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The Trent River flows into the Bay of Quinte at Trenton, Ontario. It is a major river and below are records stating that a ferry service was in operation as early as 1794 and the first petiton for a ferry lease was in 1802. An early petition in 1801 for a bridge came to nothing and an active ferry service continued through to 1833 when a bridge was finally built. The petitions below for ferry leases and a bridge, are presented chronologically. They tell an interesting story.
Thanks to Peter Johnson for finding the 1801 and 1808 petitions and getting things rolling.
The old covered bridge was built in 1833. This is one of many postcard views of the landmark "old bridge" in its decaying days about 1910. It was replaced in 1916.
before the bridge was built, Thomas Burrowes painted a fine watercolour
titled the Ferry
at the Mouth of
the Trent of
the ferry docks on the west side of
the Trent River at Trenton. These docks and the inn were built by
either Adam Henry Meyers (1820) or John Murphy (1830) and are mentioned
in their petitions below.
The docks were located at the same spot
where all the bridges have been built. |
An image of Burrowes painting is mid way down this page at the Archives of Ontario web site. You must search the site to see a full screen image.
The Covered Bridge at Trenton, Gerald Boyce, Hastings County Historical Society, 1980 is a very informative 16 page booklet about the story of the covered bridge with maps and illustrations.
The accounts below include the source notes.
1. 1794 - FIRST FERRY ACROSS THE TRENT RIVER
In 1789, Judge James Smith Esq is granted 200 acres, lot 3, Con 2, Sidney with a promise of 500 more acres to come. James was named with Alexander Chisholm, Martin Fraleigh and John Ferrier as meriting 700 acres each. However James settles (squats) on the east shore at the mouth of the Trent River without title and later in 1795 his petition for title to this land is denied because the shore land is reserved for “works of defence”.
In May 1800, John Smith, son of James Smith, asks for permission to build a mill on land he has obtained from his father in Murray Township and he also petitions within the same month for 100 acres at Carrying Place. In 1802, this same John Smith states that he has been assisting travellers across the River Trent since 1794 and asks for a lease [for ferry rights] and if granted would build a boat. The Board asks for a character reference and Alexander Chisholm, a respected gentleman of the area, declares him “a very improper person, in my opinion, for the Business” and his petition is denied as he is “unworthy of this or any other Favor from the Crown.”
James Smith, date of location 12 Aug 1789, 200 acres, Lot 3, Con 2, Sydne
Land board directed to propose the balance to make up 700 acres in total.
Source: 20 Jan 1790, Quebec Land Book, 1787 - 1791, AO, C-100, pages 167, 169
Dec 1793 at Sidney, James Smith, having been in Upper
Canada since 1789, petitions for 700 acres on the north [sic] side of
Trent and which he previously took -
lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 and improved lot 2.
Source: UCLP, V448, S1/15, AO, C-2806, see also Land Book A, pages 148, 181
On 24 Apr 1795, DW Smith, act Surveyor General submits a report that states that James Smith's petition for 700 acres can’t be satisfied. It clarifies that the river runs north south and that James Smith has started to settle the east side. He writes that the lands "would materially interfere with the regularity of the Township of Murray, and that Mr Smith, some years ago, rec’d official information from Mr Chewett, as well as from Mr Aitken that all the space between the west boundary of the Township of Sidney and the east bank of the River Trent / on which he has settled / has been reserved by Mr Collins in the year 1787 for works of defence, etc."
Source: UCLP, S1/174, V448, AO, C-2806, see Land Book A, page 252
Rec'd 20 May 1800, John Smith, son of Judge James Smith, Esq, the Bay of Quinty, petitioner has a location for 200 acres prays may be allowed to locate on 100 acres at the Carrying Place at the head of the Bay of Quinty, will settle and improve the same. referred to His Excellency.
Source: UCLP, S5/144, 1799-1802, V452, AO, C-2808
Rec'd 26 May 1800, John Smith petitons for a lease. He has obtained from his father south and east half of lot 3, 2nd Con, Murray, wished to build a mill on lot and wishes to lease the remainder of said lot. - deferred. See petition of Wm Fairfield Jr, GW Meyers and Matthias Marsh.
