Carol Sheriff’s main argument was that the Erie Canal had positive and negative points. The author mentions that in the first year of the official operation, the tolls collected on freight more than met the interest of the state’s construction debt. The entire loan on the original canal was paid by 1837. New Yorkers celebrated the Erie Canal in 1825, by more than forty thousand passengers traveled on the waterway, knowing that it had not yet gone into full service. The Erie Canal was such a success that other states were inspired to construct their own. New Yorkers were free to refocus their attention once they “undertook Clinton’s grand scheme: to defy nature by compressing distance and time,” (Sheriff pg. 53). The canal did have situations that effected New Yorkers negatively. The canal had little and major kinks such as the aqueduct walls crumbling, the locks malfunctioning, and the canal banks burst open. When this occurred, the failures of the canal impeded tourism, social order and commerce. This would cause traffic jams that would last weeks before the boats could reach their destinations. Even the weather played a role in the canal drama. When it was winter, the water would turn to ice which shut down the canal up to five months every year. Sheriff also mentions that the Erie Canal was a destruction of nature and property. It was made known that the state played favorites when it came to making improvements on the New Yorker’s land; the wealthy.
The author started out by giving the positive side first then ended with the negative point of view. I heard voices from the people that were happy and satisfied with the result and success of the canal. The canal supposedly brought joy and hope to some of the New Yorkers. The voices that were missing were the settlers that were not particularly happy or satisfied at first with the result of the waterway being built. The negative side of the canal was that it was a destruction of nature and property. New Yorkers were upset that the canal ran through their private property and that it messed up their agricultural land. The author also added that the new mills and factories that diverted the natural flow of water upset the New Yorkers. We heard from angry New Yorkers that were not compensated to their satisfaction for the land that was damaged and destroyed. Some even made legal action against the state. The voices missing were the ones that had proper compensation for their land that the state followed up on. Those were the wealthy ones and the ones that owned land.
In class, we discussed the paradox of progress: the winners and the losers of the canal. The winners were the farmers, investors, workers and New York City. At the same time, some of the New Yorkers were the losers as well because some lost their private agricultural land due to the building of the canal. The packet boats were brought up in the discussion; with how they carried New Yorkers and tourists, the problems they had with the bridges, and the problems they had when the canal locks malfunctioned. We brought up the positive and negative effects that the canal brought upon settlers. A piece from Thomas Woodcock’s private journal gave us an insight of his experience with the Erie Canal back in 1836.
The social status of Mary Ann Archbald was questioned because of the way she acted towards the canal workers. She considered herself to be part of the wealthier side because she “owned” land, so she thought she could treat the workers any type of way. Mary was unhappy with the canal crew and looked down on them just because she thought she was better than them. We questioned that in the winter, was the canal really shut down? Yes, because the freezing weather froze the water to ice which caused a problem for the canal boats. The winter weather shut down the canal up to five months and the workers had to cut the ice in order to get the boats moving again. We discovered that even though the canal had many flaws, it was a better option than roads because it was cheaper and preserved the energy of the horses.
We are still left wondering how big of an impact did the Erie Canal really have on the settlers, tourists and New York City. Even with some well-known people giving their opinion on the Erie Canal and how it affected them, there are still others that we do not know about how their lives turned out due to the artificial river. How did the legal actions against the state play out? Did anyone receive improvements on their land from the state that they promised to the New Yorkers?