June 23, 2001
While Manhattan's residents were walking across their frozen-over waterways in January of 1821, up in Albany many Federalists found their political ice getting precariously thin, as the legislature began a purge. They still had an ally in governor De Witt Clinton, but the nominally Democratic Republican was more interested in getting his canal built than in party loyalty. Still, many Federalists benefitted handsomely from Clinton's patronage. And the work on the canal was proceeding rapidly.
This year would see a contract put out for new excavation way over in Niagara County, and for a 900-foot long dam nearer Albany at Fort Edward to create a feeder for another project, the Champlain Canal, even now cutting its way across Saratoga County for a connection with the Erie at Waterford. The Seneca Canal portion of the Erie was completed this year, as well as the Utica-to-High Falls portion and the section through Rochesterville, where one of the more spectacular feats was the aqueduct carrying the canal over the Genesee River. The record-setting 802-foot stone arch bridge had been designed by engineer Benjamin Wright and built by contractor William Britton, who had recently completed the prison at Auburn. 30 convicts labored on the structure. 30 returned to Auburn afterwards. When Britton died in December, Alfred Hovey took over his position. In a few years Hovey would prove to be more careless with his felonious crews. Canals may have been popular, but there was a limit to the enthusiasm. A number of investors based in Canandaigua subscribed $20,000 for a Ontario Canal Company, but their plans never matured.
New York State was also occupied in modifying its constitution, as legislative hearings got under way at the end of August. The result, completed in November, banned the use of lotteries (sorry, Yolanda Vega), and reduced property qualifications for white males. If you were black you could vote, but only if you owned $250 worth of property. A writer to the New York Tribune would put it in perspective in 1860. "The simple question to be decided by the People is-Shall a very inconsiderable fraction of our People continue to be deprived of the Right of Suffrage for want of $250 worth of dirt? If so, on what principle? Their black skins do not in any event disenfranchise them: Shall their poverty do so? Poor men! Consider!" Another disenfranchised group, women, at least found educational opportunities beginning to open to them, as the Albany Female Academy was incorporated this year and Emma Willard founded the Troy Female Seminary, the first woman's school to offer scientific and classical studies on a collegiate level.
For all of the progress being made across the state there were still pockets of settlement where existence was lived on a more basic level. Down in the Southern Tier's Cattaraugus County the residents of Connewango battled elements and wildlife. Newcomer John Darling went out to his sugar house after dark one night and was about to go back when the howling of wolves nearby changed his mind. He spent the night out amidst the sugaring equipment. And John Farlee's wife died in the late autumn, the first in the village to do so. They buried her in her garden. A raging snowstorm prevented the arrival of the minister. A friend offered up a prayer.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
URL OF THE WEEK
Time for a hike to meet the ladies of the Athens of America, at the web site of the Boston Women's Heritage Trail. http://www.bwht.org/tour.html The color coded map of Boston will guide you to the nine neighborhoods, from Beacon Hill to Jamaica Plain, where you can meet the women who made history here, not just during the cradle days of the Republic, but through all periods and from all ethnic and social backgrounds. One such neighborhood for example, North End, will introduce you to the following (among others) - the founders of the North End Union, where Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrant families became acclimated to the strange, wondrous and frightening place called the United States; the former home and grocery store of the family of Clementine Poto Langone who helped "pack Italian food products to send west to Italian immigrants working on the transcontinental railroads."; Old St. Stephen's Church, where Rose Fitzgerald (Kennedy) and her father John F. Fitzgerald (the city's first Irish Catholic mayor) were christened; and a plaque on the wall of Revere Mall to ten-year-old Ann Pollard, "probably the first white woman to come ashore in Boston, landing with Governor John Winthrop." Just a sampling, but indicative of the riches to be found at this well-designed site.
© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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