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WHEN DID CONSTRUCTION ON THE CUMBERLAND ROAD BEGIN?

In researching the start of construction of the first ten miles of the Cumberland Road, I found a conflict in the contract dates stated by two fairly well-known historians of the Road. (Previous experience has shown that "facts", right or wrong, are sometimes perpetuated.)

A copy of the original Cumberland Road contract, awarded to Henry McKinley on May 8, 1811, and additional related information can be found at the bottom of this article. (Contracts to clear vegetation and timber from the proposed roadway were let in 1808.¹)

The following quote from American State Papers - Miscellaneous State Papers, Vol. II (p. 175)  contains the essence of the contract:

Now, this agreement made and concluded on the 8th day of May, 1811, between the said Henry McKinley, of the one part, and Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, in behalf of the United States...that the said... Henry McKinley will... in a workmanlike manner, on or before the 1st day of August, 1812, make, finish and complete... all that part of the road... which is designated by the name of the "first section" beginning at Cumberland, in Maryland, and ending at a place on said road two miles and forty-six perches distant from said Cumberland.

While the contract doesn't indicate the actual day McKinley started construction, it does give us an approximation.

When trying to determine the date construction started, we again find conflict. At least two dates have been cited as the start date of construction, June 11, 1811 and Nov. 20, 1811. I have yet to find definitive proof to support either date.

Common sense would dictate the commonly held Nov. 20 date to be wrong. Winters in Western Maryland can be harsh. The notion McKinley would allow the summer and fall months to pass and wait until the onset of winter to start construction, work involving manual ground preparation and the sizing of rock, seems dubious.

Further diminishing the likelihood of the latter date, David Shriver, Supt. of the Road, noted in his report to Congress, Jan. 14, 1812:

"The leveling and shaping the bed of the road is complete (with a few exceptions) for about five miles; the stone for the pavement laid on a greater part thereof, and about four miles broken so as to be nearly complete. Such being the present state of the work, the probability is that the ten miles will be completed within the time limited by contract, (the 1st of August next.)"

In accepting the Nov. 20 date, one would have to assume the work note above was done in less than two months... During the winter.

Until definitive proof can be found, the acutal start date, in my opinion, remains up in the air.

~ Steve

Footnotes:

¹ The contracts to clear vegetation and timber from the proposed roadway are noted in the Report of the (Cumberland Road) Commissioners, January 15, 1808:

The contracts authorized by and which have been taken under the superintendence of the commissioner, Thomas Moore... will show what has been undertaken relative to clearing the timber and brush from part of the breath of the road. The performance of these contracts was in such forwardness on the 1st instant as leaves no doubt of their being completely fulfilled by the first of March.

List of Cumberland Road Contractors and award dates. (PDF)



Text of Original Contract With Henry McKinley and Supporting Documents

12th Congress - 1st Session - No. 311.
CUMBERLAND ROAD.
Communicated to Congress, February 3, 1812.

February 1,1812.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

I lay before Congress a report of the Secretary-of the Treasury, containing a statement of proceedings under the "act to regulate the laying out and making a road from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland, to the State of Ohio."

JAMES MADISON.

- - - - - - - -

Treasury Department, January 25,1812.

Sir:

In conformity with the provisions of the act " to regulate the laying out and making a road from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland, to the State of Ohio," several proposals were received, and contracts entered into for making the first ten miles of the road with the following persons, via:

  Miles Perches (Cost per perch) (Total)
McKinley, 2 246 $21.25 $18,827 .25
Randle, 2 8 $14.50 $9,396.00
Cochran 2 131 $22.50 $17,347.50
Cochran, 2 255 $16.50 $14,767.50
(Total)       $60,338.25

- - - - - - - -

A copy of one of the contracts (A) is herewith enclosed which will show, in detail, the terms, the obligations entered into by the contractors, and the manner in which the road is to be made.

In those contracts the bridges are not included, and all the smaller ones have been contracted for at the rate of $1.50 to $2 per perch of mason's work. This, together with contingent allowances, some additional work which could not be embraced in the contracts, and the annual salary of $1,800 allowed to Mr. David Shriver, Jr., who superintends the whole, will, it is believed, make the entire cost of those ten miles seventy-five to eighty thousand dollars.

It appears, by Mr. Shriver's report, which, together with an extract of his letter of same date, is herewith enclosed, (B,) that it is probable that these ten miles will be completed by the 1st day of August next, according to contract.

The sum appropriated for making the road amounts, after defraying the expenses of surveying, and laying out the same, to $125,477.51, and there will, therefore, remain, after paying the whole expense of finishing the first ten miles, an unexpended balance of about $50,000 applicable to the prosecution of the work. This, supposing the expense to be at the same rate, would be sufficient to complete near seven miles more.

