Immigrants and the D&H Canal

By Bill Merchant, D&H Canal Historical Society

(The author and the D&H Canal Historical Society express their gratitude to the Ulster County Community Grants Fund of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley for their financial assistance towards our on- going research on this topic)

America is a country of immigrants. They have always been integral to its growth- US history abounds with the proof. The story of the Delaware and Hudson Canal is one such story and a prime example of what immigrants accomplished here. The D&H Canal couldn’t have been constructed, nor have operated, without immigrants, particularly the Irish. The vast majority of immigrants were marginalized but, as we shall see, some rose above the stigma attached to being an immigrant and made their way into conventional histories. 

The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was a seminal capitalistic enterprise in early America. Operating their canal from 1828 to 1898, the D&H was one of the first private companies in American history to have an initial capitalization in excess of one million dollars- at least $30,000,000 in today’s dollars. The total cost of its initial construction topped out at over two million dollars. It was one of America’s first vertically integrated companies- a coal mining concern that built and operated a transportation network to get their product to market. They owned mines in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, where they mined the anthracite coal. After bringing it to the surface, they transported it 17 miles over the Moosic Mountains on their innovative Gravity Railroad, then loaded the coal onto boats at Honesdale, Pennsylvania at the start of the Canal. These mule-pulled canal boats traversed the 108-mile Canal to the town of Rondout, at the confluence of the Rondout Creek and the Hudson River, where it was off-loaded for shipment down the Hudson, primarily to the D&H offices and yards in Manhattan and, later, Weehawken, New Jersey. This much-needed fuel source contributed substantially to New York City’s rise as the greatest center of commerce in America, if not the world. It required a large work force to build and operate the Canal, to get the coal from the mines to consumers and it was primarily immigrants who supplied that need. 

Uncovering the stories of the marginalized people that made all this possible is difficult. We know a lot about the Wurts brothers, the Philadelphia merchants who were among the first to exploit the anthracite fields of Pennsylvania and started the Canal. The stories of the engineers who designed and oversaw its construction, white men such as Benjamin Wright, John Jervis and James McEntee, were recorded in history books now a century old. The lives of the common workers, the people performing the less glamorous menial tasks, seldom attracted the attention of historians past. Fortunately, many period newspaper accounts survive and are a fertile source of the more news-worthy events among the lower classes. 

The D&H Canal Company undertook its final enlargement of 1847-52, partially due to a deal they made with the “rival” Wyoming Coal Company- all their initial officers were also D&H officers. The agreement that they made with that organization, quickly re-named the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PA Coal), didn’t survive a decade. PA Coal refused to pay the increase in freight they had agreed upon, and it led to legal action- The Presidents, Managers and Company of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company Vs. the Pennsylvania Coal Company, in 1858. The resulting six volumes of testimony are a wonderful, but until recently under-utilized, primary source for stories of the men and women who worked the boats and handled the coal- this article would be much less informative without the stories gleaned from this source. The D&H Company won the case, but that victory was hollow. The PA Coal Company simply abandoned shipping on the Canal and switched their business to the Erie Railroad, never paying the judgment. Historians (and their audience) are the only beneficiaries. 

Immigrants Built the D&H Canal 
“Irishmen… For who else would dig, and delve, and drudge, and do domestic work, and make canals and roads, and execute great lines of Internal Improvement! Irishman…” (1)
Charles Dickens, 1842 

The D&H Canal was constructed by numerous local contractors, who relied heavily on immigrants to perform the requisite unskilled labor. A contemporary observer of Canal life, John Willard Johnston, was a young boy when the Canal was surveyed across his family’s property. He grew up to be a surveyor and lawyer who lived his whole life in Pond Eddy, New York, alongside the D&H Canal. When laying out the route of the D&H Canal, the surveyors camped near his family’s property. He and his mates played at surveying, using “a cast away clothes pounder… ‘higher, lower, a little higher, verry (sic) little lower, right, make fast.’” At the end of the Canal era, he wrote in his ReminiscencesAccording to him,Every contractor employed, from necessity, a large number of laborers, mostly, and in many cases wholly, of Irish nationality.In his memoir, he describes a typical meeting of these Irish workmen, originally from two different towns in Ireland, who set to brawling before a single word was uttered, to keep the work with their townsmen.(2) 

