Waters of Potowmack

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University of Virginia Press, 2002 - History - 246 pages

Waters of Potowmack is a documentary history of the Potomac River and its wide, fertile basin--the setting for much of early United States history. A collage of primary accounts, it extends from the first explorers and colonists, the building of the Capitol, and the incidents of the Civil War through our recent past.

Waters of Potowmack records the firsthand impressions of the settlers and surveyors of this river basin, an area that includes parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. In addition to offering an introduction to the geography, geology, and climate of the region, Metcalf's fascinating pastiche includes early descriptions of flora and fauna, and accounts of some of the earliest encounters between European settlers and indigenous peoples.

Here, too, are the voices of Washington and Jefferson, of Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln, as well as the lesser-known stories of revolutionaries, mercenaries, and canal and road builders. And from diary and journal entries we follow the correspondence between Washington, Jefferson, and L'Enfant as they lay out the new Federal City.

Selections from Civil War diaries focus on key battle sites, and primary accounts offer a new understanding of the motives of John Brown and John Wilkes Booth.

The last section of Metcalf's engrossing book looks at the ruinous pollution of the river basin after the Second World War, at the rioting and looting of the 1960s, and at the despoliation of a land that at the book's beginning was described as an Eden, a paradise on earth.

An evocative and moving book, this is a history of exploring, settling, rebelling, governing, rioting, building, and cultivating, all on the "waters of Potowmack."



Discovery and Indians
Upriver Settlement
Nineteen Sixties

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About the author (2002)

Poet and author Paul Metcalf, the great-grandson of Herman Melville and a student of Conrad Aiken and Charles Olson, was the celebrated author of more than twenty books, including Apache, Patagonia, and >The Middle Passage. Metcalf died in January 1999 at the age of eighty-one. John Casey is the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia and won the National Book Award for his novel Spartina.

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