The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
The Sailors Magazine, Feb. 1846

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We find in the Syracuse Daily Star, the proceedings of a meeting of the citizens of Syracuse held on the 15th inst. To consider the condition of the orphan and destitute boys who are engaged principally as "Canal Drivers" during the season of navigation. Hon. Daniel Pratt presided, and addresses were made by Rev. Messrs. J. W. Adams, Samuel J. May and others, relative to the condition and necessities of this much neglected class.

It appears from facts elicited on this occasion, that there are about 5,000 boys engaged upon the New York Canals, one half of whom are orphans; and nearly all of whom are destitute of a home on the approach of Winter. Many of these boys are under twelve years of age, but their extreme youth and hapless, unfortunate condition, are not sufficient to exempt them from the most wanton wrongs on the part of their employers. Most of them are precocious, as well in vice as intellect, and the Canal is just the place to put them through all the gradations of crime, from stealing a sixpenny loaf or a bundle of hay up to the most daring burglary, and even murder itself. Indeed, in some instances they are instructed in theft, &c., by the Captains of these boats, who endeavor to give to those in their employ the same kind of an education they have themselves received. At the close of navigation, these "drivers" are generally destitute of money and comfortable clothing, and congregate at such places as Utica and Syracuse, upon the line of Canal, and practice upon the community the evil propensities which have been nourished and exercised upon the Canal. They seem to be regarded as outcasts. They have no home- no friends to advise or assist them- no instruction except in vice; and the jail is often regarded by them as an asylum. Of the sixteen hundred convicts who have been or now are inmates of the Auburn State Prison, four hundred and eighty had been Canal Boys.

In view of these facts, a memorial to the Legislature, drawn up by Mr. May, setting forth in earnest and eloquent language the condition of these boys, was adopted by the meeting. The memorial asks that the Legislature appoint supervisors or guardians of the canal boys, in suitable places, by whom registers shall be kept of all the youth under 20 years of age, who may be employed within their several sections, without whose knowledge and permission no youth shall be employed upon the canals; and to whose satisfactions all contracts shall be made, and all accounts settled with these boys; and establish, at convenient distances along the canals, houses under the care of suitable persons, where those canal boys who have no home may go, and be made comfortable, when not employed upon the canals; and where they may receive such mental and moral culture as they may need. In such establishments as we propose, in the charge of men and women who would be interested in the work, and competent to perform it, these neglected youth may be brought under improving, saving influence.

The memorialists ask that in addition o these "Homes," a "House of Refuge," to be established at Syracuse, for the benefit of those boys who maybe found guilty of petty crimes.

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Feb. 1846
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  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.10979 Longitude: -76.43105
Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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The Sailors Magazine, Feb. 1846