a1 Peter Way is Lecturer in American History, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QN, England. He would like to thank David Grimsted, Stephen Fender, Vivien Hart and other colleagues, for their comments on this paper.
In the fall of 1828, Irish labourers digging Pennsylvania's Mainline Canal at Clark's Ferry, near Harrisburg, rioted when their employers — the Mammoth Contracting Company of New York — fell behind in wage payments by as much as $400 to skilled workers. The men soon returned to work, but in April the following year demanded a raise in wages from 80¢ to $1 until they paid off debts to local storeowners accumulated over the winter. The contractors refused, but the next day a freshet partially washed out the dam on the Susquehanna and threatened the canal works. The labourers, many of whom had been unemployed for some time, refused to repair it until their wage request was met. Canallers from the surrounding area arrived to join the protest. The contractors attempted to erect a temporary dam with a few loyal hands, but were attacked by strikers with rocks and clubs. Likewise, skilled workers who remained aloof were forced to halt work and join the turnout. The river broke through the dam causing $8–10,000 damage, but still the workers persisted in their strike.