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Interpreting the Evidence

DeWitt Clinton Statue, New York City, pre-1911

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load DeWitt Clinton Statue, New York City, pre-1911 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Marble statue of DeWitt Clinton in Chamber of Commerce Building, New York City. Photograph taken pre-1911.
Historical Context
DeWitt Clinton was a nephew of George Clinton.  Born in New York in 1769, Dewitt became heavily involved in state politics.  He served New York as state assemblyman, state senator, U.S. senator, mayor of New York City, and Canal Commissioner.  In 1817, he was elected governor of New York State, a position  he held from 1817 to 1822 and from 1825 until his death in 1828.  

Dewitt Clinton is probably most famous as the “Father of the Erie Canal.”  He strongly promoted the construction of the Erie Canal as New York Canal Commissioner.  Shortly after he was elected governor of New York, Clinton broke ground for the Erie Canal on July 4, 1817.  

Construction of the canal took eight years, and many people scoffed at the plan, calling the canal “Clinton’s Ditch.”  Despite the criticism, Governor Clinton persevered in the construction of the canal.  Today, the Erie Canal is recognized as a triumph of engineering and a major milestone in New York history.   

The canal was finally completed on October 26, 1825.  As part of the celebrations for the opening of the canal, Governor Clinton boarded a boat to travel the entire length of the canal from Buffalo to New York City.  When the boat arrived in New York City on November 4, 1825, Governor Clinton poured a keg of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean in an act known as the “Marriage of the Waters.”

Essential Question
How symbols and monuments unite people?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the purpose of this monument.
Historical Challenges
Why was "DeWitt" chosen as DeWitt Clinton's first name?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: How old was Dewitt Clinton when the Erie Canal was completed?
Science: Research which simple machine was used to pull boats along the Erie Canal.