Goods Shipped Upriver

A boat going upriver.

This following section is a partial list of the goods shipped between Schenectady and Canajoharie, a brief historical background statement for each, and some ideas on how items representative of these goods could be found and incorporated into this program.

Lamp Oil

In the 1790s there were all sorts of ways of producing heat and light using materials readily at hand in Canajoharie. Methods common to that period included: cutting and burning wood, which produced both heat and light; rendering the fat of butchered domestic or captured animals and then dipping reeds in the hardened fat to make primitive candles; or, spinning threads of wool or flax for a wick to candles of tallow. Settlers learned to make candles without tin molds, repeatedly dipping wicks into melted tallow until a candle would be formed.

However, if you wanted to use a more modern lamp, you would need oil, and the only major source of lamp oil in the 1790s was from whales. Whale oil could be imported from coastal New England by way of New York City. It probably was shipped in small wooden kegs.

How to locate or replicate: Since lamp oil is combustable, any clear liquid substance in a corked bottle labeled whale oil, might be the most effective way of depicting this substance.

Interpretive suggestions: In discussing why whale oil is not used anymore one could discuss the impact that reliance on a single source for a necessary substance has on the environment. We used to rely on whale oil, and that impacted the whale population. Now we rely on fossil oil. What impacts does this produce?


In the late 18th century, all hunting and military defense depended on muzzleloading weapons, either rifles or muskets. Bullets as we know them were not available for these guns, and one had to pour the gunpowder down the barrel, followed by the lead ball, to load the weapon.

Gunpowder was produced in the established part of America, not in the frontier of the Mohawk Valley. American mills used waterpower to grind the ingredients into gunpowder. The powder was imported in small kegs, and sold in local stores such as Kane Brothers. Settlers could obtain their gunpowder from the local store by the pound or, if needed, by the keg. They carried their gunpowder in small powder horns made of the horns of cattle.

How to locate or replicate: Real black powder is still used by muzzleloader clubs and historic reenactment groups. It is very dangerous, so a safe substitute with the same texture and color is ground black pepper. It could be kept in a replica powder horn, or displayed in a corked bottle.

Interpretative suggestions: Discuss the role of gunpowder and weapons in the frontier household as components of successful hunting and defense. Today use of guns has evolved into sport and recreation. What factors then and now influenced this change?


The primary use of lead was for shot used in hunting weapons. Lead could not be found near frontier settlements. It was mined and refined in the New England area.

It was not shipped in, usually, in ball or shot form, however. Most settlers had bullet molds that produced shot fitted to their particular weapon. Since lead melted at a fairly low temperature, anyone with a small iron pot, a spoon and a bullet mold could cast their own shot. So lead was imported in small bars, which could be cut up and melted down for casting.

How to locate or replicate: Casting lead in bar form should be available through a gun supply store or through a mail order supplier for muzzleloading equipment. Some stores also have pre-cast lead balls for muzzleloading rifles. If not, plumbers lead in bar form available from hardware stores may be used. All lead products are toxic.

Interpretive suggestions: Two hundred years ago some materials, such as lead, were purchased in bulk form, and the manufacturing of the finished product took place in the family setting. Today most products are bought in finished form. Are there still examples of the "frontier" method around today?


Preserving meats and other food was difficult for settlers. Food additives, like spices and herbs were essential to make some foods palatable. The type of additive used often depended on the taste of the cook, the ethnic origin of the family, or simply the availability of the additive. Flavoring with herbs was widespread and could usually be accomplished without the need for imported items. Many of the most commonly used culinary herbs [sage, thyme, parsley, chives, rosemary, marjoram, chervil, and sorrel] could be found wild in the settlement area, or could be grown in an herb garden with seeds easily brought into the area. Once established, herb plants could be divided and starters given to neighbors, so it is not likely herbs or herb seeds were a large item in any batteau's cargo.

However, spices, such as nutmeg, peppercorns, cinnamon, mace, cloves, and ginger [all used in 18th century recipes] did not grow locally, nor even in North America. These items were frequently imported from the Caribbean, Central and South America, or the Orient. The difficulty of obtaining spices, and the high demand, made them an item worthy of import, and perhaps one of the most valuable pound for pound.

How to locate or replicate: All the spices imported 200 years ago can be found in a modern supermarket. Due to cost, it is suggested parents contribute these from their own kitchen supply.

Interpretive suggestions: Compare the quest for a spice route in the 1490s and the role of navigation then with the sources of spices in the 1790s and the role of navigation then in delivering these to new markets. Things highly prized are often the subject of stories, poems and other literature. What literary works dating back to this period describe the spice trade?

