Dutch Gap

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The canal was finished in April 1865
Progress on the digging of Butler's canal in November 1864

Dutch Gap is located on Farrar's Island on the James River in Chesterfield County, Virginia; it was started as a canal by Union forces during the American Civil War to cut off a curl of the river known as Farrar's Island, which was controlled by Confederate forts. The canal was completed after the war and is now the main channel of the James River in this area. It is north of the lost 17th-century town of Henricus.[1] Henricus Historical Park is devoted to that town.


African-American soldiers at Dutch Gap

The name "Dutch Gap" may have a connection to the 1611 Cittie of Henricus. According to an unsubstantiated story, Sir Thomas Dale cut a ditch across the 500 yard wide neck of land behind the new fort, connecting the two parts of the James River. It became known as "Dale's Dutch Gap". This would have protected the rear of the fort from possible attack and shortened the distance upriver. No historical evidence or documentation supports this story, and the connection may come merely from the fact that Dale served the Dutch Republic prior to his employment with the Virginia Company of London, and did create a defensive ditch on the aforementioned neck of land, though the cut was by no means a navigable canal as imagined. This length of the James River had broad, meandering stretches and hairpin turns between Drewry's Bluff, where the river turns east into the coastal plain, and the confluence of the Appomattox River with the James below Bermuda Hundred.

During the American Civil War, Union troops started to construct a larger canal at Dutch Gap late in 1864. Among their workers were paid African-American laborers from the Freedmen's Colony of Roanoke Island. They had been freed by Union forces and were pressed into service away from their base off the mainland of North Carolina.[2]

By that time, some freedmen were serving as soldiers in the United States Colored Troops. They took part in the military action at Dutch Gap. The Union Army intended to cut off the large curl of the James threatened by Confederate forts, such as Battery Dantzler where Confederate forces had installed two seven inch Brooke rifles, two ten-inch Columbiad guns, and two siege mortars overlooking Trent's Reach to prevent the U.S. navy vessels from approaching the Confederate capital at Richmond.

The Union could not complete expansion of the canal during the war, but it was completed later. It has become the main channel of the James River in that area. An electricity-generating facility of Dominion Virginia Power Company is located nearby on the south shore of the James River.

Dutch Gap Today[edit]

The Dutch Gap Conservation Area includes a boat ramp and the archaeological site of Henricus. The Henricus Historical Park is located north of Dutch Gap in Chesterfield County (it was subdivided from Henrico County in 1749. In 1922, Chesterfield annexed the Henricus site from Henrico County.[3])

Dutch Gap and Farrar's Island as it appears today
Historical Marker, Farrar's Island


  1. ^ NOAA Chart 12252 James River: Jordan Point to Richmond, 1/20,000 2004
  2. ^ Click, Patricia C. Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedman's Colony, 1862–1867, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2001
  3. ^ "Henrico County's History". Henrico Historical Society. Retrieved 25 January 2019. an annexation in 1922 by Chesterfield County that claimed the site of Henricus, changing the boundary of Henrico to what it is today.

Coordinates: 37°22′37″N 77°21′21″W / 37.3770°N 77.3558°W / 37.3770; -77.3558 David F. Bastian, Union Soldiers Dredge Canal at Dutch Gap to Avoid Rebel Fleet, World Dredging, pp. 22-25, October 1977