December 16, 2000
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Conspiracy theories are nothing new, of course. Back on March 22, 1817, the editor of the Kingston, Ontario, Gazette got a letter containing a real beaut. The writer wanted to pass word on to Mother England, warning of a plot by the American government to cut a canal connecting Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. He warned that the effect would be to, "wear down to the bottom of the channel above Fort Erie, and turn all the waters of the upper Lakes into the atlantic ocean, by the Susquehannah, Delaware or Hudson's Rivers, and leave us all dry." For half the projected cost of that dastardly plot, the writer offered to connect Lake Huron and Lake Ontario by canal, bypassing Lake Erie, which would then drain and turn to fertile Canadian farmland. Construction apparently never did get under way on that one. However, less than four months later, on July 4th, New York State, not the federal government (which had refused to fund the project) began construction on the Erie Canal at Rome, New York.

This wasn't the only networking project in the state. It was also in 1817 that the Champlain Canal was completed, connecting the Hudson with Lake Champlain. Lake Ontario got its first wood-powered traffic as the steamboat Ontario began running out of Sackets Harbor and the Canadians followed later in the season with the Frontenac. Nautical entrepreneurs down in Manhattan had even more grandiose plans. They put together a fleet of four vessels, all from 400 to 500 tons, and began the first regularly scheduled voyages to Europe. The first day of every month one of the vessels would depart out of New York's harbor and head for Liverpool, England. Taking the firm's name from the design of their ships' signal flags, they were incorporated as the Black Ball Line. Land routes were also being devised. A stage and postal route was established between Canandaigua and Lewiston via Rochester, the coaches traveling part way over Buffalo Road, recently completed out of Rochester as far as Batavia. Out on Long Island an old east-west coach road was improved to create the first Jericho Turnpike, with toll booths every five miles. If you took it westward and crossed the East River by ferry, you'd find lots new going on in Manhattan. Something called a soup kitchen on Franklin Street, the Deaf and Dumb Asylum uptown at 50th and Madison, perhaps even a performance by the first sword-swallower in the U. S. If it was June you might catch a glimpse of President Monroe as he visited the city. One visitor the month before, Englishman John Palmer was quite impressed with the city, although he did comment on "the custom of smoking segars in the streets (even followed by some of the children)."

And finally, if you were interested in the inner workings of the law, back in these days before Court TV and Judge Judy, you might have wanted to sit in on the trial of freed slave James Williams. Williams was the plaintiff, not the defendant; this trial wasn't about his freedom. His former master, Ichabod Brush of Huntington, Long Island, had bequeathed him his liberty back in 1809; $200 as well. The executors claimed Williams was a drunk and unable to manage his own affairs. They refused to pay the $200. Williams eventually moved to the city, but he didn't forget his legacy. This year, now 26, he hired a lawyer and sued. Not only did he get the $200. The court also awarded him $103.16 in interest.

More 1817 New York next time. For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor

 

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URL OF THE WEEK
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Toss your Dramamine in your Vuiton carry-on (so you won't toss something else later - also known as catapulting your macaroons), check out of the wharfside five-star hotel and head down to the sea. Time for a cruise, courtesy of The Ships List.

It's stated purpose is "to assist those seeking information on the vessels which brought their ancestors to their new home, be that the United States, Canada, Australia, or another part of the world."

In the site's hold you'll find a shipload of links, articles and databases, under such headings as: Canadian-Australian Royal Mail Line; Medway 1869 Passenger List London to Quebec; Ellis Island, Fire and Arrivals 1897; Events of 1862 from the Illustrated London News and Report of the Kingston, Ontario Agent; and Sicilians to New Orleans, 1898. There's links and tips for shipping lines, photographs, passenger lists and immigration reports, and accounts of individual voyages. True ship nuts will want to check out sections on the Cost of Fares; Food Stuffs For A Voyage In 1817; Journal of 1729 Voyage to America; the Panama Route In 1849, and US War Brides. All this is just a beginning - Bon Voyage !

 

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© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte