The Big Ditch

Do you have facts in your family tree that over time your mind has misconstrued? That’s my case with Ozias Wells. For some reason, I assumed that when a source said that Ozias “worked for an uncle digging a canal” it was referring to the Erie Canal. Since Ozias was born about 1795, he would have been old enough to work on the Erie Canal which traversed Madison County, NY. (See Map)

However, going back thru the sources I’ve collected for Ozias and carefully reading the information, I discovered that Ozias went to Princeton, New Jersey to undertake digging a canal. After realizing that the canal was in New Jersey and not New York, I did some ‘digging’ and discovered that the charter for the Delaware and Raritan Canal was approved by the New Jersey legislature in 1830.

The idea for the Delaware and Raritan canal had been around for quite a few years prior to the creation of the charter. At the time, the canal allowed for travel from Bordentown, NJ to New Brunswick, NJ in 2 days versus a trip via the Atlantic Ocean taking 2 weeks. Since this was a major route between Philadelphia and New York City, the canal (and railroad built at same time) greatly improved the ability to travel between these two cities.

As I was researching the Delaware and Raritan Canal – or the Big Ditch – I found that there was an epidemic of Asiatic cholera that swept thru the workers in 1832. This epidemic killed hundreds of workers in 1832-1833 and may have been the cause of Ozias’ death in August 1832.

While I haven’t figured out the identity of the ‘uncle’ that Ozias worked for, I discovered that Ozias’ fourth cousin, Canvass White was the chief engineer for the Big Ditch. Canvass White had previously worked on the Eire Canal where he recruited Irish workers.

When Ozias died in 1832, he left a wife and young family. Since Ozias was listed on the 1830 census in New York and New York is given for the birth location of his children, it is possible that the family stayed in New York while Ozias worked in New Jersey.

Ozias’ Children [Ozias Wells on FamilySearch – KHPF-QW9]

  • Benjamin Franklin Wells – born 1819 – thus 13 at the time of his father’s death
  • Thurston Kennedy Wells – born 1821 – thus 11 at the time of his father’s death
  • William Wallace Wells – born 1823 – thus 9 at the time of his father’s death
  • Hannah Anne Wells – born 1825 – thus 7 at the time of her father’s death
  • Mary Jane Wells – born 1827 – thus 5 at the time of her father’s death
  • Lucinda M. Wells – born 1829 – thus 3 at the time of her father’s death
  • Nancy Phidila Wells – born 1831 – thus 1 at the time of her father’s death
The Big Ditch –


  1. Delaware and Rariton Canal (Wikipedia)
  2. Q&A; Guardian of the Memory of Those Who Dug a Canal by Karen Demasters; published by The New York Times, 9 Aug 1998.
  3. A Brief History of the Delaware and r=Raritan Canal on the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission site
  4. Honoring the Irish Who Built the D&R Canal. Department of Environmental Protection. State of New Jersey
  5. The Canal Dug by Irishmen. The Historical Marker Database.
  6. The Birth of the Canal. D&R Canal State Park
  7. Along the Delaware & Raritan Canal: A History and Resources Database. by Capt. Bill McKelvey, 2011.

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  1. Pingback: Friday’s Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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