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An American Record 



An American Record 


"S^l -H/hS:" 


New York London 


Copyright, 1928, by 
The Centuhy Co. 

First printing March, 1928 

Printed in U. S. A. 









Every pioneer is, by definition, the first in his field, the 
breaker of fresh ground, and the sower of seed. Usually, 
his energies are confined to one chosen field and rarely does 
he live to see it come to fruit. John Stevens worked in a 
dozen fields, not always reaching the end of the furrow but 
almost unfailingly foreseeing that end. Moreover, just a cen- 
tury ago, when he was eighty, he saw his two brightest 
dreams come true. The Stevens steamboats were then the 
fastest in this country and the great era of American rail- 
road building was at last fairly begun. It detracts nothing 
from his farsightedness that it should have required this 
additional century for men of to-day to learn how to accom- 
plish the engineering triumphs that he was not afraid to 

Behind him, he left an amazing collection of private let- 
ters, essays, drawings, patents, maps, deeds, and contem- 
porary newspapers, all covering not only his own days but 
also those of his father and his grandfather. There are the 
letters he received, with his laborious copies of the answers 
returned; the letters of many members of his immediate 
family, addressed to himself or to one another ; and the 
great number of documents and pamphlets which he him- 
self had printed or which were sent to him by scores of 
friends among scientists, statesmen, and all other men of 
mind. The whole makes a story which, for one reason or 
another, has appeared only by widely scattered and often 
quite inaccurate bits in print. 


It is this collection that I have been permitted to explore, 
and for the privilege I have particularly to thank that 
descendant of John Stevens who is most steadfast in the 
family tradition — his granddaughter, Mrs. H. Otto Witt- 
penn. Without the deep interest of Mrs. Wittpenn, the 
work could not have been begun, much less finished. In the 
same connection, among other descendants, I am indebted 
to Mr. Theodosius Stevens and Mr. Basil Stevens. 

To name all the others who have assisted would be to list 
the Library of Congress and the many libraries and his- 
torical societies in this and other sections of the United 
States. From their treasured manuscripts they have con- 
tributed a fact here, a date there, and a useful hint some- 
where else ; always in a genuinely helpful spirit unquenched 
by a horde of researchers. I should also have to enumerate 
friends who had friends, acquaintances who happened to 
know antiquarians, and casual passers-by who gave nothing 
more tangible than encouragement. And I should certainly 
have to recognize the patience of an immediate family, com- 
pelled for months to listen to no other subject. Among all 
these, I must not fail to speak of the work of Mr. Eugene 
B. Cook some fifty years ago, when he made painstaking 
copies of many of the old letters. Only by the light of these 
copies has it been possible to read certain papers that have 
faded sadly in the interim. Fifty years ago, when John 
Stevens came within the memory of living men, this book 
should have been written. 

It is my very great regret that Doctor Alexander C. 
Humphreys was not here to help finish the book as he helped 
to begin it; to see what came through the many doors to 
information opened by his influence and his unflagging in- 
terest. He had worked hard to win for John Stevens and his 
sons their proper place in the history of that great profes- 


sion of which he was himself an ornament — creative engi- 
neering. Had he waited to criticize this record, the figures 
in it would stand out more clearly against their pioneering 

A. D. T. 

February 1, 1928. 



I A genius of transportation — Kayaderosseras and 
commerce — Ann Campbell Stevens — early Jersey 
stage-coaches — citizen and office-holder — the first 
American generation 3 

II The Honorable John Stevens — shipmaster and mer- 
chant — partnership with Stirling — family corre- 
spondence — young Johnny at Perth Amboy — poli- 
tics and preparedness — number seven Broadway — 
a Jersey road commissioner — fighting the stamp 
act — young Johnny's impressions 22 

III Livingstons in politics — running the boundary line — 
marriage of Mary Stevens — eve of the Revolution 
— impressions of the Revolution — the colony's 
treasurers — Johnny joins the army — a treasury on 
horseback — Stirling at Germantown — Lord North 
and taxation — welcoming British deserters — hard- 
pressed representatives — Major John at Philadel- 
phia 43 

IV Marriage to Rachel Cox — complicated currencies — a 
spoonful of creamer tartar — the White Green 
Cliffe — the old Bayard estate — the colonel's first 
two sons — the Hoboken Ferry — the Federal Con- 
stitution — the colonel on John Adams — common 
sense in government — ratification in New Jersey 
— frills and furbelows — a candidate for Congress 73 

V James Rumsey and John Fitch — more power and 
more speed — the New York petition — urging a 
patent law — slow progress with patents — improve- 



ments in boilers — the Honorable John's last years 
— New York in the gay nineties — thickness of a 
worn shilling — steam pistons of cork . . . . 100 

VI Floating hospitals — Livingston on treaties — horse- 
boats and John Fitch — Fitch is persistent — a new 
boat at Belleville — the chancellor's proposals — a 
steamboat on the Hudson — side-wheeler or stern- 
wheeler — Marc Brunei an assistant — internal com- 
bustion 120 

VII The colonel as horticulturist — as consulting engineer 
— Aaron Burr's Water Company — Hoboken Ferry 
rates — paddles in the stern — the three cornered 
agreement — justice for Roosevelt — another new 
engine — Livingston on Napoleon — illuminating gas 143 

VIII New Jersey turnpikes — a new Stevens boiler — the 
colonel as landlord — development of Hoboken — 
first news of Fulton 167 

IX The screw propeller — the first turn screw — the pro- 
peller in history — forty years after — John Cox 
sails for England — John Cox in England— a visit 
to James Watt— Watt and Boulton 185 

X The strategic artery — floating bridges — the Stevens 

vehicular tunnel — defending New York City . . 213 

XI The Hudson monopoly — the steamboat Phoenix — 
opening the debate — narrow wheels or wide — the 
colonel on patent law — lengthwise and crosswise — 
the patent law defined — a boomerang argument — 
the genius of monopoly — animadversions — the com- 
promise offer 230 