Source: UCLP, S Leases/11, 1797-1809, V493, AO, C-2831
On 16 Dec 1802 at York, John Smith, Murray, yeoman, petitions that for the last eight years has assisted travellers over the mouth of the River Trent and for the four last years he has been upon his own land adjoining the passage, but not having a legal right he has been at no great expense, prays that he be granted a lease of the ferry, he will engage to build a proper craft for the accommodation of travellers under such regulations as Your Excellency may ???.
11 Sep 1803 to John Small Esq, ... respecting John Smiths Character as a person calculated to keep the ferry at the mouth of the River Trent. I can only say that he is a very improper person, in my opinion, for the Business. [signed] Alexr Chisholm
25 Oct 1803, Council Chamber, The Board ... the petitioner cannot be recommended to have the within prayer complied with the Board concerning him unworthy of this or any other Favor from the Crown. Entered in Land Book 5, page 303.
Source: UCLP, S6/53, 1802 -04, V453, AO, C-2809
25 Oct 1803, John Smith of Murray …. Unworthy of this or any other favour from the Crown. No 388, S53
Source: Land Books, land book E, p 303, AO, C-102
2. 1801 BRIDGE PROPOSED BY CAPT MATTHIAS MARSH
7 Feb 1801, Township of Sidney, Matthias Marsh petitions the Honourable John Helmsley "Having taken a view of the place proposed for building a Bridge across the River Trent and also considered the costs and expenses which I think will attend the same I have ventured to send forward the following proposals for the consideration of the Honorable Council -- First the bridge to be eighteen feet wide -- Second, to join the main banks with two good and substantial Stone Butments -- Third, to rest on four stone pillows at the distance of seventy five feet apart each from the other -- Fourth, the pillows to be built of stone and to be Twelve feet thick for the width of the bridge and to terminate thence with a sharp point of twelve feet in length against the stream which will make the pillows thirty feet in length-- Seath, the timber shall be oak and pine ....... the subscriber will obligate himself to compleat the same in the space or term of One year and a half ...... at the sum of One Thousand Six Hundred pounds Halifax Currency .... But should the Council think proper to build the Bridge twenty feet wide the expence will be one hundred and fifty pounds more ...... The subscriber always warranting the said bridge to remain and stand for the term of four or five years from the time he shall compleat the same (against the natural stream and its consequences) he would not be understood to be warranting the Bridge to withstand the force of large rafts that may be possibly brought against it. Only the River and what may naturally belong to it during the different seasons of the year as Ice, Driftwood, etc ....."
4 Feb 1801, Township Sidney, Henry Smith Prov Sur[veyor] "From the within Plan it will appear that the natural Course of the River bears nearly 16 o West at the place intended for bridging and the most convenient place is distinguished by the Line in the Plan marked (S 74o W 445 Feet) which is nearly at Right angles with the Course of the River, the mark (o) at the Angular points of the Plan shew nearly the distance from the Edge of the water to the heighth of the Bank, which is about thirty three feet, each side making Sixty Six feet in the whole which deducted from 445 leaves 379 feet for the natural Width or Course of the River. The Altitude or Steepness of the Banks being so great as will require the Bridge to be Fifteen feet high at least and Consequently the Bridge (including) main Butments and all will be nearly 445 feet in length. Surveyed [see his map] at the Request of Capt Matthias Marsh
[The Executive Council did not approve this proposal.]
Source: UCLP, 1792-1816, M Misc/67, V325, AO, C-2189.
See also: The bridge that would never be, Peter W. Johnson, The Trentonian, Aug. 19/1994.
3. 1805 SURVEY MENTIONING THE FERRY
25 Feb 1805, York, Surveyor General Office, a report upon the petition of John Bleecker Esq, that on 29 June 1793 it was ordered in Council to confirm John Bleecker in the land he had actually improved, upon the reserves to the Extent of Thirty acres and that he may receive a lease for the remainder of the 200 acres upon paying a small acknowledgment.
