Erie Canal
Erie Canal

An Invitation Henry's Enthusiasm
Before 1810 The Opening of 1819
Jonas Platt's Role The Opening of 1825
Travels on the Erie Canal

An Invitation to an Opening

Jonas Platt
DeWitt Clinton

ALBANY, Sept. 29, 1823.


On the 8th of October the first canal boat will pass into the Hudson at this place, and a celebration will take place under the direction of the citizens and corporation of Albany, correspondent with this auspicious event. Your signal services in initiating, and promoting, our great system of internal navigation will be remembered to your honour when we are no more.

Your presence at the celebration will be highly gratifying to your numerous friends, and to none more than to

Yours sincerely and respectfully,


JONAS PLATT, Esq. [at Utica]

There's no doubt that this invitation was known about at Locust Grove quite quickly, as Henry's family and that of his brother-in-law, Jonas Platt, stayed in close touch. Daughter Jane had spent the summer of 1822 in Utica, either with the Breeses (her half-sister's family) or the Platts (her uncle and aunt). Judge Jonas Platt had long been an important person in the New York political scene. A Federalist, he had been in the New York Assembly and Senate on and off from 1796 through 1813, and a New York Supreme Court Justice from 1813 to 1821, losing his place on the bench because of provisions he helped write into the new New York constitution. And in 1810 he had been his party's unsuccessful candidate for New York Governor, losing to Daniel D. Tompkins.

Henry was also a supporter of DeWitt Clinton, the son of his Revolutionary War commander, Colonel James Clinton. DeWitt Clinton's political affiliations had meandered over the years from Democratic-Republican (Anti-Federalist), to Republican, to Federalist for expediency. He was, like Henry's brother Gilbert, a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson.

The Erie Canal Before 1810
The Building Of The Erie Canal, William H. Seward, America, Vol.6, Pg.13

History will assign to Gouverneur Morris1 the merit of first suggesting a direct and continuous communication from Lake Erie to the Hudson.

In 1800 he announced this idea from the shore of the Niagara River to a friend in Europe, in the following enthusiastic language:

"Hundreds of large ships will, in no distant period, bound on the billows of these inland seas.  Shall I lead your astonishment to the verge of incredulity?  I will!  Know then that one-tenth part of the expense borne by Britain in the last campaign would enable ships to sail from London through the Hudson into Lake Erie.  As yet we only crawl along the outer shell of our country.  The interior excels the part we inhabit in soil, in climate, in everything.  The proudest empire of Europe is but a bauble compared with what America may be, must be."

The praise awarded to Gouverneur Morris must be qualified by the fact that the scheme he conceived was that of a canal with a uniform declination, and without locks, from Lake Erie to the Hudson. Morris communicated his project to Simeon De Witt in 1803, by whom it was made known to James Geddes in 1804. It afterward became the subject of conversation between Mr. Geddes and Jesse Hawley, and this communication is supposed to have given rise to the series of essays written by Mr. Hawley, under the signature of "Hercules," in the Genesee Messenger, continued from October, 1807, until March, 1808, which first brought the public mind into familiarity with the subject. These essays, written in a jail, were the grateful return, by a patriot, to a country which punished him with imprisonment for being unable to pay debts owed to another citizen. They bore evidence of deep research and displayed singular vigor and comprehensiveness of thought, and traced with prophetic accuracy a large portion of the outline of the Erie Canal.

In 1807 Albert Gallatin, then Secretary of the Treasury, in pursuance of a recommendation made by Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, reported a plan for appropriating all the surplus revenues of the general government to the construction of canals and turnpike roads; and it embraced in one grand and comprehensive view, nearly without exception, all the works which have since been executed or attempted by the several States in the Union. This bold and statesmanlike, though premature, conception of that eminent citizen will remain the greatest among the many monuments of his forecast and wisdom.

In 1808 Joshua Forman, a representative in the New York Assembly from Onondago County, submitted his memorable resolution:

"Resolved, if the honorable the Senate concur herein, That a joint committee be appointed to take into consideration the propriety of exploring and causing an accurate survey to be made of the most eligible and direct route for a canal, to open a communication between the tide-waters of the Hudson River and Lake Erie, to the end that Congress may be enabled to appropriate such sums as may be necessary to the accomplishment of that great national object."

In pursuance of a recommendation by the committee, a resolution unanimously passed both houses, directing the surveyor-general, Simeon De Witt, to cause an accurate survey to be made of the various routes proposed for the contemplated communication. But how little the magnitude of that undertaking was understood may be inferred from the fact that the appropriation made by the resolution to defray the expenses of its execution was limited to the sum of six hundred dollars.