XII Launching the Phoenix — early speed trials — rela- 
tions with Livingston — the New Brunswick line — 
an amazing discovery — the value of a patent — a 



sporting proposition — studying the Delaware — 
Robert and the Phoenix — an ocean steamer's log 256 

XIII First ocean steamer's inventory — the compromise — 
improving the Phoenix — the Jersey stage-coaches 
— a growing enterprise — prospects of competition 
— the New York ferry lease 280 

XIV Plans for the Chesapeake — for better and faster 
boats — an astonishing patent — the first regular 
steam ferry — Aaron Ogden in the game — improv- 
ing the Phoenix — Baltimore and Philadelphia — 
offers to build a navy yard — Castle Point as fort- 
ress — the colonel wants more speed . . . .301 

XV Dredging the river — Fulton is acrimonious — plans 
for southern waters — the North Carolina grant — 
monopoly loses a partner — new compromise pro- 
posals — fighting for North Carolina — the colonel 
vindicated — the war intervenes — old Sal against 
the eagle — progress on the Delaware — the colonel 
wants more speed — Aaron Ogden joins battle . 327 

XVI The railroad vision — answering the doubters — canal 
versus railroads — Evans shares the vision — the 
colonel runs a survey — New Jersey is indifferent 
— the first American charter 357 

XVII The Stevens projectile — a weapon against pirates — 
plans for steam frigates — argument with the 
army — proposals to the Czar — a United States 
contract — for a mobile navy — the shellbacks ob- 
ject — the colonel offers a wager — exchanging hot 

XVIII Urging naval reorganization — the world's first iron- 
clad — delays discourage Robert — developments in 
gunnery — comments by the press — Edwin under- 




takes the work — the little Naugatuck — further 
efforts of Edwin — a bitter disappointment . . 412 

XIX The knell of monopoly — back on Hudson — Provi- 
dence to Savannah — activities of Gibbons — Bin- 
ney on patents — sanitation in the city — Philadel- 
phia to Pittsburgh — progress with ferry-boats — 
spring at Castle Point — family characteristics 
— still gunning for pirates — Hoboken and 
Pioneer — Robert builds the Trenton .... 434 

XX The great steamboat case — renewing the railroad 

fight — fresh reasons for railroads — first Penn- 
sylvania survey — old and new arguments — the 
Pennsylvania main line — the first steam railroad . 462 

XXI Burlington and Fairy Queen — sportsmen and en- 

gineers — building always for speed — fresh efforts 
at Hoboken — a family interest to-day — an aerial 
railway — a New York elevated road — New Jersey 
awake at last — the American steel rail — Stevens 
and Stephenson — the Camden and Amboy . . . 484 

XXII Sportsmen in the country — sportsmen afloat — Com- 
modore John Cox — Edwin afloat and ashore — the 
colonel and his family — dips into metaphysics — 
political economy — Stevens Institute of Tech- 
nology — the prophecy fulfilled 510 

Index 531 


colonel john stevens or hoboken .... Frontispiece 





























THE 1844 REPORT OF THE PROPELLER OF 1804 . . . 199 













colonel stevens' draft of an advertisement of his 

ferry-boats 349 

steam cut-off perfected by francis bowes stevens . 352 

the first american publication on railroads . . . 368 
"john bull," built by robert stephenson for robert 

stephens 385 

the stevens battery 391 

francis bowes stevens 401 

the stevens battery on the ways 416 

what was expected of the battery 416 

blocks used by robert stevens, camden and amboy 

railroad 432 

Pennsylvania's early legislative action on the rail- 
road QUESTION 441 





KEN 497 





"The wealth and prosperity of a nation may be said to depend, 
almost entirely, upon the facility and cheapness with which trans- 
portation is effected internally." 

John Stevens, 1806 

"It would be difficult to conceive of any modern activity which 
contributes more to the necessities and conveniences of life than 
transportation. Without it our present agricultural production and 
practically all of our commerce would be completely prostrated." 

Calvin Coolidge 
Message to Congress, December, 1926 



Colonel John Stevens was so fortunate as to live through 
those years that historians consider the most vital in the 
making of America. Leaving the Continental army, after 
the Revolution, for the arts of peace, he became a figure in 
Ajnerican social, commercial, and scientific circles, while out- 
side these limits — in England, for example — he was not 
unrecognized. As the second war with Britain drew near he 
stood at the height of his powers, not content with achieve- 
ments already behind him but pushing vigorously on toward 
new ones. For a personal glimpse of him at that moment we 
have his own request for the help of Dr. William Thornton, 
superintendent of the United States Patent Office, in secur- 
ing a European passport in 1810 : 

John Stevens of the City of New York in the State of New 
York. Was born in said City. 5 feet 7 inches tall. Hair gray. 
Eyes gray. Complection rather fair. Forehead high and some- 
what bald ; person and visage neither thin nor very full. 

Habitually exhaustive in all that he said or wrote, he 
drew of himself only the modestly inadequate sketch that 
might fit any average man. He suggested nothing of all 
that lay behind the high and somewhat bald forehead; he 
gave no hint of how far down the coming century those 



gray eyes were able to pierce. It is clear that he thought of 
himself as in the prime of life, for he ended his description 
with the words "Aged 51 years." His miscalculation forced 
him to send a hurried second note to Thornton, correcting 
his age to sixty-one, because he had been born in 1749. 