The lot in which are the above mentioned 30 acres is No 2 in the front otherwise concession A in Murray, which according to the chequered plan for that Township, is a Clergy Reserve – and contains 105 acres. The tract lying between the said reserved lot 2 and the River Trent is a small broken lot called No 1 containing 34 acres, it is not part of the Seventh for the Crown or Clergy – but is set apart for the future Disposition for the Lt Governor being intreated on the west side and at the mouth of the River Trent and judged by the Surveyor General to be a suitable spot for a ferry
Source: UCLP, RG 1 L3, Vol 34, B/7, #48, film C-1620
4. 1808 FERRY LEASE REQUEST - 52 names
In 1808, after being rebuffed in 1802 as "unworthy", the same John Smith, with the signatures of fifty two local supporters, petitions again for a lease for ferry rights stating that he has been doing it for 12 years and has built two scows. No record of a response from land books has been found. The petition may have been ignored.
On 17 May 1808, we whose names are hereunto assigned petition .. to consider John Smith, son of James Smith Esq, Loyalist, ... the said John Smith has been one of the first settlers in the Township of Murray on the River Trent for the space of twelve years has assisted travellers crossing over said River much to the benefit of the public - the said Smith has built two Scows for the conveniency of ferrying across the River Trent ... we pray therefore .. grant John Smith a lease of the ferry in preferrence to any other person. [Note: The signatures below are each in their own hand and not always easy to decifer. The spelling presented is what appears to be written.]
5. 1808 MARY BLEECKER - Ferry operator
There is no record of Mary Bleecker being given the rights to run the ferry but the record below indicates that she must have received permission to run a ferry about 1808 or before. Her influential husband died in 1807 so maybe she was given the rights to help her out after John Smith, above, was refused. Or, perhaps being a daughter of Capt John Meyers helped her to obtain the ferry rights. In 1811 she was given a licence to run an Inn in Port Trent (Trenton) so she was a capable and busy women. The information below is written on a single piece of paper. Also included in the papers is an annual licence dated 6 Jan 1811 to be an Inn Keeper and sell spirits.
Ordered that Mary Bleecker be allowed the following fees, for keeping the ferry at the River Trent in the Township of Murray.
For a man and horse ---- eight pence
For a single person ---- six pence
For two or more persons --- four pence each
Horned cattle ---- four pence per head
Sheep or Swine ---- Two pence per head
Every Waggon Cart or other carriage with two Horses or Oxen ---- one shilling and three pence
Approved in the Court of Quarter Sessions this 13 April 1808.
[signed] Alexander Chisholm Chairman
Source: Bleecker Family Papers, 1788 -1807, F510, AO, MU3274, 2 envelopes
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6. 1812 - JOHN R BLEECKER DURING WAR 1812
John Richard Bleecker, son of pioneer John Bleecker, ran the ferry during the war of 1812.
24 Jul 1819, Cramahe, I do hereby certiy that the bearer John R Blaker, son of the late Lieut Colonel John Blaker, has resided upwards of 25 years in the District of Newcastle and that he served faithfully as a Private in the First Regiment of Northumberland Militia during the late War with the
Source: UCLP, RG 1 L3, Vol 42, B/12, #132, film C-1625
WILLIAM CANNIFF PAPERS
"Remembers the time in 1812 held the rank of Sergeant but performed no active duty. With his brother kept the ferry at Trent. Used to ferry troops back and forth, and provisions. Never had any remuneration. Was engaged for some weeks to guard some pork from Kingston. Helped themselves to what was wanted to eat. (Remembers ferrying the troops when retreating from Toronto after its capture) The pork was brought by batteaux and left at the Indian carrying Place."
Source: Dr William Canniff Papers, F1390, MU492, G6 (8) Archives of Ontario, George Bleecker interview
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7. 1820 FERRY LEASE PETITIONS
In July of 1820 the Executive Council announced a tender for a "lease of the ferry at the mouth of the River Trent" to be given to the highest bidder. David Johns was the successful bidder over Adam Henry Meyers, Joseph Clement and Henry Franklin. Johns agreed to terms of £15 per year for three years. It looks like his partner, John Richard Bleecker, dropped out of the bid.
