Log driving

Floating of Wood

The conveying of wood in floats is an excellent invention; as countries destitute of that necessary article can be supplied by water carriage, not only with timber for building and other useful purposes, but also with fire-wood. The former is either pushed into the water in single trunks, and suffered to be carried along by the stream, or a number of planks are ranged close to each other in regular order, bound together in that manner, and steered down the current as boats are, by people accustomed to such employment. The first method is that most commonly used for fire-wood. Above floats of the second kind a load of spars, deals, laths, pipe-staves, and other timber, is generally placed; and with these, floaters will trust themselves on broad and rapid rivers, whereas fire-wood is fit to be transported only on rivulets or small streams; and sometimes canals are constructed on purpose 1417. However simple the invention of floating fire-wood may be, I consider the other method as the oldest; and I confess that I do not remember to have found in ancient authors any information respecting the former. Fire-wood was, indeed, not so scarce formerly in the neighbourhood of large cities as it is at present. Men established themselves where it was abundant; and they used it freely, without thinking on the wants of posterity, till its being exhausted rendered it necessary for them to import it from distant places. It is probable that the most ancient mode of constructing vessels for the purpose of navigation gave rise to the first idea of conveying timber for building in the like manner; as the earliest ships or boats were nothing else than rafts, or a collection of beams and planks bound together, over which were placed deals. By the Greeks they were called schediai, and by the Latins rates ; and it is known from the testimony of many writers, that the ancients ventured out to sea with them on piratical expeditions as well as to carry on commerce; and that after the invention of ships they were still retained for the transportation of soldiers and of heavy burthens 1418.

The above conjecture is confirmed by the oldest information to be found in history respecting the conveyance by water of timber for building. Solomon entered into a contract with Hiram, king of Tyre, by which the latter was to cause cedars for the use of the temple to be cut down on the western side of Mount Lebanon above Tripoli, and to be floated to Jaffa. The words at least employed by the Hebrew historian, which occur nowhere else, are understood as alluding to the conveyance of timber in floats; and this explanation is considered by Michaelis as probable. At present no streams run from Lebanon to Jerusalem; and the Jordan, the only river in Palestine that could bear floats, is at a great distance from the cedar forest. The wood, therefore, must have been brought along the coast by sea to Jaffa 1419. In this manner is the account understood by Josephus; but although he assures us that he gives the letters of both the kings as they were at that time preserved in the Jewish and Tyrian annals, it is certain that they are spurious, and that he took the whole relation from the sacred books of the Jews which are still extant, as he himself tells us in the beginning of his work 1420.

An old tradition prevailed that the city Camarina, on the southern coast of Sicily, was built of the clay or mud which the river Hipparis carried along with it, and deposited in a lake of the same name. This account seems to be confirmed by a passage in Pindar, which Aristarchus quotes in explaining it 1421 ; and, according to Bochart, some proof is afforded also by the name Camarina, as chamar  or chomar  signifies sealing-clay 1422. In this tradition there is nothing improbable. In the like manner the Egyptians drew up mud from the lake Mœris 1423 ; and thus do the Dutch at present fish up in bag-nets the fine mud or slime which chokes up their rivers, such as the Issel, and which they employ for various uses. This explanation, however, has not been adopted by the old commentators of Pindar. Didymus 1424  and others assert that the poet alludes to wood for building the city being conveyed in floats on the river Hipparis. But whatever opinion may be formed of these elucidations of the scholiasts, we have reason to conclude that the inhabitants of Camarina were much better acquainted with the floating of wood than with drawing up slime by means of bag-nets.

The Romans transported by water both timber for building and fire-wood. When they became acquainted, during their wars against the Germans, with the benefit of the common larch, they caused large quantities of it to be carried on the Po to Ravenna from the Alps, particularly the Rhætian, and to be conveyed also to Rome for their most important buildings. Vitruvius says 1425  that this timber was so heavy, that, when alone, the water could not support it, and that it was necessary to carry it on ships or on rafts. Could it have been brought to Rome conveniently, says he, it might have been used with great advantage in building. It appears, however, that this was sometimes done; for we are told that Tiberius caused the Naumachiarian bridge, constructed by Augustus, and afterwards burnt, to be rebuilt of larch planks procured from Rhætia. Among these was a trunk one hundred and twenty feet in length, which excited the admiration of all Rome 1426.

That the Romans procured fire-wood from Africa, particularly for the use of the public baths, is proved by the privileges granted on that account to the masters of ships or rafts by the emperor Valentinian 1427. Those who have read the writings of the Latin authors with attention must have remarked other testimonies; but I have found no mention in the ancients of floating timber in single planks, or of canals dug for that purpose; at least as far as I can remember. In the Latin language also there are scarcely two words that allude to what concerns the floating of timber; whereas the German contains more of that kind, perhaps, than are to be found in any other; and I am thence induced to conjecture that the Germans were the first who formed establishments for this mode of conveyance on a large scale.

