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In the Founders’ footsteps

November 4, 2012 · 1 minute read

Running the New River gorge.

In September of 1812, 56-year-old John Marshall, the sitting Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a few other old timey dudes embarked on a batteau journey upstream on the James River from Lynchburg “to discern the feasibility of navigational improvements between Lynchburg and the Great Falls of the Kanawah. A reliable commercial route to the Kanawah would open trade with the Ohio River Valley and ultimately access to the Mississippi.”

Thinking about the undertaking today, it occurs to me how badass it was on so many levels. 1) The guy was the chief justice of the Supreme Court. He didn’t farm this out to an intern. 2) He turned 57 on the trip. In 1812 that must have been close to life expectancy. 3) Once they reached Covington on the Jackson River, they hitched their batteau to some draft horses and guided it over the Alleghenies to the Greenbrier River, where they headed downstream to the New River. That sounds epically brutal to me. 4) They ran the New River gorge in a wooden boat that was approximately 40+ feet long. If you’ve rafted the gorge you know how insane this is.

Anyway, it appears Virginia is still churning out badasses. This past spring a crew of paddlers from Richmond and Lynchburg celebrated the 200th Anniversary of Marshall’s voyage by recreating it. They built a batteau and did what Marshall did. I wrote about it in my column in today’s T-D. And if you want to know more, there’s a documentary on it playing in Lynchburg this coming weekend. Click here for the Facebook page.