Why the James is Important
"For 343 miles, the James River sweeps across the state of Virginia, connecting the Allegheny Mountains with the Chesapeake Bay. It is a massive watershed, a vital source of drinking water, a habitat for key aquatic species, and an important source of recreation. The most well-known section of the James may be the park and play whitewater paradise through downtown Richmond, but in the mountains of Western Virginia, near the headwaters, the James is a remote, pristine paddling experience highlighted by unrivaled scenery and calm class I waters". — Graham Averill, blueridgeoutdoors.com
These are exerts taken from River Times, copyright 1987, Mathematics and Science Center
Belle Isle was used by the Powhatans for seasonal fishing and would come annually to net, lasso, and spear sturgeon and other fish. It is said that as a right of manhood, young Powhatan boys would jump on the back of an 8 or 9 foot long sturgeon, jam their hands into its gill slits, and hang on for an exciting ride through the rapids.
Early settlers of the New World secured large tracts of land stretching along the fertile soils close to the James River . The larger farms were called plantations and their owners were called planters. The most typical crop on these tracts was tobacco. Most plantations were build along the tidewater portions of the rivers so the tobacco and other crops could easily be loaded onto ships and transported to England. The ships later returned from England with goods such as cloth and furniture, using the river as the highways of the day..
One of the wealthy planters in early Virginia was William Byrd II who inherited 25,000 acres along the James River. He was the builder of Westover plantation and wrote a book called the Natural History of Virginia. The book gives testimony that the river was crucial to the lives of early Virginians and greatly contributed to the wealth of those with access to it.
Flowerdew Hundred plantation was (the) sight of the first windmill in the New World.
In the mid and late 1700s, more people began to settle in the western part of VA. Roads were either non-existent or impassable much of the year due to mud and deep ruts, so the river was the best method of travel and transportation of goods. The General Assembly mandated public toll ferries along the river to promote unity among various parts of the colony. By 1700, there were 51 public ferries on the James River and its tributaries.
Tredegar Rolling Mill, later becoming Tredegar Iron Works, was established in 1836. The mill took advantage of the free flow of water to power their machines. It was one of the largest and most successful iron mills in the nation and became critical to the Southern war effort during the Civil War. During the War, Tredegar produced 1,160 cannon balls and 90% of all cannon balls and shot for the Confederacy. According to a former Tredegar president, the mill was the main reason that Richmond became the capital of the confederacy and was then the primary reason Grant wanted to capture Richmond. Even after the Civil War, Tredegar continued to produce war materials and provided defense products for the Spanish/American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War.
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