De Witt Clinton

De Witt Clinton, the man our county was named after, was born 2 Mar 1769 in Little Britain, New York, the son of James and Mary C. (DeWitt) De Witt. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College in 1786.

He married Maria Franklin on 13 Feb 1796. They had ten children. She died in 1818. He next married Catherine Jones on 8 May 1819. One namesake, perhaps a grandson, was a Captain in the 10th Regiment, New York State Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.

DeWitt Clinton was admitted to the New York Bar in 1789. He was initiated into political life as secretary to his uncle, George Clinton, governor of New York, from 1790 to 1795. He was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1797. He was elected to the State Senate as a Democratic-Republican from 1798 - 1802. He was a member of the Council of Appointment in 1801. He was appointed to the U. S. Senate in 1802 to fill a vacancy but resigned this office in 1803 to become mayor of New York City. He held this office from 1803 to 1807, from 1809 to 1810, and from 1811 to 1815. His years as mayor were his greatest political achievement. During 1808, he served as state senator and in 1810, he was lieutenant governor of New York. He became the leader of the Republican Party in New York about 1803.

In 1810, De Witt Clinton became Canal Commissioner and in 1811, unsuccessfully attempted to obtain federal aid for a canal that would extend across the whole state of New York to connect the Hudson River on the East with Lake Erie on the West. He set to work vigorously to arouse popular support for the undertaking as a state enterprise. The plan was finally adopted by the legislature in 1816 and a new canal commission, of which Clinton was a member, was appointed. The Erie Canal, which connects Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo, opened the old Northwest corridor of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to the land hungry New Englanders and facilitated upper New York State commerce to New York City and the Atlantic Ocean. The strategic importance of waterways was demonstrated during the French and Indian War, the Revolution War and the War of 1812 and proved the need for an interior water route across the Appalachians since land travel was so difficult. The canal was 363 miles long and incorporated 83 locks. De Witt Clinton presided with great pomp and ceremony at the ground breaking ceremonies at Rome, New York on July 4, 1817. Eight years later, he presided at the equally impressive ceremonies which opened the canal to commerce on 26 October 1825. Completion was fifteen years after he became Canal Commissioner. This work on the creation of the Erie Canal is his greatest personal and best remembered achievement.

Clinton sponsored humanitarian legislation and philanthropic activities and was very interested in public education. He was the principal organizer and first president of the Public School Society of New York City in 1805. He was the chief patron of the New York Orphan Asylum and the New York City Hospital. He was a founder of the New York Historical Society and was elected president in 1817. He was a founder of the Literature and Philosophy Society in 1816. He was the second president of the American Academy of Art. He was vice president of the American Bible Society and the Educational Society of the Presbyterian Church. He was a naturalist, and discovered a native American wheat and a new fish, the Salma Otsego. He was the author of "Introductory Discourse" that concerned the state of scientific knowledge in American in 1814 and "Memoir on the Antiquities of the Western Parts of the State of New York" in 1820, and numerous scientific papers.

Clinton was a political power in New York State in the early years of the 19th century, usually in support of Thomas Jefferson and his policies. He was a Federalist candidate for presidency in 1812, supported by the Democratic-Republican opponents of the War of 1812 and by the dying Federalist Party. Clinton was defeated by James Madison, garnering 80 electoral votes to Madison’s 128. Though he lost favor with his own party in New York City, he was elected governor of New York in 1817 and was reelected in 1820. He declined to be a candidate in 1822 but was again elected governor in 1824 and was in office in 1825 when the Erie Canal, which he had done so much to further, was completed. Elected governor again, he died in office in Albany, New York 11 Feb 1828.

De Witt Clinton and/or his ancestors, have been honored by having many places named after them. Nine states, including Illinois, of course, have a Clinton County, but Illinois is the only State to also have a De Witt County. Thirty-six States have at least one town named Clinton, and of those, eight also have a town named De Witt. New York has Clinton, Clinton Corners, Clintonville, Clinton Mills, Clinton Hollow, Clinton Park, Fort Clinton, Clintondale and Clintondale Station. Illinois and Kansas have lakes named Clinton, and Michigan named a Clinton River. The first steam locomotive on the Mohawk & Hudson’s Albany to Schenectady route was named the De Witt Clinton, the first run was 9 Aug 1831.


Other Useful Links:

  • Memoirs of De Witt Clinton (Google Books external link)

    Clinton County, Illinois was erected from Washington, Bond and Fayette counties, and was named in honor of the distinguished statesman, DeWitt Clinton, of New York. It had become the home of permanent and bona fide settlers as early as 1814, when the first land entries were made. At the time of the organization of the county, December 27, 1824, some 33,000 acres had been entered, three-fifths by actual settlers, the balance by speculators. The names of the actual settlers appear in the county census of 1825

    Land entries were made in all congressional townships of the county during said period of time, 1814 to 1824. All lands entered at that early date were timber land: the value of prairie land was evidently not understood nor appreciated. The population of the county in 1824 was about 1,100 all told, consisting chiefly of Americans from southern states and Pennsylvania, with a mixture of some English and Irish, who had settled in the vicinity of Carlyle. 

  • Erie Canal and De Witt Clinton

  • DeWitt ILGenWeb Page

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Page modified 31 May 2014