The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of the State of New York

Hibernicus (Clinton, DeWitt), Author
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  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.3534 Longitude: -76.4291
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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[Extracts from: "Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of the State of New York" By Hibernicus (DeWitt Clinton) New York, 1822]

Page 22

Letter V.

Montezuma, July, 1820

My Dear Sir,

In my voyage on the canal I met with several loaded boats and scows, ascending as well as descending, and also rafts. The facility with which boats pass each other without interruption or delay, strikes one forcibly at the first view. This canal will make a great revolution in the internal trade of the country, and in the balance of political power.

One horse can draw as much on a canal, as 60 on a road. The expense of transportation will be consequently greatly reduced. I saw an advertisement of Mr. Henry B. Ely, of Utica, wherein he offers to forward goods on the canal for 25 cents per Cwt. for 100 miles, including toll, which is about five cents a ton per mile, at least one quarter less than by land. But this I apprehend is too high; the maximum cost ought not to exceed three cents a mile per ton. I saw a Utica a raft of 440 tons of lumber, which had been floated on the canal for 20 miles, for about 50 dollars. It was drawn by four horses at the rate of two miles an hour. The conveyance of this timber by land would have cost at least 1600 dollars. The price of wheat at Albany, is now about (P. 23) 87 cents a bushel, and the land transportation, at any considerable distance, costs at least 44 cents. A bushel of wheat can be conveyed on the canal, when finished, from Seneca river to Albany for six cents.

Gypsum is found all over the west; you can now buy it at Utica for $1.50 to $2 a ton. The great country lying on he Hudson can be supplied with this mineral for four or five dollars a ton. Salt will also be sold at Albany for 2s. 6d. or 3s. a bushel.

I enclose you a marine, or canal list, cut from a Utica paper. The activity of business which this communication has already created is perfectly surprising.

From the Utica Patriot.


May 22, 1820, arrived, boat Montezuma, with passengers, Engineer, Experiment, Western Trader, and a Cayuga boat, with flour.

Departed, Montezuma, passengers, and a Geneva boat with goods.

23. Arrived, Traveller, and Experiment.

Departed, boats Engineer, Newell, and Experiment.

24. Departed, boats Western Trader, and Experiment.

Arrived, Lady of the Lake, with stone, and John Van Ness Yates, with 250 barrels of flour from Seneca Lake. P. 24) 25, Arrived, Experiment, passengers, Lady of the Lake, stone, Anne Maria, with salt, from Salina.

Departed, Experiment, Anne Maria.

26. Arrived, boat Montezuma, with passengers, his excellency the Governor, and Gen. Van Rensselaer.

27. Arrived, boats Traveller, Clinton and the Western Trader.

28. Arrived Engineer.

Departed, boat Montezuma, with passengers, commencing her regular trips.

29. Departed, the Experiment, passengers, for Montezuma.

30. Lady of the Lake, one scow, with stone.

31. Arrived, two Cayuga boats with flour.

Departed, Engineer, passengers.

June 1. Two boats from the Seneca Lake, do.

2. The Canastota and John Van Ness Yates, do.

Arrived, Montezuma, with passengers.

3. Arrived, one boat from Cayuga Lake, with pork.

Departed, one boat for Geneva, and the passage boat Experiment.

5. Departed, the Montezuma, for Seneca river, with passengers.

At Montezuma, I was regaled with most excellent fish of the esox genus; and at Syracuse and Rome, on my way up, I had fine salmon. I shall on a future occasion, speak of the fishes of the west: The fish markets of the cities on the Hudson will be greatly improved by the canal. new species will be ground down in ice in a (P. 25) perfect state of preservation, and the epicures of the south will be treated with new and untried dishes of the highest flavor.

The west is the favorite region of the peach and the plum. And these and other kinds of fruits of the very best quality will be conveyed on the canal. I have seen in various places, a plant of fine appearance, which I am told produces excellent fruit of the size and color of a small orange. It is, if I mistake not, the podophyllum peltatum and is commonly called mandrake, or May apple. This country also contains different species of wild plums of fine quality. The opening of a market for grain will prevent its conversion into ardent spirits - the curse of morals, and the bane of domestic felicity. Whiskey now sells for eighteen cents a gallon. What a temptation to inebriety! a man may now keep constantly drunk, for three or four shillings a week. Nothing but a heavy excise can banish the use of this deleterious poison.

Cattle which are fattened for the market can be transported on the canal with less expense and with more celerity, (and without any diminution of flesh) than by driving.

In one word, new uses and striking advantages will daily present themselves to observation from this great operation. It alleged that the canal (P. 26) will make a good ice road in winter, but I have no faith in this opinion. The use of it for such purpose will be but short. It will be in use for vessels about ten months in a year; and what is not a little extraordinary, it freezes later, and thaws sooner, than natural waters. The philosophy of this fact I will endeavor to develop on some future occasion, but such you may rely on it is the case. When the Onondaga Lake, which lies below the canal, was closed up with ice last spring, the latter was open and navigable. By the continual passage of boats in winter, the canal can be prevented from freezing; and when frozen, a vessel may open its way by placing stampers for breaking ice at its head, as I have seen in the Forth ad Clyde canal, where they are worked by a steam engine that propels a barge.



