November 27, 1999
In 1807, the year the British man-of-war Leopard removed four seamen
from the U. S. frigate Chesapeake off the coast of Virginia, after
firing on her, killing three seamen and wounding her captain, two New York
residents were focused on interior waterways, one imagined, the other
real. The first was being hatched in a prison cell in Canadaigua. It was
here Jesse Hawley, imprisoned for debt, spent his enforced isolation writing
thirteen essays under the name Hercules, proposing a canal across New York
State, from the Hudson to Lake Erie. His dream would take awhile. Down in
New York City another dreamer was about ready to turn his into reality.
The rest of the state continued its steady growth. At the far western end
the Churches were keeping busy in Angelica, named like their infant daughter,
for Philip's mother. They began construction on Belvidere, a mansion in
the wilderness. Land sales were profitable, he could afford it. It was also
this year he was elected first judge of Allegany's County Court of Common
But it was on the Hudson River where history was truly being made. Albany
in the north and New York at the southern end, continued their rapid growth.
The State House at Albany was newly completed (the cost had exceeded the
original estimate of $120,000) but now the state government had a home.
Today we're used to entering a bookstore and seeing dozens of guide books
about the world's major cities lining the travel shelves. The granddaddy
of them all, Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill's The Picture of New York was
first published in this year of 1807. It described a growing city of 4 hospitals,
5 banks, 6 markets, 1 theater, two major public gardens and 19 newspapers.
A fortification, Castle Clinton, was built at Manhattan's lower tip. It
would later become the precursor of Ellis Island as immigration center.
Manhattan, by the way, began growing in size, politically if not geographically,
when it was granted a northward extension of its underwater land rights
along the Hudson and East rivers, 400 feet out from shore.
Travel betwen the two cities was slow; the Hudson had become an obstacle.
Our other dreamer, Robert Fulton, would speed the journey. On August 17th,
after trial runs in New York's harbor, he set out for Albany in his newly-completed
steamboat. Zipping along at 4 1/2 miles an hour he made the round trip in
four days, returning to New York on the 21st. The following month he began
regularly scheduled service between the two cities, in spite of two successful
attempts by rivals to ram his boat. The attacks were in vain. New York-Albany
stagecoach lines began cutting back their schedules. Fulton had his triumph.
Hawley's was several decades away.
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor
© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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