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The Provisions

Frontier camp scene.

Travel on the Mohawk River in the 1790s was not quite the wilderness adventure it had been a half century, or even a quarter century earlier. A primitive road paralleled the river westward from Schenectady and small taverns41 had sprung up on both sides of the river such that it would be rare to find oneself at the end of a day not within reach of wayside hospitality. While freight runners and traders may have opted to pitch their tents right on the riverbank and fix their own supper from provisions carried on board, the members of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company expedition represented a higher cut of society, preferring the hospitality of the tavern or inn, for which they would be reimbursed.

The small scraps of paper that represent the fiscal record of this expedition, receipts and invoices preserved by Schuyler, indicate that the batteau was somewhat provisioned and the participants supplied on board with some necessities. Anticipating obtaining their breakfasts and dinners at taverns en route, the company made provision only for light lunches and possible emergencies during their fourteen day excursion. On board were loaded four hams, three dozen red herring, a quantity of bread and limes, seven pounds of rice, a "teapott" and canister of tea, a jug of vinegar, two canisters of mustard, and four pounds of chocolate.

To provide for their enjoyment on board and in the evening sitting by the tavern fire, six pounds of tobacco, one "groce"42 of short pipes, and three dozen long (tavern) pipes were stocked.

The expedition was also well supplied with spirits, including two five-gallon kegs of Madeira wine to be consumed in six new wine glasses, a three-gallon keg of brandy, and miscellaneous kegs of "rum & spirits." Since the fragmentary accounts of field expenses indicate liberal quantities of spirits purchased at taverns en route, we may assume this stock was for use on board the batteau, probably including a daily ration for the batteaumen, an expected component of any laborer's wages in the 18th century.

That fresh fish caught from the Mohawk were intended to supplement the diet is suggested by the quantity of fish hooks, twine and fishline that was inventoried aboard.

Medical supplies included a quantity of laxative pills, emetics,43 doses of bark and bitters of bark, all designed to compensate for inconsistencies of digestion that an extended expedition might impose on a company of gentlemen whose mean age was 45, excepting the boat crew which no doubt was cast on its own resources for such remedies, if needed.

To house a portion of these provisions, or perhaps to preserve the maps, notebooks and paraphernalia of the canal company, Elkanah Watson purchased "For the Lock Navigation... a new Chist" [chest] equipped with "lock, hinges & handels."

Miscellaneous supplies included a number of knives, two candlesticks, some wrapping paper and "1 pewter Chamber pott.". Each member of the expedition no doubt also brought on board his own personal baggage and accoutrements,44 such as would sustain him on the expedition and support the professional activities for which he had been selected as a participant.

All the material supplies of the expedition, save the batteau itself, were purchased from Albany merchants, reflecting perhaps the Albany base of the canal company, but also underscoring Albany's role as a pivotal depot of the inland shipping network, even though separated from the inland river navigation by sixteen miles of sandy pine barrens.45


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