 Executive Council York 29 July 1820 Notice is hereby given that the ferry across the River Trent …. Will be leased to the highest bidder on 4th October next until which day sealed proposals will be received at this office John Small
See the proposal of David Johns read 15 Nov 1820 to whom the lease was ordered on that day
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1820, RG1 E3, V26, 98-113, LAC, AO copy (see D4), C-1191
4 Oct 1820 Notice is hereby given that the ferry across the mouth of the River Trent … not having been leased on the 4th October sealed proposals for the same will be received at this office until 15 November next it being understood that the said ferry will be subject to meet rates and regulations as the magistrates in the Quarter Sessions shall see fit to establish
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1820, RG1 E3, V26, 84-85, LAC, AO copy (see D4), C-1191
Note: all the documents below are from Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1820, RG1 E3, V26, 98-113, LAC, AO copy (see D4), C-1191
 York 4 Oct 1820 .. we propose for a lease of the ferry at the mouth of the River Trent … advertised in your notice of 29 July 1820 the term of six pounds and five shillings currency annual rent ….. we are landholders, one of us on the east and the other on the west side of the River Trent, at its mouth, and where the ferry is established and also that we have scows and boats prepared [signed] John Richard Bleecker David Johns
 Murray 4th August 1819 We … certify that John Richard Bleecker is a worthy man … and is in a situation to furnish everything necessary for a ferry ….
Zacharas? Burnham JP
Elias Jones JP
DMG Rogers JP
Joseph A Keeler JP
Edward Hatfull JP
??? clerk of the Peace
Richd Bullock JP
James Young JP
Asa Weller JP
 Murray 7 Nov 1820 Since I left York ….. further consideration … to make an offer of fifteen pounds a year …. My friend John R Bleecker was to have joined in this proposal but he did not come forward he still can have his own side of the water if he wishes to pay the one half of the expense David John
[105-6] River Trent 28 Sept 1820 I will give rent for the ferry …. Two hundred and twenty five pounds for twenty one years or ten pounds two shillings and six pence for each year for seven years …… I will ferry each footman for 3p each - men and horse for 7 ½ - each horse wagon and river for 1/3 & for two horses wagon and driver 2/ on condition that no bridge shall be erected in that length of time so as to be a damage to said ferry [signed] Adam Henry Meyers
PS I must further state that I own the land at the ferry west side of the river and have been to the expense of putting up a large building say 32 feet by 42 feet square and two storey and a half high on the waters edge at which door the ferry now lands and receives her freight being calculated for an Inn and to receive and forward goods Flour Potash etc etc and am now erecting a wharf for the accommodation of the steam boat Charlotte and other river craft. The building being very advantageously situated on the verry waters edge and passengers from the other side can allways be easy seen and heard from it when to the conterary the other houses on each side being more at a distance from the river and have known travelers to been hollowring for half an hour before he was heard. A H Meyers
 Murray 9 Nov 1820 I will give rent for the ferry across the River Trent of ten pounds 2 shillings and six pence yearly and offer Robert C Wilkins Esq and James Young Esq as my sureties …. Adam Henry Meyers
 Kingston 10 July 1820 We the subscribers .. are acquainted with Joseph Clement the annexed petitioner and recommend him as a suitable person to be liscenced as a ferryman of the ferry across the River Trent …
George H Marchant JP
W Mitchell JP
 Kingston 10 July 1820 Petition of Joseph Clement, Kingston, mason, …. And being desirous of procuring the lease for a term of twenty one years .. promises to pay the annual rent of three pounds
[107-8] York 28 July 1820 Petition of Henry Franklin, Murray, blacksmith, native of Kingston, 27 years of age and is married and carrying on his trade adjoining the present ferrying place …. Conducted himself in an exemplary manner in the late war in one of the Flank Companies … to lease or licence of occupation of said ferry
 1 May 1820 Certify that Henry Franklin served as a private in the Flank Company of the First Regiment of Frontenac then commanded by Col Richard Cartwright between 25 June 1812 and 25th December 1812. Thomas Markland
[111-2] In Council 15 Nov 1820 To Attorney General Ordered that David Johns, Murray, yeoman, shall receive a lease of the ferry at the mouth of the River Trent … for the term of three years from the 25th December 1820 at the yearly rent of Fifteen pounds currency to be paid half yearly … lease subject to the rules and regulations for ferrying
 Ferry across the Trent - David Johns – OC – 15 November 1820 – see Claudius Christie’s petition 18 Jan 1826 – in State Book G O? page 132
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1820, RG1 E3, V26, 98-113, LAC, AO copy (see D4), C-1191
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8. 1824 - FERRY LEASE
John Moody is named as the ferry lease holder instead of David Johns who was given the lease in 1820.
