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Lake Pepin

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Jonathan Carver spent three years from 1766 to 1768 exploring the Upper Mississippi Valley. What he discovered was that it's not always enough to have a better idea. You also need someone who will listen.

It was Carver who figured out how the Valley could easily be opened to English settlement. He observed that the Indians did not use the Mississippi River or any of its tributaries all that much—they just used small canoes. He was sure they would be glad to move out west if they were just asked politely, if one explained to them how much the Great White Father, King George III, could use a system of waterways like that.

Carver also figures out why the English were having such a hard time finding a Northwest Passage. They were attempting to go through Hudson's Bay in Canada, which froze every winter, forcing explorers to go back and start all over the following year. Carver's plan was to cut south through Minnesota—there were a few details to work out here—and connect up with the Oregon River.

Carver's most ambitious better idea was his plan for the land between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi, newly acquired by the English. He divided all of what is now Wisconsin and Illinois into eleven provinces, each with its own major river for transportation and waterpower, and enough natural resources to be self-sustaining. Eleven utopias.

Carver returned to English in 1769 and published his better ideas in a book called Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America. He kept trying to get audiences with people who had the King's ear. The book was popular among general readers—it went through three editions.

Jonathan Carver's ideas were fine, but his timing could not have been worse. He arrived in England just as King George began having trouble with some upstart colonies along the eastern coast of North America and needed better ideas of a different sort.

Carver spent all his savings trying to promote his ideas to no avail. He got a job in the lottery office and died, a bitter man, in 1780.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.