The only drawbridge in the colonies

Janet Schaw’s Journal of a Lady of Quality is a rich source of information about North Carolina just prior to the Revolution. Schaw had set out from Edinburgh in 1774 with her brother and the children of another brother in North Carolina to whom she was delivering them. A description of her sea voyage on a ship that she calls her “little wooden kingdom” appeared in this post, and her encounter with an alligator was described here, and her description of local inhabitants here. Below Schaw describes a trip from Wilmington, North Carolina, on a road that crosses a river on a drawbridge.

The road begins at Wilmington and goes clear across the country to Virginia on one side and South Carolina on the other, and as its course lies across the river, it is crossed by a bridge, which tho’ built of timber is truly a noble one, broader than that over the Tay at Perth. It opens at the middle to both sides and rises by pullies, so as to suffer ships to pass under it. The road is sufficiently broad to allow fifty men to march abreast, and the woods much thinner of trees that anywhere I have seen them. The pasture under these trees is far from bad, tho’ the hot season has parched it a good deal. Off from this wood lie many plantations, which however are hid amongst the trees from the view of the road, and not easy of access from it. Point Pleasant lies about four miles off from it—part of the way is thro’ the woods, where the path is devious and uncertain to those that are unacquainted with it. About a mile or little more from Point Pleasant, begins a most dismal swamp thro’ the middle of which there is a road made with infinite labour, raised on piles covered with branches, and over all sods; and it is by no means comfortable to drive a carriage over it, as the swamps on either hand appear unfathomable, and I would really believe them so, did not the noble Magnolias, the bays and a thousand Myrtles convince me it had a bottom from which they spring. (p202-203)

The bridge Schaw describes is thought to be the only drawbridge in the colonies. There had been a ferry over the river until 1766 when the owner of the land on both sides of the river, Captain Heron, was authorized to build a bridge. The ferry was discontinued and Heron was allowed to erect a gate and collect tolls.

Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the years 1774 to 1776, edited by Evangeline Walker Andrews, in collaboration with Charles McLean Andrews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921) pages 202-203. The Journal can be found online HERE.

posted July 28th, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: The South


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