Buffalo Judge Samuel Wilkeson

>-----Original Message-----

>From: David Minor [mailto:dminor@eznet.net]

>Sent: Sunday, September 02, 2001 11:46 PM


>Buffalo judge Samuel Wilkeson, as much as anyone, can be considered the

>reason why we don't sing _Shuffle Off to Black Rock_. Before we leave 1822

>New York for other climes and times we should pay a second visit to the

>judge. We first met him in 1820, when he was instrumental in having a pier

>built at Buffalo that resisted two storm-tossed vessels that slammed into

>it. But Judge Wilkeson, good booster that he was, wanted more than just a

>pier for his adopted town. He wanted a canal.


>Born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1781, he spent his first 25 years

>working on a farm. But a vast body of water far to the northwest captured

>his imagination. Around the year 1806 he resettled on Lake Erie and began

>building boats, successfully engaging in trade. During the war of 1812 his

>vessels transported the troops of William Henry Harrison when the general

>invaded Canada. As the war ran down he settled in Buffalo, concentrating on

>his mercantile efforts. A man with many irons in the fire! But it was his

>efforts to bring the Erie Canal to Buffalo that really set him apart. Once

>it was determined the final route would push west to connect up with the

>Niagara River or Lake Erie (advisers to gubernatorial candidate Daniel

>Tompkins advised him to end it at Tonawanda), Wilkeson stepped up the pace

>of harbor improvements. Then in November of last year the early western

>Lakes steamboat _Walk-in-the-Water_, ran aground after setting out from

>Buffalo then quickly returning in the teeth of a lake storm that had blown

>up out of the west. Soon afterwards a representative from the company that

>built the steamboat came out to assess the damage. He made some rash

>remarks about the Buffalo harbor within earshot of the judge; even used the

>"h" word. "Humbug" that is, not the one you're thinking of. He'd pushed the

>right button. The company wanted to build the _Superior_, a replacement

>boat and Judge Wilkeson told him he could get the grounded boat out of the

>company's way by May 1, 1822, a little less than seven months away. But

>Buffalo would have to cough up $150 for every day past that date the boat

>was trapped.


>Not to keep you in suspense, the judge put crews on the job, paid overtime

>and got the vessel refloated and back over the sand bar on April 13th. No

>mention of a rebate from the company for the extra 17 days, of course. But

>Wilkeson had built his harbor and made it work.


>In later years he would go on to become mayor of Buffalo, state senator,

>builder of the first iron-foundry in Buffalo, and president of the American

>Colonization Society, promoting commercial relations between Baltimore and

>Philadelphia and the new African nation of Liberia. The _Walk-in-the-Water_

>had ended its brief career. But one of the engine cylinders would end up in

>Buffalo's Shepherd & Company steam-engine works, still operating in 1865.

>Black Rock hadn't given up yet. But, despite a state grant of $12,000 this

>year for harbor improvements of its own, and a later $80,000 grant, her

>efforts were doomed. In the winter of 1824-1825 wind and ice did severe

>damage to the improvements. And, it was pointed out, rapids on the Niagara

>would require ox teams to pull boats up the river. And Buffalo was much

>higher above sea level and could more easily keep the canal filled from the

>waters of the lake. In 1853 Buffalo annexed Black Rock.


Submitted by:

David Minor

Eagles Byte Historical Research

Pittsford, New York

716 264-0423


co-Webmaster for Canal Society of New York State page at




includes NYNY, a series of timelines covering New York City and State, from

approximately 1,100,000,000 BC to 1990 AD.



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