University of Rochester

Journal Writer Navigates Waterways in 1830s Englishman records Rochester's history as first boom town along Erie Canal

November 8, 2000

Imagine traveling the Northeast by boat and over land at a time when the population of Washington, D.C., was 19,000, the city of Toronto was known as York, and slavery was still in practice. An Englishman's Journey Along America's Eastern Waterways, published recently by the University of Rochester Press and the Rochester Museum & Science Center, beautifully recreates the travels of just such a time.

In a fascinating reproduction of the 1831 journal and pen-and-ink drawings of Herbert Holtham, a Unitarian minister from Brighton, England, the book details his travels in parts of the Eastern United States, particularly in New York along the Erie Canal, only six years after the completion of the canal.

Holtham's daily journal entries begin with a narrative of his transatlantic sea voyage from England and go on to describe his journeys through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Ontario and Quebec, Canada. These accounts, which date from March 5 through Dec. 10, 1831, have been transcribed as close to the original as possible.

Both the journal and drawings by Holtham, would have remained undiscovered had not Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz, Distinguished Alumni Professor of Surgery at the University of Rochester and an avid collector of early American maps, found them in Chicago.

In 1989 Schwartz, while visiting Chicago to further his collection of historical maps, was shown the manuscript and drawings by a dealer. Although the journal postdated his period of historical interest, Schwartz found it captivating because of the vast amount of information it contained about Rochester in its era as the first boom town along the canal. "A brief scanning of the manuscript, coupled with the excitement generated by the magnificent on-the-scene drawings, convinced me to purchase it immediately," said Schwartz, who edited the journal.

Holtham's journal reports extensive traveling though New York on the Eric Canal. He stopped in Utica and Buffalo before spending several days in Pittsford and downtown Rochester, which had a population of 10,000 at the time. He recorded his impressions of the state's urban and rural scenes, the people he met and aspects of their daily, family, and religious activities, as well as some of the conversations he had and events he witnessed.

The journal (University of Rochester Press, $24.95 cloth, 168 pages) also contains reproductions of 30 pen-and-ink drawings, including depictions of Niagara Falls, the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and a carriage operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Seven of these prints illustrate early Rochester, portraying the Genesee River, Middle and Lower Falls, the Rochester Tannery, Kempshall's Mills, and an overview of the city. Combined with the journal entries, these drawings provide a superior set of impressions of America in the 1830s.

Schwartz's research interest in American history is evidenced by his published books, The Mapping of America and The French and Indian Wars. He is a member of the boards of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution and the Philip Lee Phillips Society of the Library of Congress.