Few will venture to dispute Colonel Stevens's assertion 
that efficient transportation, on land and water, has been 
and is the greatest single factor in the progress and pros- 
perity of these United States. Yet a fact made plain to us 
by the whole library of volumes written to prove it was, in 
his day, a mere theory — dimly appreciated by scattered in- 
dividuals, but wholly unrecognized by the masses. During 
the first half of his life, transportation, properly speaking, 
did not exist in America. There was no real intercolonial 
commerce, nothing approaching adequate mail-carriage, and 
no true interchange of political views among our few mil- 
lion inhabitants. In the creation of a nation, by welding 
thirteen disjointed, virtually independent republics, noth- 
ing would have been more vitally helpful than good trans- 
portation. The lack of it complicated every one of the 
numberless problems confronting those bewildered but in- 
trepid men who framed the Constitution and sought to 
make it effective. No one appreciated this more fully than 
did Stevens. 

The same vital lack affected habits of thought and the 
style of everyday living. Because it took a week to drive 
from Boston to New York, or to ride from Monticello to 
Philadelphia, the citizens of one section struggled along 
without the ideas or products of another section. Even 
"news" meant information a month old when it was re- 
ceived — until the force of steam, thrust like a lever under 
the whole sticky and infertile mass, overturned it and al- 
lowed a new civilization to grow and flower. 


John Stevens was a genius of steam. We accept a modern 
President's message on transportation as axiomatic, because 
John Stevens steadily preached and practised the same text 
a century and a half ago. As the leading steamboat man of 
1800, Stevens built craft that preceded all others of impor- 
tance on the Hudson and embodied a design destined, thirty 
or forty years later, to alter the whole science of steam 
navigation. On land, he began twenty years ahead of his 
American contemporaries a single-handed fight for the 
recognition of steam. In the face of skepticism and ridicule, 
he gained one great objective in that fight by building and 
operating the first "steam-carriage" ever run upon rails on 
the American continent. To any truly progressive plan 
for passenger-travel or freight-haul he gave his support with 
unflagging enthusiasm and with all the mental or material 
means at his command. In fact, had other leading men of 
his day been less deeply immersed in politics and more 
fully endowed with the vision that was his, the extraordinary 
stride of America to world-power would have occupied a 
historical chapter even briefer than the one it fills. 

Occasionally hinted at, in connection with accounts of 
other men, the colonel's own story has never been told. In the 
long course of his ninety years he identified himself most 
particularly with the two States bordering upon the Hud- 
son, New York and New Jersey, but wider-spread activities 
carried him into Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and 
North Carolina. As a young officer of Washington's army 
he measured his country's possibilities with no mere pocket- 
rule but with a surveyor's chain. As a venerable sage in An- 
drew Jackson's time he was still drawing designs of ships 
and locomotives or writing to urge stronger national and 
international policies with a pen that had not run dry when 
at last it fell from his fingers. So varied were his interests 


that it is difficult to understand how, in that day of ab- 
surdly primitive communication, he found time and courage 
to pursue them all with tireless energy and rare far-sight- 
edness. That he did so pursue them is proved by his story, 
told chiefly in his own words and those of his countless 

Certain chapters of his story overlap the limits of his 
own years. Some of his conceptions came too early in the 
history of the age of invention, when no country was pre- 
pared, mentally or mechanically, to appreciate them. This 
fact places his name among the dreamers of great dreams, 
frequently those conceptions, modified and improved by 
progress in the arts and sciences, came to realization through 
the inventive or administrative ability of one or another of 
his many descendants. Where he had planned, they built. It 
was not the least of his attainments that he fathered dis- 
tinguished men and gave them a training broader and 
deeper than his own. Thus no account of him could be com- 
plete without particularly including his sons John Cox, 
Robert Livingston, and Edwin Augustus Stevens; while 
certain grandsons, too, played their part. Similarly, to un- 
derstand his interests, enthusiasms, and achievements, those 
who went before him must be considered. From the material 
standpoint, as well as from that of experience in public af- 
fairs, he had a far better background than his contem- 
porary pioneers in engineering. Half a century before his 
birth the American foundation of his family was laid. Upon 
that foundation he raised himself among his fellows as 
"Colonel Stevens, of Hoboken" — a progressive farmer and 
fervent horticulturist; a close student of law and an eager 
amateur in medicine, metaphysics, and political economy; 
a philanthropist, an advanced naval architect, and a fore- 
most mechanical engineer. 

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The first stone in the foundation was laid by the colonel's 
grandfather, also christened John Stevens. When he landed 
in America in 1699 he was an indentured youngster of 
seventeen. His father, Richard Stevens of St. Clement 
Danes, the Strand, London, had followed the prevailing cus- 
tom by binding him for seven years to Barna Cosans of the 
city and province of New York. Since Cosans was crown 
attorney, clerk of the royal council, registrar and examiner 
in Chancery, and sometime governor's secretary, he may 
fairly be called a busy man for any young immigrant to 
serve as clerk. 

Records of this earliest John Stevens are somewhat faded 
by the years, but there remains enough to suggest his success 
in living up to a promise to "doo no damage to his saide 
Master nor see it to be done of others," after the manner 
in which an "honest, diligent, and faithful Apprentice" 
should "demean and conduct himselfe." As was natural in 
a boy who reached America in the year of Captain Kidd 
and the Adventure Galley, he went a-privateering with 
Colonel William Peartree, once the mayor of New York 
city. But there can hardly have been great profit for young 
Stevens in that expedition, since we find him, soon after it, 
petitioning governor and legislature for his "just compen- 
sation" as field clerk — £7 lis. However, when his indenture 
term expired he had sufficient means and standing to be- 
come, in 1708, one of the thirteen original patentees of the 
Kayaderosseras tract. 

This was a great stretch of country in the Lake George 
and Saratoga section of New York. Eventually it became 
the subject of much involved litigation when Sir William 
Johnson, the squaw-man general, joined with others who 
insisted that good Queen Anne, in bestowing this land upon 
"these, her thirteen loyal and devoted subjects," had actually 


been guilty of robbing the aboriginal redskins. But young 
Stevens escaped this ; before the tract began its lingering ex- 
istence in Chancery he had conveyed, to Patrick MacKnight, 
the first land owned by one of his name in America. The 
deed describes him as "writing-master," and he did teach 
hand of writ and elementary subjects in New York city 
schools. This must have been for mental relaxation or stimu- 
lus rather than for a livelihood, since he was already taking 
shares in commercial ventures, trading with Britain and 
the Canaries in such commodities as sugar and molasses, 
fine wines and liquors. Very soon fresh interests beckoned. 

