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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Case Studies in American Migration: Part Five: The Erie Canal

By unknown author, uploaded to english wikipedia by en:User:Mwanner - en:Image:Erie_Canal_Map_1853.jpg, original source, Public Domain,
It is impossible to underestimate the impact of the Erie canal system of the United States on migration to the Midwest and along the Great Lakes. The Erie Canal broke ground in Rome, New York on July 4, 1817. Ultimately, the Canal extended from Albany, New York on the east to Buffalo on the west. Of course, once the passengers were on the shore of Lake Erie, they had access to other Lakes. The Erie Canal was 363 miles long, 40 feet wide and four feet deep. Locks raised the barges 571 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The Canal cost about $7 million to build but paid for itself in about ten years. See "Building the Erie Canal."

The main source of information about the Erie Canal can be found on the website. While researching this post, we found information about the Erie Canal in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Here are some of the exhibits and artifacts in the Museum.

Commemorative medal from about 1825 and a box made from wood from the first Canal boat called "The Seneca Chief." 
Commemorative plates from 1824-25 for the completion of the Erie Canal
The map at the beginning of this post shows the canal network that evolved over time. Here is a quote about the people who worked on or with the Canal from the New York State Canal Corporation.
At one time, more than 50,000 people depended on the Erie Canal for their livelihood.  From its inception, the Erie Canal helped form a whole new culture revolving around canal life. For many, canal boats became floating houses, traveling from town to town. The father would serve as captain, while the mother cooked for the family and crew and the children, if old enough, would serve as "hoggees" and would walk alongside the mules to lead them along at a steady pace.
That article also has a short history of the Erie Canal.

Tens of thousands of people took advantage of the convenience of the Canal and there was a population explosion in Western New York and beyond. For example, in 1825 more than 40,000 people traveled on the Canal. I can trace some of the members of my own family in their travels from New York to Ohio to settle. As a result of the construction of the Canal, many people were able to reach current day Michigan and other previously remote and difficult to access locations. The Erie Canal had a tremendous influence on the amount of boat traffic on the Great Lakes. By the mid-1800s the entire area was growing rapidly and hundreds of thousands of people had begun settlement of the areas accessible by boat from Buffalo and later Detroit. See "History of the Great Lakes."

Here is are links to the earlier case studies posts.

Case #1:
Case #2:
Case #3:
Case #4:

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