Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

Canoes of Bark

The canoes made of bark from the birch tree are wonders in the way of lightness and swiftness. Jethro and I, hoping some day to be able to buy one, have spent very much of our time learning to manage these boats, which are like to eggshells for daintiness, and it is not certain but that we may be able to build such a craft ourselves, for we have watched eagerly the Indians at their work.

One must first get a quantity of thin splints of spoon-wood, which are to be steamed and bent into the form of the bottom and sides of the canoe, until one has made the shape of the entire hull, when a narrow rail of tough wood is put on to fashion the sides and ends.


Then all, save the rail, is covered with bark from the birch trees, the builder taking good care to choose pieces which are free from such blemishes as unequal thickness, an overgrown cleft, or any show of weakness.

This bark should be stripped from a tree so large that each sheet or piece is of length sufficient to stretch from rail to rail, and is fastened in place by sewing with threads of sinew taken from deer.

When all this has been done, every seam, or hole made by the needle, is covered plentifully with pitch from the pine tree, which is not unlike soft tar, and when it has been thoroughly dried, you have a boat that will support from two to six persons, while yet so light that one may easily carry it on his shoulder.

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