July 17, 2013

The canal builder – William Hamilton Merritt

William Hamilton Merritt was born in Bedford, N.Y. in 1793. Merritt’s father fought for the Loyalists during the American Revolution. After the war, the Merritt family moved to New Brunswick and by 1795 the family moved to the Niagara Peninsula. Merritt studied mathematics and surveying, and was involved in different businesses before the War of 1812.

William Hamilton Merritt
Shortly before the outbreak of the War of 1812, Merritt was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Lincoln militia. Merritt served with the Niagara Light Dragoons and fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. By 1813, the 20-year-old Merritt was promoted to captain and continued to serve with the dragoons by patrolling the border and relaying messages along the Niagara. By 1814, Merritt fought at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane where he was captured and remained a prisoner in Cheshire, Mass. until early 1815. On his return trip home to Niagara, Merritt stopped in Mayville, N.Y. where he married Catharine Prendergast.

After the war, Merritt ran different businesses in Niagara, but he is best known for his involvement in the building of the Welland Canal. In 1818, Merritt, along with others, petitioned the Upper Canada Legislature to provide for the construction of the canal. In 1824 the legislature formed the Welland Canal Company and selected Merritt as its financial agent. Merritt traveled extensively through Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain to help raise funds for the project. From 1832 to 1860 Merritt served in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada and later the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada

Merritt often worked long days, as he was involved in many projects. Merritt had four sons and two daughters, one of his sons became a member of the Canadian House of Commons. In 1862 Merritt died on a ship near Cornwall and his body was returned to Niagara where he rests in Victoria Lawn cemetery in St. Catharines.

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