Tag Archives: national pike

Nemacolin’s Trail

The Old National Road is the gift that keeps on giving. This summer, Al and I realized that we’d given the Maryland section of the road short shrift, and we decided to return and do it justice.

Nemacolin

The section of National Road between Cumberland, MD, and Brownsville, PA, is also called Nemacolin’s Path or Nemacolin’s Trail. I was especially curious about Nemacolin’s contribution, because of my recent interest in the original natives of our area.

Nemacolin, of course, also has a very swanky resort in the Laurel Highlands named after him. He was born in 1715 near Brandywine Creek and a Swedish trading post that later became Fort Christina and, still later, Wilmington, Delaware.

His father was is variously named as either Checochinican or Leni Lenape, a chief of the Fish Clan of the Turtle tribe of the Delaware/Lenape nation.

The Delaware nation originally lived along the Delaware River in New Jersey. They spoke a form of Algonquin and were related to the Miami, Ottawa and Shawnee. The other Algonquin tribes called them “grandfathers” because they believed the Delaware were the most ancient Algonquin tribe. The tribe had moved west as the British encroached on New Jersey and Delaware.

By treaty with William Penn in 1726, the tribe ceded their land on both sides of the Brandywine. Thus, Nemacolin grew up near Shamokin, PA, in a village along the Susquehanna River. The Indians called Shamokin “Schahamokink” (“place of eels”). An Indian tribe called the Saponi had already settled there. The came from North Carolina or Virginia and spoke a Siouan language. Their name may have come from the Siouan word for black: “sapa”. Or it may have come from the name of a female goddess of their religion, Sepy. In the seventeenth century the English explorer John Lederer described them as “governed by an absolute Monarch; the People of a high stature, warlike and rich.”

Nemacolin and the National Road

Nemacolin and his family later moved south and west and lived for a while with the Cresap family. Thomas Cresap was born in 1702 in Skipton, Yorkshire. He later settled as a farmer and trader near Wills Creek in present-day Cumberland.

In 1750, Cresap was commissioned to improve the old Indian path through the Cumberland Narrows, across the Appalachian Mountains.

Cresap hired his friend Nemacolin and Nemacolin’s two sons to help with the stretch between Wills Creek and Redstone Creek (present-day Brownsville, PA). Christopher Gist oversaw their work, which crossed harsh, mountainous terrain.

Later during the French & Indian War, Gist led George Washington along the trail, which became part Braddock’s Trail, then Forbes Trail, and finally the National Road.  

Nemacolin lived to see the British increasingly encroach on his tribe’s land. The treaty of Easton in 1758 compelled the Delaware to move to the Ohio Territory. There, they fought with the Iroquois and were driven further west. Many lived along the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio, or along the Auglize River in the northwestern part of the state. Similar to Guyasuta’s Mingo, the Delaware tried to stay neutral in the American Revolution.

After the Revolution, the Delaware struggled against more white encroachment in the Ohio territory. They were part of the force defeated by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. They lost most of their land in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and the rest in 1829. Finally, they moved west of the Mississippi River.

Nemacolin eventually moved his tribe to a Shawnee town on Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River. The island sits on a stretch of the river between West Virginia and Ohio, along Route 50. Nemacolin died there in 1767.

Our Drive Along Nemacolin’s Trail: Cumberland

We began at the official start of the road in Cumberland. Cumberland, Maryland, is a small, pretty city with lots of nineteenth-century architecture and much of historical interest. The people there are very friendly and helpful. When we had trouble locating the site of the National Road’s start, we stopped at a museum to see if we could find information there. The museum was closed, but the County Comptroller’s Office next door was open. The clerk there directed us to the railroad station across the street and told us we could leave our car parked in her office’s free parking lot. At the railroad station, we met a very knowledgeable local who took the time to point us to abundant historical resources. Again and again in our travels, we find people who love their hometowns and are eager to share them.

In addition to the starting point of the National Pike, Cumberland was home to George Washington’s headquarters during the French & Indian War. The building still stands.

The town is also home to both the old C&O Canal and several Civil War sites. We vowed to return and explore those at a future date.

Our Drive Along Nemacolin’s Trail: LaVale Tollhouse and Casselman Bridge

Along the drive to from Cumberland to Brownsville, we also explored another toll house, the LaVale Tollhouse. It looked very much like the ones we’d seen last year. But each toll house is different in what it provides. This one had a very nicely reproduced interior (see photos below). And we learned that the toll collectors were paid $200 per year, in addition to their free lodging in the toll house. The collectors had to be alert, because many people tried to avoid paying the toll. We learned, too, that the LaVale Tollhouse collected almost $10,000 in tolls in its first year of operation.

We also discovered the magnificent Casselman River Bridge, now surrounded by a pretty Maryland state park. This stone arch bridge, dating to 1813, remained in use until the rerouting of Route 40 in 1933. When it was constructed, it was the largest single-span stone arch bridge in the United States. Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln all crossed this massive, well-maintained stone bridge.

