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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 86: The Erie Canal, 1825-1918.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1273-1287 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

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Construction of the Erie or "Grand Canal", 1817-1825 — First work began at Rome, July 4, 1817 — Construction work in the Mohawk Valley — Clinton's triumphal trip in the "Seneca Chief" in 1825 — A contemporary account of Fort Plain celebration.

In discussing the old Erie Canal, of 1825-1918, we are considering one of the most important trade routes and canals of the world. This is true in spite of the fact of the greater waterways of later years — the Suez and Panama Canals, and the New York State Barge Canal, which has superseded the Erie.

The first American canal of any size was the Dismal Swamp Canal, completed in 1794; the second, the Santee Canal, completed in 1802; the third, the Champlain Canal, completed in 1823, running from Whitehall to Watervliet, a distance of sixty-six miles; the fourth, the Erie Canal, running from Albany to Buffalo, completed in 1825.

However, the Erie Canal takes rank as the first great artificial inland waterway. It made New York State and city great and put the Empire State in the forefront of the commonwealths of the Union. All this was made possible by the Mohawk Valley — Gateway to the West, and the watergate from the Lakes to the Atlantic.

The project of a continuous waterway from the Hudson to the Great Lakes had been agitated ever since the days of the earliest settlement of New York State and the Mohawk River-Wood Creek-Oneida Lake-Oswego River route is the parent of the Erie Canal and was in use as the water route (with the carry at Wood Creek) from the Hudson to Lake Ontario for two centuries before the completion of the Erie Canal. Washington, on his tour of the valley in 1783, was greatly impressed by the water communications of the regions, as is shown in a prior chapter.

The incorporation of the Inland Lock Navigation Company in 1792 was the first step toward canalizing this Mohawk River to the lakes route, which had previously been traversed exclusively by canoes, dugouts and batteaux. This company was not successful as has been shown and sold out to the state in 1820, because of the construction of the Erie Canal with which it could not compete.

For a history of the canals of the state, including the Erie Canal, the reader is referred to the History of New York Canals, published by the State Engineer and Surveyor in 1905 [i.e. Noble E. Whitford, History of the Canal System of the State of New York, 1906]. This gives the history of the discussion of canals, regarding the Mohawk Valley route, which went on, in greater or lesser degree, for a century preceding the beginning of Erie Canal construction at Rome, July 4, 1817. The subject is too large for space here.

The chief credit for New York State taking up the construction of the canal project must be given to Jesse Hawley, a resident of Ontario County. On January 14, 1807, he published an article in the Pittsburgh "Commonwealth" urging the building of the Albany to Buffalo canal, under the signature "Hercules." He was at that time temporarily living in Pittsburgh. Public utterances and writings in favor of the canal were meager or nonexistent prior to Hawley's propaganda. On Hawley's return to his previous home in Ontario County, New York, he published a series of fourteen articles in the "Ontario Messenger" (also known as the "Genesee Messenger"), a newspaper issued at Canandaigua. These papers constituted a complete exposition of the whole subject, setting forth the advantages of the work, describing the canals of Europe, comparing the Erie canal scheme with them and estimating the cost — which estimate closely approximated the actual expense of the canal afterward built.

At Schenectady, in 1803, Gouverneur Morris suggested to Simeon DeWitt, state surveyor, a project for conveying the water of Lake Erie direct to the Hudson, by means of a canal so constructed as to preserve a continuous fall to the high lands bordering on the river, which should be surmounted by the use of locks. The surveyor-general, in common with most of those to whom the scheme was mentioned, regarded the project as visionary.

The Erie Canal proposition was first brought before the legislature by Joshua Forman, member from Onondaga, February 4, 1808. A committee was appointed to investigate the subject and reported in favor of an examination of the route (both from Oneida Lake to Lake Ontario and from Lake Erie eastward to the Hudson). This was made by the aforementioned James Geddes, who made a favorable report to the committee. A further survey was made in 1810 and the cost of the canal estimated at $5,000,000. The length of the canal was estimated at 350 miles and the cost of transportation at $6 per ton. Appeals for help from the national government having failed, the canal commissioners were, by the legislature, authorized to obtain a loan of $5,000,000, and procure the right of way.

[Photo: Old Erie Canal Near Little Falls]

[Photo: Packet Boat on the Old Erie Canal]

On the Albany-Buffalo route this was considered a luxurious mode of travel, after the days of rough riding on the stage coaches. The packet boats flourished from 1825 to 1850 and carried hundreds of thousands of travelers and emigrants through the Gateway to the West.