Mr. Shriver suggests that it would be desirable that contracts might be made, and the road be completed for eleven miles instead of seven. This would reach as far as Tomlinson's, twenty-one miles from Cumberland, where the old and new roads meet, and render the whole work done useful even if it proceeded no further. For effecting that object a further appropriation of about $30,000 would be necessary.

Another observation of the superintendent, which deserves particular attention, relates to the necessity of levying tolls sufficient to keep the road in repair: but this can be done only under the authority of the State of Maryland.

From the nature of the contracts, and from the manner in which the work has been executed, it will, it is believed, satisfactorily appear that the chain of mountains, which divides the Atlantic from the Western States, offers no real impediment to an easy communication,' and that roads may generally be made as perfect, as convenient, and on the same terms, across those mountains, as in any other part of the Union.

I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, sir, your most obedient servant,

ALBERT GALLATIN.

- - - - - - - -

To the President of the United States.

A.

Articles of agreement made and concluded on the eighth day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eleven,-between Henry McKinley, of Maryland, of the one part, and Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, in behalf of the United States, on the other part.

Whereas, the said Henry McKinley has agreed for, and in consideration of, the payments hereinafter mentioned, to make and complete in a workmanlike manner a certain part of the road leading from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland, to Brownsville, in the State of Pennsylvania, as the same has been laid out and confirmed, in pursuance of the act entitled "An act to regulate the laying out, and making a road from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland, to the State of Ohio," and of the act entitled "An act in addition to the act, to regulate the laying out and making a road from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland to the State of Ohio," which part of the road thus contracted for by the said Henry McKinley, and hereinafter described, is to be made and completed by the said Henry McKinley, in the following manner, and on the following conditions, that is to say: The trees to be cut down and cleared the whole width of sixty-six feet, according to the fourth section of the act above mentioned; the slumps to be grubbed, and the bed of the road to be leveled thirty feet in width; the hills to be cut down, the earth, rocks, and stones, to be removed, the hollows and valleys, and the abutments of all the bridges and culverts, to be filled, so that the whole of the road on the aforesaid width of thirty feet, to be reduced in such manner, that there shall not in any instance be an elevation in said road when finished, greater than an angle of five degrees with the horizon, nor greater than the gradation fixed by the commissioners who laid out the road, and so that the surface of the said road shall be exactly adapted to the marks or stakes, made or to be made, by the person appointed superintendent for the said road by the President of the United States. Where the earth is to be raised, the sides are to slope at an angle not exceeding thirty degrees, the base or bottom part thereof to be of such width as to secure to the road a complete surface of thirty feet in width; a proper allowance to be made for the settling of made earth, according to the directions of the superintendent; and no stumps, logs, or wood of any kind, to be permitted in the filling. In all situations on sides of hills or otherwise, where it may be necessary to fill, but where the nature of the ground will not, in the superintendent's opinion, admit filling with such slope as above mentioned, and where side walls will be built at the expense of the United Stales, the contractor is to fill four additional foot in breadth, so as to give thirty-four feet surface to the road. Where the hills are cut through, or the road dug along the side of a hill, the bank or banks to be cut of such slope as will be necessary to prevent the earth from falling or slipping in upon the said surface of thirty feet. But in those places where, from the steep ascent of the side of the hill, to cut with such slope would be impracticable, and where the superintendent may cause side walls to be built to support the bank at the expense of the United States, the bank may, with his permission, be cut perpendicular or with a greater angle. The superfluous earth to be removed to the next filling, and there spread, so as to increase the breadth of the road equally on each side, from the commencement of the filling to the end of it, unless otherwise permitted or directed by the superintendent. What may be deficient, in order to fill the hollows, to be dug out of the aforesaid thirty feet, or from the banks in such a way as to increase the width of the road equally through the nearest culling, unless otherwise permitted or directed by the superintendent. Nor in any instance, the earth to be dug without such permission or direction, more than one foot below the surface of the pavement, within the aforesaid breadth of sixty-six feet. A ditch or water course to be left or made on each side of the said surface of thirty feet, and contiguous thereto; but where the road is dug along the side of a hill, having an ascent exceeding thirty degrees, the ditch along the side of the hill may be dug within the width of the thirty feet, so that the surface of the road, including the said ditch, shall, in such cases, bo only thirty feet in breadth. The ditches are in every instance to be of such breadth and depth as the superintendent shall direct, and valleys or sewers above the surface of the ground, necessary to give vent to the waters on the side of the hills, to be made in all parts where, and in such manner, as shall be designated by the superintendent. The road to be covered twenty feet in width, with stone eighteen inches in depth in the middle, and diminishing to twelve inches at the sides; the upper six inches thereof, to be broken to such a size that each particle thereof will pass through a ring of three inches in diameter, and the remaining or lower stratum to be broken so as to pass through a seven inch ring. No stones to be used for said pavement but such as may be approved of; provided, they are within one mile on an average, from the part of the road where they may be wanting, and particular pains to be taken to select the best for the upper six inches. In all cases, where bridges or culverts arc built, the pavement to extend twelve inches deep from the extremity of the aforesaid breadth of twenty feet to each side wall, the whole length of said walls; for which additional pavement the contractor shall, in addition to the price stipulated in the articles of agreement, hereto annexed, receive an allowance at the rate of one dollar for every fifty superficial square feet of such additional pavement. The whole of the said artificial stratum of broken stones to be made in a compact manner, and to be supported on each side by good and solid shoulders, and its surface to be formed as smooth and even as may be, and of such convexity as the superintendent may direct. Each grade of the road to be perfectly levelled, brought to the proper degree, and approved, before any stones are put on the same; and the lower stratum of stone passing through a seven inch ring, is then to be put on, leveled and approved, before the upper stratum of stones, passing through a three inch ring, is put on. In every instance the contractor to find, at his own expense, the stones wanted for the pavement, and for his work on the road, but to be allowed, in addition to the price stipulated as hereinafter stated in the articles of agreement, at the rate of half a dollar for each perch in length of the road, where he shall be obliged to pay the owners of the adjacent farms for such stones. The side roads, on each side of the pavement, to be dug as low and deep in the cut parts of the road, and particularly through the. rock, as the superintendent may direct; and the filling of such side roads, where the same is necessary, to be raised as high as may be directed by the superintendent. No contractor is to interfere with the stones of the contractors for adjacent sections of the road; for which purpose a line at right angles with the road, at the end of each section, will be considered as dividing the right to stones by. each contractor, unless otherwise directed by the superintendent on account of a want of stones within the limits of any one section. Masons, or other persons, who may contract with the United Stales for the building of bridges, culverts, walls, or any other species of mason's work on the road, to be permitted by (he contractor to take and select such stones, within his division, as such mason or other person may think proper, and to haul the same along the parts of the road levelled by the contractor, or elsewhere, to the place where such stones may be wanted, without any interruption. Wherever the new road meets with or runs along the course of any other road heretofore used, a sufficient width of road to be kept open for wagons and all kinds of carriages, to pass and repass without delay or interruption, whilst the new road is making. The contractor shall not in any instance let or transfer his contract, or any part thereof, to any other person without the superintendent's consent; and in every instance, where such sub-contract may be made, the price per perch to be allowed to such sub-contractor shall be fixed, with the said superintendent's approbation, and shall be paid by him to such sub-contractor, out of the first moneys which may become due to the principal contractor, according to the provisions for payment stipulated in the articles of agreement. The contractor shall not employ any workmen or laborers, who.commit depredations in the neighborhood, or insult the travellers; and he shall, on the application of the superintendent, immediately discharge any workman or laborer in his employ. The contractor shall commence working on his station at the end nearest to Cumberland, unless a deviation in that respect be assented to by the superintendent.