There was then no civil engineer in the State. James Geddes, a land surveyor, who afterward became one of our most distinguished engineers, by the force of native genius and application in mature years, leveled and surveyed under instructions from the surveyor-general, with a view to ascertain, first, whether a canal could be made from the Oneida Lake to Lake Ontario, at the mouth of Salmon Creek; secondly, whether navigation could be opened from Oswego Falls to Lake Ontario, along the Oswego River; thirdly, what was the best route for a canal from above the Falls of Niagara to Lewiston; and, fourthly, what was the most direct route, and what the practicability of a canal from Lake Erie to the Genesee River, and thence to the waters running east to the Seneca River. The topography of the country between the Seneca River and the Hudson was at that time comparatively better known.

Mr. Geddes's report showed that a canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson was practicable, and could be made without serious difficulty.

Gouveneur Morris (31 Jan 1751/52-6 Nov 1816) was the grandson of Governor Lewis Morris, and the 1st cousin, 3 generations removed, of Manette Antill Lansing, the wife of Charles Walker Morse, S.F.B. Morse's son.

Jonas Platt's Memory of His Role in the Canal Project

Letter from Jonas Platt, Esq. to David Hosack, M.D.

NEW-YORK, May 3, 1828.


It affords me great pleasure to comply with your request, in furnishing some particular facts, within my own knowledge and personal observation, relating to the origin and progress of the Erie Canal.

The operations during the war of 1756, and particularly the transportation of the army and military stores in two expeditions, the first under Colonel Bradstreet, and the other under General Prideaux, on the route of the Mohawk and Wood Creek, Oneida Lake and its outlet, to Lake Ontario, demonstrated the practicability and importance of inland navigation from Schenectady to Oswego. The same channel of conveyance was in constant use by the fur-traders, from the peace of 1763, till the revolutionary war of 1775. - It was then also well known, that with slight impediments, there was an easy communication for batteaux, from the outlet of Oneida Lake to the Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. That any person, since that period, should arrogate the merit of discovering or projecting that channel of inland navigation, is absurd and ridiculous.

The efforts of Christopher Colles, immediately after the peace of 1783, to improve that navigation by means of dams and locks, were highly commendable. And the subsequent operations of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, in following up that plan of improvement, by canalling around the Little Falls, and in connecting the Mohawk and Wood Creek, by a short canal link of one mile and a half, were evidence of patriotic zeal for public improvements. But it is a truth which ought not to be disguised, that the gross errors which were committed by the advocates of that scheme, in their estimates of the expense, and of the profits and advantages of those improvements, resulted in a complete failure of the benefits promised by its projectors. The whole operations of the Northern Inland Lock Navigation Company, were condemned and abandoned as utterly useless. Certain I am, that instead of facilitating, and encouraging subsequent canal operations, the history and experience of the Northern and Western Inland Lock Navigation Companies, were powerful impediments to the enterprise of the Erie Canal. I shall never forget my embarrassment, in answering the appalling argument of the venerable John Tayler in the senate. "General Schuyler and Mr. Weston," said he, "were as wise and skillful as any of the new projectors. We know, and the fact is upon record, that all their calculations of expense and of tolls were not only erroneous, but they erred more than 200 per cent. in their estimates. What confidence, therefore, can we place in the opinions and estimates of the new projectors, who recommend a canal over mountains and valleys of 360 miles in extent?"

On the 4th February, 1808, on motion of Joshua Forman, a joint resolution passed the legislature, directing the surveyor-general to cause a survey "of the most eligible and direct route for a canal to open a communication between the tide waters of the Hudson River and Lake Erie; to the end that congress may be enabled to appropriate such sums as may be necessary to the accomplishment of that great national object." And the surveys were directed to be transmitted to the President of the United States: and there, as might have been expected, the matter ended. That effort evinced much patriotic zeal, but the state of New-York has reason to rejoice that the effort proved abortive. Next to the surrender of state sovereignty, it would have proved the greatest sacrifice which the state could have made.

As to the merit of the first design of a canal directly from Lake Erie to the Hudson, it belongs, in my opinion, exclusively, to no person. It was gradually developed to the minds of many who were early acquainted with the geography and topography of the western region of this state. I knew, in common with thousands, at an early period, that there was a remarkable gap in the continental ridge of high lands, at the summit of the Mohawk at Rome. I knew, from the estimates of Charlevoix and others, that Lake Erie was elevated about three hundred feet above Lake Ontario; and from Mr. Weston's levels and estimates from Albany to Oswego, I knew that Rome was about 140 feet lower than Lake Erie. And these grand outlines led the inquiring mind to the conclusion, that a canal directly from Lake Erie to the Hudson was practicable, if a sufficiency of water could be obtained upon every intervening summit. My knowledge of that region rendered it probable, that the remarkable succession of small lakes, throughout the western district, known to be at a great elevation above Lake Ontario, and discharging into it, might be used to feed a canal from Lake Erie; and the general surface and conformation of the country seemed favourable to such an operation. I saw the general capabilities of the natural features of the country; and if practicable, my mind and heart were expanded with a glow of sublime enthusiasm, in contemplating the magnitude and importance of the work, as a channel of commerce, and as a ligament of union between the eastern and western states.