Further progress was prevented by the War of 1812, but toward the close of 1815 the project was revived. In spite of much opposition, the efforts of the canal champions both in and out of the legislature (especially DeWitt Clinton), procured the passage of an act April 17, 1816, providing for the appointment of commissioners to take up the work. The following formed this board: DeWitt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Samuel Young, Joseph Elicott and Myron Holley. Clinton was president. The plan of a continuous slope from Lake Erie, first proposed, was given no consideration by the commission, and that of following the undulations of the surface adopted. Five millions was again estimated as the full cost of construction. April 15, 1817, an act prepared by Clinton was passed, in the face of great opposition, authorizing the commencement of the actual work. The canal project had always been considered by many a ruinous experiment and "lamentations were frequently heard on the miseries of an overtaxed people and their posterity." Says Washington Frothingham in Beers' "History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties":

"The canal was divided into three sections, from Albany to Rome, Rome to the Seneca River, and thence to Lake Erie. Charles C. Broadhead was engineer in charge of the eastern division, Benjamin Wright of the middle division, and James Geddes of the western. The canal was planned to be forty feet wide at the surface, twenty-eight feet at the bottom and the depth of the water to be four feet. The locks were ninety feet long and twelve wide in the clear. The commissioners were authorized to borrow, on the credit of the State, sums not exceeding $400,000 in any one year. Nearly $50,000 had been spent in exploration and surveys on the work before ground was broken."

These figures seem insignificantly petty compared with the vast sums that have since been frequently wasted on so-called public improvements.

Ground was broken at Rome, July 4, 1817, in the presence of the canal commissioners. John Richardson held the plow in opening the first furrow.

"It was more than two years before any part of the line was ready for use. On the 22d of October, 1819, the first boat was launched at Rome to run to Utica for passenger use. It was called the 'Chief Engineer'; was sixty-one feet long, seven and one-half feet wide; had two cabins, each fourteen feet long, with a flat deck between them, and was drawn by one horse. The next day [October 23, 1819], the commissioners and some of the most prominent citizens of Utica embarked there for the return trip to Rome and set off with a band playing, bells ringing, cannon thundering and thousands of spectators cheering from the banks. The canal at first was often called the 'Grand Canal.'

"On the 21st of July, 1820, tolls were first levied, the rates being fixed by the commissioners, the amount received that year [in the short stretch then in use] was over $5,000, taken by six collectors. The canal was used between Rome and Little Falls in the autumn of 1821, the contractor at the latter point availing himself of the unprofitable labors of the Inland Lock Navigation Company (previously referred to); and the portion east to the Hudson was under contract. Meanwhile the river floated the canal boats from Little Falls to Schenectady. The Mohawk Valley, below the former point, was thoroughly explored under the supervision of Benjamin Wright, chief engineer, and the intended direct line, from Schenectady to the Hudson River near Albany, was abandoned in favor of the course of the Mohawk River [from Schenectady to Cohoes] . The accuracy of the engineering work on the line was considered wonderful, in view of the fact that the engineers, Wright and Geddes, had had no previous experience of the kind, having been only land surveyors before their employment on this great work.

"In the spring of 1823, the canal was open uninterruptedly from Sprakers to the western part of the state and in September following [September, 1823] the St. Johnsville feeder was completed. The spot at the 'Nose,' however, was still unfinished, and, at that point, merchandise was transferred to river boats past the unfinished section.

"In the latter stages of the great work unexpectedly rapid progress was made, its success being now assured, and on the 26th of October, 1825, the finishing touch had been given and the canal was thrown open to navigation throughout, by the admission of water from Lake Erie at Black Rock [Buffalo]. The length of the canal was 363 miles, and its initial cost $7,143,789.86. Its completion was celebrated with unbounded joy which found expression in extraordinary civic and military ceremonies, and all the festivities that a proud and happy commonwealth could invent.

"On the morning of October 26 [1825], the first flotilla of boats, bound for New York from Lake Erie, entered the canal at Buffalo carrying the Governor and Canal Commissioners [in the packet, 'Seneca Chief']. Their departure was the signal for the firing of the first of a large number of cannon stationed within hearing distance of each other along the whole line of the canal and the Hudson River and at Sandy Hook, by which the momentous news of the opening of through travel at Buffalo was announced at the Hook in an hour and twenty minutes. One of the signal guns stationed at Sprakers Basin was fired by the Revolutionary veteran Goshen Van Alstine [living in present Canajoharie during the war]. The official voyagers were everywhere greeted with enthusiastic demonstrations."

