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The Batteaumen

William Culbertson's signature.


Age: c. 30

Normally the relative obscurity of the common batteauman would insure his anonymity and prevent us from identifying him at all in connection with any particular voyage.

However, because the three Schenectady batteaumen who pushed Schuyler's boat away from the quay in Schenectady harbor on August 21st, 1792, were in the service of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, and because they were paid by members of the expedition who later would require reimbursement from that company for expenses on the journey, we find their identities preserved in the scraps of torn paper that represent the financial records of that canal company.

To the extent that there was one of the three who was in charge of the crew - the "captain," so to speak - it must have been William Culbertson. A resident of Schenectady in 1792, Culbertson appears to be descended from the Scottish Culbertson (Cuthbertson) family that emigrated to Pennsylvania early in the 18th century, many also bearing the name "William." A branch of this family migrated southward into Virginia and North Carolina, where they dropped the "t" to become "Culberson."

References to this man in the expedition accounts vary in spelling, but the signatures he himself inscribes clearly indicate "William Culbertson" [sometimes appearing like "Cubertson" with a combined "lb"].

Culbertson appears to have had some seniority over the other boatmen, House and Bearup, or at least was given some added responsibility, as evidenced by the invoices and receipts. At the beginning of the voyage on August 21st, Culbertson signs for the receipt of six pounds, which he recognizes is "on account of the wages of myself and the other batteaumen with me." At Whitestown [near Utica] on September 2nd, Culbertson again signs for "the sum of one pound four shillings in part payment of my wages and the other batteaumen." At the conclusion of the expedition, although all three batteaumen sign for their final payment of wages, with Culbertson signing second, a separate receipt recognizes an additional payment to Culbertson of three shillings "for a painter for the company's batteau."

Whether or not his responsibilities for the disbursement of payments to others carried over into the actual operations of the batteau, we may reasonably view Culbertson as holding a level of authority on the expedition not shared by Bearup and House.

Recorded as being married in Schenectady on December 31, 1787, and with no children indicated in the household in 1790, we may assume Culbertson was in his late 20s or early 30s at the time of the expedition. No longer listed as a resident in 1800, Culbertson disappears from local history, perhaps to join the rest of his kin in the south, where the family prospered throughout the 19th century.

Andrew Bearup's signature.


Age: c. 32

Andrew Bearup, son of Mohawk River trader Thomas Beerop, was born in Schenectady around 1760. At age 16, the minimum allowed, he enrolled in the 2nd Regiment, Albany County Militia. He participated in the expedition up the Mohawk to Johnstown in 1776 and in the campaign against Burgoyne in 1777.29 He was on duty at Stone Arabia in late 1777, probably at the same time as Nicholas Veeder, who was in the same unit and about the same age as Bearup.

Bearup served in batteau and fatigue duty,30 no doubt establishing the course of his post-war professional life, and during the closing years of the war was stationed both in the upper Hudson and Mohawk Valleys.

Apparently in his prime, an experienced batteauman with firsthand knowledge of the Mohawk River, Bearup seems to be an obvious choice to help drive Schuyler's batteau to Rome and back. Whether he continued driving batteaux after the 1792 expedition cannot be determined.

By the opening of the 19th century, Bearup had established a wheelwright's shop on Union Street about 50 feet east of Jay Street, and by 1824 he had at least one apprentice - advertised as a runaway. Two years later he was dead at age 66.

John House's signature.


Age: c. 27

Little can be reconstructed about John House. The "House" or "Haus" family was well represented in the mid-Mohawk region, particularly around Canajoharie, in the 1790s. It is probably the "John" listed in Schenectady in 1790 that served on Schuyler's batteau. Such a boat would have been outfitted locally at the embarkation point, and both of the other crew were resident in that city at the time of the expedition.

It is possible this is the "Private John George House" listed in the 2nd Regiment, Albany County Militia, again the same unit as Bearup and Veeder. The lack of any more detailed military record, coupled with his late marriage date, suggests he was younger than either of these men, perhaps born as late as 1765.

As House drops from Schenectady records subsequent to 1792, we may assume that his future lay upriver, with his numerous relatives. Given the plurality of "John House" listings from Montgomery County to Oneida County in the following decades, it is impossible to further detail his life.

His total involvement in the emerging canal era seems to have been twelve31 days at the end of an oar or pole in return for 6 shillings a day.

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