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Lincoln the Troubleshooter

February 21, 2018

As rivers go the Sangamon is relatively shallow, and the Camron-Rutledge mill dam at New Salem was probably no higher than a yard fence.  When Lincoln’s flatboat got stuck on the mill dam, he needed to lift the stern so the boat could travel over the obstacle.  If he had stood on the stern and tried to push against the river bed with a setting pole, such an implement would probably have been long enough.  If he had tried to stand in the water and lift the boat, his head and shoulders might have been out of the water.  However, in either case brute force would have been insufficient.  While Lincoln was considering his options, the boat was gradually sinking as the stern took on water.

Fortunately, there was another boat available which was able to receive part of the cargo for safekeeping.  This stopped Lincoln’s boat from sinking.  But how was he going to get the water out of the hull, and how was he going to get the boat downstream?

Lincoln went into town and borrowed an auger.  With this he drilled a hole in the bow where it projected over the dam.  In order to raise the boat he moved the remaining cargo forward.  As the stern rose the water drained out of the hole.  Lincoln then plugged the hole and slid the boat over the dam.  Then he and the crew reloaded the cargo and continued their journey to New Orleans.

This operation took many hours, and the entire town had assembled on the shore.  When Lincoln returned from his trip downriver, the people of New Salem were happy to welcome into their community the resourceful young man who had saved the flatboat and its cargo.  For the next six years they would be graced by his presence.

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