The earliest information respecting the floating of wood in Saxony appears to be as old as the year 1258 1428 , when the margrave Henry the Illustrious remitted by charter to the monastery of Porta, the duty collected at Camburg from the wood transported on the river Saale for the use of the monastery 1429. It is, however, uncertain whether wood really conveyed in floats, or transported in boats and lighters, be here meant. Much clearer information concerning wood floated on the Saale is contained in a letter, expedited in the year 1410 by the two brothers Frederic and William, landgraves of Thuringia, and margraves of Misnia, in which, on account of the scarcity of wood that prevailed in their territories, they so much lessened the toll usually paid on the Saale as far asWeissenfels, that a Rhenish florin only was demanded for floats brought on that river to Jena, and two Rhenish stivers for those carried to Weissenfels; but the proprietors of the floats were bound to be answerable for any injury occasioned to the bridge 1430. In the year 1431, Hans Munzer, an opulent citizen of Freyberg, with the assistance of the then burgomasters, put a float of wood upon the river Mulda, which runs past the city, in order that it might be conveyed thither for the use of the inhabitants and of the mines; which seems to be a proof that the floating of timber was at that period undertaken by private persons, on their own risk and at their own expenses. In 1486 the floating of wood on the Mulda by the people of Zwikaw, was opposed by the neighbouring nobility; but the rights of the city were protected by the electors. When the town of Aschersleben built its church in the year 1495, the timber used for the work was transported on the Elbe from Dresden to Acken, and thence on the Achse to the place of its destination. This is the oldest account known of floating timber on the Elbe. In the year 1521, duke George caused a large canal to be cut at the village of Plauen, which was supplied with water from the Weiseritz, and carried as far as Dresden. It appears that in 1564 there was a float-master, who was obliged to give security to the amount of four hundred florins; so that the business of floating must at that time have been of considerable importance. Floating of wood was undertaken at Annaberg in 1564, by George Oeder, one of the members of the council, and established at the expense of 4000 florins. Of the antiquity of floating in other German states I know nothing more than what is to be gathered from public ordinances respecting this object and forests; by which we learn that in the sixteenth century it was practised in Brandenburg, on the Elbe, Spree, and Havel; in Bavaria, and in the duchy of Brunswick 1431.

As the city of Paris had consumed all the wood in its neighbourhood, and as the price of that article became enormous on account of the distance of forests and the expense of transporting it, John Rouvel, a citizen and merchant, in the year 1549, fell upon the plan of conducting wood bound together along rivers which were not navigable for large vessels. With this view, he made choice of the forests in the woody district of Morvant, which belonged to the government of Nivernois; and as several small streams and rivulets had their sources there, he endeavoured to convey into them as much water as possible 1432. That great undertaking, at first laughed at, was completed by his successor René Arnoul, in 1566. The wood was thrown into the water in single trunks, and suffered to be driven in that manner by the current to Crevant, a small town on the river Yonne; where each timber-merchant drew out his own, which he had previously marked, and, after it was dry, formed it into floats that were transported from the Yonne to the Seine, and thence to the capital. By this method large quantities of timber are conveyed thither at present from Nivernois and Burgundy, and some also from Franche-Comté. The French extol highly a beneficial establishment formed by one Sauterau, in Morvant, at his own expense, by which the transportation of timber was rendered much more speedy, and for which a small sum was allowed him from the proprietors of all the wood floated on the Yonne.

The success of this attempt soon gave rise to others. John Tournouer and Nicholas Gobelin, two timber-merchants, undertook to convey floats in the like manner on the Marne; and canals were afterwards constructed in several places for the purpose of forming a communication between different rivers. The French writers consider the transportation of large floats, trains de bois, like those formed at present, from the before-mentioned districts, and also from Bourbonnois, Champagne, Lorraine, Montergis, and other parts of the kingdom, as a great invention; but I am firmly of opinion that this method was known and employed in Germany at a much earlier period 1433.

[Victor Hugo gives the following animated account of floating rafts. The traveller who ascends the river sees it, so to speak, coming to him, and then the sight is full of charms. At each instant he meets something which passes him; at one time, a vessel crowded with peasants, especially if it be Sunday; at another, a steam-boat; then a long, two-masted vessel, laden with merchandize, its pilot attentive and serious, its sailors busy, with women seated near the door of the cabin; here, a heavy-looking boat, dragging two or three after it; there, a little horse drawing a huge bark, as an ant drags a dead beetle. Suddenly there is a winding in the river; and formerly, on turning, an immense raft, a floating house, presented itself, the oars splashing on both sides. On the ponderous machine were cattle of all kinds, some bleating, and others bellowing, when they perceived the heifers peaceably grazing on the banks. The master came and went, looked at this, then at that, while the sailors busily performed their respective duties. A whole village seemed to live on this float,—on this prodigious construction of fir.]

