I’m Afloat on the Erie Canal

Henry Russell, Eliza Cook

This song first appeared in the Utica Daily Gazette on April 17, 1845. It was adapted from a generic sailing song that was written in 1843 called “I’m Afloat: A Sailing Song”. The song was then modified to be specific to the Erie Canal. In the song, the Erie Canal is referred to as “Clinton’s big ditch”. This is in reference to Governor Dewitt Clinton, who headed the canal project. Many called it “Clinton’s ditch” because they didn’t believe completing the canal project was achievable and would leave a giant hole in the ground upon failed completion.


I’m afloat! I’m afloat! On the Erie Canal.
Its wave is my home and my scow beats them all.
Off! Up, with your hats! Give three cheers, now three more.
I’m afloat! I’m afloat! After four months on shore.
The prim, painted packets right past us may souse.
They may rub. They may bump, but they can’t stave out bows.
With darkness around us, and bridges full low.
O’er the raging canal rights onward we go.
Come, boy. Whip the mare. Keep her head to the wind.
And I warrant we’ll soon leave the snails all behind.
Up! Up! with your caps. Now give cheers three times three. I’m afloat!
And the cook’s getting tea.

The night is pitch dark and the rain has let loose,
Who’s afeerd while while our scow swims on like a goose.
What to her is the swash of Guv’nor Cliton’s Big Ditch?
She has braved it six years under Captain Saul Fitch.
I fear not the breakers. I heed not the wave,
I’ve the towpath to steer by and a boathook to save.
And ne’er as lubberly landman I’ll quail.
When the captain gives orders to take in all sail.
Ho! On deck her, my boys! Stand by with your poles.
There’s a raft right ahead. Heaven save our poor souls.
Hard down with your helm! Make loose that line, fast!
Hurra, boys! Hurra, boys! The crisis is past.