Detailed description of bottom of the mouth of the Suwanee River

Date Written

Jan. 15, 1840

Forbes Britton was 28 years old when this was written.
The recipient, Nathaniel Lynde Griswold, was 38 when it was received.

Forbes Britton died 21 years, 30 days after writing this.
It was written 183 years, 8 months, 20 days ago.
It was a Wednesday.

Fort Fanning
January 15, 1840


A recent letter from Seargt Triplen of the U. S. Army informed me that you was anxious to gain information in relation to the channel at the mouth of the river.

I am now stationed about 40 miles above the mouth area of the Suwanee. I was one of the officers who established this summer the present entrance into the River and Gulph.

Where you first leave the deep water of the Gulph & turn to enter the channel, you have about two fathom of water and for two miles & ½ wide enough for sail vessels to “beat up”. On the larboard & starboard sides extensive bars of shell & sand which alternates with intermissions, all along the coast, hence then you arrive at the “anchorage ground” for sail vessels; being perfectly protected from the break of the Gulph & water sufficient rise and flow of tide, hence the new channel turns a little south of east and in turning from the old passes over a point of a bar composed of sand & bunches of Raccoon oysters are for about 50 yards across this last place, at low tide, the water is about 4 ½ feet. After passing this the channel deepens to 8 or 12 feet for about one mile & a half and direction about east (this deep water is a trough, behind the outer or great Bar & extends for about 6 or 8 miles southeast) here again the water shallows to 6 or 8 feet for 10 or twelve yards & you pass into a second trough & across this about a mile is about 8 feet. The bottom this formed is sand and shell. From the inner edge of this second trough the water gradually shoals from 6 feet, 5 feet, 4 ½, 4, & 3 ½. The channel is narrow & somewhat winding, until you have passed over, in a straight line, I should think about a quarter & a half quarter of a mile and then you enter the southern mouth of the river where you have from 2 to 4 fathoms water.

From the inner edge of the second trough, the bottom is composed, at first of sand & black mud, and as you progress to the shallowest place, entirely of soft black mud.

As to the practicability of its being scooped out for fair navigation, I, have never since my having examined it doubted for a moment: But since receiving the letter that you wished information upon it, I have conversed with men who have had experience in such work and they have the same opinion. Learning you had a new invention which you wished to try here. I have made inquiry to give you a basis, or by comparison with other works. The probability of yours answering the desired end and I have learnt that a schooner called the Denny McCobb, commanded by Capt. Patterson was fitted out for a work of similar kind, left New York about the 7th of June 1832 for the Rio Grande, contractors of the work, I think, Carrol & Forbes: that ever this schooner would be able to clear out a channel like this. I got this information from a man who was on her & served with her during her stay at Rio Grande & he is now Capt. of a Gov’t. steamer running from this So. Tampa Bay.

If you know anything of this vessel & her powers, you can companions know if yours would answer. This same Capt. tells me, “it is as handsome a place for the work as ever he sees” sinking stakes, working scoops, etc., etc.

I have not given this solely upon my own opinions, fearing from my over strong belief in the matter, that I might be prejudiced therefore I consulted the opinions of others that you might the better judge.

If at any time you should want further information which is in my power to give it would afford me pleasure to forward your views.

My duties have frequently called me to the mouth and if again I will compare the old & new channel as to the probable difference of work though it strikes one the southern would be the easiest ad most suitable. I do not think the southern so reliable to reclose as the northern.

This work must at no very distant period be accomplished; the Suwanee is next to the St Johns the most important river in Florida, a fine cotton and sugar soil clothes its banks & “back country” to support it. From this place due east to the St. Johns (82 miles) is an open pine country and the whole difference of level does not exceed 180 feet & a railroad must in my opinion, one day join the two rivers. It is I understand in contemplation from all these advantages I am inclined to believe greater difficulties than clearing the mouth of this river would be overcome.

I am respectfully Sir Yours, etc.
F. Britton
Lieut. 7th U. S. Infantry

Scans of Letter