In this state of mind and opinions, I was elected to the senate of this state, in 1809; and early in the session of the ensuing winter, my friend Thomas Eddy, called on me at Albany, to solicit my aid in the passage of a law, to employ commissioners to explore a route for a canal, from Oneida Lake to Seneca River, with a view to authorize the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company to make such a canal. After hearing a full exposition of his plan, I told him, I rejoiced to find him moving in that field of inquiry; that I feared he would consider my ideas visionary and extravagant, but that I had much to say to him on that subject. I then unfolded to him the plan of instituting a board of commissioners (without reference to the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company,) to examine and survey the whole route from the Hudson to Lake Ontario, and to Lake Erie also; with a view to forming a canal, independent of the beds of rivers, and using them as feeders merely. Whether the canal should be made directly to Lake Erie, without descending to and ascending from Lake Ontario, must depend on the result of the surveys, and the estimate of the comparative expense and advantages. I also expressed to him my decided conviction, that no private corporation was adequate to, or ought to be entrusted with, the power and control over such an important object. I also told him, that the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company had disappointed public expectation; and that it would be inauspicious to present any projèt which should be subject to that corporation.

The mind of that prudent and excellent man seemed startled at the extravagance of my proposal. His first impression was, that it would be thought so visionary and gigantic, that the legislature would not even deem it worthy of consideration or inquiry. We spent nearly the whole night in discussing the subject, and at the close of our interview, it was agreed, that I should prepare a resolution conformable to my views; and that he should call on me again early next morning, and consider of it. He did so; and his mind then fully embraced the subject. He expressed his cordial approbation of the plan, and assured me of his support.

Mr. Eddy and myself then designated for commissioners, Gouverneur Morris, De Witt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Simeon De Witt, Benjamin Walker, Peter B. Porter, and Thomas Eddy. Our object was to balance the opposing political parties as nearly as possible, and to combine talents, influence, and wealth in constituting this board; and as De Witt Clinton was then a member of the senate, possessing a power influence over the dominant party in the state, it was considered by Mr. Eddy and myself, of primary importance to obtain his co-operation. We accordingly requested an interview with Mr. Clinton, and unfolded to him our plan, and the prominent facts and considerations in support of it: and I distinctly remember, that in showing him the names of the persons we had proposed as commissioners, I stated to Mr. Clinton, that we had selected men of wealth and public spirit, with an expectation, that they would bestow their time and services without compensation; so that we might then only ask an appropriation for the expenses of the engineers and surveyors, who were to be employed by the commissioners.

Mr. Clinton listened to us with intense interest, and deep agitation of mind. He then said, that he was in a great measure a stranger to the western interior of our state; that he had given but little attention to the subject of canal navigation, but that the exposition of our plan struck his mind with great force; that he was then prepared to say, that it was an object worthy of thorough examination; and that if I would move the resolution in blank, (without the names of the commissioners,) he would second and support it.

Stephen Van Rensselaer and Abraham Van Vechten were then members of the House of Assembly. I immediately called on them, and showed them the proposed resolution, and the names intended to be inserted in it as commissioners: but Mr. Van Rensselaer requested that his friend William North might be added as a commissioner, or substituted for one of the others. I then went to the senate chamber, and moved the resolution of the 12th March 1810, (as the journal will show) with an introductory speech. Mr. Clinton seconded and supported it; and the resolution (in blank) was unanimously agreed to. Next morning, I moved to insert the names of Gouverneur Morris, De Witt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Simeon De Witt, William North, Peter B. Porter, and Thomas Eddy, who were unanimously agreed to in the senate, and the concurrent resolution was on the same day, unanimously adopted in the Assembly.

Mr. Colden in his Memoir, (page 34,) has omitted the names of De Witt Clinton and Simeon De Witt; and he says that the resolution moved by me was brought forward "on the suggestion of Thomas Eddy." If he had conferred with Mr. Eddy, he would not have fallen into that error. An interesting Memoir of the Canal, left by Mr. Eddy, never published, but now in the possession of his family, substantially accords with the statement I have here given. Mr. Eddy's suggestion to me was, to appoint commissioners to examine and report a plan for extending the navigation from Oneida Lake to Seneca River, with a view to enlarge the powers of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company for that object. My answer was, that the survey and inquiry should be extended from the Hudson to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, with a view to a canal independent of the beds of rivers; and that the enterprise if practicable, should be undertaken by the government, for the benefit and at the expense of the state. Mr. Eddy abandoned his project and adopted my suggestion.

From that period Mr. Clinton devoted the best powers of his vigorous and capacious mind to this subject; and he appeared to grasp and realize it, as an object of the highest public utility, and worthy of his noblest ambition.

