After the American Revolution, merchants in eastern cities wanted to tap the western region's resources and markets. The plan for internal improvements included a navigable waterway to connect east and west. As early as 1754, George Washington envisioned a system of river and canal navigation along the Potomac River to reach the fertile Ohio Valley. Largely through his efforts, the Patowmack Company was organized in 1785 to carry out this mission.
To bypass the falls, rapids and other impediments to navigation the Potowmack Canal Company constructed five skirting canals around impassible sections of the river. Small, raft-like boats, poled by hand with the help of the river currents carried furs, lumber, flour and farm produce to Georgetown. Although a vast improvement over slow and cumbersome overland transport these transportation improvements were still inadequate. Plans to build a separate, more reliable channel paralleling the Potomac River were soon put into place.