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Throughout the Ages
A Visual Document Resource

Questions: 1830s

Image. Erie Canal. Watercolor of an Aqueduct Over a River.
Watercolor painting of an aqueduct over a river. An aqueduct is a bridge that carries the waters of a canal over a river. The foundations of Erie Canal aqueducts were made of stone. A wooden structure on top formed a basin, which held the waters of the Canal. Aqueducts were usually narrow. If two boats were traveling on the Canal at the same time, the boat moving upstream had the right to enter the aqueduct first. View a photo of an aqueduct

Each document set in this website is designed to help students answer an essay question relating to a specific time in Erie Canal history.

The following activities and questions are designed to help students think about the evidence they see in the documents and relate it to the information in the accompanying descriptions. Ultimately students will have enough knowledge to write a coherent, well documented, well organized essay about each document set.

Link to printable version of the 1830 Document-Based Questions and the associated worksheets

Note — To print the DBQs you need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader (a free download)

1830s - The Erie Canal at Work

Key Concepts

  1. The Erie Canal created opportunities and challenges for people and communities.
  2. Some people were happy about the Erie Canal and others were not.
  3. The information in historical documents can be used to help us learn about the past.


acre - a unit of area used to measure land
aqueduct - a structure in the form of a bridge that carries a canal across a valley or river
archivist - somebody employed to collect, catalogue, and take care of the items in an archive
broadside - poster
Canal Board of New York State - a group of men who oversaw the building, operation, and maintenance of the Erie Canal for the State of New York, who received complaints from individuals about Canal problems, and who resolved those problems
cholera - an often fatal disease that produces severe diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain
epidemic - an outbreak of a disease that spreads more quickly and more extensively than would normally be expected
feeder - a short canal that brings water from reservoirs, lakes, and streams to a larger canal. Without feeder canals, some sections of the Erie Canal would be dry.
foundry - a place where metals are cast and molded
Great Western Canal - another name for the Erie Canal
historical document - recorded information from the past
millstones - circular stones used to grind grain
parallel - always separated by the same distance, never intersecting
rod - a measurement equal to 16.5 feet
sloop - a sailing boat
spindles - slender rods or sticks on which thread is wound
subscriber - someone who signs his or her to a statement
tract - an area of land
twine - a strong string

Document-Based Questions
The Erie Canal at Work

After looking at the documents and answering these questions, students will be able to understand how New Yorkers' lives changed as a result of the Erie Canal.

Part A. Examine the following documents and answer each of the questions that follow them.


  1. Bill for Work Completed
  2. Letter from Germanflatts
  3. Map of Germanflatts
  4. Letter from Henry Van Patten
  5. Broadside of New York Canal Lands On Sale
  6. Broadside of Valuable Water Power For Sale at Waterford, N.Y.
  7. Diary of Rachel Wilmer

Part B. Essay: Write a well-organized essay using the documents, the answers to the questions in Part A., and your own knowledge of the subject.

The Erie Canal created opportunities and challenges for people and communities. Explain why some people were happy about the Erie Canal and others were not.

In your essay, remember to:

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