Carolina, in 1827, transferred the ownership rights from Benjamin Jones, Thomas Harvey, Enoch Sawyer, and Frederick Sawyer to William McPherson (1824-1875), who was also the guardian of the heirs of Holloway Old (1785-1832?). At the completion of their improvements in 1830, the canal was 22 miles long. Initially 4 feet deep, the canal had been deepened to 6.5 feet to allow heavier boats and widened to 40 feet (by 1829) to allow two-way barge traffic. The rise of railroads in the 1830s and 1840s hurt the canal and reduced businesss. Eventually, the United States Government purchased the shares of the company and the Dismal Swamp Canal became a part of the Intercoastal Waterway. Today (2014) it is the oldest man-made waterway still in use in the United States.
Camden County, NCGenWeb:
Original Shareholders of the Dismal Swamp Canal:
Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center:
Camden & Gates County, NC - Great Dismal Swamp - Act for Canal, 1827: