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ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES


The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911

A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives


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DOCUMENT 19
LETTER FROM JEREMIAH CROTTY TO DAVID LEAVITT CONCERNING PENDING LOAN SUBSCRIPTION PAYMENTS
October 16, 1845




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Explanation

By the terms the legislature had established to negotiate a loan of $1,600,000 in order to resume work on the canal, the new canal trustees were empowered to set a schedule whereby subscribers to this loan were to make their payments. If a payment were missed, all previous installments were forfeited as were all benefits associated with the loan. Much of the work force had been incapacitated by sickness, mostly malaria, during the summer and early fall of 1845. This occurrence combined with extensive flooding at the same time caused many of the contractors to fall behind schedule. In this instance the trustees granted an extension to Illinois subscribers.

According to local histories Jeremiah Crotty had emigrated from Cork, Ireland in 1827. He had landed in New York City which he found lacking in opportunity. Virtually penniless, he walked west, first settling in Pennsylvania and then Maryland. Alone and unknown, he appeared in Lockport in 1838. There he bid on a contract to build a section of the canal. Plainly dressed and spoken, Crotty was at first dismissed as one unable to guarantee a contract. To everyone's surprise he produced $6,000 in gold as evidence of his ability and with this proof he was awarded the job. The stretch he selected was covered in soft slate rock. Contractors before him had used drills and chisels to penetrate similar surfaces. Crotty instead employed a plow of his own invention which when pulled by a team of four oxen literally plowed the rock away at a fraction of the costs of conventional methods. Crotty then proceeded to successfully complete additional canal contracts on which he realized handsome profits. At this same time he was investing his gains in canal land purchases. Most of these were for town lots in Chicago, La Salle, and Ottawa. When Crotty died in 1879 at his home at Seneca in La Salle County, he left his wife and children a small fortune. Reference to Jeremiah Crotty is found also in document 18, document 22, and document 45.

Points to Consider

Why was Jeremiah Crotty asking that several canal contractors be granted an extension on their deadline for making payments on their subscriptions to a canal loan?
How would an extension have benefited both the contractors and the canal trustees?
Who was Jeremiah Crotty and why would the canal trustees have valued his opinion?
Given Mr. Crotty's life experience, how was the Irish stereotype (see document 11 and document 18) mistaken?


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