Glassware and window glass

There were no glass factories west of Schenectady until the early 1800s and only a few glass factories in New York State before that. One such factory was located in Albany County and had just started operations in the 1780s, making window and bottle glass.

The largest demand for glass as glass was probably for windows. This was specially ordered for the building being built and probably came from an American factory. Glassware, such as lamps, mirrors, drinking glasses, etc., was also in demand. Depending on the taste of the buyer, most of this might well have been imported, primarily from England.

Glassware was packed in sawdust or other material in large barrels.

How to locate or replicate: Window glass can be obtained commercially. Glassware of the type shipped in the 1790s can be obtained in replica form. Simple 18th century style wine glasses or bottles can be found in some gift stores that specialize in things like pewter, early Americana furnishings, etc. The store owners can provide information on a correct 18th century design. Since these items are not inexpensive, perhaps the store would donate to the project. Glassware can be packed in excelsior or sawdust in small wooden crates.

Interpretive suggestions: How was window glass made? What was the function and value of window glass 200 years ago [to let in light] and what were the options available to the settlers [open windows that let in flies and cold air, or use of artificial light, such as candles]? Window panes used to be called "lights" for that very reason. Why was imported English glassware [like the wine glass] in demand? What alternatives were available [tin, earthenware, wood]? Was this a sign of status?


Once established, a farmer could save seed for the next planting from the crop of the previous year. However, someone just starting out, or someone opening up large areas of new land for crops, or someone wishing to change crops [corn to wheat, for example] might need large quantities of seed. If these could not be obtained from other settlements up and down the river, seed would have to be imported from the Hudson Valley, or regions outside New York State.

How to locate or replicate: Contact local farm store or other seed suppliers for small quantities of various seeds, such as corn, wheat, rye, beans, etc.

Interpretive suggestions: Which seeds would the farmer save? To improve the crop, the farmer would save the biggest and best of his crop for seed, and would use the rest for food or feed. Today many seeds are for hybrid plants. If we save their seeds we will not get a good crop, or any crop, the next year.


Many of the tools needed by the settler could be made locally using wood from the forest [rake, pitchfork, lever] or by combining local materials with imported ones [cast iron plow blade with wooden handles, iron hoe with wooden handle]. Forged iron parts could usually be locally made by the blacksmith. Cast iron parts required a foundry where pig iron could be melted and poured into sand molds. Foundries of this type did not generally appear in the middle Mohawk until after the 1790s.

Specialized tools, particularly those requiring casting, would have to be imported, usually from American foundries located elsewhere.

How to locate or replicate: Go to a junk shop or old tool shop and get a few simple iron tools, such as a hammer, a hoe blade [no handle - the buyer would add his own] and an axe head.

Interpretive suggestions: Talk about iron casting versus wrought iron and blacksmithing. Visit a working blacksmith forge at a local museum. Why couldn't the blacksmith make every kind of tool?


Cloths produced in the region were either woven from flax, a tall delicate plant whose stem fibers are woven together to make linen, or from the wool of sheep. Cloth was often produced in the home. A settler with a field of flax, a spinning wheel, and a loom could make linen cloth of moderate quality. If they had a flock of sheep, they could make a woolen cloth. In some instances they mixed the two fibers and created "linsey-woolsey".

Cloth was also produced in American mills, and in England. Cotton cloth and the best quality of wool and linen had to be imported. The demand was high. If the settler had the money to purchase it, cloth could be imported in bulk and sewn into clothing locally.

How to locate or replicate: Simple printed cottons and simple weaves of utilitarian cotton can be found in fabric stores today. A couple yards folded up and tied with twine would suffice.

Interpretive suggestions: Go to a museum or shop where traditional weaving is demonstrated. Talk about the raw materials, how they are processed and how the end product compares in quality with the imports. What are the economics of cost versus time when one looks at cottage industry using local materials versus "store bought" imports made in mills?

Wine and spirits

Some alcoholic beverages were made locally from grains produced on the farm. In addition, one of the most popular drinks [cider] was all locally made. However some of the more traditional drinks [rum, wines] were not produced locally, and many were imported from Europe in barrels and kegs and resold to buyers who often brought their own smaller kegs or bottles. Taverns also served individual drinks directly from tapped barrels and kegs.

Special brandies were also packaged and transported in bottles, packed in boxes.

How to locate or replicate: Since the design of wine and spirits bottles has changed greatly since the 1790s, it would be best to try and find a small wooden cask and label it as wine. Alternatively, you might find an old-style wine bottle or a reproduction bottle and use that.