Across the Hudson lay "all that tract of land adjacent to 
New England and lying and being to the Westward of Long 
Island and Manhitos Island, bounded, on the East, part by 
the main sea and part by Hudson's River" ; the land known 
to the Indians as Scheyichbi, called in formal language Nova 
Caeserea, and familiar to modern ears as New Jersey. To 
it the system of government inaugurated by Berkeley and 
Carteret had drawn many immigrants; in their steps fol- 
lowed the ex-apprentice, to make the creation and mainte- 
nance of New Jersey a Stevens enterprise long years before 
she became a State in the Union. 

He found East Jersey still disturbed by quarrels between 
the common people and the Proprietors, of whom there were 
by this time twenty-four — some actually present in person, 
others represented by proxy. These Proprietors were un- 
willing to surrender the ownership of land as well as the 
right to govern. Those of them who were not Quakers and 
therefore violently opposed to the dissolute Cornbury and 
his whole regime y submitted to the crown rule he estab- 
lished in 1702 but would not admit "squatters' rights." On 
the other hand, the common settlers held that the land was 
theirs both by Indian deed and by royal grant ; they refused 


to be thrown off it. The Monmouth purchase and the Eliza- 
bethtown purchase were well-known cases in point. Stevens 
himself was soon to become involved, on the Proprietors' 
side of the struggle. 

Economically, he found all the settlers — planters in the 
west, townspeople in the east — a crew of speculators. Mile 
after mile of magnificent virgin timber was tempting them 
to press inland, cutting and slashing without a thought for 
posterity. Sawmills of the crudest kind were springing up, 
to be quickly followed by gristmills ; a new clearing was 
hardly made before it was dotted with houses in which the 
living was comfortable enough of its kind. The hardest work 
was being done by black slaves, already increasing under 
Cornbury's instructions from England that "the traffic in 
negroes be encouraged." For amusements, the whites had 
husking-bees, sleighing, and skating; in every clearing a 
tavern arose almost as soon as the first three houses were 
finished. Such a life spelled opportunity for Stevens. 

Communication was miserable. From where Camden now 
stands a trail followed Cooper's Creek past Berlin and 
then skirted the Great Egg River to the sea. Another, begin- 
ning at the early Salem settlement, led to Camden, Burling- 
ton, and Trenton. By fording streams, a short, barely pass- 
able route connected Trenton with Amboy. Along such as 
these, men who were slowly beginning to think of them- 
selves as Jerseymen made their way, the lumberjacks drag- 
ging in oak, pine, and white cedar for the early ship- 
builders along the coasts. What little trace of interstate 
commerce existed was held by the assembly to be in the 
hands of monopolists, but this was entirely approved by the 

At present [he wrote in 1707] everyone is sure, once a 
fortnight, to have an opportunity of sending any quantity of 


goods, great or small, at reasonable rates, without danger of 
imposition ; and the sending of the waggon is so far from 
being a grievance or monopoly that, by this means and no 
other, a trade has been carried on between Philadelphia, Am- 
boy, and New York, which was never known before. 

In the prosperity of the province this primitive trade 
had no great part. "Land," says Francis B. Lee, the Jersey 
historian, "was the chief source of wealth. From the farm 
sprang the activities . . . while economic legislation was 
directed, to a limited degree, towards the fostering of agri- 
culture." That Lee was right is shown by the change in 
young Stevens's plans. He had come to Jersey primarily 
because he had heard glowing accounts of copper mines dis- 
covered in "the Devil's Feather Bed" near Rocky Hill. As 
the shadows of departing Quakers moved westward, reveal- 
ing the surface of the land, he saw that staking out claims 
over that surface would be more profitable than bothering 
to dig under it. He decided to go in for land. 

A step in the right direction was his marriage, in 1714, 
to Ann Campbell. Family tradition makes Ann the niece of 
Lord Neil, deputy governor of the province, but among so 
many nobles and simples of the Campbell clan in Jersey 
— exiled Covenanters or hopeful fortune-seekers — this can- 
not definitely be established. She was certainly the daughter 
of John Campbell, American proxy of Drummond, Earl of 
Melfort, and, as such, the owner of a share in Melfort's 
holdings as one of the twenty-four Proprietors. John Camp- 
bell had been in Jersey for years, serving as a justice of the 
Court of Common Rights — what we know as Errors and Ap- 
peals; as a deputy from Amboy town to the provincial as- 
sembly, and as one of the commission appointed to draw a 
line between East and West Jersey. It was this Campbell 
who bought, from a certain Moneybaird, a large slice of 


Amboy at the cost of "a footmann in velvett" to wait upon 
Moneybaird and hold his stirrup "dureing the tyme of Par- 
liament" in Jersey. Land was John Campbell's business and 
all his wealth was in real estate. 

Essentially, marriage with Ann Campbell meant two 
things for her husband, the former apprentice and writing- 
master. Immediately it gave him a status in the community 
as "Mr. J. Stevens." More remotely it made him the ancestor 
of six American generations, in each of which there has 
been another John Stevens, eldest son of each generation 
except the first. Quite possibly, too, it was the Scots blood of 
this original mother that gave the whole family its bent 
toward engineering. 

At the outset, however, land was the chief interest. J. 
Stevens embarked with his father-in-law in a business which 
was a combination of acting as agent for estates with specu- 
lating on their own account. Their affairs prospered from 
the first ; very soon they extended them through wide opera- 
tions in connection with John Johnston and his son Andrew, 
the former a power among Proprietors and a frequent office- 
holder in both Jersey and New York, the latter the better 
remembered of the two because he kept a diary which was 
finally deciphered and printed. The Johnstons knew all there 
was to know about buying land and selling it at a nice 
profit in a colony where the seventeen-twenties saw a very 
flourishing boom in real estate. 