Now, this agreement made and concluded on the 8th day of May, 1811, between the said Henry McKinley, of the one part, and Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, in behalf of the United States, of the other part, witnessed, that the said Henry McKinley, for his heirs, executors, and administrators, does hereby covenant, promise, and agree with the said Albert Gallatin as aforesaid, that he, the said Henry McKinley, shall and will, well and faithfully, and in a workmanlike manner, on or before the 1st day of August, 1812, make, finish, and complete in the manner, and on the conditions herein before mentioned, all that part of the road above mentioned, which is designated by the name of the "first section", beginning at Cumberland, in Maryland, and ending at a place on said road two miles and two hundred and forty-six perches distant from said Cumberland. In consideration whereof, the said Albert Gallatin, for and in behalf of the United States as aforesaid, doth hereby covenant, promise, and agree, to and with the said Henry McKinley, his executors, and administrators, that the said United Stales shall and will, for doing and performing the work aforesaid, well and truly pay, or cause to be paid, to the said "Henry McKinley, his executors, or administrators, at the rate of twenty-one dollars and twenty-five cents for each and every perch in length of said road in the following manner, viz: when forty perches in length of said road are finished, and approved by the superintendent, the United States will pay to the said Henry McKinley, for twenty perches; and after that, they will pay him on the completion of every twenty perches for the said twenty perches; at all times reserving the amount due for the first twenty perches, until the whole of the section hereby contracted for shall have been finished and completed to the satisfaction of the superintendent, agreeably to contract, when the balance due shall be paid to the said Henry McKinley. And the said Henry McKinley, for himself, his heirs, executors, and administrators, further covenant and agree with the said Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, for and in behalf of the United States, that, in case the said Henry McKinley shall not well and truly, from time to time, comply with and perform all the covenants and conditions hereinbefore slated and stipulated on his part to be done, performed, and complied with, in the manner and form, and within the time hereinbefore mentioned; or, in case it should appear to the Secretary of the Treasury, for the time being, or to the superintendent of the road for the United States, that the work does not progress, and go on with sufficient speed, so as to be finished and completed in the time herein specified, that then the foregoing agreements on the part of the United States, and every part thereof, shall become null and void; and the United States shall be at liberty, and have full right and authority, any thing herein to the contrary notwithstanding, to employ and set to work, or to contract with any person or persons whomsoever, in the place and stead of the said Henry McKinley, and without any interruption or interference whatsoever from him, the said Henry McKinley, his executors, or administrators.

