Kalm on how to build a boat of bark

Tomorrow, historian and author Andrew Alberti will talk about the visit of Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm to this area in 1749.  His talk will be at a joint meeting of the Old Saratoga Historical Association and the Stillwater, NY Historical Society at the Saratoga National Historical Park visitor center on Thursday, May 18, at 7:00 pm.

Thirty-three year old Professor Peter Kalm—an apostle of Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy—was sent by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences on a mission to the New World to make observations and collect seeds and plants, which would improve Swedish husbandry, gardening, manufacturers, arts and sciences. It was 1749 and Saratoga was little more than an outpost on the northern frontier of the British colonies of North America. Kalm was bound for New France and would need to cross more than 60 miles of wilderness before reaching the French outpost at Crown Point. This 45-minute presentation will explore the origins of Kalm’s expedition and his journey through the borderlands of Lakes to Locks Passage.

Kalm describes the process of building a boat of bark.

[June 28] The making of the boat took up half yesterday, and all of this day. To make such a boat, they picked out a thick tall elm, with a smooth bark, and with as few branches as possible. This tree is cut down, and great care is taken to prevent the bark from being hurt by falling against other trees, or against the ground. With this view some people do not fell the trees, but climb to the top of them, split the bark, and strip it off, which was the method our carpenter took. The bark is split on one side, in a straight line along the tree, as long as the boat is intended to be; at the same time, the bark is carefully cut from the stem a little way on both sides of the slit, that it may more easily separate; the bark is then pealed off very carefully, and particular care is taken not to make any holes in it; this is easy when the sap is in the trees, and at other seasons the tree is heated by the fire, for that purpose. The bark thus stripped off is spread on the ground, in a smooth place, turning the inside downwards, and the rough outside upwards, and to stretch it better, some logs of wood, or stones are carefully put on it, which press it down. Then the sides of the bark are gently bent upwards, in order for the sides of the boat; some sticks are then tied into the ground, at the distance of three or four feet from each other, in the curve line, in which the sides of the boat are intended to be, supporting the bark intended for the sides; the sides of the bark are then bent in the form which the boat is to have, and according to that the sticks are either put nearer or further off. The ribs of the boat are made of thick branches of hiccory, they being tough and pliable. They are cut into several flat pieces, about an inch thick, and bent into the form with the ribs require, according to their places in the broader or narrower parts of the boat. Being thus bent, they are put across the boat, upon the back, or its bottom, pretty close about a span, or ten inches from each other. The upper edge on each side of the boat is made of two thin poles, of the length of the boat, which are put close together, on the side of the boat, being flat, where they are to be joined. The edge of the bark is put between these two poles, and sewed up with threads of bast, of the mouse-wood, or other tough bark, or with roots. But before it is thus sewed up, the ends of the ribs are likewise put between the two poles on each side, taking care to keep them at some distance from each other. After that is done, the poles are sewed together, and being bent properly, both their ends join at each end of the boat, where they are tied together with ropes. To prevent the widening of the boat at the top, three or four transverse bands are put across it, from one edge to the other, at the distance of thirty or forty inches from each other.  These bands are commonly made of hiccory, on account of its toughness and flexibility, and have good length. There extremities are put through the bark on both sides, just below the poles, which make the edges; they are bent up above those poles, and twisted round the middle part of the bands, where they are carefully tied by ropes. As the bark at the two ends of the boat cannot be put so close together as to keep the water out, the crevices are stopped up with the crushed or pounded bark of the red elm, which in that state looks like oakum. Some pieces of bark are put upon the ribs in the boat, without which the foot would easily pierce the thin and weak bark below, which forms the bottom of the boat, for the better security of which, some thin boards are commonly laid at the bottom, which may be trod upon more safely. The sides of the bark which has been upon the wood, thus becomes the outside of the boat, because it is smooth and slippy, and cuts the water with less difficulty than the other.

How to build a spruce canoe can be viewed here http://youtu.be/dYB0vJXi1JQ (it is a pretty neat video).

The Speaker will be Andrew Alberti, Program Manager of Lakes to Locks Passage, a nonprofit organization with the mission and vision to stimulate community revitalization and build a commitment to the stewardship of the region’s rich historic, cultural, recreational and natural resources. The presentation will serve as an introduction to a Peter Kalm interpretive trail centered at Hudson Crossing Park, Schuylerville, NY that will explore the physical, natural, and cultural landscape as observed by Peter Kalm and how the landscape has changed over time.

For more information contact Deb Peck Kelleher, 698-3211.

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