J. Stevens learned the game rapidly. Very shortly his 
name began to appear with great frequency in options, 
deeds, mortgages, and every conceivable lien upon land. 
Naturally, he retained title to a good many of the acres 
that were passing through his hands, and to these his wife 
eventually added a considerable inheritance from her father. 
Ann Campbell Stevens's "near two thousand acres," on the 


west bend of the South Branch, Raritan River, and close 
beside Andrew Hamilton's estate, undoubtedly furnished her 
husband with his reason for acquiring a large share in the 
old Redford's ferry to Amboy. This long remained a family 
property, its purchase being the first definite step that 
brought the Stevens's face to face with their favorite prob- 
lem — transportation. 

This was certainly a problem crying aloud for solution. 
In the first quarter of the century almost nothing was 
done to make a journey between two towns comfortable, 
speedy, or even safe. By 1728 there was a fairly regular 
stage connecting Redford's ferry with Burlington, a clums}^ 
affair, bumping along over incredibly bad roads, carrying 
both passengers and freight, to the agony of the one and 
the peril of the other. Those were the days when a driver 
had to prevent his stage from capsizing on the curves b} r 
shifting his human ballast. "All lean to the right now, gen- 
tlemen, if you please !" Or "All to the left here, thank you !" 
Those were the common cries of the road; while a hair- 
trunk or two was apt to roll off into the mire at any moment. 

One could never be sure that a stage would leave, much 
less arrive, on scheduled time. Indeed, it was not until ten 
years later that "The Philadelphia Weekly Mercury" could 
announce "a stage-waggon to Accommodate the Public" 
by beginning to run "on Mondays and Thursdays from 
Trenton to New Brunswick, returning Tuesdays and Fri- 
days; Rates Two Shillings Six Pence each Passenger." 
And when there appeared advertisements of a "summer- 
stage fitted up with Benches and Cover'd over, so that the 
Passengers may sit Easy and Dry," the occasion was held 
to be one for general congratulations. Even in that luxury 
it required thirty or forty hours to go from New York to 
Philadelphia — an obvious waste of time abhorrent to the 


mind of J. Stevens. "If," said lie, "this Province is to have 
its chance to develop, we must give it better roads and bet- 
ter ferries." This sentiment — which his great-grandchildren 
would still be echoing — he followed up by supporting every 
petition that begged the legislature to construct a real high- 
way across the State. He was always urging a dip into the 
province's treasure-chest to widen a cowpath into a passable 
road or to drain some bog long infamous for miring spent 
horses and costing primitive truckmen long hours of lost 
effort. In his opinion anything to help transportation was 
worth doing. 

Not that he was wholly altruistic ; his farms were widely 
scattered, and he must not only reach one from the other 
but also get his farm products into the towns. He had still 
greater need of good roads for his own traveling when he 
planned to move in from the country ; for it was at this time 
that he decided to buy and build in Amboy. According to 
the records, he chose "all that certain Lott of Land, being 
ten chains in length and one chain in breadth ; bounded East 
by Water Street; North, by Michael Howden's Lott, West 
by the High Street, South by Peter Sonman's Lott" — that 
is, at the center of the growing town. The old records de- 
scribe the house he built as "a first-class brick dwelling," 
and it was frequently the gathering-place of those interested 
in such notices as this one from the "American Weekly 
Mercury," March 23-30, 1727: 

This is to give notice to all Gentlemen and others, that a Lot- 
tery is to be drawn at Mr. John Stevens in Perth Amboy, 
for 501£ of Silver and Gold, wrought by Simeon Souman of 
New York. The highest Prize consists of an Eight Square 
Tea-Pot, six Tea Spoons, Skimmer and Tongues, valued at 
18£ 3s 6d. The lowest Prize consists of Twelve Shillings . . . 
278 Prizes, only five Blanks to each Prize. 


An establishment in town made him an active ally of those 
who were trying to build Amboy into a seaport surpassing 
New York, and led him inevitably into politics. From deputy 
collector of the port, in 1716, he rose within the year to be 
collector. Twice at least his early legal training was made 
use of in his appointment as clerk of the Chancery Court. 
This tribunal had been established in New Jersey in 1702 
and was kept incessantly busy with litigation among settlers 
who found themselves, under the crown government, sud- 
denly invested with property or dispossessed of it. His terms 
appear to have been served without bringing adverse criti- 
cism upon him, but he was really more inclined to other 
business than the law. In this inclination he was far from 
being alone, for the popular prejudice was suggested by 
Gabriel Thomas when he wrote, in his "Historical Ac- 
count," "Of lawyers ... I shall say nothing, because this 
country is in every way Peaceable; long may it so continue 
and never have occasion for their tongues, so destructive of 
Men's Estates !" Yet if this was J. Stevens's view, it was not 
shared by his posterity. Many of his descendants were 
to be trained for the law, and one great-great-grandson, 
Frederick W. Stevens, was to become noted as vice-chancel- 
lor of the State. 