“It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930… Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. In the 1840s, they comprised nearly half of all immigrants to this nation. Interestingly, pre-famine immigrants from Ireland were predominately male, while in the famine years and their aftermath, entire families left the country. In later years, the majority of Irish immigrants were women.”(3) The Canal Company took advantage of this influx of young Irishmen, hiring them to do the hard manual labor that canal construction required. The Canal was dug by hand, the laborers wielding pick-axes and shovels, loading wheel barrows with dirt, with nothing but black powder and draft animals to aid them. Even then, “native” Americans- largely descendants of the immigrant Europeans who were then in the midst of supplanting the indigenous peoples- would not work for the low wages that the newly-arrived Irish would. Yet the mainly Roman Catholic Irish were discriminated against, considered just a step above enslaved and newly freed blacks. They employed rudimentary tools to dig a 108-mile long canal that was 32 feet wide at the top, 20 feet at the bottom and 4 feet deep. They constructed 110 locks, 22 aqueducts and over 200 bridges.(4) In 1825, just in the approximately fifty-mile long section from from Rondout to Cuddebackville, 2,500 men and 200 teams of horses or mules were engaged in the work (5). They were paid from $12 to $14 a month (6). 

In his Canal Days in America, Harry Drago wrote, concerning the construction of the D&H Canal: 

As usual, the labor contractors brought in hordes of immigrant Irish and several hundred Germans as well. The Irish fought the Germans and they fought amongst themselves, pitched battles in which dozens of men were maimed. ‘Of course the brawling slowed the work,’ [then Chief Engineer John] Jervis complained to a reporter for the Kingston Advocate. ‘No canal was ever dug through pleasanter country- no swamps or muck to contend with- no extremes of weather. But that doesn’t mean anything to these club- swinging Irishers. I don’t know what they’ve got to fight about. They don’t need a reason; they just fight for the hell of fighting.’ 

The German laborers and the ‘wild Irish’ could not be housed together, but although placed in separate barracks several miles apart, few weekends passed without the Corkonians storming forth to battle. They became the terror of the countryside, raiding orchards and gardens, taking whatever they wanted and destroying much of what they couldn’t carry off. There was no way to control them, and no sheriff rash enough to try. But as workers their equal was not to be found. How, in the days before the invention of construction machinery when the only power was muscle power, American canals could have been built without them, historians have refused to speculate.” (7} 

Irish and German Immigrants

Germans also came to America in large numbers in the 19th century. One source says the Canal was built by Irish laborers and German stone masons. Largely as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, The largest flow of German immigration to America occurred between 1820 and World War I, during which time nearly six million Germans immigrated to the United States. From 1840 to 1880, they were the largest group of immigrants.” (8) Germans were the largest immigrant group in Pennsylvania, where the anthracite was mined and the Canal began. Concerning the initial D&H work force, historian Alf Evers wrote, “The immigrants drawn to Rondout as demand for labor got intense were largely Irish. But in the German case, the movement was largely aimed at Brazil, the American midwest and even at Russia. Otherwise the immigrant rush to the D&H Canal might have had a decided German rather than Irish flavor.” (9) German immigration had just begun in the 1820s- it peaked after 1880, so there were probably less Germans working during initial construction than worked in the final enlargement of 1847-52, and running the Canal and its boats. 

It was hard and dangerous work as what could not be hand dug was blasted with black powder, since dynamite was not invented until 1869. The blast holes for the black powder were drilled manually with the force of sledge hammers. As one man held the six-foot long “star” drill, named for the shape of its cutting head, another would strike it again and again, a quarter turn at a time, until a hole 4 foot deep and 2 inches round was carved out of the stone. The hole was then filled with black powder, capped with clay, and armed with a home- made saltpeter-soaked paper fuse. It was lit by a hot coal, carefully kept far from the powder store, as matches were not yet common. If successful, they moved on to the next hole and the next blast. If not, well, blasting with black powder was a dangerous job that took many lives. As such, blasters were paid more than general laborers. And the majority of them were Irish. 

