“The Raging Canal”

(Taken from The Erie Canal Reader: 1790-1950, ed. by Roger W. Hecht.)

Come listen to my story, ye landsmen, one and all,
And I’ll sing to you the dangers of that raging Canal;
For I am one of many who expects a watery grave,
For I’ve been at the mercies of the winds and the waves.

I left Albany harbor about the break of day,
If rightly I remember ‘twas the second day of May:
We trusted to our drives, altho’ he was but small,
Yet he knew all the windings of that raging canal.

If seemed as if the Devil had work in hand that night,
For our oil it was all gone, and our lamps they gave no light,
The clouds began to gather, and the rain began to fall,
And I wished myself off of that raging Canal.

The Captain told the drive to hurry with all speed –
And his orders were obeyed, for he soon cracked up his lead;
With the fastest kind of towing we allowed by twelve o’clock,
We should be in old Schenectady right bang against the dock.

But sad was the fate of our poor devoted bark,
For the rain kept a pouring faster, and the night it grew more dark;
The horses gave a stumble, and the driver gave a squall,
And they tumbled head and heels into the raging Canal.

The Captain came on deck, with a voice so clear and sound,
Crying “Cut the horses loose, my boys, or I swear we’ll all be drowned,”
The driver paddled to the shore, altho’ he was but small,
While the horses sunk to rise no more in that raging Canal.

The Cook she wrung her hands, and she came upon the deck,
Saying “alas! what will become of us, our boat it is a wreck!”
The steersman laid her over, for he was a man of sense,
When the bowsman jumped ashore, he lashed her to the fence.

We had a load of Dutch and we stowed them in the Hole,
They were not the least concerned about the welfare of their soul;
The Captain went below and implored them for to pray,
But the only answer he could get was, “Nix come Ruse, nix fis staa!”

The Captain came on deck with a spy glass in his hand,
But the night it was so dark he could not diskiver land;
He said to us with a faltering voice, while tears began to fall,
“Prepare to meet your death, my boys, this night on the canal.”

The Cook she being kind hearted, she loaned us an old dress,
Which we raised upon a setting-pole as a signal of distress:
We agreed with restoration, aboard the boat to bide,
And never quit her deck whilst a plank hung to her side.

It was our good fortune, about the break of day,
The storm it did abate and a boat came by that way,
Our signal was discovered, and they hove along the side,
And we all jumped aboard and for Buffalo did ride.

I landed in Buffalo about twelve o’clock,
The first place I went to was down to the dock;
I wanted to go up the lake, but it looked rather squally,
When along came Fred Emmons and his friend Billy Baily.

Says Fred “How do you do, and whar have you been so long!”
Says I “for the last fornight I’ve been on the canal,
For it stormed all the time, and thar was the devil to pay,
When we got in Tonawandy Creek, we thar was cast away.”

“Now,” says Fred, “let me tell you how to manage wind and weather,
In a storm hug to the tow-path, and then lay feather to feather,
And when the weather is bad, and the wind it blows a gale,
Just jump ashore, knock down a horse – that’s taking in the sail.

“And if you wish to see both side of the canal,
To steer your course to Buffalo, and that right true and well,
And should it be so foggy that you cannot see the track,
just call the driver aboard and hitch a lantern on his back.”

Erie Canal at Jordan, NY.