York 15 Dec 1824 ….. that the ferry on the Trent River leased to a John Moody will expire on the 24th December ensuing …
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1824, RG1 E3, V27, 117-8, LAC, AO copy (see D4), C-1192
9. 1826 - FERRY LEASE - Claudius Christie
Claudius Christie obtained the ferry lease in early 1826 and about 1829 he sold the rights to the lease to John V Murphy who in 1831 petitioned for an extension.
22 Dec 1825, Kingston, Claudius Christie, of Township of Kingston, Innkeeper, served his country for ten years as a sergeant in 70th Regiment of Foot and at the reduction of the army in 1822 was discharged and having a wife and eight children and being desirous to obtain the lease for the ferry across the mouth of the River Trent ……..
We the undersigned inhabitants of Kingston certify that we are acquainted with the … Claudius Christie and recommend him as a fit and proper person to obtain the prayer of his petition. Thomas marchland W Macaulay John Firby
In Council 18 Jan 1826 … Ordered that Claudius Christie, ….. receive a lease of the ferry across the mouth of the River Trent …??? the 25th of March at the yearly rent of Ten pounds currency to be paid annually. Entered in State Book H, page 180
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1826, RG1 E3, V27, 135-8, LAC, AO copy, C-1192
10. 1831 - 1834 - PETITIONS OF JOHN V MURPHY
Around 1829, John V Murphy, buys the rights to the ferry lease and in 1831 petitions for an extension. Later in 1833, when the bridge is being planned he petitions for a lease to run until the bridge is finished. However, this is not profitable and he petitions to get out of the lease and this request is granted.
[168-171] 12 July 1831, John V Murphy, Murray, Gentleman, that your petitioner is the proprietor of the lease of the lease of the ferry at the mouth of the River Trent which he holds by assignment from Morris Hen? when assignee of one Christie the original lessee. That the lease of the said ferry will expire on a year from the month of March next – that your petitioner is the owner of the land adjacent to the said ferry and is desirous of obtaining an extension of the lease
17 July 1831, Murray, We whose names are underwritten do hereby certify that John V Murphy who resides at the mouth of the River Trent and is the proprietor of the ferry their [sic] as well as the greater part of the adjoining Land has conducted the said ferry for about Two years to the satisfaction of the public and we do therefore recommend him for an extension of the lease
R C Wilkins JP
C Biggars JP
Robt Smith JP at Belleville 21 July 1831
Anthony Marshall JP
R H? Wilkins
Beanurth? Quin at Murrey 5 August 1831
14 Nov 1831 In Council Recommended that at the expired term of the lease the ferry be advertised in the usual way.
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1831-2, RG1 E3, V30, 168-171, LAC, AO copy, C-1192
[204-212] This next lengthy 1831 petition and collection of endorsements of support for John V Murphy state that he is a sober and industrious man and has been resident in Murray Township for the past twelve years and is a native of Ireland and has resided in the province since 1817 and now holds a Captains commission in the 3rd Regiment of Northumberland Militia commanded by Col Ruttan and that he purchased the right of the ferry from the lessee to the end of the lease which was three years. He has built new boats, scows and landing places on the east side of the river and owns the principal part of Lot 1 on the west side of the river and has built a dwelling house there for the purpose of being near and attending to the ferry. That he has a wife and three children, an aged mother and three young sisters depending on him for support. He has contributed both his money and labour in erecting a hospital and encouraging the emigrants. That he is highly recommended by Magistrates, Path Masters and Stage proprietors in Ameliasburgh, Sidney and Murray. He prays for a lease of the ferry. [The request is denied and it is recomended that at the expired term of the lease the ferry be advertised in the usual way.]
