Rare Chesapeake & Ohio Canal map with interesting provenance

Lieut. Farley (surveyor) / William and D.R. Harrison (engraving and etching), Map of the country between Washington & Pittsburg refering to the contemplated Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and its General Route and Profile. October 1826, Georgetown, 1826.
Engraving and etching, 17"h x 25"w plus margins, outline color

Separately issued presentaion copy of a map showing the route of the proposed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, presented by General Simon Bernard to Mrs. Eliza Custis.

After the Revolutionary, George Washington was the chief advocate of using waterways to connect the Eastern Seaboard to the Great Lakes and Ohio River. He founded the Potowmack Company in 1785, in order to make navigability improvements to the Potomac River. The Company built a number of skirting canals around the major falls including the Patowmack Canal in Virginia. When completed, it allowed boats and rafts to float downstream towards Georgetown, though absent a lock system the upstream journey was far more challenging. The completion of the Erie Canal worried southern merchants that their business might be threatened by the Northern canal.

The earliest plans for a canal linking the Ohio and Chesapeake were drawn up as early as 1820. In 1824, the holdings of the Patowmack Company were ceded to the Chesapeake & Ohio Company. Benjamin Wright, who had served as Chief Engineer of the Erie Canal, was named Chief Engineer of this new effort, and construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 4, 1828, presided over by President John Quincy Adams. The available land along the Potomac River from Point of Rocks to Harpers Ferry caused a legal battle between the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1828. Following a Maryland state court battle involving Daniel Webster and Roger B. Taney, the companies later compromised to allow the sharing of the right of way.

The planned canal route to the Ohio River followed the North Branch of the Potomac west from Cumberland to the Savage River. Via the Savage, the canal route crossed the Eastern Continental Divide at the gap between the Savage and Backbone Mountains near where present day O’Brien Road intersects Maryland Route 495, then via the valley of present day Deep Creek Lake, along the Youghiogheny River and ultimately to Pittsburgh. While the Canal’s planning and backers were formidable, it was never completed. Despite the grandiose intentions and backing of important southern interests (including Washington’s heirs), the progress of the Canal lagged the construction of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The last 180 miles were never constructed and it quickly slipped into a secondary role and was ultimately abandoned by the early 20th Century.

The provenance of this example of the map is of tremendous interest. It originally bore the inscription (now all-but lost) of Baron Simon Bernard (1779 – 1839), presenting the map to Eliza Parke Custis, the eldest granddaughter of George and Martha Washington and daughter of Martha Dandridge Custis and Colonel George Washington. (An image of the original inscription will be provided on request.)

Bernard was a French general of engineers, having entered the French army in 1799. He rose rapidly, becoming a captain in 1800 and a major in 1809. After being involved in construction of the works to the Port of Antwerp, Bernard served (1809-1812) as an aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Promoted to colonel in 1813, he was wounded in the retreat after the battle of Leipzig and distinguished himself the same year (1813) in the defense of Torgau against the allies. After Napoleon’s first abdication, Bernard rallied to the Bourbons and was promoted to general de brigade by Louis XVIII of France and made a knight of Saint Louis. After Napoléon`s return from Elba, Bernard re-aligned with Napoleon and took part in the battle of Waterloo.

After Napoleon’s second abdication, Bernard was banished from France and after refusing an offer for employment from Czar Alexander I of Russia, Bernard emigrated to the United States. He was quickly made a brigadier-general of engineers and was responsible for a number of extensive military works for the government, including the fortifications at Fort Monroe (Virginia) and Fort Morgan (Alabama). Bernard also did a large amount of the civil engineering connected with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Delaware Breakwater.

Bernard returned to France after the July Revolution of 1830 and he was made a lieutenant-général by Louis Philippe I of France. He was named to the general committee on fortifications and he draftied the plans to improve the fortifications of Paris. He was made a peer of France in 1834. He served twice as minister of war.

OCLC # 32689905, giving nine examples held in American libraries.


Marginal tears repaired, lined. An inscription from General Bernard to Eliza Custis was unfortunately all-but lost in cleaning, and the traces are obscured by the lining tissue.