The April 22, 1826 Niles’ Register reports on a “Great Blast.” A rock 40 feet high and about 25 feet wide, on the line of the Hudson and Delaware canal (sic) in Marbletown, New York, was blasted about 4 weeks ago, by an Irishman named Patten. He bored a hole in the rock, into which he put 70 pounds of powder, and applied the torch in the presence of numerous spectators. The tremendous explosion totally dislodged it from its bed, and placed it so exactly on the bank of the canal, as to prove a substitute for the embankment, equal to its dimensions. The contractor, for that section, had given Patten $5 to blast it; but it proved worth $100 to him. A piece of the rock, 3 foot square, fell within 2 foot of one of the spectators, and it sunk so deep in the frozen ground that nothing of it could be seen. Particles of it were picked up in Rochester, several miles distant.(10) A hundred dollars was a year to two years wages for a common laborer at that time. 

Construction, let out to various contractors along the length of the Canal, proceeded on-time. By 1827, the Canal was fully watered in New York from Port Jervis to Rondout. Nothing was done or even decided about the route in Pennsylvania until the final year of construction, 1828. The Company built a turnpike in NE Pennsylvania to connect with the existing Milford and Owego Turnpike and sent wagons of their coal to tidewater- the Rondout Creek just before it enters the Hudson River, a tidal estuary- a year before the entire Canal was completed. During this same period, they trained their lock tenders and learned the intricacies of operating a canal while also moving material necessary for the construction.(11) The Canal was completed across its entire length and opened on October 16, 1828.(12) 

The D&H Canal Company had a rocky start marketing their coal, but by the 1840s they were prospering, so they undertook a series of enlargements to increase their waterway’s capacity. During the 1847-1852 final enlargement of the Canal, the Company employed over 3,500 men. The work was largely done in the winter off-season, typically December to April. In a letter to the treasurer, William Seymour, chief engineer Russel Farnum Lord asked him to advertise for workers to do the winter enlargement work. On Nov. 29th, 1849 he wrote The men about Honesdale and in this region will probably supply us say from Honesdale to Pond Eddy and the men at and about Rondout will supply us from Eddyville to Wurtsboro but between Wurtsboro and Pond Eddy we shall have to get a supply from elsewhere-We should get them in about equal proportion of Irish & German as they are better controlled that way…”. (13) Lord worked for the Canal Company, starting in 1828, the final year of the initial construction of the Canal and was Chief Engineer during its greatest period of expansion, 1843-1852, so he had a lot of experience with their largely immigrant work force. 

Immigrants Operated the D&H Canal and Mined Their Coal 

The DEL & HUD CANAL In prosperous times it employs nearly 2,000 boatmen. They are chiefly foreigners, and men, who, with rare exception, follow the canal for life.”(14) 

Hauling coal for the D&H Canal Company was not an easy or particularly lucrative profession. The Company was run by hard-nosed capitalists who paid as little as they could to their workforce. In fact, the price they paid to the boatmen fell to a low of $.60 a ton in 1878 after having paid as much as a dollar per ton in 1871. The competition from the railroads in particular helped lower the price of coal and it was the lowest paid workers who bore the brunt of the decrease. In the final two decades of its operation, the economics of operating a canal boat were such that it was only whole families who could afford to run the boats, with family members taking the jobs that were usually hired out in the past. After 1850, the Company rules required three person crews- a captain, a second hand on the boat, and a mule driver- family members replaced the hired hands that had filled these positions. 

Many of the Immigrants who built the Canal went on to work on it. According to John Johnston, The mass were composed of the vulgar and debased; of ages from ten to sixty, of the various kinds, classes, and nationalities – Irish, Dutch, Africans, Americans, and others. All of the most lewd, vulgar and depraved, and honesty compels the admission that the most objectionable features were found among the Americans.”(15) Immigrants from Germany were often referred to as “Dutch” at that time, a corruption of Deutsch, as in the phrase “Pennsylvania Dutch”. The work force was diverse from the start. A newspaper account written fifty years after the fact reports that “the first boat load of coal down the Delaware and Hudson Canal was unloaded by three men each named John, under a foreman also by that name. The loafers were of Irish, German and African descent. The foreman was American.”(16) The term “loafer” eventually had a specific meaning when talking about D&H laborers- it referred to the men unloading and loading the coal at Rondout, who spent periods of their time waiting for the boats, or “loafing”.(17) By 1855, half of the town of Rondout, the terminus of the D&H Canal at the Hudson River, was immigrants, largely Irish and German.(18) Rondout had both a German and an Irish Catholic Church throughout most of the Canal era. 

