Watson, Elkanah

Watson, Elkanah

(1758–1842) promoter, agriculturist; born in Plymouth, Mass. He was indentured to John Brown, the Rhode Island merchant, from 1773–79. He carried money and dispatches to France where he found a partner and opened a business, which failed in the financial crisis of 1783; after settling his debts he traveled to Holland to see the canals and returned to America (1785). After another business failure in 1789 he moved to Albany, N.Y., founded a bank, and began promoting his vision—a canal system. He promoted two canal companies, one of which was chartered in 1798 to build a canal around Niagara Falls. After a falling out with the bank directors, he moved to Pittsfield, Mass., where he bought a farm and sponsored a cattle show in 1810, the predecessor of the Berkshire Agricultural Society and the first county fair in the country. He wrote several books including his memoirs and History of the Rise and Progress, and Existing Condition of the Western Canals in the State of New York (1820).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.