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The Boat Builder

Nicholas Veeder's signature.


Age: 31

Nicholas Veeder was apparently a Schenectady boat builder of some reputation in the 1790s, although there is no evidence of this fact in the historical record of that city. Veeder, who died in 1862 at the age of 100, is immortalized in the history of Schenectady, or more correctly Glenville, as the last surviving veteran of the Revolutionary War. In the early 1800s, he converted his rustic Scotia home into a museum of war relics, known locally as the "Old Fort." He was noted for his ability, even at an advanced age, to point out the locations of historic sites of the Revolutionary era as no others could.

Barely old enough to enlist, at age 16, he joined the 2nd Regiment, Albany County Militia [the Schenectady regiment], late in 1777 and during the closing years of the Revolution was dispatched on several excursions into the middle Mohawk Valley. He was stationed at Fort Paris [Stone Arabia] for a month in 1779, and sent on a month-long expedition to Canajoharie and Fort Plain the following year. This service gave him a particular knowledge of that region and may have exposed him to batteau transport over a decade before the 1792 expedition.

While we have no record of Veeder's transformation from soldier to boat builder, the papers of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company indicate that, for Schuyler at least, Veeder represented the logical person to fill his needs for a variety of watercraft. On August 21st, 1792, the very first vessel commissioned by the canal company, a "new three handed batteau," was delivered by Veeder at the boatyard in Schenectady. In late May of 1793, Schuyler ordered another boat, presumably a batteau, from Veeder. Either this boat, or another, was completed in late June of that year. In July of 1795, another batteau was needed by the navigation company for a trip to Oswego, and again Nicholas Veeder was the builder.

Early in 1796, Schuyler required two heavy-duty scows,27 50 feet long, for hauling sand and lime on the Mohawk for the construction of the Rome Canal.28 His agent was instructed "on your return to Schenectady inquire of Mr. Veeder, a boat-builder there..." Some difficulty was encountered finding the proper oak planks, which would be delivered to "Mr. Nicholas Veeder." But in mid-summer it is recorded that Veeder declined the contract to build the scows and that no other builder could be located in Schenectady to undertake the project.

Whether Veeder built other boats for Philip Schuyler, or for anyone, is unrecorded. But for a few short years 200 years ago, Nicholas Veeder occupied a position of preeminence in serving the transportation needs of the emerging canal era.

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