For the first thirty years of operation, two persons were required at each of the 110 locks to open and close the miter gates, so locks alone employed 220 workers. Starting in 1853 and completed by 1857, the Company implemented a unique semi-patented mechanism that enabled one person to operate a lock.(19) It was typical of this early American capitalist enterprise to try new technologies to increase their output and decrease their expenses. In addition, the early boats operated with just two persons but after the final enlargement of 1850, three persons were required by Company rules, rules that were often ignored. They also employed workers to manage the boatmen, and to mine and transport their coal. They hired clerks, managers, engineers, accountants, paymasters, and watchmen to patrol the towpath and to repair or report breaks. Some tasks required literacy, but the menial jobs were almost entirely performed by immigrants and black people. Due to the influence of the Company’s Quaker progenitors, Philadelphia’s Wurts brothers, the Company even employed missionaries. 

They needed a large work force to mine the coal, the product they built the Canal to exploit. At first they mined the easily reached coal. In fact in their early years, inferior surface coal they shipped to consumers earned them a bad reputation, but they diligently remedied the problem and regained the public’s confidence in their product. By 1840 they had achieved some success.(20) This led them to work deeper and deeper into the earth and to increase the capacity of their Canal. Eventually the Company had to import miners with the requisite deep coal mining experience from Wales, Scotland and England to work in their Carbondale mines.(21) 

The Company’s mines were in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. To get their coal to their Canal, there was 900 feet of elevation, the Moosic Mountains, to overcome- too much elevation with not enough water for a canal- so their second Chief Engineer, John Jervis, designed the innovative Gravity Rail Road. It used the weight of the coal- laden cars descending to pull the empty cars back up. The 17-mile long Gravity required crews on all the strings of cars and at the top of each of its 8 planes. It terminated at the start of navigation, Honesdale PA. Once it reached Rondout, the coal was laboriously off-loaded by hand by the loafers at Island Dock, although by 1872 steam- powered machines went into service to increase capacity and speed the work, at a lowered cost.(22) By 1874 they employed over 15,000 men. They were running 1,029 coal boats with 3,000 men and 2,000 mules and horses.(23) 

John Murray

The story of John Murray, born in Ireland in 1824 or 1825, is typical. He came over to America in 1839, at the age of 14 or 15, and immediately commenced work a for a captain of a boat hauling coal for the D&H Canal Company. He was illiterate, signing his 1859 testimony in the D&H Canal Company vs. the Pennsylvania Coal Company court case with his mark. He worked as a driver or “hoggee”, walking the towpath to guide the mule, for five dollars a month. The next season he worked as a bowman, assisting on-board while the captain steered, for eight dollars monthly wages. By 1846, and possibly before, he was a captain, in charge of a boat of his own with two other workers, invariably younger. He testified that a captain would make from nineteen to twenty-two dollars a month in the mid-1850s. His own pay was the profit left after paying the crew and expenses, as he was an independent contractor working for the coal company. This estimate was probably based on what he had left at the end of the season, or what he heard other captains were paid. During the winters of 1849 and 1850, he was hired by the D&H Canal Company to work on the enlargement of the Canal, for seventy-five cents a day, providing him with year-around employment. Those off-seasons, he also boarded workers “upon a small boat at eighteen shillings per week”. This suggests that he might have been living on a boat year-around himself, and was resourceful enough to find ways to augment his relatively meager pay. From 1853 through 1856, he was captain on a “full river boat” for the Pennsylvania Coal Company, running their coal up the Canal from Waymart, Pennsylvania to Rondout, New York, and then down the Hudson River to New York City. Murray’s progress through the ranks was typical; boys started working on the Canal as young as 7 years old and would work their way up, some making captain by the time they turned 14 .(24) 

