Kayaking on C&O Canal

A kayaker paddles the section of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal near Violettes Lock.

For 75 years, (1850–1924) canal boats carried salt, salted fish, oysters, potatoes, bricks, salt and plaster upstream. Downstream loads included flour, corn, oats, cornmeal, pork and stone. Lumber and wheat were carried both ways. Operating a canal boat was often a family operation. In fact, Thomas F. Hahn, in his book, The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Lock-Houses and Lock-Keepers, wrote that one boat captain noted that on the canal, women and children were as good as the men, and if it weren’t for the children, the canal wouldn’t run one day. Learn more about what it was like to be a child on a canal boat in this quiz. Answers are below..

1. Toddlers and small children played on the canal boat’s roof and hatch covers. What precaution did parents take to make sure their children didn’t drown?

A. Children were taught to swim before they were taught to walk.

B. The roof/hatches were covered with sticky tar to make them less slippery.

C. Children were tethered to the top of the captain’s cabin so they couldn’t fall off.

D. Child-size guard rails were placed throughout the boat.

2. Children helped take care of the mules — feeding them, checking legs and hooves to make sure they were ready for a day of work, then walking alongside or riding the animals to make sure they stayed on the towpath and kept a steady pace. At what age did these childhood responsibilities typically begin?

A. 4

B. 6

C. 8

D. 10

3. Where did children usually sleep on the canal boat?

A. In hammocks in the cabin

B. On the boat’s deck

C. On straw mattresses on the floor of the cabin

D. On benches in the cabin’s kitchen.

4. Watching wildlife was one form of entertainment for canal boat children. Which of these animals would have been found along the route?

A. Birds

B. Black bears

C. Deer

D. Mountain lions

E. All of the above

5. Picking up a meal along the route might mean something different during the era of canal boats than it does today. Which of these were eaten by a boat’s crew or family? (Canned goods and staples were also picked up at stores along the way and some boats carried pigs and chickens.)

A. Game found along the canal, including muskrats, rabbits, and groundhogs.

B. Catfish, bass, sunfish and turtles caught from the canal.

C. Berries growing along the route and, where farmers allowed it, corn from the fields planted along the canal.

D. A & B

E. All of the above

6. What was school like for canal children?

A. During the school year, they went to a boarding school along the route.

B. They were taught by their parents.

C. They only attended school when the canal boats were not running, such as winter

D. B & C

7. What did children living on canal boats do for recreation?

A. Swam in the canal.

B. Played with other children they passed on the canal.

C. Played with toys made out of corn cobs and wood.

D. All of the above


1. C  2. B  3. C  4. E  5. E  6. D  7. D

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy and layout editor and author of the Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at kgaskell@bayjournal.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

We aim to provide a forum for fair and open dialogue.
Please use language that is accurate and respectful.
Comments may not include:

* Insults, verbal attacks or degrading statements
* Explicit or vulgar language
* Information that violates a person's right to privacy
* Advertising or solicitations
* Misrepresentation of your identity or affiliation
* Incorrect, fraudulent or misleading content
* Spam or comments that do not pertain to the posted article
We reserve the right to edit or decline comments that do follow these guidelines.