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Interpreting the Evidence

Diary of Rachel Wilmer, 1834

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Expansion and Reform (1801 - 1861)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Erie Canal

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Diary of Rachel Wilmer, Erie Canal, 1834 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Diary of Rachel Wilmer, Erie Canal, 1834 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Diary written by a woman named Rachel Wilmer, who traveled the Erie Canal in 1834. Like many others, Rachel toured the Canal to see the marvelous sights, but sometimes danger lurked. Sometimes people caught diseases or had accidents while traveling and working on the Canal.
Historical Context
Cholera was a terrible disease that often killed its victims. Cholera spread up and down the Canal in 1832 and again in 1834, the year Rachel Wilmer was touring with her friends. Now we know that people get cholera from flies and other insects that transmit the disease from contact with infected human waste. What did canallers do when they needed to use the bathroom? They used a bucket or pot, and dumped it over the side of the boat into the Canal. This helped to spread the sickness up and down the Canal.
However, most people thought that cholera was spread through the air, although they weren't sure how. If you walked through a canal town like Buffalo in 1834, you might see large pieces of meat rotting on poles and barrels of burning tar. People believed that these things helped clear the air of cholera.