Diary of Jonathan Pearson, 1833

Grand Erie Canal Thursday July 25, 1833
"I have often heard that riding on the canal is the most unpleasant way of conveyence [sic] and that the country is uninteresting ... but I never was more agreeably disappointed, for I must say that it is thus far one of the most pleasurable jaunts of my life." -- Jonathan Pearson.

Diary of Jonathan Pearson

(Courtesy of Special Collection, Schaffer Library, Union College)

Jonathan Pearson (1813-1887) was a student at Union College, class of 1835, who became a tutor, instructor, and then professor of Mathematics, Chemistry, and Botany at Union. He also served as librarian and treasurer of the college into the 1870s. Pearson had just completed his sophomore year at Union College when he took his trip on the Erie Canal in 1833. He planned to sell polyglot Bibles on subscription in the recently settled counties of western New York to save for his college expenses. Though he quickly gave up on the Bibles, he continued to travel west on the canal all the way to Buffalo, and kept a detailed account of his experiences, including this entry: "Dropped this book in the Canal, which destroyed the binding. Aug. 1833."

Pearson received his early education in New Hampshire. His father, who sought a better future in the new West, left with his family for Ohio in 1831 but was so taken with Schenectady that he decided to settle. In January of the following year, Jonathan enrolled in Union College in Schenectady. After graduation, he remained at Union College in an amazing variety of positions: as a tutor, professor of natural philosophy, agriculture, chemistry, botany, mathematics, and then as librarian and treasurer. For 43 years, he kept a diary which was begun even before he embarked on his Erie Canal journey. Excerpts from his travels on the canal in the summer of 1833 are included in a few of these sections.

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