Life on the Canal

Life on the Canal (HM2N5X)

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N 41° 37.973', W 74° 27.171'

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Delaware & Hudson Canal

At Honesdale, Pennsylvania, coal was loaded onto flat-bottomed canal boats and pulled by mule team to the harbor at Kingston. New York. At the typical rate of three miles per hour, the 108-mile trip took seven to ten days. The majority of the canal boats were operated by owners and their families, in part because the wages of about $3.00 a month made it uneconomical to hire workers. In a time before child-labor laws, young children were put to work, often under grueling conditions. The family lived on the boat for the whole trip, in a cabin about twelve feet square. They slept on straw mattresses, cooked on small wood stoves, ate, and even washed clothes on board — laundry hung to dry on boat decks was a common sight on the canal.
Three people ran the boat — the captain, usually also the owner; the bowman, who steered with a tiller in the bow; and the driver or hoggie, often a child, who led the mules along the towpath. Idyllic paintings and stories of life on the canal fail to mention how hard this work was, and how dangerous. Children, sometimes so tired from leading the animals fifteen or twenty miles a day, occasionally toppled into the canal and drowned.
The canal boats, usually built in facilities along the canal, were bought by the company, then sold to the operator at inflated prices. In 1847, for

instance, a boat that cost the company about $350.00 was sold to the boatman for $400.00 or $450.00, to be paid off in installments. If a boatman could make fifteen trips per season, he could pay off the boat in three years; but because boats lasted only about five years, he'd soon need to buy another one. This arrangement, while it didn't allow the boatmen to get rich, was at least adequate in good times when 1,000 boats hauled more than a million tons of coal. But as railroads gained dominance, fewer boats made the trip. In these lean times company managers often attempted to control prices or output of coal by issuing stop-the-boats orders, reducing the number of trips per season to only eight or ten. Not only did this strategy threaten the boatmen's seasonal pay but it also left them stranded along the canal with no allowance or means of income until the stop order was lifted.
For the most part canawlers were hard-working, respectable people but life on the canal was rough. Newspapers of the day are filled with stories of robbery, fighting, harassment of women and girls walking near the canal and even throwing stones at the lock tenders.
HM NumberHM2N5X
Placed ByDelaware & Hudson Canal Linear Park
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Sunday, November 24th, 2019 at 1:01pm PST -08:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18G E 545573 N 5390838
Decimal Degrees-41.63288333, -74.45285000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 41° 37.973', W 74° 27.171'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds41° 37' 58.38" N, 74° 27' 10.26" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling West
Closest Postal AddressAt or near , ,
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