My Dear Sir,

Before leaving London a bought "An account of the Great Western Canal of New York, with an illustrative map," which was reprinted at that great literary mart, and when I arrived here, the great outlines of the country and of the canal (P. 27) were familiar to my mind. Actual inspection has exceeded the most sanguine anticipation. Sometimes I think that I am in the region of enchantment, and that the magical operations of eastern fiction are acted over again in this country. Two canals of 124 miles, uniting to a certain extent the great fresh water seas of the interior, with the ocean; and all this done without noise, and as it were without effort, in less than two years and a half, must shut the mouth of scepticism, and excite universal astonishment. The more I examine into this subject, the more I examine into this subject, the more important consequences do I observe. The men who are the premum mobile of this scheme, appear to understand the genuine sources of national wealth, and the orthodox principles of political economy. Internal trade is the great substratum of riches. It excites all kinds of industry, sharpens the faculties, and multiplies the exertions of man; and inland navigation is the lever of Archimedes, which will set in motion this world of occupation and exertion.

Both sides of the canal are in fence. This is necessary in order to protect the bank from cattle, and the farms from depredations. I was shewn at Whitesborough, a fence, the materials of which were conveyed from Canasaraga last fall, on the canal. Twenty-two hundred cedar rails were transported with one horse, two men and a boy, (P. 28), and it took in going and returning, three days, at $3 per day; in the aggregate, $9; while by land it would have employed 40 wagons two days, which at $2 per day, would have cost $160.

I am of opinion that the salt of Salina can be sold at Albany, when the canal is finished, for 31 cents a bushel, and the expense will not exceed six cents. The principal cost now is the barrel, but when conveyed in bulk, this of course will be done away. I saw a salt boat building near Syracuse, which was intended to convey 1600 bushels in bulk.

In like manner gypsum can be got at Utica for $2 a ton, and delivered at Albany for $1 1/2 or $2 more. This source of fertilization will be diffused through this channel over the whole state. I have much to say on this subject, and am now considering whether it will be best to prepare it by calcination or grinding before transportation, or transport the raw material. Suppose that 100,000 farmers should each save twenty dollars a year in gypsum, and ten dollars in salt, by means of the canal, here would be an annual saving of three million dollars, a sum more than sufficient in two years to make the whole canal. And this is a very moderate calculation. Salt is essential to the health of cattle, and the consumption of this (P. 29 article for that purpose, for the table, and for preserving fish and meats, is immense.

Gypsum rises every year in public estimation, and I am told that during the late war, the farmers of Saratoga and Dutchess counties would go to the gypsum beds of Madison and Onondaga counties for a supply, a distance of 150 or 200 miles. To shut out the foreign supply of gypsum and salt, would be a great saving to the public in every sense of the word: and this will be most effectually accomplished.

A horse can easily draw 25 tons on a canal. This would take at least 20 teams for land transportation. The conveyance of commodities by water will supersede the use of an animal for draught, which is the most voracious and wasteful of the graminivorous class of brutes. Two beneficial consequences will result, and in a most extensive manner. 1st. The diminished demand of horses for domestic accommodation, will enable exportation to foreign markets; and 2d. Their place will be supplied by neat cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry, which will be increased in proportion to the augmented stores of grain and grass for their benefit. It has long been anxiously desired by good agriculturalists to substitute the ox for the horse in farming, and though this has partially succeeded in the eastern states, yet the [P. 30] horse is almost exclusively used for the conveyance of commodities a distance.

Every diminution of expense in transportation, will add so much to the profits of the farmer and manufacturer. Hence manufacturers will be enabled to sell their fabrics at a low price, and to this canal I look for resurrection and form establishment of the manufacturing of the State.

[Page 31]


Geneva, June, 1820.

My Dear Sir,

Just before you arrive at Syracuse, 61 miles from Utica, you meet with the two first locks on the canal. Here are three which let you down into (P. 32) the Salina Plain. These locks are made of lime and sand stone. Both abound with marine exuviae and organic remains. I never saw more substantial erections. The water cement made use of is derived from a mixture of sand and a meager lim stone found all over this country, and is said to be superior to any hydraulic mortar ever used. I had at Utica an account of this discovery from a Dr. Bartow, one of the agents of the Canal Board, a gentleman, who possesses a great fund of information, which he was by no mean parsimonious in imparting. I spent thee hours very pleasantly with the Doctor at the great Utica Hotel. He informs me that on a chemical analysis, it is proved that the component parts are not the same with the Septarium. Lias or Aberthlaw lime of Great Britain - that he and Mr. White, on of the Canal engineers, had originated and matured the discovery and that it had been successfully tried in cisterns as well as locks, and found to unite stones as firmly and solidly as if they had been originally joined by the hand of nature.

