On July 4, 1874, Nathaniel Bishop left Quebec in an 18-foot canoe, intending to paddle (with an unnamed assistant) to the Gulf of Mexico. “It was his intention to follow the natural and artificial connecting watercourses of the continent in the most direct line southward to the gulf coast of Florida, making portages as seldom as possible, to show how few were the interruptions to a continuous water-way for vessels of light draught, from the chilly, foggy, and rocky regions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the north, to the semi-tropical waters of the great Southern Sea, the waves of which beat upon the sandy shores of the southernmost United States. Having proceeded about four hundred miles upon his voyage, the author reached Troy, on the Hudson River, New York state, where for several years E. Waters & Sons had been perfecting the construction of paper boats.”
We’ve written before about the paper boats of Waters, Balch & Co., the Troy company where George Waters was making revolutionary racing boats from heavily varnished paper; they had only been manufactured for six or seven years but had already become famous by the time Bishop was making his journey.
“My canoe of the English ‘Nautilus’ type was completed by the middle of October; and on the cold, drizzly morning of the 21st of the same month I embarked in my little fifty-eight pound craft from the landing of the paper-boat manufactory on the river Hudson, two miles above Troy. Mr. George A. Waters put his own canoe into the water, and proposed to escort me a few miles down the river. If I had any misgivings as to the stability of my paper canoe upon entering her for the first time, they were quickly dispelled as I passed the stately Club-house of the Laureates, which contained nearly forty shells, all of paper. The dimensions of the Maria Theresa were: length, fourteen feet; beam, twenty-eight inches; depth, amidships, nine inches; height of bow from horizontal line, twenty-three inches; height of stern, twenty inches. The canoe was one-eighth of an inch in thickness, and weighed fifty-eight pounds. She was fitted with a pair of steel outriggers, which could be easily unshipped and stowed away. The oars were of spruce, seven feet eight inches long, and weighed three pounds and a quarter each. The double paddle, which was seven feet six inches in length, weighed two pounds and a half. The mast and sail – which are of no service on such a miniature vessel, and were soon discarded – weighed six pounds. When I took on board at Philadelphia the canvas deck-cover and the rubber strap which secured it in position, and the outfit, – the cushion, sponge, provision-basket, and a fifteen-pound case of charts, – I found that, with my own weight included (one hundred and thirty pounds), the boat and her cargo, all told, provisioned for a long cruise, fell considerably short of the weight of three Saratoga trunks containing a very modest wardrobe for a lady’s four weeks’ visit at a fashionable watering-place.”
“The rain ceased, the mists ascended, and the sunlight broke upon us as we swiftly descended upon the current of the Hudson to Albany. The city was reached in an hour and a half. Mr. Waters, pointing his canoe northward, wished me bon voyage, and returned to the scene of the triumphs of his patient labors, while I settled down to a steady row southward. At Albany, the capital of the state, which is said to be one hundred and fifty miles distant from New York city, there is a tidal rise and fall of one foot. A feeling of buoyancy and independence came over me as I glided on the current of this noble stream, with the consciousness that I now possessed the right boat for my enterprise. It had been a dream of my youth to become acquainted with the charms of this most romantic river of the American continent. Its sources are in the clouds of the Adirondacks, among the cold peaks of the northern wilderness; its ending may be said to be in the briny waters of the Atlantic, for its channel-way has been sounded outside of the sandy beaches of New York harbor in the bosom of the restless ocean. The highest types of civilized life are nurtured upon its banks. Noble edifices, which contain and preserve the works of genius and of mechanical art, rear their proud roofs from among these hills on the lofty sites of the picturesque Hudson.”
Later, the Maria Theresa entered the Smithsonian.