A Vast Enterprise
The Erie Canal was a vast commercial enterprise that required an army of men, women,
and children to maintain and operate: surveyors,
engineers, lock tenders, toll collectors, bridge
operators, repair crews, and bank patrollers
(whose job it was to find leaks in the canal bank),
all earned their livelihoods working on the canal.
By 1845, an additional 25,000 people operated the
4,000 boats that plied the canal. Packets, barges
cargo boats, and scows all had crews that included
a captain, steersman, cook, deck hands, and hoggees
(teamsters who drove mule teams pulling the boats).
This "army" of workers also required thousands of
merchants, tavern keepers, hostellers, shopkeepers,
liverymen, and less reputable sorts to feed, clothe,
bathe, house, and see to all their needs. [captions] Mule team pulling a string of barges at Newark. A barge near Newark, NY, c.1910. The Middle Lock at Newark. An arch-truss bridge near the Middle Lock at Newark.
A quiet day on the canal at Newark, NY.
A barge near Newark, NY. Tales of Three Travelers Written accounts of travel on the Erie Canal illustrate how different the Canal's passengers could be. In 1832, author Nathaniel Hawthorne used the Erie Canal to visit Niagara Falls. Like Clarissa Burroughs, a native
of New Jersey who traveled the canal in 1835, Hawthorne booked passage on a more comfortable packet, or passenger, boat. Clarissa traveled only from Schenectady to Utica, where she visited the scenic Trenton Falls. Job Mattison, on the other hand, traveled on a less expensive, much slower freight boat ten years later. Mattison's reason for traveling the Canal also differed. Bound for a cousin's homestead in Wisconsin Territory, the 24-year-old Mattison was trying to decide if he should emigrate west with thousands of other Canal travelers.
What They Wrote
Like other American authors-James Fenimore Cooper, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain - Hawthorne wrote about the Erie Canal. "Surely, the water of this canal must be the most fertilizing of all fluids: for it causes towns - with their masses of brick and stone, their churches and theatres, their business and hubbub, their luxury and refinement, their gay dames and polished citizens - to spring up, till, in time, the wondrous stream may flow between two continuous lines of buildings, through one thronged street, from Buffalo to Albany." In 1845, Job Mattison sent his family clipped shorthand impressions of the Canal and fellow passengers. "Met 76 boats to day.... A Syracuse about 8 in the morning, the black legs [gambler] got five dollars of the red haired Englishman playing
thimble. The travel journal of Clarissa Burroughs included
descriptions of New York landscapes and Canal
infrastructure as well as life aboard a packet boat. [captions]
Nathaniel Hawthorne. George Harvey's 1837 watercolor "Pittsford on the Erie Canal", shows a packet boat filled with tourists and travellers pulled by horse team, a common scene in the early years of the Erie Canal.