— Delaware Canal —
You became a captain as young as sixteen by showing "The Company" what you could do. You demonstrate how to "snub" (slow down and brake for lock operations), keep accurate cargo records (pay based on number of miles hauled and coal tonnage delivered), and care for the mule team.
A boat's "rig" consisted of mules, harness, tow lines, feed box, night hawker (headlight), stove and bilge pump. While some captains owned their boats, most rented them from Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. The captain hired a mule driver or used family as crew members.
The "Swampers" (Delaware Canal captains) and "Lehigh Dutchmen" (Lehigh Canal captains) ran the lengths of both canals. They loaded coal in Luzerne (1838-1862) or Carbon County, delivered it to Bristol, and returned to Seigfried (now Northampton) for their pay. Locktenders ended their day at 10:00 p.m. When canallers reached the next lock, they stabled their mules for the night, made necessary repairs, and rested. At 4:00 a.m., when locktenders began work, boats once more pressed forward.
Life on the Water
Canal boats provided primitive living conditions. The typical crew of two slept on deck or in the 8 x 10 foot cabin below. They prepared meals on a cook stove, enhancing their stored supplies with fresh food from locktenders or general stores. They enjoyed foods such as bread, flitch (bacon), coffee, cured meats, eggs, fresh fruits, vegetables, and canned goods. Springs along the canal supplied drinking water kept in wooden barrels on deck.
Often, a canaller's family came along for the ride. Children as young as seven drove the mules along the towpath. Wives took over cooking operations and shared steering responsibilities. During warmer months the canals were their entire world.
"We used to trade a lot along the canal, people who had vegetables and things. We'd give them coal and they'd give us cabbages, tomatoes and things like that. Then there were lock tenders whose wives made good bread. We'd give them coal for bread."
Mrs. Chester Mann, Boat Captain's Daughter, Morris Canal.
(Inscription below the image in the top center) Standing on a loaded L.C.&N boat headed downstream are, left to right, William Rand, Alex Gold, Joe Reed Sr. and Louis Purse.
(Inscription below the image in the top right) The "kitchen" of the canal boat was usually located on deck, keeping food preparation from interfering with progress.
(Inscription below the image in the lower left) Canal boating was sometimes a family business.
(Inscription beside the image in the lower right) A canal pleasure boat's 1886 log describes this locktender's wife as a fine looking woman and the mother of eight children under twelve.