Christine Davis worked as a cook for canal workers during the time of original Erie Canal construction. She was born in 1802. Christine Davis’ father was a German immigrant who came to the United States during the Revolutionary period and changed his last name to Davis to better fit in (he had encountered some bias due to bad feelings about the Hessian soldiers used by the British forces). He married Elizabeth Breinthal, and they had two daughters, Christine and Rachel.
Christine married John Hassett in 1820. This was during the Canal’s first construction period, and Christine found work as a cook for the Canal laborers. It is unclear from the information we have whether she found this work on her own, or whether John also worked on the Canal; it seems logical to assume that he did, however. He may have been a laborer, or perhaps a contractor employing laborers.
Christine had this brass kettle made for the purpose of feeding workers, and to a size that would accommodate this. The kettle has a reinforced lip wrapped over a wrought iron ring. It is a foot high and 17 inches in diameter.
After its use on the Erie, it was also used during canal construction in Ohio, which further lends credence to the idea that John worked on the Canal, and they likely traveled together to Ohio to continue work. The Erie’s success spurred the construction of many other North American canals; their financial success wasn’t always guaranteed, and in fact some of them closed soon after their creation, but they did keep the westward flow of people moving to the interior of the country.
The Hassett family made this kind of westward move, like so many Americans during and after the Canal period; after moving to Ohio, they spent time in Illinois, before eventually settling in the Ozarks.
After the end of the Canal construction period, the kettle was part of the Hassett household and was used to make apple butter every fall. The kids in the family apparently hated having to clean it before it was put away for the year!
The kettle passed down through the family, first to Martha Mariah Hassett (Christine’s daughter), then to her daughter, Margaret Josephine McHarry (who was Mary Jane’s aunt). Margaret used the kettle to keep stored food safe from rodents and other small animals in winter. She gave it to her niece. It is now owned by the Erie Canal Museum.