The commissioners all entered with zeal, upon the duties assigned to them; and during the summer of 1810, they explored, with scrutinizing observation, the surface of the country, with the lakes and rivers connected with the design; and in the winter of 1811, they made a unanimous report in favour of a canal from Lake Erie to Hudson's River, with an estimate of the expense. That splendid report was from the pen of Gouverneur Morris, and is before the public.

General Morgan Lewis came into the senate in 1811, and then, and ever afterwards, gave his warm and decided support to the canal; and during the session of 1811, Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton were added to the board of canal commissioners, which brought a powerful reinforcement of talent and influence in aid of the contemplated work.

During the summer of 1811, the commissioners prosecuted their labours of surveys and levels; and in the course of a written correspondence between Mr. Morris, as president of the board, and myself, during the years 1811 and 1812, it was agreed that I should introduce a bill into the senate at the next session, authorising the canal commissioners to borrow five millions of dollars in Europe, on the credit of this state, as a fund for prosecuting the work. In the extra session of June, 1812, such a bill was accordingly introduced by me, and was carried into law, by a small majority, in each house. But in consequence of the war between the United States and Great Britain, of which the duration and consequences could not be foreseen, the bold measure of borrowing five millions for the canal, was deemed inexpedient; and by a nearly unanimous consent of both houses, the law for that purpose was repealed in April 1814; and during the war, the projèt of the canal was utterly abandoned.

Soon after the war ended, a consultation was held between Mr. Clinton, Thomas Eddy, and myself, in the city of New-York, for the purpose of reviving the enterprise of the canal, and for organizing and animating its friends throughout the state. It was agreed that cards of invitation should be addressed to about one hundred gentlemen of that city, to meet at the City Hotel to consult on measures for that object. A meeting was held accordingly, at the City Hotel, in the autumn of 1815, of which William Bayard was chairman, and John Pintard was secretary. According to previous arrangement, an address was made to the meeting by myself, in which I endeavoured to show that the object was identified with the best interests of the state; and that the city of New-York was peculiarly interested in its accomplishment. In that address, I also pointed at the stupendous project of a canal, on an uninterrupted inclined plane, which had been unfortunately proposed in the first report of the commissioners, and I urged the expediency of a formal and public abandonment of that plan, for the simple mode (afterwards adopted) of following the general surface of the country in its undulations. After discussion, a resolution was then passed, approving the object, and appointing a committee, consisting of De Witt Clinton, Thomas Eddy, Cadwallader D. Colden, and John Swartwout, to prepare and circulate a memorial to the legislature in favour of the Erie Canal. A memorial was drawn and published accordingly. It was from the pen of Mr. Clinton, and evinced a perfect knowledge of the subject, with a sagacious discernment of its beneficial results to the state and to the nation. If Mr. Clinton had left no other evidence, that memorial alone is sufficient to entitle him to the character of an accomplished writer, an enlightened statesman, and a zealous patriot.

The friends of the canal throughout the state, rallied under the standard of that memorial, and meetings were soon held in Albany, Utica, Geneva, Canandaigua, and Buffalo, to second and support the efforts of the meeting in New-York; and a vigorous impulse was given to the public mind in favour of the arduous enterprise.

Powerful and appalling obstacles, however, were presented, in the honest doubts and fears of many sensible and prudent men; in the rival and hostile local interests of various sections of the state; and in the political cabals, and personal hostility to Mr. Clinton, who had boldly identified himself with the canal, and staked his public character on the issue of the experiment. The leading advocates of the canal, were objects of ridicule throughout the United States: hallucination was the mildest epithet applied to them.

The year 1816 was employed in the examination of physical obstacles, and the modes of obviating or surmounting them; in conciliating public opinion in favour of the object, and in devising a system of finance, to meet the vast expenditures which it involved. The full force of Mr. Clinton's mind was devotedly applied to these objects.

In April 1817, the first decisive act of the legislature was passed for commencing the work. By this act, the commissioners were directed to make the middle section of the canal, from Seneca River to the Mohawk, and a suitable appropriation of funds was made for the purpose.

The bill passed each house by a very small majority. But after its passage through the senate and assembly, it was subjected to another severe ordeal in the council of revision. Lieutenant-Governor Tayler, as acting Governor, was then president of the council, and had ever been distinguished as one of the ablest and most formidable opponents of the canal. The other attending members of the board were, Chancellor Kent, Chief Justice Thompson, Judge Yates and myself. After reading the bill, the president called on the chancellor for his opinion. Chancellor Kent said he had given very little attention to the subject; that it appeared to him like a gigantic project, which would require the wealth of the United States to accomplish it; that it had passed the Legislature by small majorities, after a desperate struggle; and he thought it inexpedient to commit the state, in such a vast undertaking, until public opinion could be better united in its favor.

Chief Justice Thompson was next called on for his opinion. He said he cherished no hostility to the canal, and he would not inquire whether the bill had passed by large or small majorities, and as the legislature had agreed to the measure, he would be inclined to leave the responsibility with them; but, he said, the bill gave arbitrary powers to the commissioners over private rights, without those provisions and guards, which, in his opinion, the spirit of the constitution, and the public safety required; and he was therefore opposed to the bill.