In New York harbor Clinton poured water, carried from Lake Erie, into the waters of the Atlantic commemorating thereby the joining of the two bodies by way of the Erie Canal, and the great voyage was over. Sketches of canal scenery were stamped upon earthenware and various implements in commemoration of the great achievement. Albany was reached November 2, 1825, where a great celebration took place. The gubernatorial party arrived at New York, November 4, where was held a great public demonstration in celebration of the event. The trip from Buffalo to Albany had occupied seven days.

"As at first constructed, the canal passed through instead of over the streams which it had to cross, especially in the Mohawk Valley, their waters being raised to its level as near as possible by means of dams. This gave a surplus of water in certain localities, and afforded some fine milling privileges. One of this sort, was furnished below Canajoharie Creek, where John A. Ehle built a sawmill to avail himself of it. To carry the water through a stream of any size required, upon both shores of the latter, guard locks with gates were built, which could be closed during freshets.

Considerable difficulty was frequently experienced at such places by a long string of boats accumulating on each side of the stream where, at times, they were delayed for several days, during which time their crews came to be on familiar and not always friendly terms. Such delays were sometimes caused by a freshet in the creek injuring the dam. The passage of the first boat across a creek, on the subsidence of high water, was a marked event, sometimes drawing a large crowd of people together to witness it. The first thing was to get the boat within the guard lock and close the gate behind it. Then with a strong team, sometimes doubled, the feat was undertaken [the horses traveling over on a towing bridge over the dam]. The greatest difficulty was experienced at Schoharie Creek, that being so large; and on the parting of a towline midway of the stream, in several instances, boats were borne by an aggravated current over the dam and into the river, occasionally with loss of life. In such cases the boats had to go to Schenectady before they could get back into the canal. The passenger packet boats had the procedence in passing locks, and it was readily conceded at creek crossings in freshet times."

At the outset the canal was the fashionable avenue of western travel, as well as a highway of commerce. The packets were elegantly furnished, set excellent tables and far outstripped the freight boats in speed, by their comparative lightness and their three-horse teams. The canal accordingly furnished the natural route of Lafayette in his grand tour of this part of the country in 1825. At the crossing at Schoharie Creek, Lafayette's packet was delayed and it was there boarded by Thomas Sammons who was engaged in boating on the Erie canal. When Marquis de Lafayette was on a military errand at Johnstown, during the Revolution, he was there entertained by Jacob Sammons, a brother of Thomas, who had leased Johnson Hall from the Committee of Sequestration. Here Thomas Sammons had repeatedly met the French nobleman. In his cabin the Marquis greeted Sammons most cordially, asking after his Johnstown host (who had died since that time). The eminent Frenchman held the boat until his interview was ended, when Sammons and his son (who told this anecdote) stepped ashore both proud and happy over their courteous reception. Lafayette's packet was decorated with streamers and evergreens, even the harness of the horses bristling with flags. At all stops, locks and crossings, he was greeted by cheering crowds.

The canal early became taxed beyond its capacity, and its enlargement became a necessity. By legislative act of May, 1835, the canal commissioners were authorized to make its enlargement and to construct double locks as fast as they deemed advisable. Under this act the enlargement was begun and carried on, with more or less activity, for a quarter of a century before it was completed throughout. In this reconstruction the canal was carried over the cross streams by aqueducts. It was reduced in length to 350 miles, and increased in breadth to 70 feet at the surface and 52 1/2 feet at the bottom, while the depth of water was increased from four feet to seven feet. The cost of this enlargement was over $30,000,000.

Between 1889 and 1891 the canal locks were enlarged to admit of locking through two boats at once.

In 1896 and 1897, under an appropriation of $9,000,000, further enlargement was made. The water depth was increased (at least in part) to nine feet. From being the main central New York artery of freight traffic, commerce on the canal had dwindled to a small figure. Where formerly the docks of the canal towns were scenes of bustling activity they became deserted. Such a state of affairs was due to the inability of the canal boats of 250 tons to successfully compete with the constantly increasing carrying capacity of the railroads. The railroads soon put the canal packets out of business but there are yet those who remember well this convenient, picturesque and pleasant (if somewhat slow) method of travel prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. The Erie canal, particularly in its earlier years, was a favorite route of travel by emigrants going to the West.

In 1836, the Chenango Canal was built from Binghamton to Utica. It was later abandoned.

In 1849, the Black River Canal was built from Rome on the Mohawk to Lyons Falls on the Black River. It is now used as a feeder for the Barge Canal.

