Investigation 8: Songs, Stories, and Entertainment on the Erie Canal


NYS Learning Standards: None


Grade Level: 3-8


Essential Question: What do pictures, songs, and stories tell us about working, traveling and having fun on the canal?

(8.1.A)
[tpm00014] Courtesy of the Perinton Municipal Historian Collection


(8.1.B)
[tpm00276] Courtesy of the Perinton Municipal Historian Collection


(8.2.A)
From "Sketches from Memory, No II, by a Pedestrian." The New England Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 12. Boston: J. T. and E. Buckingham, December 1835. p. 400. Courtesy of Cornell University Library, Making of America Digital Collection


(8.3.A)
From William Hullfish's The Canaller's Songbook. York, PA: The American Canal and Transportation Center, 1984. p. 14-15. Courtesy of William Hullfish


(8.3.B)
From William Hullfish's The Canaller's Songbook. York, PA: The American Canal and Transportation Center, 1984. p. 24-25. Courtesy of William Hullfish


(8.4.A)
From Marvin A. Rapp's Canal Water and Whiskey: Tall Tales from the Erie Canal Country. Canisius College, Buffalo, NY: Western New York Heritage Institute, 1992. p. 62. Courtesy of the Western New York Heritage Press


(8.4.B)
From Marvin A. Rapp's Canal Water and Whiskey: Tall Tales from the Erie Canal Country. Canisius College, Buffalo, NY: Western New York Heritage Institute, 1992. p. 138-140. Courtesy of the Western New York Heritage Press

Activity 8.1: Describing Work and Fun on the Erie Canal

Document 8.1.A: Photo of people fishing on the canal in Perinton


Note: In the middle of the 1800s it is estimated that 5,000 children worked on the Erie Canal. Most were boys, and many were orphans. Most worked as the drivers who led the horses or mules that pulled the canal boats. Many children supplied provisions for canal boats and their passengers. Other children worked and lived on canal boats that their families owned.

    1. Look at the picture and describe the scene using as many details as you can.
    1. What are the people doing? Who do you think the people are?
    1. What do you wonder about this picture? Compare your list to those of your teammates.
    1. Do you think this is work, or play? Why or why not?
    1. Write a story that tells who the people are and what is happening in this scene. Give it a title. Share your story with the other members of your team.

Document 8.1.B: Photo of DeLand Family of Fairport


Note: This is a photo of the DeLand family of Fairport, New York. The DeLands owned a business that made baking soda, which was shipped on the canal. They were one of the wealthiest families in Fairport.

    1. Imagine that you are a newspaper reporter who is assigned to write a story about one of Fairport's most important families, the DeLands. First, describe the scene in this photograph, using as many details as you can. Decide whether you think the DeLands are working, or having fun.
    1. Write a newspaper caption for this photograph that tells about the DeLands, the canal, and what is happening in this photograph. Share your caption with the other members of your team.

Activity 8.2: Passing Time on the Erie Canal

Document 8.2.A: Excerpt from Nathaniel Hawthorne's description of the Erie Canal


Note: Many famous authors traveled on the Erie Canal and wrote about their experiences. They have left us some interesting and different descriptions about what it was like to travel on the canal.

    1. Read this quote from famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne about his impressions of traveling on a canal boat. Make a list of the words that you do not understand, or have never seen before, and look up their definitions. Write the definitions here and then re-read the quote.
    1. By reading this passage, what do you know about how people passed the time on canal voyages?
    1. Do you think Nathaniel Hawthorne enjoyed traveling on the Erie Canal? What clues do you find in his writing that answer this question?
    1. Would you like to take a canal voyage, based on Hawthorne's description? Write a description for Nathaniel Hawthorne that tells what you and he would do for fun while traveling on a long trip on the Erie Canal.

Activity 8.3: Songs About Life and Work on the Erie Canal

Document 8.3.A: Lyrics to A Trip on the Erie Canal
Document 8.3.B: Lyrics to The Raging Canal


    1. Read the lyrics to the song, A Trip on the Erie. Next, read the lyrics to The Raging Canal. What feelings do you take away from reading the words to these songs?
    1. Who do you think wrote the lyrics to these songs: a traveler, or a canal worker? Work with a partner and make a list of events that are described while traveling.
    1. What canal workers are listed in these songs? How are their jobs described? Which jobs do you think were more important? Make a list and share your findings with your teammates.
    1. Where do you think these songs were sung or performed? Who do you think listened to them?
    1. Do you find these songs entertaining? Why or why not?
    1. Would you like to take a canal voyage, based on the words to these songs? Why or why not?

Activity 8.4: Tales About Life and Work on the Erie Canal

Document 8.4.A: The Erie's Paul Bunyan
Document 8.4.B: Peg-Leg Harrison


    1. Some information about the Erie Canal comes to us from stories and folklore that are told rather than written. Why is it important to know stories about the canal?
    1. Read the stories about McCarthy and Peg-Leg Harrison. Do you think either of these stories is true? Why or why not?
    1. Why do you think people tell stories like these?
    1. What would stories about the canal today talk about?

Assessment #1:

Write your answer to the essential question: What do pictures, songs, and stories tell us about working, traveling and having fun on the canal?

Assessment #2:

Express through a report, tale, short story, song, poem, or picture how you would have fun, work, or travel on the Erie Canal today.

Learning Extension:

Work with your music teacher to learn the music that goes with the song lyrics "Raging Canal" and "A Trip on the Erie." Your class can perform the songs together.