Jesse Hawley (merchant)

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Jesse Hawley was a flour merchant in Geneva, New York who became an early and major proponent of building of the Erie Canal.

Struggling to receive shipments and make deliveries over the wretched roadways of the era, Hawley imagined the canal as early as 1805. Eventually, in 1807, Hawley's difficulties in securing reasonably priced transportation drove him to debtors' prison for twenty months. While in prison, writing under the name "Hercules", he published fourteen essays on the idea of the canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie; they appeared in the Genesee Messenger.

Considering his modest education and lack of formal training as an engineer or surveyor, Hawley's writing was remarkable; he pulled together a wealth of information necessary to the project, provided detailed analysis of the problems to be solved, and wrote with great eloquence and foresight on the importance the canal would have to the state and to the nation. Though they were deemed the ravings of a madman by some, Hawley's essays were to prove immensely influential on the development of the canal.

Hawley was a member of the New York State Assembly (Genesee Co.) in 1820-21.

His continued interest in the Erie Canal is evidenced in an 1840 essay, An Essay on the Enlargement of the Erie Canal.

He was buried at the Cold Springs Cemetery in Lockport, New York.


  • Bernstein, Peter L., (2005), Wedding of the Waters, W.W. Norton & Company, New York.

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