What is the Batteau "Discovery"?
This boat was built by the New York State Museum in 1991. During 1992, 1993 and 1994 it was the centerpiece for a series of living history programs commemorating the Bicentennial of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company - New York's first canal company [1792-1820]
The Seal of the W.I.L.N.C. - 1792
Shows a batteau crossing a canal aqueduct.
Click on image to enlarge
"Batteau" is a French term for "boat". It came to signify, 200 years ago, any flat-bottomed, shallow-draft vessel that was pointed at both ends. This vessel was the mainstay of inland shipping, particularly for the military, until the end of the 18th century.
Batteaux (the plural) came in different sizes, known generally as 3-handed,4-handed or 5-handed according to the crew needed to propel them. There were undoubtedly many variations in design, but all were characterized by a flat bottom made up of pine boards laid lengthwise, with battens nailed across to hold the bottom together. Oak frames, usually made from natural crooks, fastened the bottom to the pine planks that formed the sides of the vessel.
These craft were propelled by poles and oars, with a small sail used when the wind permitted. The Mohawk River batteaux built in Schenectady were apparently smaller and lighter than most, because of the shallow and often constricted channel they had to navigate and the several portages around which they had to be carried on their way west.
For several years, from 1982 to 1992, the State Museum had been researching the contributions made by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company (1792-1820) to the opening of westward transportation in New York. This private company was chartered by the New York Legislature to find ways to improve the inland water route from Schenectady to the Great Lakes. Among the improvements made were the creation of several short canals, with dams and locks, that bypassed obstructions to navigation; thus issuing in an age of canal travel decades before the better known Erie Canal crossed the State from Albany to Buffalo.
The core of the Museum's research - known as "The Durham Project" - has been the discovery of archeological remnants of these historic engineering works, as well as intact cultural landscapes along the waterway route, and the development of a plan for their preservation. Public programs and publications, including several websites, have resulted from this research. In 1991, an educational program was designed to bring some of the research findings to public attention during the bicentennial years of the building of the works, which were the true beginnings of the "Canal Age" in New York.
In order to enhance public interpretation of this era of inland transport, a typical commercial batteau of the type built in the 1790s in Schenectady for the Mohawk/Oneida navigation was recreated. Using archeological remains of earlier military batteaux in the State Museum's collection, historical accounts and drawings, and general technical data on small boats of the period, a probable design was determined. Construction duplicated original materials and techniques where possible.
This vessel was meant to represent the "1 new three-handed batteau" purchased on August 20th of 1792 by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company from a boatyard in Schenectady for the survey of the Mohawk River, which was the first field operation of the newly formed company. The replica served as a vehicle for several bicentennial programs staged on the modern canal, including a reenactment in Schenectady of that 1792 Mohawk expedition. It was also incorporated into exhibits and programs at various regional museums during the bicentennial.
||30 feet 4 inches
|Length on Bottom (interior)
||25 feet 9 inches
|Maximum Width at the Gunwales
||7 feet 3 inches
|Maximum Width on Bottom (interior)
||4 feet 5 inches
|Interior Height Amidships
||2 feet 3 inches
|Estimated Carrying Capacity
Bottom and side planking is eastern white pine from Maine and Quebec. Interior frames are northern white oak from Maryland.
Stem and stern posts are cut from natural white oak crooks from Vermont. Mast is an unmodified white spruce sapling from Rensselaer County, New York. Oars and poles are white ash from the Finger Lakes region, New York.
In 1792, all these woods would have been available in proximity to the boatyard in Schenectady.
Navigate through this site to experience the voyages of "Discovery" from 1992 through 1994. You can select a particular program from the list below, or just keep clicking the NAVIGATION Forward icon at the bottom of each page to take the entire journey.
Ports of Call
Boat and Crew
- The Geography of the Program - 1992-1994
- See how the regions covered by the batteau compare with the waterways navigated 200 years ago.
- The Crew
- Meet the staff and volunteers who built and navigated the batteau.
- Winter, 1991: Building the Boat
- Get a glimpse of how a replica 200 year old boat was built at the State Museum.
- Summer, 1992: The Schenectady Exhibit
- The first stop was a summer-long exhibit at the Schenectady Urban Cultural Park Center.