Judge Yates was a decided friend of the canal, and voted for the bill. My heart and voice were ardently engaged in support of the measure, which now seemed at a fatal crisis.

The president of the council panted with honest zeal to strangle the infant Hercules at its birth, by his casting vote in the negative. A warm and animated discussion arose; and afterwards a more temperate and deliberate examination of the bill and its provisions, obviated in some measure, the objections of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice. Near the close of the debate, Vice-president Tompkins came into the council chamber, and took his seat familiarly among us. He joined In the argument, which was informal and desultory. He expressed a decided opinion against the bill; and among other reasons, he stated, that the late peace with Great Britain was a mere truce; that we should undoubtedly soon have a renewed war with that country; and that instead of wasting the credit and resources of the State, in this chimerical project, we ought immediately to employ all the revenue and credit of the state, in providing arsenals, arming the militia, erecting fortifications, and preparing for war. "Do you think so, sir?" said Chancellor Kent. "Yes, sir," was the reply; "England will never forgive us, for our victories on the land, and on the ocean and the lakes; and my word for it, we shall have another war with her, within two years." The Chancellor then rising from his seat, with great animation declared, "if we must have war, or have a canal, I am in favour of the canal, and I vote for this bill." His voice gave us the majority; and so the bill became a law.

"If that bill had been rejected by the council, it could not have been carried by two-thirds of the Senate and Assembly; and from the personal hostility to Mr. Clinton, the great champion of the canal, combined with other causes of opposition, it is probable, that this magnificent enterprise could never since have obtained the sanction of the legislature. At no future period could the work have been accomplished at so small an expense of land, of water, and hydraulic privileges. Rival routes, and local interests, were daily increasing and combining against the projèt: and in my estimation, it was one of the chief grounds of merit in the advocates of the Erie canal, that they seized on the very moment most proper and auspicious for that immortal work.

As to the subsequent measures and operations, till the successful completion of the Erie and Champlain Canals, with the firm, bold, and efficient support, uniformly given by Governor Clinton, they are matters of history and of public record.

Whether the early projectors adopted and pursued the means best calculated to promote and effectuate the object, the public must judge. My humble efforts have been rewarded, by seeing the great work accomplished with complete success: and I have also the proud satisfaction of reflecting, that my name has never appeared among the clamorous competitors for fame or public gratitude.

I have only to beg you, to excuse the egotism of this memoir. My apology is, that a compliance with your request, seemed to render it indispensible.

With great respect,

Your friend and obedient servant,


Transcribed from the original text by Bill Carr

Henry's Enthusiasm for the Canal

Henry's imagination was fired by the Erie Canal. The country to the west of the Appalachians - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois - was the stuff of dreams. The stories told of soil that wasn't filled with rocks and tree stumps but was, rather, flat plains of rich black loom, where crops could almost grow themselves. Everyone wanted to move west.

Even at the age of seventy, Henry devoured information on the "big ditch" and inundated his grandson in southern Illinois with questions and dreams of what was possible if the midwestern states would build canals to connect with the eastern canals through the Great Lakes.

Poughkeepsie June 13th 1819

My very dear grandson Sidney Breese!

I wish your influential men would accommodate navigable water to communicate with Lake Michigan, & to the Wabash as forming a water line with the Erie. Our great western canal is progressing rapidly & steadily-- No doubt is entertained of its entire completion in 3 more seasons added to the present. The expense be sure is great, but a great state undoubtedly looks it in the face. Could you in 3 or 4 years carry your Illinois or Wabash to the lake, old as I am I might in my own barge come to your very door & bid you good morning. I am an old man & probably may be too visionary. Mr. Kane & you are young and will live to see great events....

I verily believe that in less than 10 years a tour from Poughkeepsie to Kaskaskia will be mentioned with less emotion than 40 years ago a voyage from Poughkeepsie to Newbury port would have been contemplated.

Public confidence in the dig waxed and waned, and many times the project hung by a thread. At a time when the opposition seemed to be winning the public relations battle, Clinton decided to finish the middle section and have a Grand Opening.

On October 23, 1819, as the Utica church bells rang and a band on board began to play, the single horse started up along the tow path, pulling the Chief Engineer, behind him by means of an 80 foot long tow rope, at the sensational speed of four miles per hour. Hundreds of spectators followed the boat, cheering as they went. Arriving very soon at Whitesboro, an artillery company boomed a salute. Then it was on to Rome and, finally, a triumphant return to Utica. The actual time of transportation for the 30 mile round trip was, a newspaper bragged, only 8 hours and 20 minutes. The first piece of Henry's dream was coming true. Now it was time to get on with connecting the midwest to the Great Lakes.