Timothy Hanlon

Perhaps less typical is the story of Timothy Hanlon, born in 1835, presumably in Ireland as he testifies that in 1848 he was in Ireland, serving his apprenticeship as a stone cutter. By 1850 he ran a small boat on the D&H Canal as captain, for $8 or $9 a month, with a crew consisting of another 15 year old and a 13 year old. The next season he was still a “canawler”, but was employed as a driver on the Erie Canal. In 1853 he worked on the Morris Canal part of the season before returning to work on the D&H, but carrying Pennsylvania Coal Company coal. The following season, he once again started the season on the Morris Canal, then came back to the D&H, once again for PA Coal. The more southerly Morris Canal started its season earlier than the D&H and this resourceful immigrant must have taken advantage of that fact to maximize his earnings. He testifies that he got a better rate working on the D&H. So it appears he started the season on the less lucrative Morris Canal, then moved to the better paying D&H Canal when it opened. Indeed, in 1857 he again starts the season working on the Morris Canal and, later that season, worked as a deck hand on the steamboat, Fashion, making a trip to Mobile, Alabama. Next, in that same season, he was a fireman on a steamer to New Orleans and, later still, moved to Virginia to work at a blacksmiths. What a busy year! In 1858 he is back north, operating a canal stable and liquor store in his then hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1859 he …drove a horse and cart in Hoboken.”(25) His short testimony reveals a wide-ranging experience and a peripatetic existence. Being unmarried no doubt gave him the freedom to travel more than the typical “canawler” did. Immigrants came to this country and worked hard at whatever they could, happy to have the opportunities the growing young nation afforded them. 

Immigrants were also hired in great numbers to work in the extractive industries that flourished due to the affordable transportation the Canal provided. Natural cement was discovered “…by a geologist, who was specially employed for that purpose…” in High Falls, NY during the Canal’s initial construction. By the second half of the 19th century, this so-called Rosendale Cement was considered the best, comprising more than half of the cement used in North America. Almost all of it was shipped on the D&H Canal. No surprise, it was mainly the Irish who supplied the labor to mine the dolomite, a variety of limestone. When fired properly and ground, it made the finest hydraulic cement. Immigrants, of course, worked those jobs as well. They mined the limestone, loaded the kilns with stone and fuel, fired those kilns and took the fired stone to mills for grinding. They made the barrels it was loaded into and loaded those barrels onto the canal boats. 


Another regional product the D&H Canal transported to markets was bluestone, a fine-grained sandstone only found …from the Helderbergs in Albany County, Greene, Ulster, Delaware, and Sullivan Counties to the northern parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The heart of the region came to be known as the North River Bluestone Country.” Bluestone was highly prized for sidewalks, as it isn’t slippery when wet. The stone is also found in light gray, pink and green varieties, but the dark blue stone was favored. This industry also relied on immigrant labor. Most of the immigrants became poorly paid and housed stone cutters or laborers, idle in winter when quarrying ceased and overworked the rest of the year. They had to struggle against the prejudice against the ‘quarry Irish’ which was rife throughout the North River Bluestone Country.”(26) The bluestone quarries found near Pond Eddy, New York, on the Delaware River, were exploited because of the relatively cheap means of transport the D&H Canal provided. 

Some Immigrants Rose to Prominence on the D&H Canal 

White European immigrant men, other than the Irish, had better opportunities when they came to America, as they were more likely to have marketable skills beyond performing simple manual labor. “George Frederick Von Beck came to this country in 1830. He was a graduate of one of the German universities and a member of the nobility. He was a civil engineer, and previous to leaving his native country was a person of great distinction.” He fought in the army and was mayor of Salzburg. He was on the losing side in one of the many revolutions common in the numerous city- states that were located in the area we now know as Germany. He left his entire confiscated estate behind, along with a wife and children. He eventually moved to America and for 3 years worked as a canal boat man, while learning English. Eventually Von Beck came to the attention of D&H Canal Chief Engineer Russel Farnum Lord, by quickly making a complex calculation necessary to repair a large break in the Canal bed. After another D&H employee slowly confirmed his calculation, Lord immediately hired him to work directly for the Company.(27) He was made weigh master in 1835, shipping clerk in 1837, bookkeeper in 1840, and, in 1851, had worked his way up to paymaster.(28) 