The floating of wood seems, like many other useful establishments, to have been invented or first undertaken by private persons at their own risk and expense, with the consent of governments, or at least without any opposition from them; but, as soon as it was brought to be useful and profitable, to have been considered among regalia. Hence, therefore, soon arose the float-regal, which, indeed, on account of the free use granted of rivers, the many regulations requisite, and its connexion with the forest-regal, can be sufficiently justified. But when and where originated the term jus grutiæ, under which this regal is known by jurists?

The few authors who have turned their thoughts to this question have not been able, as far as I know, to answer it with certainty, nor even with probability. They have only repeated, without making any researches themselves, what Stypmann 1434  has said on the subject; and the latter refers to a passage of Hadrian Junius, which I shall here more particularly notice. Junius, speaking of the oldest families in the Netherlands, says that the family of Wassenaer had formerly a certain supremacy over the rivers in Rhineland, so that no one, without their permission, could keep swans on them, and that the brewers paid for the use of the water a certain tax called the gruyt-geld, from which arose the jus grutæ. The origin of this word he did not know; but he conjectured that it was derived either from gruta, which signifies duckweed (Lemna ), a plant that grows in the water and covers its surface during the summer, or from grut, an ingredient used in making beer 1435. It is certain that in the tenth, eleventh, and thirteenth centuries grutagrutt, or gruit, signified a tax which brewers were obliged to pay 1436 ; but the origin of the word has been sufficiently explained neither by Junius nor any other writer. I nowhere find that it was used in ancient times for a float-duty; and this meaning Junius himself has not so much as once mentioned.

The word gruit  occurs under a quite different sense in a letter of investiture of the year 1593, by which the elector of Cologne gave as a fief to the countess of Moers, the gruit  within the town of Berg, with all its rents, revenues, and appurtenances. “No other person was allowed to put grudt  or any plant in beer, or to draw beer brought from other countries. On the other hand, the countess was to make good grutt, and to cause it to be sold at the price usual in the neighbouring parts; she was bound also to supply the elector gratis with what beer was necessary for family consumption; and if more was required than usual, on extraordinary occasions, she was to ask and receive money. If any one in the town did not deliver good gruidt, and should prove that he could not deliver better, as the fault was occasioned by the gruitte, the loss that might arise should fall upon the countess.” The word grut  or gruitt  seems to occur here under a double meaning; as an ingredient in the beer, and as the beer itself which was made from it. Of this difficulty I have in vain endeavoured to find an explanation. Grut, perhaps, may signify malt. In Dutch and other kindred languages grut  means the small refuse which is separated from anything; and to which grusch  bran, and grütze  groats, have an affinity. May not ground malt be understood by it? I have thought likewise of a kind of herb-beer, which was much esteemed in the sixteenth century; and that grut  might signify a mixture of herbs used for making that beer. It is probable that this word was confined within the boundaries of the Netherlands; and thence only, perhaps, is an explanation of it to be expected.

I am, however, still unable to comprehend how the float-duty obtained the name of jus grutiæ; and in our kindred languages I can find no derivation of it. The German word flosz, from fliessen, to flow or glide; flusz, a river, occurs in them all. The Dutch say vlotvlothout ; the Swedes, en flottflotta, to float; flot-wed, float-wood; and the English, a floatto float, &c.


1417  Those who are desirous of particular information respecting everything that concerns the floating of wood may read Bergius, Polizey- und Camera-magazin, vol. iii. p. 156; Krunitz, Encylopedie, vol. xiv. p. 286; and the Forstmagazin, vol. viii. p. 1. To form an idea of the many laborious, expensive, and ingenious establishments and undertakings which are often necessary in this business, one may peruse Mémoire sur les Travaux qui ont Rapport à l'Exploitation de la Mâture dans les Pyrénées. Par M. Leroy. Londres et Paris, 1776, 4to. So early as the time of cardinal Richelieu the French began to bring from the Pyrenees timber for masts to their navy; but as the expense was very great, the attempt was abandoned, till it was resumed in the year 1758 by a private company, who entered into a contract with the minister for supplying the dock-yards with masts. After 1765 government took that business into their own hands; but it was attended with very great difficulties.

1418  Plinius, lib. vi. cap. 56.—Strabo, lib. xvi. where he calls these rafts σχεδίαι.—Festus, p. 432.—Scheffer, De Militia Navali Veterum, lib. i. cap. 3.—Pitisci Lexicon Antiq. Rom. art. Rates.

