Formation of the C&O Canal Company

After the war of 1812, America renewed its desire for economic growth and westward expansion. The first order of business was better internal transportation. Lack of navigation along the seacoast proved challenging for the U.S. Navy during the war, and Army had been held back as well.

A Leesburg, VA congressman named Charles Fenton Mercer assembled a group of Washington heavy hitters in 1823 to prepare a resolution for a continuous canal up the Potomac. President James Monroe was impressed with the plan and U.S. Engineers were asked to study the proposal.

The estimated price tag for the Canal was formidable–$22 million—which was unheard of for that time period. Canal lobbyists asked for another estimate by another group of engineers that reduced the estimate to $4.5 million (as far as Cumberland). Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania chartered the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company in 1828 to provide a direct water route between the Potomac and Ohio Valley.