Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Artificial River Ch 5-6 - by M. E.

In chapters five and six of the Artificial River by Carol Sheriff the residents near the canal have had enough of the canal board ignoring their wants and needs. The people are tired of waiting for their compensation of damaged property due to the canal so they seek individual commercial opportunities to make their own living. They have already spent way too much time and energy trying to persuade the canal board to make changes. The men are not the only ones who seek commerce, but their wives as well. The canal diggers wives and children have began to go boat to boat selling their baked goods and sell fruits as well. In 1825, the Grand Celebration - celebratory flotilla docks in 30 towns and on the fourth day in Rome its residents stage a mock funeral. This is to symbolize the end of their old 2 mile canal that they loved. Fun fact: The canal produced economic rivals to its east and west. At the time Danube too wanted access to the canal. Many outskirt towns did not yet have a main route that would link them to the canal. These requests were the main argument and petitions the board received regularly. With so much construction debt water too was at an all time debt and the residents still faced rationing their water from their mills. There were very few ways to earn money at the time that is if you let your morals limit you. A lot of the residents accused each other for trying to profit off of their own expenses. With the canal not being open people cannot transport their goods and this affected farmers the most. Their temporary solution was to use private railroad. When private railroads became the popular method for transport this meant that the canal would lose its revenue and this caused a financial struggle from 1830-1840. Businessmen were very particular with how they worded their petitions to the canal board. They believed that reducing tolls would help ‘the least fortunate people”, and that if the board made the choice to put the canal in a route they favored that the state would increase traffic of goods subject to the toll connection. Petitioners urged the canal to lower the toll on firewood because winters were very heavy and it would be beneficial for the good of the people. Farmers feared that businessmen and the state would unite because this turn of events would not favor them much.

Canal workers did not only include men, but male children as well ranging from ages 6,7,and 12. Children made up more than a quarter of the workforce. Women disguised themselves as young boys so that they can be hired to work on the boats too. Some tasks the children took on working on the boats included: Handling the horses to pull boats, driving, and scrubbing decks. In the 1840s nearly 30 thousand men, women, and children contributed their hard works and efforts to support the canal day and night. State workers tracked the weight of the boats before and after arriving to tolls. They were to need official document proving what the weight was and the type of product it had aboard. Some workers earned their wages through the state and others earned it through private employers, at times some kids were taken advantage of and not given fair wages. Working on the canal was not what anyone would desire for a child. Children working on boats were often exposed to a lot of profanity and alcohol. Older men that worked on the canal were arrested on the daily for being intoxicated, violent and soliciting sex. Middle class viewed the canal workers as a threat they didn't see them in a very humane way and thought less of them because they did not study. They encouraged their kids to fear being like them. The American Bethel Society was born during the second Great Awakening. The society fought for the right to give the canal workers the day off on Sunday aka Sabbath the Lords’ Day to take advantage of learning the Christian word. Paid theologians traveled the canal boat to boat preaching to canal workers and provided their services in 5 different languages. One of their goals was to convert these sinners to Christians.Sometimes people would camp out for days to listen to these preachers. Businessmen believed that if they support the Bethel Reform that their pocketbooks would go up. When the canal closed for winter it usually closed for 4-5 months meaning men women and children had no job nor a place to stay. If they had no shelter some would purposefully commit crimes that would get them arrested so that they can have a warm place to stay and eat in. Some women went to poor houses and other seeked refuge in churches.

The purpose of Sheriffs choosing to inform so much about the duties on the boat was to shift focus on who was performing these duties and under what circumstances. We did not hear much dialogue from the canal workers. To be exact, the children workers had no voice we simply were told about their experiences from Sheriff's perspective.

In class we studied a painting called Lackawanna Valley by George Innes 1855. Our first observation was a main railroad with a train not yet finished being built. You see a lot of tree stumps meaning there is more progress in building the rest of the trains routes. We noticed a roundhouse where the train was leaving and learned that that's where the train switches tracks. You can tell there's much more to be done and some establishments have already been set up near exists. Having your establishment near the canals exits meant more revenue.

A question im still left wondering is why werent store workers viewed as businessmen? Did any of the children canal workers ever die due to hard labor? Were children canal workers able to petition their voice to the canal board and what would their petitions possibly conclude? These were some of the unanswered questions my peers and I as well asked.