Down to 1866, the construction, enlargement and improvement of the Erie and Champlain canals (the latter requiring but a small part of the whole amount) had cost no less than $46,018,234; the repairs and maintenance had cost $12,900,333, making a total expense of $58,918,567. On the other hand, the receipts for tolls on the Erie and Champlain canals had then amounted to $81,057,168, leaving a balance in favor of these canals of $22,138,601. The cost of other canals reduced the direct profit on the canal system of the state to a trifle, although the indirect profits have been enormous.

Future readers will ask, "What was the motive power and manner of boating on the old Erie Canal?" The boats were at first drawn by one horse or mule. As they increased in size two or three horses or mules were used on one boat. The canal craft also went in pairs, threes and fours, sometimes two being lashed together and one or two others being in tow. These tows frequently had four horse or mule teams. Occasionally three or four boats went through towed by a tug. Steam canal boats have also been common. These generally formed the second boat of a pair, lashed bow and stern, and towed one or two others. Lake boats, which could journey from lake ports west of Buffalo through to New York, were seen in considerable numbers at times. Their use made the expense of breaking bulk at Buffalo unnecessary. All these double boats had to be unlashed before entering the locks, prior to the lock enlargement of 1891. From Albany down these craft made the trip to New York in great tows or lashed flotillas, towed by one or two tugs.

[Photo: Old Erie Canal Lock at Fort Plain.]

[Photo: Old Erie Canal Through Fort Plain.]

Accidents of various sorts on the Erie were common — leaks and banks giving way forming the principal source of trouble. Horses or mules frequently fell into the water, but were generally rescued. The canal banks were of riprap on the tow-path side, except in towns where they were of stone. Here was generally located an incline up which horses were taken which had tumbled into the canal. Drownings were frequent about the locks. One of the most remarkable accidents on the canal occurred at Fort Plain in 1896, when an omnibus filled with passengers went through the River Street bridge into the canal. All the people were rescued with great difficulty and the state was compelled to pay damages to a considerable amount. An iron lift bridge succeeded this weak structure, there being two located within the limits of Fort Plain.

Canal grocery stores were a feature of the Erie in its prime, these being located near the locks. The Erie waterway always provided occupation for a considerable number of people, along its route, they being employed as lock and bridge tenders, bank watches, state (repair) scow hands, etc.

One of the features of Erie Canal transportation, after the latter part of the nineteenth century, was the transit, during the summer months, of pleasure boats running from the Hudson River and southern and eastern points to the Thousand Islands and the Great Lakes. This was a particularly large item of traffic after the introduction of the gasoline motor boat. The craft varied from a row-boat size to large yachts which tested the capacity of the locks. The trip through the Erie Canal and the Mohawk Valley was a pleasing feature of summer outings to thousands of Americans from the country over.

The State Engineer's department has furnished the following regarding the Erie Canal: The boats used on the Erie Canal between 1817 and 1830 measured 61 x 7 x 3 1/2 feet and had a capacity of 30 tons. Between 1830 and 1850 boats of 75 x 12 x 3 l/2 feet were used. These had a capacity of 75 tons. From 1850 to 1862 the boats were 90 x 15 x 3 1/2 feet in size and had a capacity of 100 tons. After 1862 the boats were increased to 98 x 17 1/2 x 6 feet with a capacity of 240 tons.

The records of tonnage are not available prior to 1837. In that year the Erie canal carried 667,151 tons. In 1850 the tonnage was 1,635,089. In 1875 it was 2,787,226. Although the tonnage records do not go back of 1837 the records of tolls collected are available since 1820. In 1825 the amount collected on the Erie Canal was $492,664.23. In 1850 they were $2,933,125.93. In 1875 they were $1,428,078.25. Tolls were abolished on the canals in 1882. For several years prior to that date tolls had been decreased, although the amount of freight carried had increased or remained about the same. The year 1880 was the season of greatest tonnage on the Erie Canal, 4,608,651 tons having been carried. In 1910 the tonnage was 2,023,185.

The arbitrary selection of certain years does not give a very good idea of the growth of canal traffic. The records are contained in a convenient form for reference in a history of the canals which was published by the state a few years ago. It is entitled "History of the Canal System of the State of New York, together with Brief Histories of the Canals of the United States and Canada." At pages 1062 and 1064 of the second volume of this work appear the tables from which the above is quoted. The reader is referred to this work for a fuller account of the state's waterways.