Poughkeepsie July 2 1820

Dear grandson Sidney Breese!

The re-election of Gov. [De Witt] Clinton is an event auspicious to the great canal - It now will go thro without the least doubt. I very much wish your people would do something in a similar way & meet us either at Sandusky or Chicago -- Sooner or later it will come to pass -- The day will come when you yourself, Madam at your side, with a blooming little Isaac in her lap, seated in an elegant gondola will in one fortnight glide along from Illinois to Dutchess. My old eyes I think will not -- but other eyes will behold & bless them.

January 13th 1822 [to Sidney Breese]

If your people succeed in completing a communication with Michigan you may set out from your door in a boat, ascend the Mississipi & Illinois, navigate the Michigan, Spend an hour at Mackinaw, take a pup at St. Mary (a little out of the shortest water path) Halt a minute at Detroit -- shake hands with J. Platt at Buffaloe-- Hail your Father at Utica & finally land in your Grandfathers cove a short half mile from the old stone mansion every inmate of which sincerely loves you. In 24 months probably all this may be effected.

The Opening of 1819

From the Utica Patriot

On Saturday, the 23d of October, 1819, his excellency Gov. Clinton, Gen. Van Rensselaer, and Messrs. Holly and Seymour, canal commissioners, Mr. Wright, engineer of the middle section of the Erie Canal, Messrs. White, Bates and Jarvis, assistant engineers, and Mr. agent Bartow, together with the Rev. Dr. Blatchford, of Lansingburgh, and Mr. Stansbury, of Albany, Mrs. Williams, Clark, Van Rensselaer, Bloodgood, Lansing, Childs, Walker, and many other gentlemen of the village of Utica and its vicinity, the sheriff of Oneida county, Col. Westcott, and the hon. E. Hart and Perry G. Childs, senators of the western district, started, in a canal boat, from the eastern extremity of the middle section, on an excursion of curiosity and experiment, for Rome.

The dam at Oriskany creek having been finished, and the bars of earth adjoining it having been removed, so as to admit the passage of a boat, a depth of two and a half feet of water had been let into the canal, on the Thursday preceding.

The first admission of water into a canal is always attended with great solicitude. It is the ultimate test of the accuracy of the levels, and affords most important inferences, as to the solidity and fidelity, with which the banks have been constructed, and the sufficiency of the feeders. One of the jobs, east of the Oneida creek, not being entirely completed, it was deemed expedient to prevent the water from extending farther west, on the Rome summit, than Wood-creek aqueduct, a distance of eighteen miles. And it was known, that the quicksands, at Oriskany hill, presented more cause of alarm than are any where else to be found on the section. A number of men had been stationed on the bank, at that place, to watch the motion and effect of the waters, as they accumulated, and to arrest, as quick as possible, the progress of any evil that might arise.

The waters moved gently on, from Oriskany creek, the great feeder of the eastern end of the level, towards Utica - swelled round Oriskany hill to the intended depth, and were not observed to produce any threatening indications into the banks, for several hours, when, at about one o'clock on the morning of Friday, a breach was suddenly effected at a place where a drain had been very recently filled up.

At the place of this drain, the natural surface of the ground was two feet below the bottom of the canal, of course, when the water was two feet and a half deep, along the line in general, there was here a pressure of four and a half feet head. But this pressure would have produced no injury, if due care had been taken in raising the bottom of the canal, and breaking in the sides of the drains, and puddling the earth required in closing it.

By the activity and energy of Mr. Brown, assistant engineer, and Messrs. Brainard, Miller, Chapin, and Simpson, contractors, the breach was soon repaired, so that, by noon on Friday, the waters were again allowed to enter the canal. And before day-light on Saturday, they filled it for eighteen miles to the depth of near three feet; on the morning of this day, therefore, the party above mentioned commenced their excursion.

The scene was novel and most interesting. Considering the circumstances of our country - and the great benefits sure to result to us from internal trade - the intelligence of our citizens to perceive and appreciate these benefits - their virtue and public spirit to make the necessary permanent appropriations beforehand - the influence upon all our best sympathies, which cannot fail to be most extensively produced, by such easy, pleasing and economical means of general intercourse as are furnished by navigable canals - and the construction of our great work, not only in the light of its own exceeding utility, but as in troducing, throughout the ample territories of our national empire, a spirit of active and persevering internal improvement - it is believed that the records of social life do not afford a scene more interesting.

Amidst the cheers and shouts of almost the whole neighboring population, the ringing of the church bells in Utica, and the patriotic tunes of a band of music on board, the boat was put in motion. It was drawn by one horse, by means of a rope eighty feet long, of which one end was connected with the whippletree, and the other with a hook secured to the boat, at a little distance from the bow, on the towing-path side; and every body was surprised to see the ease with which a single horse moved on, at the rate of four miles an hour, drawing a boat with from seventy to a hundred passengers continually on board.

