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The Delaware: A Legend Lives On

For Immediate Release

May 15, 2001

(COCHECTON, Pa.) - Centuries ago, as many as 3,000 log rafts rode the spring freshets to markets along the lower Delaware River, where the vessels were disassembled and the pine and hemlock logs fashioned into spars and masts for the lordly ships of the British Main.

Daniel Skinner, according to local historians, was among the first loggers to make the trip. Sometime during the 1760s, he and two mates launched an 80-foot long raft of lashed logs from the Catskill Mountain settlement of Cochecton, Pennsylvania.

Shipbuilders offered up a rousing welcome when Skinner and one of the mates (the other drowned) came ashore in Philadelphia, some 200 miles downstream. Overjoyed with the fresh supply of timber, the shipbuilders honored Skinner with the title "Lord High Admiral of the Delaware."

For years Skinner had a lock on the title and the river's timber trade. He was a pioneer whose ingenuity changed the face of a major waterway. His river adventure had opened up a new trade route - the New World's woodlands now providing timber once harvested from fabled British forests felled by the axe of colonization.

The demand for timber continued after the Revolution. The wood was used to make furniture and in the hand-laying of large vessels. Stout logs became masts for warships like the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), built in Philadelphia's ship yards for the fledgling U.S. Navy. The valley's lumber carried sails through battles with Barbary pirates at Tripoli and in engagements against the British fleet during the War of 1812.

Skinner died in 1813. Almost 200 years would pass before his honorary title would be bestowed on a new generation of folks drawn to the river. In 1997, it and a modified version created to mesh with modern times, were bestowed on a handful of people who became the first "Lady and Lord High Admirals" of the Delaware River Sojourn, another river adventure.

It has since become a tradition of the sojourn that "High Admirals" are selected each year as tributes to those who have made outstanding contributions to protect the health of the longest un-dammed river east of the Mississippi, along with its tributaries.

This year's event, titled "Delaware River Sojourn 2001- a River Odyssey," runs from June 15-23. Its "High Admirals" are in the process of being selected.

Sojourn 2001 is an eight-day trip that will cover over 70 miles, combining canoeing, camping, and educational programs. It will begin at Hankins, N.Y., in the Catskill Mountains, and end on New Jersey's Maurice River, a Delaware Bay tributary.

Financial sponsors of this year's sojourn, the seventh, include the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, PPL, Princeton Hydro LLC, Rohm & Haas, and the William Penn Foundation.

To find out more about the event contact the Delaware River Greenway Partnership at 908-996-0230 or visit the DRBC's web site (www.drbc.net).

Sojourners travel in canoes and other non-motorized water craft guided by professional safety patrols. Paddlers traverse mostly placid water, interrupted by scattered riffles and relatively tame rapids on a waterway free of major obstructions.

Skinner and the other frontiersmen who challenged nature's whims in search of riches encountered a much different journey. Leslie Wood, in his classic "Rafting on the Delaware River," describes a leg of a logger's trip in which his craft encounters several fully loaded coal barges, a two-inch thick hawser stretched across the river, and just beyond that a seven-foot high dam with spring flood waters surging over its top:

"The forward end of the raft floated out a few feet in midair and then suddenly plunged down into the water below, the raft bending in the middle from the force of gravity on both ends, and the forward oarsmen, who sometimes stood two feet in water when the raft plunged, were hidden from the sight of those on the rear end. A tremendous pressure was exerted on all parts of the craft when going over the dam, the whole framework creaking and groaning like a huge monster in terrible agony."

It is no wonder then, given the circumstances, that at the end of each trip many raftsmen were known to help themselves to "an ivigorator from the whiskey jug."


Contact: Clarke Rupert, 609-883-9500 ext. 260