In 1912, when the old Erie Canal was still in operation, the following was written regarding the impending passing (in 1918) of this great waterway:

The Erie Canal, after a life of almost a century since its first boat ran from Rome to Utica, is soon to give way to the vastly more efficient Barge Canal. What disposition will be made of its bed by the state of New York is not known. At this time it is interesting to recall the picture of the former activity along its course, its picturesque packets and the bustle and life that it brought to the canal towns to which it gave birth. Those who love the scenery along the valley will soon miss from the view the twin courses of the Mohawk and the Erie Canal winding their glittering way through the landscape.

In 1918, when the Barge Canal was opened the Erie Canal was abandoned. Many of the old-time canalers transferred their boats to the new waterway. The canal lands were sold by the state. In the cities and villages along the route the big ditch has generally been filled in, but, in the open country it still remains an open ditch and an elongated scummy swamp at many points. Some farmers are raising crops in the rich soil of the old canal bed.

At the time of the sale of the canal lands there was a strong demand that the State use this Albany to Buffalo right of way as a great trunk line motor car route. In view of the increasing and at times dangerous pressure of automobile traffic on the Mohawk Turnpike and other divisions of the Albany-Buffalo highway, such a demand was amply justified. Time will yet tell as to whether the State of New York made a mistake in the sale of its Erie Canal lands.

Celebrations of the opening of the Erie Canal were not alone confined to the villages along its banks but were held in many enterprising communities all over the state. The New York authorities ordered all the artillery of the state to be out on October 26, and fire a salute and where villages had military organizations there was generally some celebration or parade.

* * * * *

At Fort Plain (then a village of not more than 400, including Sand Hill) the event of the opening of the Erie Canal was fittingly observed. Says Simms:

"The substantial citizens of the neighborhood assembled on the day [October 26, 1825] of general festivities on the canal and celebrated the marked event. A long procession headed by Dr. G. S. Spalding as marshal and led with martial music marched from the public house of mine host, Joseph Wagner, to Sand Hill where, near the church a six pound cannon heralded the event of the day [Clinton's entering the canal at Buffalo] in thunder tones abroad. The patriotic crowd is said to have proceeded to the hill and back two and two, and it is probably well that some of them did so. A report of this celebration, published in the Johnstown 'Republican' soon after, says: 'An address with an appropriate prayer was pronounced in Washington Hall [which was in an upper room of the Warner store] to a crowded audience, by Rev. John Wack, who did much honor to his head and heart. After the address the company partook of a collation prepared by Mr. Joseph Wagner. Dr. Joshua Webster acted as president and Robert Hall, Esq., as vice-president. The festivity of the day terminated with a ball in the evening.'

"The sumptuous dinner at this first Wagner House (said Simeon Tingue, then its hotel clerk) was spread the entire length of the ball-room. This house stood on the north side of the guard lock, and is now owned by Andrew Dunn. After discussing the merits of a good dinner numerous toasts were washed down by good liquor, which as was soon apparent was freely used by all present. Remembered among those at the table were several [by the name of] Fox, Gros, Wagner, Hackney, Marvin, Ferguson, Adams, Cole, Belding, Mabee, Diefendorf, Crouse, Lipe, Dygert, Ehle, Nellis, Abeel, Seeber, Verplanck, Washburn, Moyer, Casler, Clum, Failing, Roof, Firman, Langdon, Warner, Cunning and others. A more jovial or free-from-care set of men were never assembled in Minden. Here is a glance at the toasts. First came thirteen regular toasts and the eleventh was as follows: 'Constitution of the United States — "And the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon the house, and it fell not for it was founded upon a rock".' Nine cheers. The twelfth was 'Education' and drew out six cheers, while the thirteenth upon the 'Canals of New York' was followed by twelve cheers. Of the nineteen good volunteer toasts recorded, I think every mover but one has gone to his rest — the exception is Hon. Peter J. Wagner, now (1882) past 87; and here is his sentiment: 'Liberty of the Press — The armed neutrality of a powerful Republic. Here no Harrington is denounced as a bloodstained ruffian — no Galileo doomed to languish and pine within the cells of an accursed Inquisition.' Mr. Wagner had more to do with preparing the toasts than any other man. As the guests grew hilarious, W. P. M. Cole, a witty Yankee teacher, jumped upon the table, which was a temporary one resting upon sawhorses. Many dishes were yet upon the table when down it went and all on it upon the floor. And, after the guests left the hall, lucky was it if they all got home before dark.