Interpretive suggestions: Discuss the perception of alcoholic beverages in that age, compared with today. Note the belief that rum could counteract the effects of bad water. Laborers were often paid with cash and a ration of spirits. Why was a ration of spirits considered compensation? Compare drinks that could be locally made with those that had to be imported in terms of what ingredients went into each type.

Tinware, ironware, nails and iron

Depending on what skilled craftspeople lived in the community, tinware [actually made of sheet iron] might be imported or made locally. The sheets of tin would be imported if a tinsmith lived in the market area. A wide range of products made from tin existed, from candle lanterns to cups to cookware.

Ironware, usually cast [skillets, pots, fireplace irons, etc.], was almost all imported from foundries in New York and neighboring states [see description of "tools" above].

For the most part, basic wrought iron products were made locally by the blacksmith. Any blacksmith could make nails in all varieties. If, however, a large construction job required a quantity of nails and fastenings greater than a local smith could, or would, handle, these would be ordered in from a mill outside the area. In any case, iron rods were imported from regional mills downstate or in the neighboring states from which the blacksmith could manufacture the products needed.

How to locate or replicate: Tinware of an appropriate design can be found at crafts fairs or through museum shops such as Cooperstown and Sturbridge. A candle fixture [sconce, lantern or stick] would be an appropriate addition to the discussion above about the use of candles - the candles could be made locally but the fixture had to be imported. Cast iron wares can be found in junk shops or some of appropriate design can be found in hardware and kitchenware stores. The cast iron pot was probably the most common. Hand wrought nails and iron rod stock would have to be donated by a blacksmith or museum village.

Interpretive suggestions: Talk about the role of the local blacksmith or tinsmith; the person who lived and worked in the frontier settlement. What was the advantage? Discuss repair and reuse of broken or useless metal tools and objects. Without a local smith, would these have been discarded and could the settler afford to replace them?


Log, beam and stone building construction could be completed locally with no other imports but the tools used. Planks, moldings and other finer woodwork could be obtained from local mills and shops. But the use of bricks was often required for finishing work, for decorative detailing, and frequently for the fireplace and chimney.

Bricks are made from a good quality clay, formed in wooden molds, sun-dried and then fired in a kiln. Brickyards could exist in the Mohawk Valley in the 1790s if the clay and the skilled labor was available. One existed in Rome in 1796, opened by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company to make bricks for the Rome Canal.

However, the needs for bricks in this expanding region were usually met by yards in the Hudson Valley or neighboring states, and shipments of brick were sent in as ordered, through Schenectady.

How to locate or replicate: Any old, plain, unmarked brick will do.

Interpretive suggestions: Discuss the process of making a brick. This might be a good place to discuss the difference between the type of supply system where "stores" have everything on hand in case a customer needs it [1990s] and the system where items are ordered by the customer before they are shipped [1790s]. If you needed something 200 years ago, you might write a letter to a merchant in Schenectady who would order it sent up from New York, put it on a batteau, and ship it to you with the bill. Except for some basic supplies, you would not expect to be able to go to Kane's store and purchase a flintlock rifle or a iron plow blade over the counter, whereas you might expect to buy a bar of lead and a pound of sugar.

Books/writing supplies

Books and all printed matter, were imported. Printing shops in Albany and Schenectady produced handbills, newspapers, advertisements, and other small printed items. Many books, including blank books used for accounts, surveys and other records, were put together in New York and Philadelphia. Books on some subjects and of certain types were published in Europe and brought to New York City where dealers distributed them.

The everyday needs of the Mohawk Valley settlements included writing supplies, for letters, records, receipts, invoices, and accounts. The paper used was usually imported from England. The quill pens [goose quills] probably came from a variety of sources, depending on their quality. Presumably someone with the skill and the proper knife could use locally grown quills for pens.

How to locate or replicate: Paper in the 1790s was matte finish and had a patterned texture. It was not glossy or smooth. Replica papers can be found through paper shops, engraving companies and 18th century Museums and reenactors. It is worthwhile getting paper that looks right, as this leads to a discussion of how paper was made. Any old leatherbound book [look through a used book shop] would suffice as a book of the period. The process of making paper can be duplicated using recycled paper waste. Check the Internet or ask an art teacher.

Interpretive suggestions: In addition to talking about how paper is made, one could get into the way books were constructed, including the sewing of pages into signatures. Some simple 1790s blank books were nothing more than some folded sheets of paper sewn together into a couple of signatures, then a heavy piece of paper pasted over the outside for a cover. Perhaps students could make the books in which they record the products being collected.


While the demand for sugar was perhaps not so high in the 1790s as today, it was a vital ingredient in many of the preparations of the time. Because it was extremely difficult to procure, it was a valued commodity. Sugar was produced in the West Indies [Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic] from sugar cane. The juice from the crushed cane was boiled down into molasses, or refined into white sugar.