With the limited franchise existing in New Jersey as a 
province, the phrase "we, the people" meant "we, the land- 
owners" even more certainly than when it was written into 
the Federal Constitution of 1787. Because J. Stevens owned 
land and could vote, political offices sought him out. When 
Perth Amboy, in 1718, was incorporated as a town, the post 
of chamberlain or treasurer appears to have fallen to him 
as a matter of course. When the parish of St. Peter's, first 
Protestant Episcopal church in Jersey, received a charter 
from George I, one of the half dozen names specifically men- 


tioned was Stevens's ; church and state being then so closely 
identified that only those in politics could expect to be 
wardens and vestrymen. Serving for years in these two 
capacities, he was constantly in St. Peter's, meeting-place 
of Gordons, Willocks, Alexanders, Parkers, and nearly all 
the other leading families of East Jersey history. Moreover, 
the men of those families found time — presumably out of 
church hours — to gather for candles and cards, or for grave 
debate over mulled port and negus, at the inn J. Stevens 
erected for their better entertainment. It naturally followed 
that, although never himself a member of the royal council, 
he should be well posted upon its deliberations and upon 
those of the assembly, then meeting alternately at Burling- 
ton and Amboy. The minutes for May 25, 1716, tell us that 
"Colonel Farmer and Mr Laurence acquainted the House 
that the Gentlemen of the Council had appointed to meet 
at one o'clock this day, at the house of Mr Stevens, to sign 
the Address to his Majesty" — adding that the House or- 
dered its own members to "meet the Council at the said time 
and place" for the same purpose. Similarly, the memorial 
of Evan Drummon speaks of a "Mr Roughead at the door 
of John Stevens' house at Perth Amboy, while the Gentle- 
men of the Supreme Court were at dinner in the adjoining 
Room." Such august bodies never dined at any but an un- 
stinted board, from which they let drop many crumbs of 
information to the profit of their host. 

He was a prosperous citizen of barely sixty when he died 
in 1737. In his will there were a few small bequests, in- 
cluding one providing for repaying a one-pound debt to his 
"Brother William, Periwigg Maker in the Strand, London." 
Among his numerous children he divided great stretches of 
land, scattered through townships that would now form part 
of Middlesex, Mercer, Somerset, and Warren counties, but 






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were then all bounded by Hunterdon, the wide stretch 
named in honor of the best of the provincial governors. Even 
for so many heirs it was a great inheritance. Yet it was 
hardly as valuable as the unwritten, intangible legacy he 
left to the men and women of his line. The traits of his 
character he handed down were ambition coupled with vision, 
understanding of law combined with respect for just law, 
and earnest zeal for the general good of the community. He 
left an example of material success, of active interest in 
developing better government and greater commerce through 
improved communication between men and towns, and of 
fitness for public trust. The page we have of his life is not 
a long one, but it forms a proper preface to his family's 

Of J. Stevens's children the eldest, Campbell, became a 
soldier, serving under Colonel Peter Schuyler of the "Old 
Jersey Blues." With his company of 101 men he embarked 
at Newark for Albany on August 30, 1746. Shreds of his 
letters and accounts show that he often found it necessary 
to feed and clothe that company out of his own pocket, for 
there was no division quartermaster with that body of rough- 
and-ready riflemen. In the French and Indian Wars he won 
honorable mention; in the intervals of peace he made the 
money for his soldiers out of successful business ventures 
with his younger brothers. 

Lewis, another Stevens soldier of this generation, was an 
officer in a British colonial regiment, stationed variously in 
Antigua, St. Christopher, and elsewhere about the islands. 
His merchant brothers suggested that he become their com- 
mercial agent in the West Indies, a proposal to which he 
obtained his colonel's consent only by promising to "conduct 
his trading in a genteel manner." However, he tired of life 
in the tropics and eventually resigned from the army. Re- 






Will deliver an ORATION Tomorrow (Sundaj) Evening; -at 6 tfclock, in die Grove, on the Bank 
of tbe Iludsoo River, about half a mile above Mr. Van Antwerp's Hotel ; 


American Independence. 

ay FERRIAGE of grown persons reduced from 25 to 124 cents both ways— Children balf 
price. No Bank Bills will be received. No Boats will be permitted to land any where on the 
Hoboken or Weebawken shores. 

JULY 19, 1829. 

George H. Evano, Printer, 40 Thompson street. 




turning to New Jersey, he settled down upon his Hunterdon 
county inheritance, a large farm known as Cornwall, in 
Alexandria township. The word "genteel" pursued him, for 
his house was described as such, standing in the center of 
seven hundred acres, half of it cleared and planted with 
"400 grafted apple trees, watered by living streams." The 
place was considered an "ideal country seat for a gentleman, 
or profitable place for a farmer, being in the neighborhood 
of several houses of worship, and two mills from two to four 
miles distant." The land for one church was a gift from 
Lewis himself, which earned him the title of "a gentleman 
of distinguished piety," and, as a practical help to the 
struggling parish, he persuaded his much more prosperous 
brother John to contribute generously. Tiny, picturesque 
St. Thomas's still stands upon its hilltop, not far from 
Pittstown. Beneath it Lewis, to quote "The Pennsylvania 
Packet" of May 21, 1772, was "decently interred on April 
22nd last, a Gentleman whose amiable Disposition and Good- 
ness of Heart had endeared him to all who knew him." 

Richard, a third brother, was occasionally a sea-captain, 
frequently a real-estate operator, usually a politician, and 
always the first of many Stevens sportsmen. "Short in stat- 
ure, red-haired, and vivacious as a Frenchman," his greatest 
passion was horses. He rarely missed the races then fairly 
numerous at Perth Amboy and at Morristown ; often, to be 
sure, he bet sums that he could not at all afford to lose. 
But his love of sport was not considered in the least incon- 
sistent with his being a pillar of the vestry of St. Peter's, 
nor with his being the lay delegate from the parish to di- 
ocesan conventions. He could recommend a change in the 
Prayer Book as easily as a change in the racing rules. 