Nemacolin’s Trail ends at Brownsville, which we had visited last year. The improvements to this old Indian Trail between Wills Creek and Redstone Creek mark the true birth of the National Road, sixty years before its official start.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemacolin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemacolin%27s_Path

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamokin,_Pennsylvania

https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/nemacolin-native-american-24-2z6gyhz

https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/nemacolin-native-american-24-2z6gyhz

https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Delaware_Indians

https://www.nps.gov/articles/a-long-legacy.htm#:~:text=In%20response%20to%20these%20tensions,expansion%20quickly%20nullified%20the%20agreement.

Our Nation’s First Infrastructure Project

We’ve finally completed the task we set for ourselves back in January. Al and I have now driven the whole National Road – our nation’s first infrastructure project – from Maryland to Illinois. We did it in bits over the course of the last eleven months, so that we could stop and absorb the history and culture, rather than driving right by it.

Our most recent drive took us from the West Virginia/Ohio border, through Ohio and Indiana, to Vandalia, the old Illinois state capital. Along the way, we sampled craft whiskey and Indiana’s state pie, got lost hunting for an original Macadam section of the road, visited a little-known Confederate cemetery in Ohio, and drove past miles and miles and miles of corn.

Ohio and Indiana treasure their old “pike towns.” Each state highlighted a particular aspect of life along the National Road, which I will feature in my next two blog posts. Illinois’ approach, sadly, seems to be to pretty much ignore the old road – other than its terminus in Vandalia.

Driving the length of the road was fun and enlightening. It gave us a deep respect for our nation’s first infrastructure project. And, similar to 21st-century infrastructure projects, we learned that the origin of the road was controversial and steeped in politics.

George Washington again

It seems that almost everything that happened in late-18th-century America starts with George Washington. And that is certainly true of the National Road. Washington was with the Braddock and Forbes expeditions when they hacked through densely forested mountains to create the first sections of what would later become the National Road.

Years later, as President, he was shaken by the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington worried that, as settlers progressed west, they would lose ties and loyalty to the new federal government.

He was especially concerned about Great Britain and Spain wooing the settlers’ allegiance. The solution, he suggested, was to build a road, to “open a wide door, and make a smooth way for the produce of that Country to pass to our Markets before the trade may get into another channel.”

At the same time, veterans of the Revolutionary War, who had been paid partially in land warrants, were clamoring for the government to open Ohio to settlement. And settlers already living in western Pennsylvania demanded a road to help them get their produce to market. The Whiskey Rebellion had been about precisely that issue. Whiskey was easier and more profitable than wheat to transport on abominable 18th-century paths through woods and over mountains.

Washington also had a personal financial interest in tying the west closely to the government in the east. He had invested heavily in land in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose in politics.

But Washington didn’t get his way immediately. There was, of course, controversy. This was America, after all.

Joe Biden: not the first guy to have trouble passing an infrastructure bill

The controversy outlasted both Washington’s and John Adams’ administrations, and continued into the Jefferson administration. Some members of Congress didn’t think the federal government had the constitutional authority to finance internal improvements.

This disagreement was one of the earliest examples of the big-government/small-government tension that still often paralyzes our government today. And, in an early example of practical and creative compromise, Albert Gallatin came up with a solution to the impasse.

Gallatin proposed that the new states and the federal government come to an agreement. The states would exempt from taxation for ten years the lands sold by Congress. In return, the proceeds from the land sales would be used to construct a road. In effect, the states, not the federal government, were financing the National Road.  The Senate passed the National Road bill on December 27, 1805.

But there was still more political controversy in the House of Representatives. Southern representatives opposed the bill because no part of the road passed through their states. Although the new road would pass through southwestern Pennsylvania, many Pennsylvania representatives were miffed that Philadelphia was left out. Despite these objections, the bill passed the House 66-50 on March 24, 1806.

Construction began in 1811. And – again, like so many modern projects – the cost of the road initially exceeded the original estimate of $6000 per mile. As the National Road was laboriously carved out of the hills and valleys of Appalachia, the cost soared to as high as $13,000 per mile. When the builders reached the plains of Ohio the cost per mile plummeted to $3400 per mile.

Finally! The road reaches Ohio!

But, before that could happen, more controversy had to be resolved.  By 1818, the road was complete to the Ohio river, the border between the current states of West Virginia and Ohio. But the question of federal authority over improvements arose again. President Madison vetoed Congress’ bill authorizing the Ohio section of the road, believing it to be unconstitutional.

Finally in 1824, President Monroe, convinced that internal improvements could be justified under the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution, signed a bill.

Congress made its last appropriation for the National Road in 1838. The total amount spent was just under seven million dollars. Such a small investment knit together a nation, bringing prosperity to millions of farmers, merchants and manufacturers along its route.

Those farmers, merchants and manufacturers will be the focus of my next two posts, about what we found and learned in Ohio and Indiana. Stay tuned!

In case you missed them, here are links to my previous posts about our drives along the National Road:

West Virginia

Far western Pennsylvania

Beallsville to Scenery Hill

Brownsville, PA

Fort Necessity & Braddock’s Road

Uniontown, PA

Searights Toll House

Addison & Somerfield

Sources

Schneider, Norris F, The National Road Main Street of America. (Columbus, OH: The Ohio Historical Society, 1975.

Newcott, William R., “America’s First Highway.” National Geographic, March 1998, pp. 83-99.

http://www.nationalroad.org/