R C Wilkins
Chas Biggar JP
J Y Bethune
Robt Smith JP
Anthony Marshall JP
John Turnbull JP
G N Ridley
Captn Robt SS Wilkins Esq
William Weller mail contractor from York to Kingston
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1831-2, RG1 E3, V30, 204-212, LAC, AO copy, C-119
[Note: also recorded in RG1 E1, State Book J, V53, pp 13 and 72, C-99]
[1833, not dated] John V Murphy, the subscriber, who held by assignment the last lease for the ferry across the mouth of the River Trent … desires to obtain a renewal until a bridge is completed ….. sum of twenty pounds … Robert C Wilkins, Ameliasburgh, Esquire and Dennis McAuley, of Murray, Merchant are willing to be his sureties
In Council 13 June 1833, This being the only offer, recommend that it be accepted. John Strachan
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1833, RG1 E3, V29, 73-5, LAC, AO copy, C-1192
14 June 1834, River Trent, John V Murphy of Murray, yeoman … has been for the last three years the lessee under the Crown of the ferry across the mouth of the River Trent and has regularly paid all rents … When a new lease was to be granted in the month of June last your petitioner proposed to pay the sum of twenty pounds for the same until the bridge across the river should be completed which according to the terms of contract with the builders was not to be till the first of October next and which proposal was duly accepted …. That immediately after the proposal was accepted the contractors began erecting the bridge which extends directly between the two points at which your petitioner had established convenient landing places for the boats and other vessels used for such ferry whereby your petitioner was placed under the necessity of landing persons and other matters ferried by him on the lands of other individuals who invariably complain of injury done them some of whom even threaten to prosecute.
That during last season your petitioner was unable to ??? from the ferry a sum sufficient to pay a man for attending to the same owing to the facility of crossing the river in the numerous boats and other vessels used in building the bridge which now is and has been for upwards of a month the only mode of crossing the river being thrown open on all occasions as well by night as by day. Nor does your petitioner think that he has any legal remedy against the contractors or any other persons for the loss and damage he has thus sustained as they make it appear that the bridge is kept open for their own convenience and that of their workmen ….. your petitioner prays .. that no rent be expected .. from the commencement of his present lease and that he be discharged from liability for the same.
In Council 26 June 1834 The prayer of the petitioner is recommended
Source: Upper Canada State Submissions to the Executive Council, 1834, RG1 E3, V29, 99-101, LAC, AO copy, C-1192
11. 1832 - TWO PETITIONS - 216 & 518 NAMES
The extract from the minutes of the Assembly below indicate that two petitions were seen by the committee that was to make recommendations on the design and location of the Trent River bridge. The petitions were signed by 216 and 512 inhabitants and the report is dated 10 Dec 1832. Staff at the Library and Archives of Canada (LAC) in Ottawa did a quick check and it is their opinion that these two petitions did not survive. (May 2009)
"The site recommended by the engineer is about 500 feet from the present line of ferry across the River. A Petition of Sheldon Hawley, and 216 others, represents that the nearer the mouth of the River a Bridge shall be built, the greater will be the probability of its permanence. On the other hand, a Petition signed by 518 individuals, objects to the erection of a bridge at any point that may ultimately obstruct the navigation of the River, or that may interfere with the formation of a safe and commodious Harbour."
Source: Appendix to Journal of Assembly [Upper Canada], 1832-3, LAC, CHIM 9 00942 9, page 104
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12. Bridge Opening and Toll Fees
The bridge was open at least by May 21, 1834 because surveyor F. P. Rubridge wrote in his notes while surveying that he paid 5 shillings toll fees for "myself and men."
Source: Crown Land Survey Diaries, Survey of Town Plot on Lot 2, Con 1, Murray near the River Trent, RG 1-59, box 39, AO, MS924, reel 26
In 1843 the tolls collected amounted to £130, 8s, 1 1/2p
Source: Schedule of accounts and statements, No. 8, p. 6176, NH Baird Papers, AO, MS 393, reel 11, Gov't Reports and Bills 1841-47, G-1-d, Box 20, envelope 1
In the 1846 a list of toll fees are stated for all toll bridges and the Trent River bridge is included.
Source: Schedule of accounts and statements, Schedule 5, p 861, NH Baird Papers, AO, MS 393, reel 11, Gov't Reports and Bills 1841-47, G-1-d, Box 20, envelope 1
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