Sunday, September 14, 2008

Life Was Hard for Boys on the Erie Canal

(Anyone familiar with the history of the Erie Canal is well aware of the fact that it was exactly a fun place to be for boys. Thousands of them toiled for countless hours driving horses and mules back and forth across the state for little or no pay, and only a corner of a stall with some straw and a blanket to call their own. At some point in time the name "hoggie" was applied to this class of people young people.
They were frequently beaten by boat owners and cheated out of what little money they rightfully earned. The following article from the Troy Whig, Thursday, Jan. 10, 1873, is just one example of this chronic problem on the canal. Submitted by Richard Palmer).

A young lad, poorly clad in a starving condition, wondered into the first precinct station house yesterday afternoon in search of something to eat and a place to rest his weary frame. Captain Quigley interrogated the unfortunate stranger, and gleaned the following facts in regard to his past life and adventures. The lad is seventeen years of age and his name is Wolcott Tier.
Two years ago he lived happily at his home in Oswego, but his father died and his mother married a man by the name of Andrew View. His stepfather had no sooner taken possession of the house than he laid all kinds of plans to get rid of the boy.
For scarcely any cause whatever, he would whip him, notwithstanding the earnest protestations of the mother, who was also abused by him for interfering in her son's behalf. He stood the treatment for two months and then resolved to leave the house and earn a living at some other place.
He informed his stepfather of his intentions and the latter encouraged his resolution and told him never to enter the house again. He accordingly left one cold night in December, 1871, after bidding his broken hearted mother farewell, promising her he would return sometime, in better circumstances. But his expectations have not been realized, as his career since that time has been attended with a series of misfortunes.
He first went to Syracuse where he worked until the canal opened, then obtaining a position as driver he remained on the tow path until he became tired of the drudgery of his vocation knowing well that he was capable of better work.
Finally he concluded that he would return once more to his home. His mother entreated her husband to let him remain, as he promised to use every endeavor to make himself useful in the future, but her appeal was in vain. He stayed in Oswego for some time and was often in sight of his mother's house, but never after that time did he enter it.
When the canal was opened last spring, necessity, not choice, compelled him to return again, as driver for a canal boat. He procured a position in that capacity on the boat "A.D. Hoyt," and was promised $15 a month and his board. The captain,
however, took advantage of his condition, and only at times could he obtain money, and then in small quantities.
The summer passed and his boat was among the last that came down the Erie Canal from Buffalo. On reaching New York the captain decamped and the employees, Tier among the rest, were left in a strange city without a cent. He has managed, since that time, barely to keep himself alive, and yesterday arrived in Troy exhausted and discouraged.
Captain Quigley kindly gave him a place to sleep and afterward had him taken to the county house. He is willing to work, but ever since he left home, which now has a "serpent on the hearth," he has been running again running against the stream until at last he has been obliged to give up.

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