- August 10, 1992: The Launch
- The batteau is trucked to the river at Rotterdam and launched for the first time.
- August 10, 1992: The Shake-Down Cruise
- The batteau is rigged and taken out on the river for the first test of boat and crew.
- August 22-23, 1992: The Schenectady Reenactment (The Encampment)
- Get a look inside the living history encampment along the waterfront on the 200th Anniversary of the 1792 launch.
- August 22-23, 1992: The Schenectady Reenactment (The Batteau)
- The first public operation of the batteau as part of a weekend program.
- August 22-23, 1992: The Schenectady Reenactment (The Navigation)
- The crew tries to navigate a narrow channel near Scotia, testing more realistic conditions.
- October 1-6, 1992: The Upriver Navigation
- The trip to Canajoharie as part of the Linked Schools cargo exchange program with Schenectady.
- October 1-6, 1992: The Encampment
- The weekend festival at Canajoharie combines living history encampments and batteau navigation.
- October 1-6, 1992: The Downriver Navigation
- The trip back to Schenectady as the cargo from Canajoharie is brought back to port.
- October 1-6, 1992: The Arrival at Schenctady
- Students from the Schenectady schools come to the old harbor to unload the cargo sent to them from upriver.
- May 8, 1993: The Waterford Canalfest
- The batteau with the historic canal tug URGER at the opening of the canal season.
- May 15-17, 1993: Utica Harbor
- Start of the navigation from Utica to Rome.
- May 15-17, 1993: Arrival at Rome Landing
- Arrival at the landing site in Rome and preparations for the overland portage to Wood Creek.
- May 15-17, 1993: The Portage (Part One)
- The batteau is taken out of the river and portaged on an ox-drawn carriage across the historic Oneida Carry.
- May 15-17, 1993: The Portage (Part Two)
- The batteau completes its portage to Erie Canal Village Museum and is relaunched.
- Summer 1993: The Floating Exhibit
- The boat is exhibited in the Old Erie Canal at the Erie Canal Village Museum for the summer.
- September 17-19, 1993: Sylvan Beach (The Encampment)
- The weekend program at Sylvan Beach, on Oneida Lake, involves living history interpreters from around the region.
- September 17-19, 1993: Sylvan Beach (The Wood Creek Navigation)
- The batteau and crew attempt to navigate the old Wood Creek channel.
- September 17-19, 1993: Sylvan Beach (The Batteau)
- Navigation of the batteau was provided within the mouth of Wood Creek (Barge Canal).
- September 19-29, 1993: Navigation Back to Schenectady
- The batteau and crew undertake to return to their home port using only natural methods (wind, poles and oars).
- October 1, 1993: Waterford Canal Park
- The batteau is invited to tie up with the historic canal tug URGER for a program in Waterford.
- June 4-5, 1994: The Oswego Panorama Waterfront Festival
- The batteau becomes an historic display and demonstration unit at this city-wide event, and the crew does programs for Fort Ontario State Historic Site.
- June 4-5, 1994: The Oswego Panorama Waterfront Festival
- The batteau is navigated in the mouth of the Oswego River, at the point where the historic 1790s route west entered Lake Ontario.
- June 9-10, 1994: Navigation of the Oswego River (Fulton/Battle Island)
- The batteau and crew run up the Oswego River with stops at Fulton, to meet some school children, and at Battle Island State Park, to identify an historic 1756 site.
- June 9-10, 1994: Pheonix Canal Days
- The batteau and crew stops at Pheonix to participate in a waterfront celebration of the canal and its history.
- July 7-10, 1994: Onondaga Lake Waterfront Extravaganza Festival
- The batteau and crew sets up in the Onondaga Lake Park for a weekend program focused on the history of the lake in early salt shipping.
Post Program Exhibition - 2000/2001
- May to October, 2000: Herkimer Home State Historic Site
- The batteau is loaned to NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation as part of an outdoor exhibit designed to serve regular visitors as well as a new regional canal-based education program.
- August, 2000: New York State Fair, Syracuse
- The batteau is exhibited at the New York State Fair as part of a NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation display.
- May 2001: The State Museum
- The end of the voyages of the batteau DISCOVERY bring it back to the State Museum for installation in new exhibit.