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Heaven's Ditch

God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


The technological marvel of its age, the Erie Canal grew out of a sudden fit of inspiration. Proponents didn't just dream; they built a 360-mile waterway entirely by hand and largely through wilderness. As excitement crackled down its length, the canal became the scene of the most striking outburst of imagination in American history. Zealots invented new religions and new modes of living. The Erie Canal made New York the financial capital of America and brought the modern world crashing into the frontier. Men and women saw God face to face, gained and lost fortunes, and reveled in a period of intense spiritual creativity.

Heaven's Ditch by Jack Kelly illuminates the spiritual and political upheavals along this "psychic highway" from its opening in 1825 through 1844. "Wage slave" Sam Patch became America's first celebrity daredevil. William Miller envisioned the apocalypse. Farm boy Joseph Smith gave birth to Mormonism, a new and distinctly American religion. Along the way, the reader encounters America's very first "crime of the century," a treasure hunt, searing acts of violence, a visionary cross-dresser, and a panoply of fanatics, mystics, and hoaxers.

A page-turning narrative, Heaven's Ditch offers an excitingly fresh look at a heady, foundational moment in American history.

From Publishers Weekly

May 02, 2016 – In this snappy telling of an oft-told tale, Kelly (Band of Giants), a journalist, novelist, and historian, brings to life the texture of central and western New York State in the early decades of the 19th century. The region, its settlers, and its culture were central to the nation's development in the decades before the Civil War. Central and western New York overrun with religious fervor, political turmoil, and projects to improve life and commerce incubated much of the cultural change that eventually spread nationally: women's rights, evangelical religion, abolitionism and other reform movements, and the Erie Canal, one of the great engineering feats of American history. Kelly weaves his story around the construction of the canal, which brought people, trade, and change to the Midwest and helped make New York City into America's greatest urban center. A writer of history rather than a researcher or interpretive historian, Kelly has mined existing books but not manuscripts or records. He adds nothing to what's already known about the region's history, nor does he venture any particular interpretation of his subject. But those who wish to learn something about a critical era and a critical region will find Kelly's book a good place to start.

Customer Reviews


When it sticks to the history of the Erie Canal and the religious revivalism the surrounded it, the book is wonderful. Oddly, the transition of Joseph Smith from literal gold digger to prophet is treated without skepticism or comment. Kelly refers to Smith's "translation" of his golden plates as one of the most impressive feats of history. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Heaven's Ditch
View in iTunes
  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: United States
  • Published: Jul 05, 2016
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Seller: Macmillan
  • Print Length: 256 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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