The agitation of the waters in the canal, in consequence of the motion of the boat, was not such as to induce the fear of much injury to the banks; and when the whole depth of water is let in, it will be much less.

At a short distance from the place of starting, on the line of the canal, there is an embankment over Nail Creek 21 feet high, above the natural surface of the ground, and 32 rods long, under which is constructed a large semi-circular culvert of stone, for passing the water of the creek, under the canal, into the Mohawk river below. The arch of the culvert has a span of 15 feet, and the whole structure looks stable and well adapted to its object. in a a canal, the triumph of art is most apparent, where the navigation is carried high over the neighboring lands: this embankment was therefore regarded with great complacency.

In 36 minutes we had passed near three miles, and reached the east end of an embankment about 130 chains long across the valley of the Sedaqueda creek. The creek itself is passed by an aqueduct 260 feet long, connected with the embankment. This aqueduct consists of two abutments, with the necessary wing falls, and seven piers of solid masonry. And this stone work supports a trunk, 16 feet wide, consisting of timber and plank for the waters of the canal to occupy, and a towing path of plank eight feet wide for the horse to travel on. There is an angle, in the embankment, where it connects with the aqueduct, at each end; but the connection is so contrived as to admit of an easy passage in both directions, and the whole work appears strong and well planned. Passing westerly, this embankment is terminated by excavation through the beautiful plateau of land, which constitutes the site of the village of Whitesborough.

All the way to this place many hundreds of spectators had followed the boat, on the banks of the canal, very frequently filling the air with their animating cheers. Arrived here, the bells of Whitesborough began to ring, a salute was fired from a road bridge, by a detachment from Captain Mann's company of artillery, and the whole village arrayed itself with the most lively demonstrations of curiosity and joy, upon the banks of the canal. Some of the gentlemen of Whitesborough, and the Rev. Mr. Frost with his wife, Mr. Gold with two of his daughters, and Miss Platt, Mr. Tracy, and his daughters, Mrs. Sheriff Pease, Judge Young, Mr. Still, Mr. White, and several other persons came on board.

When the boat came in sight of the place where the breach in the bank had occurred, about twenty hardy looking workmen, who had not quite completed the necessary reparation, sent up a shout of welcome more cordial and contagious than ever before echoed through the woods of the Mohawk.

The pond in the Oriskany creek, above the dam, is about 50 rods wide, and as the towing path bridge is not yet made across it, it was necessary to move the boat over it by setting poles. This was effected in nine minutes, when, after taking Col. Lansing on aboard, with Mr. Green, and several others, and being greeted by the ringing of the factory bell, and the acclamations of a multitude of spectators, the passage was continued, while little girls were seen throwing flowers and green sprigs into the boat.

From Oriskany to Rome, the canal is laid chiefly through swamps. In several places the depth of digging is from 8 to 10 feet; and from four miles below Rome, the northern bank is all the way westerly to that place, raised fourteen feet above the bottom of the canal, with a view of protection against the floods of the Mohawk. The depth of the excavation, the size of the guard bank, the apparent security of the whole canal, with the regularity of its straight lines, and the beauty of its curves, gave all the passengers great delight.

At the bridge across the canal, in the swamp, a little S.W. of the hotel in Rome, the passage westward was ended, after having been extended a few chains more than fifteen miles. Here, the officers of the U.S. garrison, stationed at Rome, and many of the inhabitants of the village, came to mingle their congratulations with those of their fellow citizens, on the perfect success of the first attempt at navigation on the Erie canal. It was in this vicinity, and but two years ago the 4th of last July, that the first shovel-full of earth was excavated, in the construction of this great work. And it is truly with a mixture of wonder, surprize, and the most joyful anticipations, that one now sees so many miles of it completed, filled with water and navigable; and learns, that it is almost certain, that the whole middle section, and the side cut from the main trunk to the village of Salina, in all, a distance of 96 miles, will be navigable in one month more.

An elegant dinner had been provided at Rome for the passengers, which they were obliged to forego, by the engagements, most of them had entered into, of returning that evening. After a delay of 48 minutes, during which the party partook of suitable refreshments prepared for them in the boat, Mr. Wright and Mr. Bonner debarked, and Mr. Lynch from Rome, and Alderman Lawrence and Mr. Benson of New-York, came on board, the boat set out on her return to Utica, where she arrived at 10 minutes before eight, without the occureence of the slightest incident of an unpleasant nature. And if ever deep felt gladness was exhibited, on the human face divine, it was in universal and full display, throughout this excursion.

The boat was built at Rome, by Mess. Miller, Chapin, and Brainard, contractors, on a neat and convenient model, being 61 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet deep, with two cabins, each of which 14 feet long, 6 feet 6 inches from the floor to the ceiling, and accomodated with the necessary closets and furniture. She is called "The Chief Engineer," and carried a flag on this occasion on which was handsomely painted the words "Erie Canal" above, and "Inland Navigation" below.

