Five Carteret County business leaders were selected in 1822 by the North Carolina General Assembly to raise private funds, in order to finance completion of the Clubfoot and Harlow’s Creek Canal Company.
Appointed as canal commissioners were heavy hitters Dr. John Manney, Col. Otway Burns, Joseph Borden and brothers Elijah Pigott II and Jechonias Pigott – all highly respected by the citizens of Beaufort and the surrounding area.
Their job was to oversee the task of finishing a canal project that was being dug laboriously with simple hand tools. The plan was to connect the Neuse River tributary of Clubfoot Creek to Harlow Creek. Harlow Creek flowed in the opposite direction into the Newport River.
Vessels could use the canal to proceed directly from New Bern to Beaufort, eliminating the need to sail all the way down the Neuse and into Pamlico Sound in order to access the Atlantic Ocean at Ocracoke.
The marketing strategy was to sell “canal stock” to New Bern businesses through a partnership with the original Bank of Newbern.
An editorial in Newbern’s newspaper in 1822 encouraged merchants to invest. The town and county “cannot grow and...cannot thrive for the want of a safe, expeditious and convenient navigation.”
“At Beaufort, there is an inlet from the ocean, wide, direct and having 18 feet of water, and a harbor perfectly safe....”
“The canal is but 10 miles from Beaufort and 27 from Newbern. Our merchants will no longer have to dread Ocracoke Bar and the Swash”...and other hazards occurring in the “present miserable navigation.”
John D. Whitford (1825-1910), a noted New Bern historian, once commented: “The appeal to the people had the desired effect, and the work on the canal thereafter was pushed with vigor.”
Academic historian Dr. David Cecelski remarked that canal diggers endured “working conditions nothing short of gruesome,” often encountering venomous snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, yellow flies and chiggers that “were tortuous.”
Yet, they persevered, and the canal was completed in 1827. It measured 4 feet deep, 14 feet wide at the bottom but flaring out to a width of 26 feet at the water surface. Straight as an arrow, the canal was more than 3 miles long.
Because the canal was so shallow, it could be only used by low-draft boats. Yet, there were high expectations for the nation’s first “metal-hulled steamboat,” the Codorus, to transport freight and passengers between New Bern and Beaufort.
Built on Codorus Creek in York, Pa., in 1825, she arrived on the scene in North Carolina in 1829.
The iron-clad vessel measured 60 feet long with a width of 16 feet and a draw of only 6 inches. Hence, it fit into the canal, but just barely. The Codorus was capable of transporting at least 70 passengers.
There are a lot of gaps to the story of the Codorus, but her agents were C. V. Swan in New Bern and Benjamin Leecraft Perry in Beaufort. “Perry was involved in coastal trading and was one of the wealthiest men in Beaufort before the Civil War,” according to Mary Warshaw of Beaufort, a popular local artist and historian.
The Codorus “was abandoned in the 1830s due to lack of patronage,” wrote the late F. Roy Johnson of Murfreesboro, a venerable newspaper publisher and author.
Another source commented: “The Clubfoot and Harlow’s Creek Canal attracted little attention from the state after 1830; interest in the project seemed to vanish.”
But the canal has not...thankfully.