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Letter: DeWitt Clinton’s role is often misunderstood

I received my daily Google Alert in today’s mail, with a link to an article about the Erie Canal in The Buffalo News. The article, Eva Doyle: “Flight for freedom on Erie Canal,” unfortunately perpetuates a historical non-fact. Specifically Doyle stated: “It was the brainchild of New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton.” This is incorrect.

There were many individuals who proposed some sort of canal that would link the east, the Hudson River, with the west, Lake Erie. In 1806, Jesse Hawley, a bankrupt flour merchant, proposed a route to Lake Erie that was similar to the route which was finally chosen.

In 1812, after many other proposals and much discussion, a group of interested parties made a proposal to the New York Legislature to form a commission to explore a likely route to Lake Erie. It was suggested that, if DeWitt Clinton could be convinced to support the resolution in the legislature, it would be more likely to pass.

Once apprised of the proposal, Clinton became its strongest supporter, and, indeed what one might call, the face of the push for the canal. Thus, people, like Doyle, incorrectly give him the credit for the idea.

I suggest a reading of an excellent book on the history of the Erie Canal: “Bond of Union,” by Gerard Koeppel (Da Capo Press, c2009).

Frank E. Sadowski Jr.


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