Von Beck made his mark in his adopted hometown of Rondout. “He was a Rondout village trustee for four years, president of the first village board, and village assessor for one year. He was an active participant in Democratic campaigns and was rewarded with his party’s nomination for town supervisor in 1859. He was president of the board of trustees of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church and the president of the Laborer’s Benevolent Society. He was a major in the militia, a founder of an Odd Fellows’ Lodge in Rondout, and, at the same time a Mason.”(29) Von Beck owned and operated the Mansion House in Rondout. He put his signature on an anti-slavery petition in the 1850s.(30) He remarried in America and started another family, but without divorcing his wife back in Germany. When his German wife discovered his whereabouts and found him in Rondout, she came over to join him. Confronted, he returned to his original, German family, resulting in legal action by the various family members upon his demise a few years later. His is a story of an immigrant who was able to take full advantage of the opportunity living in America provided him, and paid his community back with his civic engagement. This makes his story exceptional- most of the immigrants that were hired to perform the many menial chores shipping by canal required made only a subsistence living, but more often than not paved the way for greater success for their offspring. 

John Augustus Roebling

One cannot discuss immigrants and the D&H Canal without at least mentioning the renowned engineer, John Augustus Roebling. Born in Muhlausen, Thuringen (NW Germany) in 1806, he joined the rush of German settlers to Pennsylvania, arriving in Philadelphia in the summer of 1831. He had been trained as an engineer in Berlin but moved to America with a number of like-minded townsfolk to form a Utopian agricultural community. Originally 150 Germans set forth from Bremen but Roebling wound up with just …himself, his brother Carl, three friends from Muhlhausen and a german family”, settling in Saxonburg, in western Pennsylvania, where he tried to start a sheep ranch. Failing at agriculture- the best land had been settled by the large wave of German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 18th century- he fell back on his training. He had heard of the concept of making rope out of wire while studying in Europe, so he decided to start producing it on his farm.(31) He was ultimately successful, and his patented wire rope came to the attention of the D&H Canal Company. As designed by John Jervis in 1828, the Gravity Railroad initially used iron chain to connect the cars. The weight of the laden cars descending was used to pull the empty cars back up. The uneven quality of iron made at that time resulted in some catastrophic failures, so, in 1830, they switched to hemp rope, which at least gave advance notice of imminent failure by fraying, but had a limited useful life. The D&H Company’s Annual Report for 1831 lists $3784.52 for “other expenses including ropes for the planes”. The D&H honored the Sabbath so no work was allowed on Sundays, at least before the late season freeze. Workers would remove all 17 miles of hemp rope on Saturday nights and re-install it Monday morning, to extend its useful life. In 1844, they contracted with Roebling to supply them with his wire rope, and that was the end of that problem on the Gravity Railroad for next 64 years, until the road was abandoned in 1898. The savings to the Company must have been immense. 

Final Enlargement

The Canal’s success, and its agreement with PA Coal, led to the final enlargement of 1847-52. The Canal was widened to accommodate 14 1⁄2 foot wide boats able to carry 130 tons of coal. They had to re-build all their locks and aqueducts in consequence. The early Canal crossed the Delaware River at the confluence of the Lackawaxen Creek on the “Delaware Pond”, a slackwater pool created by a dam they constructed there. The single draft animal was loaded on a rope ferry and the boats pulled across. This led to constant problems with the men who brought large rafts of timber to market down the Delaware River. The Company resolved to replace that crossing with two aqueducts- the owner of the confluence was hostile to the Company and wouldn’t cede them the land suitable for a single crossing at any price. They hired John Roebling to build two suspension aqueducts for them near that confluence, one over the Lackawaxen and the other over the Delaware. Chief Engineer Russel Farnum Lord was pleased with the result, despite the hefty $86,716.89 total cost. In his February 6, 1850 letter to President John Wurts, he writes, “The Delaware and Lackawaxen Aqueducts were brought into use last Spring, and have proved valuable improvements to the navigation being also substantial and permanent structures sustaining all that has been claimed for the utility of Wire Suspension Aqueducts – There have been 9 days during the past season, that Boats could not have crossed the Delaware Pond on the former plan of crossing, during freshets in the River – With the Aqueduct the navigation has not been interrupted at that point during the season.” 

