Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 7

Thursday. 23d.

Saturday 25th.

Friday. 24th. CFA


Friday. 24th. CFA
Friday. 24th.
Erie Canal

A cloudy day with showers. After breakfast we made our preparations for joining the canal boat. On the trip across the Sound Mr. White had intimated his disposition to take a line boat as it is called entirely to himself and offered to receive us as a part of the company. We now took possession of this boat, Mrs. Paige and two of the gentlemen turning back on their road to Boston. Our company then consisted of Mr. White, his two daughters, Caroline and Ellen, with her husband, Miss Story, Mr. and Mrs. Curtis, Mr. Cramer and ourselves. Ten in all for a boat intended to accommodate eighteen, and to carry freight in the main hold. Mr. White having none but trunks devoted 15this to the purpose of an eating room so as to save the annoyance of sleeping and eating in the same narrow quarters.1

Our route lay today in the fine Country called the valley of the Mohawk, a beautiful but shallow stream which flows along among the richest grounds I have seen. Yet the cultivation seems very indifferent and the houses would be deemed a disgrace in our barren country. The rule of prosperity on this earth seems to be in an inverse ratio to the natural gifts of a Country, perhaps to show more conclusively how important industry is and how much necessity becomes a virtue.

Our progress was slow but pretty steady until towards evening when we became entangled in a crowd of boats which had got squeezed together in consequence of a delay made by a breach near Utica. We had a fine opportunity to observe the rough nature of the boatmen, and their very coarse conduct to one another. Just by Schoharie Creek, a lake boat as it is called, laden with timber had got aground, and another unwilling to pass it for fear of a similar disaster had got into the guard lock and refused to get out for any one. This was a kind of dog in the manger policy which was calculated to try all our tempers. At last an officer of the Canal who had been sent for came and started him. We passed along by, I should think one hundred and fifty boats which were destined to wait a day or more at this place. Such is the traffic on this great artificial avenue.2

We followed our course pretty well until we came up with and were detained by the fleet of boats going up. Here Mr. Edward Curtis and I got out at a Lock and we passed an hour or two conversing upon politics. I find he is the Whig President of the board of assistant Aldermen in New York, and a great friend of Mr. Webster. We exchanged our opinions very freely and without offence, and then returned to the boat to bed.


Of the two types of passenger boats on the canal, “line boats” were judged superior to the “packets” in comfort and appointments; passage on them was cheaper but slower. Ordinarily, the “line boat” was divided into three compartments: that in the bow had accommodations for sleeping at night, sitting by day; that in the stern was a kitchen and dining area; that in the center was for freight (same, p. 202, 203, 210, 214–215). Variations in the utilization of space were to be encountered; see entry for 26 June, below.


Progress on the canal was at three to four miles an hour, subject to delays at locks because of the density of traffic. Every year the volume swelled; by 1836, 3,000 boats were plying the canal and shipments west from the Albany basin reached 82,000 tons. The rise in canal use was accompanied by mounting disorders at the locks and canal-towns, both among the burly boatmen and among the immigrants and unemployed drawn to the canal in search of jobs and homes (same, p. 214, 221–222, 239, 281).