September 1, 2001
Buffalo judge James Wilkeson, as much as anyone, can be considered the reason why we don't sing Shuffle Off to Black Rock. Before we leave 1822 New York for other climes and times we should pay a second visit to the judge. We first met him in 1820, when he was instrumental in having a pier built at Buffalo that resisted two storm-tossed vessels that slammed into it. But Judge Wilkeson, good booster that he was, wanted more than just a pier for his adopted town. He wanted a canal.
Born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1781, he spent his first 25 years working on a farm. But a vast body of water far to the northwest captured his imagination. Around the year 1806 he resettled on Lake Erie and began building boats, successfully engaging in trade. During the war of 1812 his vessels transported the troops of William Henry Harrison when the general invaded Canada. As the war ran down he settled in Buffalo, concentrating on his mercantile efforts. A man with many irons in the fire! But it was his efforts to bring the Erie Canal to Buffalo that really set him apart. Once it was determined the final route would push west to connect up with the Niagara River or Lake Erie (advisers to gubernatorial candidate Daniel Tompkins advised him to end it at Tonawanda), Wilkeson stepped up the pace of harbor improvements. Then in November of last year the early western Lakes steamboat _Walk-in-the-Water_, ran aground after setting out from Buffalo then quickly returning in the teeth of a lake storm that had blown up out of the west. Soon afterwards a representative from the company that built the steamboat came out to assess the damage. He made some rash remarks about the Buffalo harbor within earshot of the judge; even used the "h" word. "Humbug" that is, not the one you're thinking of. He'd pushed the right button. The company wanted to build the _Superior_, a replacement boat and Judge Wilkeson told him he could get the grounded boat out of the company's way by May 1, 1822, a little less than seven months away. But Buffalo would have to cough up $150 for every day past that date the boat was trapped.
Not to keep you in suspense, the judge put crews on the job, paid overtime and got the vessel refloated and back over the sand bar on April 13th. No mention of a rebate from the company for the extra 17 days, of course. But Wilkeson had built his harbor and made it work.
In later years he would go on to become mayor of Buffalo, state senator, builder of the first iron-foundry in Buffalo, and president of the American Colonization Society, promoting commercial relations between Baltimore and Philadelphia and the new African nation of Liberia. The _Walk-in-the-Water_ had ended its brief career. But one of the engine cylinders would end up in Buffalo's Shepherd & Company steam-engine works, still operating in 1865. Black Rock hadn't given up yet. But, despite a state grant of $12,000 this year for harbor improvements of its own, and a later $80,000 grant, her efforts were doomed. In the winter of 1824-1825 wind and ice did severe damage to the improvements. And, it was pointed out, rapids on the Niagara would require ox teams to pull boats up the river. And Buffalo was much higher above sea level and could more easily keep the canal filled from the waters of the lake. In 1853 Buffalo annexed Black Rock.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
URL OF THE WEEK
The almanac put out by Rochester printer Everard Peck was only
one of hundreds published in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries
in the U. S. Today the Old
Farmer's Almanac is still going strong, even turning digital
as I've mentioned before
( http://www.almanac.com ). The phenomenon was not limited to New England and New York State. For a look at southern versions, reference the site for Sandlapper, The Magazine of South Carolina, at http://www.sandlapper.org/jones1.htm . You'll find an article by Dr. Lewis P. Jones entitled _Almanacs: Perennial Best-Sellers_. Dr. Jones points out that only the Bible consistently outsells almanacs (and you get a lot of repeat business every year). Read about South Carolina's vrsion of Everard Peck - A. E. Miller, "the dean of Charleston printers"; an almanac tailored to early 1860s Confederate readers; and the winnowing of the field to half a dozen or so "universal" almanacs put out by conglomerate publishing empires and available in any bookstore or newsstand. They're not as apt to carry ads for patent medicines and you'll still have to check your local newspaper's astrology column or your psychic hotlineto find out what life holds in store.
The Game's Afoot ! !
© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte