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Diver's Fact Sheet

The Durham Boat

NAME: "Durham boat" (a.k.a. "Schenectady Boat")


  • Length: approximately 50-60 feet.
  • Width: approximately 8-10 feet.
  • Design:
    • Double-ended with open hold.
    • Partial deck at fore and aft.
    • Distinguished by cleated "walking boards" along each side for use by the polemen.
    • Distinguished by the use of a long sweep for steering, probably set on an iron pin in the sternpost (later versions may have had a canal-boat-like rudder).
    • Mast set in the foredeck (or amidships) used for running with the wind (removable or hinged for lowering).
    • Distinguished by lack of a keel, a flat bottom and straight parallel sides almost vertical in cross section (unlike a batteau).

OPERATION: Poled upstream with 18 foot iron-pointed poles with wooden "buttons" at the top; run downstream by oars and sails.

RANGE: The Mohawk River west of Schenectady; Wood Creek; Oneida Lake; Oneida River; Oswego River; Seneca River; Cayuga Lake; Seneca Lake; Onondaga Lake; Lake Ontario, the Genesee River, and the St. Lawrence River.

PROBABLE TARGETS: Schenectady Harbor; Oneida Lake; Cayuga Lake and Onondaga Lake (this last surveyed with negative results in 1992).

HISTORIC CONTEXT: This boat was used in New York State between 1790 and the opening of the Erie Canal (1825), and was the first type of boat used in that canal. It was a heavy duty river transport vessel, patterned (and named) after the mid-18th century Delaware River ore boats used by George Washington in 1776 to cross the Delaware to attack Trenton. They were New York's first canal boats, used in the small by-pass canals of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company in the 1790s. They are well documented in Canada where they emerged after 1812 as a major cargo vessel on the St. Lawrence River, probably diffusing there with Loyalist refugees from the Mohawk Valley.

SIGNIFICANCE: A major vessel type of 18th century Upstate New York navigation; no intact specimens survive, nor have any archeological remains been found anywhere in North America. Locating archeological evidence of this boat is part of The Durham Project - a ten-year research and heritage management project coordinated by the New York State Museum, focusing on the 1790-1820 period of inland navigation along the international transport corridor that ran between Albany and Lake Ontario before the completion of the Erie Canal.

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