1419  “My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon unto the sea: and I will convey them by sea in floats unto the place that thou shalt appoint me.”—1 Kings, chap. v. ver. 9. “And we will cut wood out of Lebanon, as much as thou shalt need: and we will bring it to thee in floats by sea to Joppa; and thou shalt carry it up to Jerusalem.”—2 Chronicles, chap. ii. v. 16. Pocock thinks that the wood was cut down near Tyre. The accounts given by travellers of Mount Lebanon, and the small remains of the ancient forests of cedar, have been collected by Busching in his Geography.

The following is the account given of these cedars by the abbé Binos, who visited them in the year 1778. “Here,” says he, “I first discovered the celebrated cedars, which grow in an oval plain, about an Italian mile in circumference. The largest stand at a considerable distance from each other, as if afraid that their branches might be entangled, or to afford room for their tender shoots to spring up, and to elevate themselves also in the course of time. These trees raise their proud summits to the height of sixty, eighty, and a hundred feet. Three or four, when young, grow up sometimes together, and form at length, by uniting their sap, a tree of a monstrous thickness. The trunk then assumes generally a square form. The thickest which I saw might be about thirty feet round; and this size was occasioned by several having been united when young. Six others, which were entirely insulated, and free from shoots, were much taller, and seemed to have been indebted for their height to the undivided effects of their sap.” These cedars, formerly so numerous, are now almost entirely destroyed. In the year 1575, Rauwolff found twenty-four that stood round about in a circle, and two others, the branches whereof are quite decayed with age; Bellon, in 1550, counted twenty-eight old trees; Fremenet, in 1630, counted twenty-two; La Roque, in 1688, twenty; Maundrell, in 1696, sixteen; Dr. Pococke, in 1738, fifteen; and Schulze, in 1755, counted twenty, besides some young ones; Burckhardt, in 1810, eleven or twelve; Dr. Richardson, in 1818, eight; Mr. Robinson, in 1830, seven; Lord Lindsay, in 1836, seven. Mr. Buckingham, in 1816, differs greatly from the other authorities, computing the whole number of trees at two hundred, of which he describes twenty as being very large.—Trans.

1420  Antiquit. lib. viii. These letters have been printed by Fabricius in Codex Pseudepigraphus Veteris Testamenti, i. p. 1026.

1421  Olymp. v. 29. Gesner, in explaining Pindar, translated φάος or φῶς by the word help, which Hebraism occurs in the New Testament, and also in Homer. The stream therefore assisted the inhabitants while under a great inconvenience.

1422  Chanaan, i. 29, p. 605.

1423  Herodot. lib. iii.

1424  See Pindar, ed. Welsted, 1697, fol. p. 53 and 56, a, 37.

1425  Vitruv. lib. ii. 9, p. 77.

1426  Plin. lib. xvi. cap. 39, p. 33 and 34.

1427  Codex Theodos. lib. xiii. tit. 5, 10. Lex xiii. p. 78. Compare Symmachi Epist. lib. x. ep. 58. As far as I know, such ordinances occur also in the Code of Justinian.

1428  See Sammlung vermischter Nachrichten zur Sächsischen Geschichte, by G. J. Grundig and J. F. Klotzsch, vol. vi. 221.

1429  Pertuchii Chronic. Portense, p. 54.

1430  Rudolphi Gotha Diplomatica, pars i. p. 279.

1431  See the Forest Laws in Fritschii Corp. Juris Ven. Forest.

1432  Wood was conveyed in boats upon the Yonne so early as the year 1527. See Coquille in Histoire du Nivernois.

1433  Traité de la Police, par De la Mare, iii. p. 839.—Savary, Dictionnaire de Commerce, art. Bois flotté and Train.

1434  De Jure Maritimo, p. i. c. 10. n. 100.

1435  H. Junii Batavia. Lugd. Bat. 1558, 4to, p. 327.—Hugo Grotius de Antiquitate Reipub. Batavicæ, cap. 4.—Délices de la Hollande. Amst. 1685, 12mo, p. 218: “Les Wassenaers tiennent leur origine d'une village qui est entre Leiden et la Haye, ou des droits qu'ils eurent les siecles passez sur les eaux, les estangs et les lacs de la Hollande.”—-Those who are fond of indulging in conjecture might form the following conclusion:—The lakes and streams belonged to the Wassenaers, who kept swans, geese and ducks upon them. When the brewers were desirous of clearing the water from the duck-weed, which in Fritsch's German Dictionary is called Enten-grutz, in order that it might be fitter for use, they were obliged to pay a certain sum to obtain permission; and when the practice of floating timber began, the floats disturbed the ducks, and destroyed the plant on which they fed, and the proprietors of floats were on this account obliged to pay a certain tax also. But was it customary at that period to float timber in the Netherlands?

1436  Glossarium Manuale, iii. p. 850: “Gruta, Grutt, Gruit, appellant tributum, quod pro cerevisia pensitatur.”