Molasses was put in barrels and shipped to New York harbor by ocean going ships, then sent to Albany for forwarding inland by batteau. At frontier stores the product could be re-packed in kegs and jugs and used directly in cooking.

Refined sugar was formed into large, cone-shaped loaves, wrapped in paper and shipped directly to consumers. Special metal cutters or tongs were used to chip off bits of the loaf sugar, which was then ground in a mortar to be used.

[Note: Maple sugar was also being produced in the Mohawk Valley for local use, and may have been shipped downriver to urban markets as a cheaper alternative. Although today the maple flavor of this product is prized, 200 years ago it was considered an inferior product to the imported kind.]

How to locate or replicate: Loaf sugar may be available through the Farmer's Museum or Sturbridge Village, perhaps by special request. A replica may be made by pouring dampened white sugar into a wax paper lined cone about 10 inches tall, allowing it to harden, then replacing the waxed paper with blue butcher's wrapping paper.

Interpretive suggestions: This is a good opportunity to discuss commercial value, markets and the role of transportation in producing value. The West Indies sugar is very valuable in part because it is a "better" grade of sugar, but also because it comes from far away. Each shipper adds on extra value to the barrel or box of product sent, and the store owner adds on his profit as well. The consumer pays for the cost of production plus all these other values added on. The farther the transport, the higher the price. The maple sugar is produced by the farmer. It is free except for the labor [time] spent. It can be sold or traded to neighbors for some small profit [they could make their own if they wanted]. But for real profit the product has to be sent to a place where people cannot make their own. The farther the sugar is shipped, the more value it has. Except, of course, that the farther a batteauman or sloop captain has to carry the sugar, the more the price goes up, and soon it may be more than anyone is willing to pay. Cheap and efficient transportation was essential to the profitability of production on the western frontier. That is why the improvements to the Mohawk made in the 1790s were so important, not only in providing an outlet for the goods produced on the land, but also by keeping the costs of delivering it to market low and the profits for the producers high. [Other options the settler had - honey.]

Tobacco/smoking pipes

Tobacco was widely used throughout New York State in the 1790s. Tobacco was grown in the southeast United States, primarily Virginia, and in fact was imported into Europe from American production centers. Tobacco found its way into the Mohawk Valley probably in the form of "twists" of the cured leaf [a twist looked something like donut twist or cruller].

In addition, smoking pipes were needed, and the kaolin [white clay] long stemmed pipes from England were the preferred type. Locally made pipes of wood could be made, and clay pipes of local clay could have been used, but almost universally the imported English pipes were used. Pipes were imported packed in sawdust in boxes or barrels.

How to locate or replicate: You can get tobacco in any shop, although it is next to impossible to get twists. If you have access to whole leaf tobacco, you might be able to duplicate a twist by rolling the leaf up producing a roll that is fat in the middle and tapers to a point at each end. Then join the ends and give the whole a twist and set aside to dry.

You can get clay pipes through replica mail order, museum shops, and some smoking supply shops. Avoid the fancy, decorated ones. A simple white clay pipe with a relatively small bowl is correct.

Interpretive suggestions: You might look at how tobacco was a habit that was established in Europe from imports from America, and the settlers that then came to the area in the 1790s from Europe brought with them a demand for an originally American product.


In the 1790s rice was a part of the American diet, but not as widely sought after as other grains.

Rice was produced in the southeast and south and would probably have been imported in bags or barrels.

How to locate or replicate: Rice can be bought in markets, but you may want to look into types other than the traditional American long grain white variety.

Interpretive suggestions: You might look into how rice is grown, and why rice was imported, as opposed to wheat, oats, barley, rye and corn, which could be grown locally.


Tea, a popular drink again after the Revolution, was grown in Asia and imported to England, and then to America. It came in boxes and could be resold in tins.

Coffee, not yet the American favorite, was imported from South America in bean form.

Coffee and tea had no widely acceptable locally produced substitutes, although various toasted root or herb beverages might be used on occasion.

How to locate or replicate: Loose leaf tea in paper boxes can be purchased in many places, although a Chinese variety in a decorated box suggesting the traditional 18th century tea box may be found.

Interpretive suggestions: Discuss the role of tradition in defining consumer preference.


Most dishes were imported, and most from England. The majority of what today we call "antique" types of ceramics were beginning to be available in the 1790s. American wares, if present in any quantity, were considered inferior to imported English wares, and many of the pieces of china came from the Orient via England.

