New York Visionaries

View item information

Gouverneur Morris, born and educated in New York, was a major figure in early American politics. Morris served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and signed the Articles of Confederation and U.S. Constitution (of which he is often credited as having written the preamble). Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

History honors DeWitt Clinton as the "Father of the Erie Canal." But long before he became the Canal’s chief proponent, several others envisioned a direct water route from the Great Lakes to New York’s harbor. An 1879 publication from the Buffalo Historical Society describes Gouverneur Morris in 1777 articulating a future in which “the waters of the great western inland seas would, by the aid of man, break through their barriers and mingle with those of the Hudson.“

Robert Fulton, an American artist and innovator who developed the first commercially successful steamboat (carrying passengers from New York City to Albany, New York), sent George Washington a copy of his publication, A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation in 1797. The essay outlined his idea for a canal that would connect the port of Philadelphia to the western territories of the country.

In his 1829 Memoir of DeWitt Clinton, David Hosack writes that Washington was already planning a canal in Virginia but had, on his own in 1783, considered that the route through the Mohawk Valley “…would be productive to the union at large, and to [New York] in particular, by cementing the eastern and western territory together.”