"It was expected that the boat [Seneca Chief, bearing Gov. Clinton and suite to tidewater] would arrive on the evening of Monday, October 31, [1825], possibly heralded by stages, anticipating which event a large concourse of people gathered from a distance of several miles around. Preparations had been made to proclaim the event by erecting two long poles on Prospect Hill, each with half a barrel of pitch on top with cords to hoist lighted shavings to ignite them. A cannon was also placed between them. To herald the event James A. Lee, a constable, was sent on horseback to Countryman's lock, some miles above; and, to spread the tidings, two young men — Rugene Webster and Solomon Norton — were delegated to Abeel's tavern a mile west, to 'telegraph' with a musket from that point. Headquarters were at the new store of Warner, then directly above the guard lock, the windows of which were illuminated. It was eleven o'clock at night when the mounted express reached Abeel's, where was also a jolly crowd. Norton fired the overloaded musket and experienced its fearful rebound, to be followed by the thunder of the 32-pound signal gun. In a very few minutes the beacons were on fire and war's mouthpiece on the hill heralded the approach of the Seneca Chief. Gov. Clinton — with a waiter by his side holding a lamp — as the boat, towed by three horses, ran in by the store, came on deck. Limping a little, rubbing his eyes and looking up at the light, seeming in the clouds, he exclaimed in admiration of the view, 'My God! what is that?' His wonder was how the light could be burning so far heavenward. The truth was the night was dark and foggy, obscuring the bold bluff on which the light was burning more than a hundred feet above his boat — a scene calculated to astonish any beholder not knowing the circumstances. But the visit must be brief, and every eye of the hundreds present (whether Clintonians or not) desired to see the projector of 'Clinton's Ditch,' and somebody must say something. John Taylor, an Irish schoolmaster — sometimes witty and always garrulous — stepped upon the bow of the boat and said (not knowing what else to say) 'Governor Clinton, this is my friend, John Warner's store.' Poor Taylor, in attempting to regain the shore, fell into the canal but * * * he was rescued without injury. Later in life it was his fate to be drowned in the canal. Lawrence Gros, who was just then commencing trade as a partner of Warner in his new store, and Dr. Webster were possibly the only ones present who could claim a personal acquaintance with the Governor; and so desirious was Col. Crouse, and perhaps others, for an introduction to his Excellency, that they stepped on board, and, entering the cabin, rode down to the lock one-quarter of a mile below. It is presumed that the Governor discovered that some of his guests had, in waiting, kept their spirits up in a manner often resorted to at that period. Martial music attended the boat down to the lock and, as the Fort Plain guests stepped on shore, the band struck up 'Yankee Doodle,' when Gov. Clinton, 'from the deck, swung the crowd an adieu with his hat, entered the cabin with Canal Commissioner Bouck and others, and the Seneca Chief moved forward."

* * * * *

DeWitt Clinton, the "father" of the Erie Canal and the virtual builder of "Clinton's Ditch," was born in Deer Park, Orange county, March 2, 1769. He was a son of Gen. James Clinton, of the Sullivan and Clinton expedition to the Indian country in 1779, and who made Canajoharie his rendezvous in the Mohawk Valley prior to his overland trip to join Sullivan.

Governor George Clinton was his uncle. His mother's name was Mary DeWitt of the New York Holland Dutch family of that name. He graduated at Columbia College in New York City in 1786, studied law and in 1790 became private secretary to his uncle, Governor Clinton. He was "a man of ardent temperament, dignified manners, inclined to reserve and of noble personal appearance." He was elected as a Republican or Anti-Federalist to the New York Assembly in 1797 and to the State Senate in 1798, and soon became his party's most influential leader in New York. In 1801 he was elected to the United States Senate. In 1803 he was appointed by the Governor and council, Mayor of New York, which office he held, by successive reappointments, until 1814. He served as Lieutenant-Governor from 1811-1813 and in 1810 was chairman of the canal board. In 1812 he was nominated for President of the United States by the party opposed to President Madison's war policy, receiving 89 electoral votes (including those of New York), but was not elected. In 1815 he framed and presented to the state legislature a memorial advocating the construction of the Erie Canal (which was ordered in 1817). He was elected governor of New York almost unanimously in 1817 and in 1820 re-elected (over Daniel D. Tompkins), during his terms being president of the board of canal commissioners. He declined a renomination in 1822 and in 1824 was removed as a canal commissioner. In the fall of 1824 he was again elected governor by a large majority, making the triumphal tour of the Erie Canal in celebration of its opening, October, 1825. He was re-elected in 1826 and died in Albany before completing his term, February 11, 1828, aged 58 years.

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