Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Opinion

June 29, 2013

CANAL DISCOVERIES: Life on the canal

(Continued)

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — A missionary society report in 1848 claimed that some 10,000 boys, between the age of 10 and 15 years old, were employed on the canals of New York. Nearly all of them worked as drivers, meaning they walked the towpath with the mules and horses keeping them in line and moving at the necessary speed.

The mules were generally in teams of two or three, one ahead of the other. Sometimes the boys would ride on the last mule, but that was usually forbidden by most captains. The boys worked two 6-hour shifts, regardless of weather, just like the mules.

It was not an easy job, and the employers were not generous in payments they provided the youngsters. Hoggees were paid about $8 to $10 a month, the bottom rung of the financial ladder in the canal’s organizational chart.

Many of the boys never even received the small pittance due them. The boys were customarily paid their wages in full at the end of each navigation season, but it was not uncommon for unscrupulous canal boat captains to cheat the youngsters out of part or all of their earnings. Often the captains would treat the young boys very poorly as they neared the end of the season, hoping they would quit and not collect their pay.

Doug Farley is director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center. Join them today at 11 a.m. when local author Terry Bourgeios will present a free, family program about his new children's book entitled, "It Must be True, I Heard it at the Zoo."

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