New aqueducts required over the Neversink River at Cuddebackville and the Rondout Creek in High Falls were also built for them by Roebling, at an additional cost of $45,406.09. Only the Roebling Aqueduct over the Delaware River survives today, as an automobile bridge and National Historic Landmark, expertly managed and interpreted by the National Park Service. It stands as a monument to the genius of that German immigrant to America, John Augustus Roebling. 

This article is mainly a result of research on the marginalized workers on the Delaware and Hudson Canal, which is on-going. The results presented here are part of a larger effort and an article on all the marginalized people who made this great 19th century enterprise such a success. We are discovering stories about the lives of the black people, women, and children who worked alongside the immigrants on the “raging canal”, as it was known. There are many more stories yet to be told. 

The author thanks John H. Braunlein, Paul King, Chris Pryslopski and Dr. Sally Schultz for their editing and suggestions 

Copyright 2020, William E. Merchant, D&H Canal Historical Society 

  1. Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation, 1842

2 John Willard Johnston, Reminiscences, pages 25 & 27 Copyright Town of Highland 1987 2nd edition (available from the Minisink Valley Historical Society)

3 on 3-10-2020

4 Edwin D. LeRoy, The Delaware and Hudson Canal, A History, page 79,Wayne County Historical Society 1950

5 Larry Lowenthal, From the Coalfields to the Hudson, A History of the Delaware & Hudson Canal, page 53, Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, NY, 2nd edition 2009; Jim Shaugnessy, Delaware & Hudson, page 4, Howell-North Books, Berkley, CA 1967, Wakefield page 5

6 Niles’ Weekly Register, Vol. 29, 10-01-1825, page 68

7 Harry Sinclair Drago, Canal Days in America, Charles M. Potter, publisher, NY 1972

8 Wikipedia ( on 3-28-2020)

9 Alf Evers, Kingston, City on the Hudson, The Overlook Press, Woodstock & NY, 2005, 1st edition, page 233

10 Niles’ Weekly Register, Vol. 30, 4-22-1826, page 143

11 1827 Annual Report of The Presidents, Managers and Company of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, March 3, 1828, W. C. Bryant & Co., NYC, 1858

12 Manville Wakefield, Coal Boats to Tidewater, Wakefair Press, Grahmsville, NY, 1971 revised edition, page 7

13 Russel Farnum Lord’s Correspondence Journal in the Collection of the D&H Canal Historical Society, DHCHS#2016.01.01

14 The Raging Canal (TRC), The Wallenpaupack Historical Society, Paupack, PA, 2013 page (Reprinted from New York Sun in the 7-18-1878 Wayne County Herald). This volume is a collection of newspaper articles from 1870 to 1902 about the D&H, collected by Dorothy Sanderson.

15 Johnston, page 45

16 Sanderson, Dorothy The Delaware & Hudson Canalway, page 26 (reprinted from the Kingston Journal and Weekly Freeman, April 20, 1882), Rondout Valley Publishing Company, Inc. Ellenville, NY c1965, 1974 2nd edition

17 The Presidents, Managers and Company of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company Vs. the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PA Coal), W. C. Bryant & Co., NYC, 1858

18 Blumin, Stuart M., The Urban Threshold, page 80, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 1976

19 PA Coal, page 222 (Vol I)

20 Hollister, H. Unpublished history of the D&H Canal Company 1880, DHCHS#2020.05

21 Dr. S. Robert Powell, A History of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company in 24 Volumes, Volume XXII, The People: the D&H, the Community, page 30, Carbondale Historical Society, Carbondale, PA, 2018

22 TRC, pages 35 (A reprint from the Rondout Freeman from the Wayne County Herald of October 3, 1872).

23 Ibid, page 54 (reprinted from the Honesdale Citizen, June 4, 1874)

24 PA Coal, pages 2261-2270

25 Ibid, pages 1939-1956

26 Evers, Alf, Catskill Mountain Bluestone, Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, NY 2008 1st Ed. (Reprinted from The New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. 18, 1962)

27 The New York Times, December 22, 1871

28 PA Coal, page 659

29 Blumin, page 171

30 Bob Steuding, Rondout, A Hudson River Port, Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, NY, 1995 1st edition, page 141

31 Washington Roebling, Washington Roebling’s Father, posthumously published by ASCE Press, 2009, pages 3, 5, 9, 17,