Cotton to Charleston

Augusta existed to collect cotton, and get the cotton to a seaport. The most available seaport for Augusta was Savannah, 231 river miles away. Hamburg existed to collect cotton, Augusta’s cotton if possible, and get the cotton to a South Carolina seaport. That was Hamburg’s drumbeat, to keep South Carolina commerce at home, which was part of the deal for support from the state legislature. So Hamburg boats routinely sailed right past Savannah, and beat their way another 101 miles behind the sea islands to Charleston.


Steamboat and Rail routes from Hamburg to Savannah. The sea islands route from Savannah to Charleston is only my guess. From 1833 Tanner Map of SC, Library of Congress rr002990

Shultz didn’t seem to be bothered by the longer carry, which obviously was a lot of extra cost that undermined Hamburg’s faster-better-cheaper business plan. He personally rode the first few steamboat runs, flogging them hard to prove that the extra lap to Charleston was no big deal. Later, whenever Hamburg business flagged, Shultz avoided pointing a finger at the added distance, but instead complained that Charleston merchants were taking advantage of Hamburg’s captive position. To him any possible disadvantage was not due to geography, but to greed on the part of those who should have been supporters.

In 1827 the agreed commitment to Charleston lapsed. In an elaborate ceremony, Hamburg ‘declared independence’. After many years of beating the South Carolina drum, Hamburg freed itself to carry wherever it wanted, which of course was Savannah. A narrow and restricting public interest was sacrificed for the good of the enterprise, a recurring theme well noted in Tom Downey’s Planting a Capitalist South.

Surely not by coincidence, a Charleston to Hamburg railroad was first suggested in the same year, and despite its technical novelty and breathtaking cost, quickly became a fixed objective by that city. Shultz did not stand in its way, and donated a town lot for the depot. But he questioned how the railroad could prosper as steamboats already stood by for the same cargo, and pointed out that the railroad would renew Hamburg’s captivity to Charleston.

An 1834 editorial in the newly-founded Hamburg Galaxy struck home by pointing to a crucial benefit. A fast railroad passage meant quick return on investment, increasing the number of possible trades during a busy harvest season – a nice illustration of the velocity of money.

“Our merchants,… are sending their cotton off by the Rail Road, and in a few hours it is sold in Charleston; and in a little while after they receive their money, in order to pay cash for more cotton, &c…. Business seems to be going on in a “perpetual motion” fashion…”

That same issue went on to print a complaint from Shultz.

“NOTICE. – Having noticed in several papers, a prospectus for a paper to be published in the town of Hamburg, and finding it my (!) duty to inform the public, that the intended Editor is an entire stranger to myself (!!) and to this community, and the publication of the intended paper does not meet the approbation of myself (!!!) and many of the citizens of Hamburg, with a few exceptions only, and recently several subscribers have withdrawn their names, it will, therefore, not be considered a paper of this place, and has no connexion with the town whatever.
Founder and Proprietor(!!!!) of the town of Hamburg.

I will leave it to you whether the Galaxy’s pro-railroad philosophy may have had anything to do with Shultz’s curse.

Here’s a link to the awesome Tanner transportation map.

Steamboat distances

Steamboat distances from the 1833 Tanner map. Miles along the Savannah River are about double the straight line distance.



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