In witness whereof, the said Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, in behalf of the United States, hath hereunto subscribed his name, and affixed the seal of the Treasury; and the said Henry McKinley has hereunto set his hand and seal, the day and year first before mentioned.

ALBERT GALLATIN, Secretary of the Treasury,
HENRY McKINLEY.
Signed, sealed, and delivered, in the presence of
George Bruce,
John Rive,
M. Wallace.
Approved:
JAMES MADISON.

- - - - - - - -

Extract of a letter from David Shriver, Jun., to the Secretary of the Treasury, dated
Westminster, January 14,1812.

I hope the enclosed report will be found such as was required. Should any part be found improper, I will thank you to return it to me, at this place, with your remarks; or should it be thought best that I should again attend at the city, you will please direct me: my reason for pointing out the probable cost of the ten miles is, that Congress might know what sum would complete the road to any particular point.

The small sum wanting, in addition to the balance that will remain unexpended, to enable them to make the road across Meadow mountain to Tomlinson's, (which would be eleven miles in addition,) Congress ought to give. The road then would be very beneficial to the public; whereas, if we stop at the end of seventeen or eighteen miles, it will be of little or no service, ending in a wilderness instead of a settlement, and in a tolerable level country, where persons from various points might travel to it. This small sum would likewise enable us to keep the hands, now on the work, in employ; a great number of them have families, and have moved on the work at considerable expense, which has, in a number of instances, been paid by the contractors, and the poor people, yet indebted some of them considerably, should they be obliged to leave the work, it would, in my opinion, be difficult to gather them again.

The Legislature of this State has passed a law to establish a bank at Cumberland. The stock is to be subscribed on the 1st of April next. This bank will remove one difficulty, which has always been an important one with me.

I shall leave this place for the road as soon as there is any prospect of being able to go on with the work.

- - - - - - - -

January 14,1812.

Sir:

It being required by law that a statement should be submitted to Congress at each session, I have considered it my duly to give a concise view of the progress and present state of the Western road under my superintendence, with such additional observations as arose out of the subject.

The leveling and shaping the bed of the road is complete (with a few exceptions) for about five miles; the stone for the pavement laid on a greater part thereof, and about four miles broken so as to be nearly complete. Such being the present state of the work, the probability is that the ten miles will be completed within the time limited by contract, (the 1st of August next.)

The expense of mason-work, bridging, lime, &c., cannot at present be exactly ascertained, but is expected, when added to the contracts, will make the entire cost of these ten miles about $75,000.

Should it be finally determined to roll the road, and gravel or sand it, the cost will be, in addition to the above amount, rolling about thirty dollars per mile, gravelling or sanding (where either of those articles can be conveniently had) about one dollar per perch in length of the road.

The whole of my attention being absolutely required on the work in hand, I have not been enabled to acquire sufficient information of the next ten miles so as to speak with precision, but have viewed the location, and made such an estimate as circumstances would admit, by which it appears that the expense will be nearly the same.

No alteration or addition to the law has suggested itself, as absolutely necessary, except some provision for keeping the road in repair, after it shall be received from the contractors; for, on turnpikes which pass over a more level surface, that have time to settle and become firm, and on which constant repairs are made, it has, notwithstanding, been found difficult, at certain seasons of the year, to keep them in good order. The present road passing over ground so broken, subject to the wash of large quantities of water discharged from steep valleys adjoining, as well as the operations of the seasons upon it in its green and unsettled state, and the great use which, from its local situation, will immediately be made of it, will, when taken into view together, present to the mind the state in which it will very soon be, if left to the free and unrestrained use of all, without attention and without repair.

I would respectfully suggest the propriety of demanding such a toll as wilt be sufficient to keep it in good and perfect order.

I am, &c.

DAVID SHRIVER, Jun.

The Hon. Albert Gallatin,
Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

[Note.—See report No. 317.]

~ Steve Colby




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