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The Expedition

Little Falls - 1792.
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 return home.

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 turns.

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 Carrying Place."

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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