Like Lewis, Richard owned farm lands. The record of 
one day shows those lands threatened with the foreclosure of 


a mortgage, or shows Richard himself arrested and, in the 
pleasant custom of the times, thrown bodily into jail for 
some small debt. The record of the next day tells how his 
brothers or his friends have made themselves his sureties, 
bailed him out, and promptly secured for him, either by 
appointment or by election, some such office as justice of the 
peace or representative from Hunterdon in the Provincial 
Congress of 1775. Down to-day, Richard would be up to- 

Notwithstanding the naturally Tory tendencies of a fam- 
ily as English as his, he himself was always a violent Whig. 
When he married, in 1758, he was careful to choose, in 
Susannah Kearny, a wife of similar opinions in spite of her 
loyalist family. Her brother, Philip third, a wine merchant 
of Amboy, showed such strong sympathies with the crown 
that, in 1776, he was arrested by the local Committee of 
Safety. Only after considerable haranguing and many prom- 
ises was Kearny's release procured, on a parole of six-mile 
radius from Richard Stevens's house. Yet it should be noted 
that very few loyalists handed down better American de- 
scendants. A son of this Philip was General Steven Watts 
Kearny; a grandson was Fighting Phil himself. 

In certain directions Richard Stevens was not without the 
family progressiveness, his chief difficulty lying upon the 
practicable side of an idea. Thus, he proposed to extract 
salt from the waters about Perth Amboy in order to meet 
the demand for salt in New York city. But before he had 
perfected the process — and he never did perfect it — he had 
his train of wagons built and ready to carry the salt to 
market. Sound enough on transportation, he was rather less 
so on production. 

With his pen he was tremendously active, usually over 
some freshly impending financial crisis, from which two 


Johns — his brother and, later, his nephew — were called upon 
to rescue him. This they did so successfully that he lived 
until long after the Revolution, surviving all his brothers 
and not dying, even in the end, of old age. On a spring morn- 
ing of 1802, when he was close to eighty, he hitched a half- 
broken colt to a gig and set off down the Burlington road. 
The colt bolted, capsized the gig, threw Richard out, and in- 
jured him so severely that he survived only a few hours. It 
was a sporting finish that must have satisfied him. Less 
successful, materially, than his brothers, and less distin- 
guished in the public service, he has been affectionately 
handed down as "Uncle Dicky." 


In this first American generation much the most distinct 
figure is the namesake, though not the eldest son, of his 
father. The second John stands out because to him de- 
scended the greatest share of natural Stevens astuteness, 
increased by good Campbell blood, and ready to be further 
sharpened in the colony's years of formative struggle. The 
next half century of Jersey history is full of instances of 
the public and often distinguished acts of him who became 
generally known as "the Honourable John Stevens, Gen- 

During a visit of his mother's to New York City he was 
born there on October 21, 1716. While this accident of birth- 
place made him none the less a Jerseyman at heart, it did 
inspire him with a warm regard for New York ; in token of 
it, as opportunity offered, he was to give her a disinter- 
ested, loyal service. As a child he lived chiefly in Amboy, 
depending for early education upon small schools conducted 
by Dutch or Swedish instructors and devoted to what were 
even then known as courses in business training. To glance 
back at such schools from our own day of mad girding for 
the commercial battle is to appreciate the arc through which 
the educational pendulum has twice swung. The classics and 
other "higher branches" of learning were in no great repute 
in 1725, while so little was made of English or of the litera- 
ture of the language that, even as late as 1758, scarcely any 
Englishmen were to be found teaching in Jersey — such as 
there were, moreover, teaching only by special license from 



the Bishop of London. Thus, even if J. Stevens had intended 
his son for anything but a mercantile life, he would have 
found little alternative. Yet, somewhere along that road to 
manhood, and perhaps actually from his father, the boy con- 
trived to pick up enough law to be of great use in after 

When their father died, John, at twenty-one, was already 
dominating the family. His was the controlling spirit under 
which he and his brother Campbell began the operation of a 
small fleet of merchantmen. It was he who fully recognized 
overseas commerce as a vital element in America's growth, 
and it was chiefly his enterprise which won the smile of 
fortune and made it possible from time to time to build and 
man another ship. Frequently, too, he sailed as master of his 
own vessel. At twenty- three his ship was the sloop Martlw,; 
two years later he took the brig Catherine across the At- 
lantic with cargoes of flour or pork and brought her back 
loaded to the fife-rail with casks of good old Madeira. 

There was profit in wine and in spirits from the West In- 
dian islands. He could say, "I am selling off my Rum at 3/9 
the Gallon," and make money while he was saying it. But 
there was pleasure, and pride, too, in the calling. When he 
indorsed his own papers, or witnessed those of other men, 
there was an extra flourish in the signature "John Stevens, 
Mariner." The sea gave him vision and must have lent him 
romance, for he never forgot it. But the records, unfortu- 
nately, are made up chiefly of hard commerce, with no word 
of canvas crowded on or of muffled boat-landings at mid- 
night to avoid clashes with his Majesty's collector of duties. 
Though there was plenty of good precedent for smuggling 
— John Hancock, as a ready example — no trace of this can 
be found in the available papers. Doubtless it was his father's 
earlier strictness as collector that made the mariner enter 



and clear his ships in due form; certainly it was not want 
of enterprise nor lack of courage. He would take a ship 
anywhere, for any cargo. 

Among captains who sailed for him were his brother 
Richard and his sister Sarah's son, Fen wick Lyell of the 
good brigantine Funchal. The latter captain came of that 
race which for so many years treasured, as proof of its loy- 
alty to the Stuarts, the handkerchief caught by a Fenwick 
when it fell, blood-soaked, from the scaffold of Charles I. 
If Captain Lyell himself ever carried that handkerchief, it 
was ill-fated, for he was eventually lost at sea. But this 
was not before he had helped to fill with valuable merchan- 
dise so many Stevens warehouses that these were soon de- 
manding all of the senior partner's attention. "I am," wrote 
John Stevens to a friend in 1743, "now upon settling my- 
self in Amboy and believe I shall not go to sea again." This 
was at twenty-seven; less than a score of years later he 
would be able to retire wholly from overseas commerce and 
devote himself to administering the growing family estate 
or taking the sort of venture in land that had always at- 
tracted his father. 