In building the boat, taking out the bars of earth near the Oriskany, and making every other provision for this first experiment of navigating the canal, Messrs. Brainard, Miller and Chapin, Sheriff Pease, and Col. Westcott, have made great and laudable exertions. And it was easy to perceive, that the canal commissioners, the engineer, with his assistants, and every other witness and partaker of this expedition, will set down the day, on which it occurred, as the happiest in their lives.

The boat started from Utica, at a quarter past nine in the morning, and stopped in going to Rome 65 minutes; and at returning from Rome 70 minutes. Returned to Utica at 10 minutes before 8, making the whole time of the passage both ways, (deducting stoppages) 8 h. 20 minutes, a distance of more than 30 miles.

On this canal boat can be seen the interconnectivity of several New York families. Colonel Gerrit G. Lansing was the father of Barent Bleecker Lansing, who had married Henry's great granddaughter, Sarah Breese, the mother of Manette Antill Lansing, who had married S.F.B Morse's son Charles. Mr. Walker would have been Thomas Walker, a banker and the father of Rear-Admiral Thomas Read Walker, who had married the daughter of Arthur Breese (Henry's son-in-law) by Arthur's 2nd wife, Ann Carpender. General Van Renssaeler was the son of Catharine Livingston and Stephen Van Rensselaer, Catharine being the sister of Henry's brother Gilbert's wife, Sarah Livingston. General Van Renssaeler married Margaret Schuyler, the daughter of General Philip Schuyler. Stephen's widowed mother had remarried Dominie Westerlo, a Dutch Reform minister and scholar, and had a son who married Chancellor John Lansing's daughter, Jane. John Lansing was the brother of Colonel Gerrit G. Lansing. Mr. Seymour would have been Henry Seymour, the father of New York Governor Horatio Seymour, for whom Manette Antill's brother, Henry Seymour Lansing, had been named. Mr White would have been Captain Henry White, the father of Henry Seymour Lansing's wife, Jane Amelia White. Manette Antill Lansing's other brother, Henry Livingston Lansing, had married Catharine Gibson, the daughter of the western banker and railroad millionaire, Henry Bicker Gibson, with whom Thomas Walker was in business. Judge Young, one of the Canal Commissioners, married Henry Bicker Gibson's sister Mary. Mr. Frost is likely connected by the marriage of his daughter to Henry Bicker Gibson's wife, Sarah Sherman. And Miss Platt would probably be Helen Livingston Platt, the daughter of Henry's brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, since her older sister Susanna is already married to Judge Richard Ray Lansing, the brother of Barent Bleecker Lansing. When Susanna dies, her widower marries Henry's daughter Eliza, who was the widow of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson, whose first wife was Sarah, the daughter of Henry's brother Gilbert.

And if this sounds like SPAGHETTI, just think how confusing it must have been to live in a town where you're related SOMEHOW to almost everyone of reputation!

The Opening

The canal was such a success with the public, that politicians who were against it had to go underground. DeWitt Clinton had retired as Governor of New York in 1822, and it was assumed that he wouldn't run for office again. Instead, he concentrated on his work as a canal commissioner. But when the critics of the canal, in early 1824, used their power to throw him out of his canal job, the citizens of New York were furious. There was an immediate movement to reelect Clinton to the governorship, a move which put Clinton back in office by about 103 thousand votes to Colonel Samuel Young's 87 thousand. It was a landslide. Clinton had his revenge on the skeptics. By the end of 1824, the almost completed canal had already collected a third of a million dollars in tolls.

On October 26, 1825, the last piece of the canal was dug, and it was finally possible to reach the Hudson River. New York state went crazy. Taking casks of Erie water on board the Seneca Chief, DeWitt Clinton and another group of dignitaries made ready to celebrate the canal again. But this celebration would put the last one to shame. At exactly ten o'clock, the first cannon boomed the news and four packet boats began to move out from Buffalo, each boat pulled by a matched team of grey horses. Cannons had been stationed all the way from Buffalo to New York City, and were fired in a booming sequence along the entire route. In one hour and twenty minutes, the last cannon announced the news to the city, which fired off their own grand salute, which was then sent back to Buffalo the same way.

Along the route were continuous celebrations, with each town trying to outdo the one before. A flotilla of boats joined, the procession growing longer and longer as the boats moved along the canal. Illuminated messages lit by candles and lanterns shown out from carved wooden boxes, and homes along the canal lit candles in their windows. By the time the flotilla reached Albany, seven days later, the boats numbered in the hundreds.

The following day, the official flotilla boats were attached to two powerful steamboats and began the last stage of their trip down the Hudson river. As the boats passed Kingston and Poughkeepsie, and all the other towns along the route, the river filled up with an honor guard of small crafts. Those not in boats, waited on the shore to cheer.

With homes directly on the river, the Livingston clan had first-class seats for the celebration.

Henry's dreams were coming true.


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