Map: United States Geological Survey, with a red mark added for the location of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
The Chesapeake Bay offered an attractive escape route north from tidewater Virginia and Maryland, and the coast of North Carolina. As with the railroad narratives, I will occasionally take the liberty of shortening, lengthening, or revising the wording of some of the narratives from my original report to the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom project. Readers who would like an abridged copy of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal report may download it from this link. Research who would like to refer to the official report and supplemental material may request a copy through the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom website.
The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company, incorporated in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, completed construction of the canal in 1829 and owned the canal until 1919. Stock in the company was purchased by the three states that incorporated the company, the federal government, and private investors. The company collected tolls based on the amount and type of freight, and not on the passengers on board the vessels. Built for the economic advantages it brought to the region, the canal also provided a route for freedom seekers on steamboats, schooners, and small water craft. Boats entered at Elk River in Cecil County, Maryland and exited into the Delaware River at Delaware City, New Castle County, Delaware. This eliminated approximately 300 nautical miles between Baltimore and Philadelphia. For captains of schooners and other small craft, this Chesapeake Bay to Delaware River route to Philadelphia was also safer than the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay route. William Still and Sydney Gay recorded escapes on steamboats and schooners passing through the canal. Local newspapers reported unsuccessful canal-related escapes, and complained about suspicious Philadelphia oyster boats assisting escapes. When some freedom seekers fled from the lower Eastern Shore, a newspaper commented that the close watch kept on the canal would make it difficult for them to pass that way.
The canal, originally a little more than its current fourteen mile length, provided an important escape route for freedom seekers in tidewater Maryland and Virginia, and those living near the North Carolina coast, reducing the time and miles required to move between the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, and eliminating the need to venture into the rougher waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Ships traveled nearly four hundred nautical miles between Baltimore to Philadelphia on the Atlantic route. When the canal opened in 1829, this alternative route across the neck of the Delmarva Peninsula reduced the distance between the two major ports to ninety-eight nautical miles, a savings of approximately three hundred nautical miles, and hours of travel time. Scores of freedom seekers would take advantage of this improved route out of the Chesapeake Bay region.
A slaveholder on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland expressed concern over freedom seekers escaping through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal two years after it opened. Levin Woolford placed an ad in the Cambridge Chronicle offering a $300 reward for the capture of Nelly Kelly and her children. She was accompanied by her husband Joseph Keene, an experienced sailor. They took Woolford’s 23-foot sail-canoe with one gaff-sail. Recognizing Joseph Keene’s maritime skills, Woolford wrote that “they will unquestionable make good use of their time, and probably aim to pass up the bay and through the C. & D. Canal. Woolford’s recognition of the canal as a potential escape route was accurate. But in this case, the chance of an African American family passing through four canal locks in an open boat was unlikely unless they had forged documents. The successful escapes required subterfuge 
Above map: A United States Geological Survey map of the Chesapeake Bay, with an added red marker for the location of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
 US Department of Commerce, Distances between United States Ports, 12th Edition, 2012, http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/nsd/distances-ports/distances.pdf.
 Cambridge Chronicle, April 9, 1831.