The Doctor states the constituents to be as follows: to wit.v35 parts carbonic acid, 25 lime, 15 silex, 16 alumine, (. 33) 2 water, 1 oxide of iron.

After the process of calcination, it is to be ground, and then mixed with an equal weight of clean sand, which will be twice as bulky as the lime, and it must be mixed with clear water, as little as possible.

I am told that a great limestone ridge runs through the whole of this country, east and west - that north of it a ledge of gypsum commences; also a range of salines - and that on the borders of the gypsum and salt regions, there is a tier of limestone alternating with sandstone, and full of organic remains; adjacent to which the water lime is found - and that this valuable fossil is in great abundance over a line of country of at least 100 miles extent. The most eastern salt spring as yet discovered is about 25 miles west of Utica; at the same distance gypsum commences. This affinity between salt and gypsum exists all over the world. I find the geology of this country most extraordiniry; it is sui generis.

[P. 124]


Montezuma, July, 1820.

My Dear Sir,

I consider navigation on a canal, not only the least expensive, but the most secure mode of travelling that can be adopted. Here is no bursting of boilers nor any other accident to which steam-boats are exposed. You can neither be burnt nor drowned, and your horses cannot run away with your carriage and dash it to atoms; but then you must be on the constant look out to avoid a fracture of the head from the low and ill constructed bridges: why, in this country of wood, stone should be used for erecting bridges; why they should be made so low as just to avoid the boat; why they should contain abutments jutting out into the canal, and for ever striking the boat; and why the stones should be piled upon each other without mortar, are questions which I must refer to the decision of the Canal Board and their engineers.

If the bridges had been sufficiently elevated, then the boat could have been drawn from a mast instead of the side, as is practiced in Flanders, and an unceasing and pernicious wearing of of the banks by the drag rope (P. 125) would have been prevented. I know of no other accidents that can happen, except from the falling of trees across the boat, or from the carelessness of the men who have the management of the locks.

I saw at Jordan, which is 80 miles from Utica, two loaded boat, which had left Schenectady seven days before. This would average 25 miles a day, and part of the way is on a difficult ascending navigation up the Mohawk. Again; a vessel of 50 tons went from Utica to Trumansburgh on the Cayuga Lake, 130 miles in three days, loaded with merchandise, and without change of horses. A loaded boat can go on this canal without difficulty at the rate of 40 miles a day.

I have just learned that the state is about to purchase the rights of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company. This is a very just and proper measure. The works of the Company are out of order, and the toll is exorbitant. Every bushel of wheat has to pay a duty of 59 cents before it reaches Schenectady.

The canal of this Company at Rome is one mile and three quarters long, thirty-two feet wide at the top, and from two and a half to three feet deep. It has two locks 73 feet long, and 12 feet wide. The lift of the one on the Mohawk is ten feet, and on Wood Creek eight. This work was made (P. 126) under the direction of Mr. Weston, an English engineer, who had, besides his expenses, a salary of a thousand guineas a year. The superintendent of the laborers had a salary of 2,500 dollars; and this short canal took two years to make.

What a difference in management; proceeding at the same rate, it would take two centuries to complete the Erie Canal. The water cement was imported. The lock at the German Flats was made of terras, and at Little Falls of Welsh lime. The former has answered best.

The tolls of this Company are so oppressive, that boats frequently unload and pass through the locks empty and resume their load afterwards. It is indeed well that the state has purchased it. I am persuaded that the markets of New York will now be supplied with western, instead of southern flour, and that the displacement of the latter from the market will greatly affect the agriculture of the south.

In looking at the great results which must arise from it - it is impossible to keep out of view some of the revolutions which will take place in the internal trade of the country. There is a certain class scattered all over, who unite in one profession, the calling of iron mongers, grocers, druggists, and shop keepers, and who are continually offering temptations to purchasers. The facility [P. 127] of conveyance by the canal, will induce people to resort to villages for supplies. The thrifty housewife will take her cheese and her butter to market, and return with her sugar and tea.

A considerable deal of trade will be carried on by exchange, and more scope and greater encouragement will be afforded for the operations of industry and economy. A vast capital will be employed to more advantage. A canal boat of 40 tons can be purchased for 400 dollars, which, with two horses, will be cheaper than a heavy wagon of six horses, and will convey ten times as much. The comparative cheapness of canal barges to river sloops as well as wagons, will supersede the necessity of very large investments of capital.

With all these and other important advantages staring the community in the face, it is not extraordinary, that there should be an organized opposition against the canal that wretches should be encouraged to instill poison into the public mind, and o destroy its embankments? By the bye, can you tell me why accidents in the bursting of embankments and mill-dam occur more frequently in the night time than in the day?

[P. 128] Are they owing to a greater pressure of the atmosphere on the water?

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Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of the State of New York