[Note: Pewter tableware (dishes, spoons, cups) were also in demand and would be shipped in from England.]

How to locate or replicate: A trip to any antique shop should produce a selection of appropriate pieces. The dealer should be able to steer you away from pieces that are too recent [post-1800], and you may want to look at replica wares for economy. Keep to simple whitewares or an appropriate piece of import china. Simple redwares would also be appropriate. Steer away from fancy, decorated stoneware crocks and jugs, as these came in much later.

Interpretive suggestions: How are ceramics made? What factors prevented an earlier local manufacturing effort? This might be an appropriate place to discuss the make-up of early migrating populations. The first wave were farmers who needed to clear the land and produce food from it. It was not until the second and third waves that you got manufacturing established. A weak local market of poor farmers would not motivate a potter to set up a pottery, even if a good clay source existed. Communities had to be more developed [early 1800s] to warrant that type of risk.


In spite of traditions that early buildings were not painted, by the 1790s paints were in demand for a variety of purposes. Accounts during the first years of the 1800s record painted houses in the Mohawk Valley, and we can assume they were painted in the 1790s.

Paint would be shipped in the form of pigments - materials ground up to add to oils [fish oil or linseed oil from flax seed] or milk. When fish oils were used, these also had to be imported, but linseed oil could be obtained from the nearest flax processing operation. The seeds were crushed in a mill and the oil put in barrels.

How to locate or replicate: Painters pigments can usually be obtained from paint stores or artist supply stores. They are in powder form and can be packaged in a box or, for display, a bottle.

Interpretive suggestions: Get a recipe for milk paint, a common 18th century type, and mix some up using some of the pigment. Paint a board with the paint.


Many medicines used in the 1790s were derived from plant substances, such as the roots, bark, and leaves, while others were made from minerals. Many of the plants from which traditional medicines could be made existed in the regions being settled. Alternative medicines, often derived from Native American examples, could be developed locally, and some no doubt were. However, in the 1790s most medicinal compounds were imported, often from Albany merchants who concocted them in their own apothecary, or more often imported the ingredients in bulk from New York City. Some of the more exotic elements (such as sulfur and cocaine) had to be brought into New York from foreign sources.

Medicines were usually ordered by patients in the frontier settlements and were shipped in small doses, perhaps in a bottle or, when dry ingredients were used, in a package. Where a large enough population was present to warrant having either a doctor or a pharmacist, medicinal substances were shipped in bulk and then repackaged for sale locally.

How to locate or replicate: If you have access to someone schooled in medical history, perhaps a local pharmacist, you may be able to obtain some correct medicines. These could be packaged in small plain glass bottles or, if dry, in paper packets. The large scale bottling of medicines did not come until several decades later, so the small medicine bottles antique and junk stores sell usually are not correct to the period. However, the concept may be carried over using small, plain, corked bottles containing colored water. [Note: many dry medicines were mixed in alcohol and taken in drink form. Perhaps the alcohol provided the majority of the effect?]

Interpretive suggestions: Pose the question - "If Indians lived for hundreds and thousands of years in Upstate New York, using medicines made from local plants and substances, why would the Europeans who moved into the area continue to send to Albany and New York City for their medicines? [What role does tradition play in marketing?]


While various types of binding materials existed in the eastern woodlands, and Indians had used natural fibers such as reed, grass, and bark for centuries, true rope had to be imported. The hemp fiber from which rope was made was often found growing in the newly settled areas, but the manufacture of rope required a specialized "rope walk" or factory where the long strands could be combined into a continuous length of rope. Rope could be manufactured in New York or imported into New York City from various sources for distribution to inland markets.

How to locate or replicate: Any length of natural manila rope will do.

Interpretive suggestions: List the uses for rope. Why couldn't the settler use a local product as an alternative? Take a short length of rope [about 10 inches] and carefully untwist the bundles and then the individual fibers to see the volume of fiber that goes into the rope.


Writing was essential, both for communication and for record keeping. While pencils could be used, the quill pen was the instrument of choice, and these had to be supplied with ink.

In the 1790s, ink was imported from England in powder form. While a sort of ink might be made locally, the best quality was made abroad. The powdered ink was mixed with water, beer or other liquid in the inkwell as needed. It was not until much later that bottled liquid ink was imported.

How to locate or replicate: You may be able to find powdered ink in an artist supply store. If not, you might interpret this product by taking a small glass inkwell [look in a junk or bottle shop for a simple, early style] and fill it with liquid black ink. Then cork it securely.

Interpretive suggestions: Find someone with quill pens, or get a couple metal pen nibs in holders, and let people use the ink for writing.

Back to the beginning.
The goods shipped downriver.
More information.