e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia has launched a special section honoring the bicentennial of the Marshall Expedition. The 1812 expedition, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, crossed the Allegheny Mountains and traveled by wooden boat down the Greenbrier and New rivers in what was then western Virginia. Their 227-mile, six-week journey two centuries ago helped lay the groundwork for the canals, roads, and railroads that would open up the west.
Marshall, surveyor Andrew Alexander, and others left Lynchburg on Sept. 1. They traveled by bateau, poling up the James and Jackson rivers to present Covington. From there they hauled the 60-foot wooden boat over the mountains to enter the Greenbrier River at present Caldwell, near Lewisburg. The Greenbrier was experiencing a serious drought, so travel was difficult. Eventually, the group reached the New River at present Hinton. Progress was far swifter on the New. Marshall’s party noted the velocity of the current, long rapids, and waterfalls along the river. They reached Kanawha Falls, at present Glen Ferris, on Oct. 9, 1812.
e-WV editors developed an interactive map of the expedition for the online encyclopedia using an electronic reproduction of the original map drawn by surveyor Andrew Alexander. It is enhanced with illustrations and text to provide details of the historic journey. Visit http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/pages/marshallexpeditionmap to view the re-creation of the expedition.
While the purpose was to explore the navigability of the rivers, the pioneering survey established the general route that would be followed by the James River & Kanawha Turnpike, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, and even Interstate 64. For many years, the cliffs at Hawks Nest were known as Marshall’s Pillars in honor of the trip. Marshall University in Huntington is named for John Marshall.
e-WV’s Marshall Expedition section also includes an extensive introduction and links to more information about the 1812 journey.
e-WV is a program of the West Virginia Humanities Council.