The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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August 5, 1848

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David Leavitt and William Swift were the two canal trustees elected by subscribers to the $1,600,000 loan floated to finance the canal's completion. Charles Oakley in January of 1847 had been appointed by Governor Augustus French to represent the state's interests as the third trustee. Robert Stuart was the trustee's full-time secretary. He was backed by Leavitt and Swift and enjoyed their confidence.

At an October 1847 meeting of canal bondholders held in New York City, Oakley had charged Leavitt with incompetency and neglect of duty. He further accused William Gooding, the canal's chief engineer, with mismanagement and favoritism. An investigation was held during which none of the charges were proven. Swift had defended Leavitt; and Swift and Leavitt had spoken up for Gooding. But as an upshot of the inquiry Governor French had fired Gooding in March of 1848 and replaced him with Edward Talcott, the former assistant chief engineer.

The trustees held a public sale of Chicago canal lots in the late summer of 1848 (see document 32). Over $400,000 in revenue was derived from this sale with most prices exceeding appraised valuations. With tensions among trustees high, Stuart was anxious for the pending sale to be conducted in such a flawless manner that trustees Leavitt and Swift would be beyond public reproach. Stuart died in October 1848 and Oakley fell dead New Year's Day 1849.

Points to Consider

What did Robert Stuart want David Leavitt to do?
Where had the $30,000 come from? How was much of that revenue going to be offset?
Who were David Leavitt and Capt. Swift?
Why were all eyes going to be upon them?

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