The DeWitt Clintons


Erie Canal exhibit at NYS Museum in Albany. 

Understanding and appreciating history is all about questioning and attempting to discover the truths of the past. Then, armed with this knowledge, going forward –  asking more questions as the past guides us into the present. Given our logistical, cultural and socio-economical attachment to the Erie Canal we are moved to ask; who was this steadfast canal enthusiast DeWitt Clinton and why is our favorite tug named in his honor?

First, the past . . .

Some would think the answer is obvious as we all know that DeWitt Clinton, twice the Governor of New York (1817 – 1822 and 1825-1828), was the primary political force in support of building what many called “Clinton’s Folly”. And thus, at the very least – why not name a boat after him? But there was so much more to his motivation, and we now know it was never a folly; in fact far from it. The canal became a driving force in the political, economic and social evolution of the Empire State, which then became one of the major commercial and cultural centers of early 19thcentury America.

Mr. Clinton was a lifelong New York politician, raised in a family of early American politicians. But he was also a fervent naturalist, and for his times very much an economic and political visionary. Contrary to the politics of the day which were dominated by regionalism he was able to see beyond New York and promoted the belief “that infrastructure improvements could transform American life, drive economic growth, and encourage political participation.” This was not to be his canal, not even New York’s canal; he saw it as a way to connect the east to the western interior and open the doors of a new America to an America far beyond its reaches.

Now to the present . . .

And so our tug’s namesake was not just a politician who wanted to build a canal; he was a man who wanted to build America. The Tug DeWitt Clinton, which continues to be fully operational, was designed, built and put into service on the Erie Canal over ninety years ago. It works every day in our midst carrying out the dream and legacy of The Man DeWitt Clinton.

An article in the esteemed New Hampshire Sentinel, honoring Mr. Clinton’s “noble enterprise” ended with the following . . .

“Yield credit to Clinton, and hail him by name.”

To this day, his name continues to be honored by




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