Figure 7: Detail from a map of Little Falls
drawn on the 1792 expedition by Moses DeWitt. It shows a few
buildings, the tavern where they lodged, and the route of the
proposed canal, later built in 1795.
From the small journal kept by Moses DeWitt, the official report
on the survey drafted by Schuyler and published a few weeks later,
and the several invoices and receipts preserved in Schuyler's papers,
we can reconstruct with some detail the chronology of the fourteen day
expedition to explore the Mohawk navigation in 1792.
At 3:00 PM, Tuesday the 21st of August, the participants began
gathering at the harbor on the Binnekill in Schenectady. General
Schuyler, Elkanah Watson, and Goldsbrow Banyar, being the committee
appointed by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, with
Archibald Nisbet, a Scottish millwright, had come the sixteen miles
overland from Albany the afternoon before. They were joined by
surveyor, Moses DeWitt, from Albany, a Schenectady carpenter, Abraham
Lighthall, and the three Schenectady batteaumen.
By 4:00 PM the batteau was loaded and the company embarked on
their journey up the Mohawk. They stopped for the evening at John
Mabie's, on the south bank of the river about six miles above
Schenectady [near Rotterdam Junction].
On Wednesday, August 22nd, the expedition proceeded about 19 miles
upriver to Caughnawaga [Fonda], traversing numerous rifts,
20 many only 18 inches deep and some as
shallow as a foot. They lodged that night a John Fonda's Tavern on
the north shore.
During Thursday, August 23rd, the batteau travelled about
20 miles up to Nellis's Tavern on the north bank at Palatine
[near St. Johnsville], passing additional rapids, including Keator's
Rift [near Sprakers], one of the most dangerous on the river. In
other places clusters of boulders often obstructed the channel.
About mid-day on Friday, August 24th, after covering just 8
miles, the expedition reached Little Falls. Here batteau passage was
blocked by a long, rocky rapid with a 40 foot drop. At this place a
land carriage21 of almost a mile was
required, with batteau and contents drawn overland on carts. It was
here the first canal construction by the new company was proposed,
22 and some time was spent making
surveys of the ground between the lower and upper landings
23 at the Falls.
Field survey and observations continued Saturday the 25th,
Sunday the 26th, and the morning of Monday the 27th. While here,
Elkanah Watson received word from Albany that one of his children
was very sick, and on Saturday the 25th he left the expedition to
The batteau, having been transported to the top of the Falls
and reloaded, departed upriver again the afternoon of August 27th,
going about 7 miles to Fort Herkimer, where the company lodged
immediately after passing Wolf Rift, another difficult rapid.
On Tuesday, August 28th, the expedition proceeded 20 miles to
Post's Tavern at Old Fort Schuyler [Utica], and on Wednesday, August
29th, after a passage of 26 miles, they at last reached the head
24 of batteau navigation on the Mohawk, 106
miles above Schenectady at Fort Stanwix [Rome], also called "Fort
Schuyler" in the 1790s. In the 46 miles up from Fort Herkimer, few
rapids of any consequence were encountered. But the narrow, twisting
channel of the upper Mohawk was frequently obstructed with driftwood
and fallen trees along the banks.25
The company spent Thursday, August 30th, Friday the 31st, and the
morning of Saturday, September 1st, examining the swampy ground
separating the eastward flowing Mohawk from westward flowing Wood
Creek, just a mile to the west. Here, "the Great
Carrying Place", a
portage of from one to two miles, depending on the season, blocked
navigation. Batteaux continuing westward would again require wagon
transport. But the expedition batteau remained tied up at the Lower
Landing on the Mohawk [between Rome and Stanwix].
Schuyler descended the tiny channel of Wood Creek in another
batteau. From the landing down to Fort Bull [Erie Canal Village Museum
- Rome] the primary obstruction to navigation was the shallowness of
the stream, which required a release of water from Lynch's mill pond
above the landing to float even a half empty batteau. Continuing down
to the junction of Canada Creek [Fort Rickey Game Farm], Schuyler
noted numerous rapids in addition to the lack of water. Walking on
another half mile, he found adequate water but was informed that in
the 20 miles of creek leading to Oneida Lake, the channel was
frequently blocked with fallen trees and passage impeded by sharp
By the afternoon of Saturday, September 1st, having completed
their observations at Fort Stanwix [Rome], the entourage turned
back eastward. The batteau, quickly running the 26 miles downriver,
arrived again at Post's in Old Fort Schuyler [Utica]. Here General
Schuyler and his surveyor, Moses DeWitt, left the expedition to
remain a couple days to consult on their surveys at the "Great
On Sunday, September 2nd, the batteau, with Goldsbrow Banyar,
now given command of the expedition, Archibald Nisbet, Abraham
Lighthall and the three Schenectady batteaumen, embarked on the
final leg of the voyage. Running easily with the current, and
perhaps a favorable breeze, the expedition arrived that night at
Hudson's Tavern, on the south bank opposite the mouth of East
Canada Creek [above Mindenville], covering about 34 miles, including
the portage around Little Falls!
During Monday, September 3rd, the batteau made passage down to
Kline's Tavern on the north bank just above Fort Johnson, covering
35 miles and passing quickly down through some of the worst rapids
in the river.
On Tuesday, September 4th, the final 20 miles of the voyage was
completed, with the batteau probably reaching the quay at the old
Binnekill harbor in the early afternoon. Lighthall, the carpenter,
was given his wages for twelve days service to the company, and the
three batteaumen were given the balance of the wages due them.
Thus ended an expedition of fourteen days and over 200 miles
that was more than a voyage west into an unknown territory - it
was a voyage into an unknown age - the era of canal transportation
in New York which continues to this day.
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