In chapters three and four of the Artificial River by Carol Sheriff, the Erie Canal is already up and running. The main purpose of the canal is to make traveling easier as well as faster. This wasn’t the only purpose for the canal; The canal served as a transporter for cargo and trade goods. This was a very huge advantage for farmers knowing that their food would get delivered faster with less chances of it having gone bad or being damaged. The types of travelers that took travel on the canal were diverse such as, settlers, tourists, emigrants and ministers. Mixed genders and age groups of men, women, and children as well. Runaway slaves used canal boats as their opportunity of salvation in search of a new life. After ten years of the Hudson and the Canal being open for the public it was said if someone had not traveled through the tranquil waters was considered a “home body”. Promises of opportunities called for settlers to move west in hopes of a better life that would link them to markets through the canal despite the loneliness and isolation. Although settlers had neighbors not far from them and family visiting they still felt that they lived amongst strangers. It wasn't common but it became popular when farmers began to sell pork and flour for these goods were considered luxuries. Mary Ann Archbald was one of the residents that took comfort with these luxuries brought from the east such as seafood. She adopted a seafood diet after becoming ill. Sometimes settlers could not afford their land in cash so their proprietors would accept their grain, pork, butter and ashes as a form of payment.
The canal did have its shortcomings.
Although some passengers fares included their travel on a packet boat to
include sleeping on a bed some ended up sleeping on the floor. Those
who did have a bed slept uncomfortably due to overcrowding. Bridges were
another upsetting downfall to the canals progression. Many deaths were
caused by bridges because they were too low and passengers were crushed
brutally others who knew or were warned about the bridges to come during
the travel knew to hit the deck. Delays due to canal banks bursting or
malfunctioning locks made passengers and settlers to grow impatient.
When the weather became too cold and ice froze the canal it was shut
down for the time being. They had already grew accustomed to fast
service for their goods or mail. New York passed a compensation law for
people who lost their land to contribute to the canal or having their
land destroyed because of the canal. These New Yorkers were promised to
be compensated and never were that resulted in petitions and complaints
to the Canal Board. This outcome put the Erie Canal in a debt setback
because no near states or the federal government wanted to give funds.
The canal would not be repaired until funds were raised and to do so
they had to tax the community. This outraged the community and even
gangs went around destroying property as well as stealing. The
government limited water. Water shortage meant crops would not be
properly attended. The canal board encouraged their residents to
continue their lifestyles and earn a living by opening up more
establishments such as taverns. Now alcohol and being drunk was seen as
immoral so they opposed.
Sheriff’s style of writing is very
informative, but her events are not exactly in chronological order. The
purpose of these chapters are to inform the reader of the pros and cons
that the canal brought amongst travelers. It also provided information
on how passengers benefited from the canal. Sheriff uses quotes from
people she used as prime examples that lived through the era of the
canal while it began booming. These anecdotes made the text even more
credible. It gave the excerpt more imagery.
In class we discussed details from
the book that most people might have not understood or not even noticed.
We got a clearer understanding on how the packet boats were used. The
class was in shock to learn of many more deaths that Mrs. Arrowsmith informed us about that the book did not cover. She gave us a vivid
picture to paint in our heads of imagining how it would feel to be on a
packed boat and see another passenger tragically die because they were
not alerted to duck from the bridge. On the projector we observed a
picture of a big boat flowing through the canal just as it's passing a
bridge; Its passengers did not at all look over crowded or uneasy as
they passed under because the bridge looked higher. Another excerpt we
went over in class was a print out on Englishman Thomas Woodcock in his
travels from to Niagara on the Erie Canal. He wrote in first person
point of view of his experiences as to what he saw. He touched topics on
the cost of living and how much land or buildings cost per acre. In a
way Woodcock has a bougie personality. He talks down on other people's
lifestyles and how they are managing as if hes the best to come around.
Did women have the right to own any
land? Were there any women on the Canal Board? I don't think women were
yet given many rights. Throughout the book Sheriff didn't really mention
a lot of women in political issues. I still wonder about the uprisings
that went happened throughout the community as if there were boycotting
or many more tragedies. I assume a lot of people had outbreaks and just
lost it and went crazy.