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Erie Water West

A History of the Erie Canal, 1792-1854

Ronald E. Shaw

Publication Year: 2013

The construction of the Erie Canal may truly be described as a major event in the growth of the young United States. At a time when the internal links among the states were scanty, the canal's planners boldly projected a system of transportation that would strike from the eastern seaboard, penetrate the frontier, and forge a bond between the East and the growing settlements of the West. In this comprehensive history, Ronald E. Shaw portrays the development of the canal as viewed by its contemporaries, who rightly saw it as an engineering marvel and an achievement of great economic and social significance not only for New York but also for the nation.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

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pp. vii-ix

THE ERIE CANAL has long been celebrated in song, folklore, and fiction. Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century its history was told in a comprehensive engineering study. More recently it has attracted attention for its contribution to American...


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pp. xi-xii

I. The Prophecy

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pp. 1-80

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1. Up the Mohawk to the West

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pp. 3-21

THE ERIE CANAL was the work of that remarkable generation in America who made the period between 1815 and 1860 an age of great national expansion. New York expansionists saw in the Mohawk gap in the Appalachian chain an opportunity to bring the Great Lakes heartland...

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2. Jesse Hawley's "Genesee Canal"

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pp. 22-37

PERHAPS the first conception of an interior route for a canal to Lake Erie, following the vague reference by Cadwallader Colden, was expressed in 1800 by the statesman- traveler, Gouverneur Morris. Recently returned from his post as minister to France and a speculator in "Genesee Lands," the exotic...

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3. Survey and Report

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pp. 38-55

WHILE IT appeared unlikely that the Forman resolution and the surveys of 1808 would yield tangible federal aid, a fresh boost to the prospects for a canal to Lake Erie came in March of 1810 as the promoters of the failing Western Inland Lock Navigation Company revived their efforts...

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4. From Prophecy into Law

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pp. 56-80

THE SURGE of national expansion which followed the successful termination of the war added to older pressures in New York for the inauguration of the canal. The war itself had turned on the control of the very waterways which the New York canal system would unite. Military embarrassments...

II. The Grand Canal

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pp. 81-194

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5. Forty Feet Wide and Four Feet Deep

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pp. 83-100

THE ERIE CANAL was dug with an eye to drama. As soon as construction of the middle section was authorized, preparations were begun all along the line from Utica on the Mohawk to the Seneca River. On July 4, three days after Clinton had taken the oath...

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6. The Politics of Construction

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pp. 101-122

IN THE popular mind, the Erie Canal was known more commonly as the "Grand Canal," the "Great Western Canal," or the "Big Ditch." And, as a matter of fact, legislative authorization for construction west of the Seneca was not yet given. The middle section had put the plans of the...

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7. The Canal Comes West

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pp. 123-139

WESTWARD from the long Rome summit level, the completed line of the middle section was lowered near Syracuse to the lake country. There it passed over a lower summit from Nine-Mile Creek to the Skaneateles Outlet on its way to the Seneca River. The numerous streams abounding...

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8. Black Rock or Buffalo

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pp. 140-163

BLACK ROCK and Buffalo, scarcely separable today, were between 1817 and 1825 keen commercial rivals for the honor and prosperity sure to fall to the western terminus of the Erie Canal. Important in the rivalry were the twin considerations of a safe and adequate harbor and a sufficient...

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9. The Politics of Removal

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pp. 164-180

INCEDO SUPER IGNIS was as fitting to the diary of De Witt Clinton as to the famous diary of John Quincy Adams in the year 1824.1 Just as the canal reached its final stages of completion, the political opponents of Clinton struck once more at its Clintonian sponsorship...

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10. The Wedding of the Waters

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pp. 181-194

ALTHOUGH the canal was not completed until the latter part of October in 1825, celebration of the event began almost with the beginning of navigation in the spring. In June, Lafayette brought his military glory to the canal. The high-spirited Revolutionary War hero had returned from...

III. On Erie Water

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pp. 195-300

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11. Packets, Freighters, and Canallers

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pp. 197-218

THE ERIE CANAL brought an altogether new and stimulating experience in effortless, quiet mobility to the first canal generation in New York. Packet, line boat, freighter, scow, lock, and basin became new subjects for thought and conversation as canal travel became...

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12. Pure and Wholesome Water

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pp. 219-235

CANAL TOWNS in western New York belonged to a region so remarkable for its religious enthusiasms and moral crusades that it has been called the "Burnedover District." The leading student of this phenomenon, Whitney R. Cross, finds the Erie Canal itself a primary...

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13. The State Runs a Canal

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pp. 236-259

THE OPERATION of this new water highway became a complex process. Down canal traffic was given right of way over boats going west. When one boat passed another, the team of the first boat was checked, and its long towrope fell slack in the water and across the...

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14. The Trade of the "Teeming West"

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pp. 260-278

THE PRIMARY FUNCTION of the Erie Canal was carrying freight rather than passengers, and the tonnage carried on Erie water-first drawn from the trade of New York state and then increasingly from the greater West -- increased each year by geometric bounds...

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15. "Commerce Is King"

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pp. 279-300

FOR ALL the phenomenal changes produced by the trade of the Erie Canal in western New York, the press of western goods was greatest as traffic approached the eastern terminus at the Hudson. Congestion here made the eastern section of the canal the first to be enlarged and fitted with double...

IV. Politics and Nationalism

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pp. 301-315

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16. The "Forty Million Debt," 1835-1841

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pp. 303-329

THE COMPLETION of the Erie Canal in 1825 by no means ended the political struggles over the fortunes of this successful waterway. For a period far beyond the scope of this volume, rival attitudes toward internal improvements and conflicts over canal patronage...

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17. The Democratic Stop Policy, 1842-1846

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pp. 330-360

THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION of 1842 produced a radical change in the fortunes of the Erie Canal. The New York lawmakers enacted a stop law on state indebtedness which was written into the constitution in 1846 and remained a bitterly contested issue until it was...

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18. The Canal Goes On, 1847-1854

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pp. 361-396

EVEN BEFORE the victorious Whigs took control of the state, the Whig press prepared the way for a new policy toward internal improvements. The national conflict over the Wilmot Proviso, which would prohibit slavery in territory which might be acquired in the war...

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19. A Canal for the Nation

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pp. 397-418

FROM THE perspective of today, perhaps the most striking element in the history of the Erie Canal was its nationalism. Less strident than the nationalism of more recent times, that of the Erie Canal belonged to an era when nationalism was directed...

Essay on Bibliography

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pp. 419-432


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pp. 446-453


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pp. 433-449

E-ISBN-13: 9780813143477
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813117119

Page Count: 472
Publication Year: 2013