He was a prolific writer of letters, in which he expressed 
himself more easily than in speech. Men noted him among 
those of few words, although when he did open his mouth it 
appears that those about him were ready to listen. It was 
this quality, added to the promise he gave of a rising young 
citizen, that brought him the favorable notice and friend- 
ship of James Alexander. 

In all Jersey he could have formed no better connection. 
James Alexander was a leading lawyer, a mathematician, 
and an astronomer of some note. He was long the surveyor- 
general of both New Jersey and New York, the owner of 
almost boundless acres, and perhaps the most powerful mem- 


ber of the Society of East Jersey Proprietors. In science, 
as in politics and business, he was in correspondence or in 
direct contact with all the leading minds at home and abroad. 
He again became prominent as counsel for Zenger, leading 
the earliest fight for free speech and an uncensored press on 
this side of the Atlantic. His life was so full of activities 
and important events that an account of it, from his papers 
in libraries and historical societies, and especially from pri- 
vate sources now available, would be an almost complete his- 
tory of his period. For John Stevens to become associated 
with such a man meant not only a broadening of education 
but also a definite lift along the road to prominence and 
fortune. Very shortly the business connection was to lead to 
a personal one. In 1748, finding himself in a position to 
marry and favorably regarded by the lady of his choice, 
John "took to wife" Elizabeth Alexander, the daughter of 

Apart from any claim which her brother William may 
have felt he had to the Scottish earldom of Stirling in Scot- 
land, Elizabeth Alexander Stevens had an established posi- 
tion of her own. She brought great property to her hus- 
band and she bound him closely to her father, but she should 
rather be remembered as the mother of two children. Her 
daughter, Mary Stevens, was to become the wife of Robert 
R. Livingston, the chancellor of New York State, who en- 
ters so largely into this story; her son was the man whose 
achievements for his country and posterity it is hoped to 
record in these pages — Colonel John Stevens, the third of 
his name. 

His father's part in preparing the way for a greater son 
was vigorously played. Becoming the confidential agent of 
James Alexander, the Honourable John formed a partner- 
ship with his brother-in-law William, not yet the self-belted 


earl but still a plain man of business. The enterprises in 
which these two engaged furnished them with material for a 
great sheaf of correspondence. In it are to be found com- 
ments upon all the happenings of the day and many glimpses 
of Jersey commercial methods and the difficulties to be en- 
countered in the pursuit of them. Pirates, or privateers, for 

In the spring of 1748 the Honourable John had a ship 
ready to sail, but William Alexander declined to take a share 
in her. True, he had no funds available at the moment ; but 
these he could have raised had he not had, as he wrote, 
"certain intelligence of Don Pedro being near the Capes, 
and that many of the enemy's privateers design to be on the 
coast in a short time, which must make trade dangerous." 
Notwithstanding this warning, Stevens sent out his ship 
and, happily, she escaped the fate predicted for her. Indeed, 
trade so flourished all through this year that Stevens, always 
reaching out for new markets, could write Alexander in the 
winter : 

Our brig sails for Antigua in ab't 3 weeks. I am loading 
her with a New England cargo of Lumber, Boards, Shingles, 
House Scantlings, and Staves. 

Of course, it was the duty of Brother Lewis, in Antigua, 
to lay aside his regimental duties long enough to dispose 
of this cargo in a genteel but none the less advantageous 

Politics was naturally an absorbing topic of the letters 
between the partners, both then holding the Tory opinion 
proper to their positions in the provincial world. 

"I am," wrote the Honourable John early in 17-49, "much 
engaged in parliament'g [electioneering] which I am not 
fond of and which I should not [have] engaged in had not 


a quaker been set up — the only one in our town. I think 
that set of people would snatch at power of which they have 
too much already!" A few days later he reported that he 
was "much press't to stand but my business will not permit 
me to attend the Assembly at present" — an excuse which 
was not long to prevent his being "press't," to an extent 
which overcame his reluctance, into public life. 

No formal announcement of the birth of the son remains 
in existence. In midsummer of 174<9 the Honourable John 
began writing to the family about "young Johnny," re- 
porting that "our little son has been much out of order 
for two days but is now something better." This was very 
soon after the boy had been born in New York city, but 
not before it had been decided for him that he should be 
a true Jerseyman. 

Only now and then does Johnny appear in the letters of 
his father. Usually, he was mentioned casually in the mid- 
dle or at the end of a paragraph to William Alexander, 
such as "I rec'd yours the Day before yesterday with Ten 
small Negro boys and girls, and agreeable to your Desire, 
I will dispose of them as soon as I can, and I think the sooner 
the better, as we shall soon have cool weather. Two of the 
Negroes came here sick; one of them is Better. Young 
Johnny is well." And, soon afterward, the next letter says 
nothing of the baby though it does report: "Sold 9 negroes 
for £324," and thus intimates that the tenth never did 

Similarly, as time passed, the Honourable John would 
write his European agent, Robert Scott: 

I have a new vessel called the "Funchal" which I built for 
the Madeira trade but fear now I shall be obliged to employ 
her in some other. Am favored with a line Acquainting me 
that they will send back with no wines, which I much approve. 


I hope other Houses will do the same, which will be the only 
way of bringing down the price and restoring the trade. I am 
pleased to hear you have a little prattling family, which is a 
pleasure I have not arrived to yet. I have been married about 
two years & have one Boy but too young yet to prattle. 

Stirling — to give him at once his later and more familiar 
name — had similar habits. In the midst of a long and 
tedious business letter he would write "My daught. desires 
her compliments to your son & says if it was not Contrary 
to the rules of decency for her to begin first, she would 
write him a letter." The daughter was then only two years 
old. Otherwise, if she inherited the taste of her father and 
uncle, even the rule of decency would scarcely have made 
her forego a chance to take up the pen. 

Between the two families — Alexanders usually in New 
York and Stevens' almost continuously in Amboy — there 
was a constant exchange of the small luxuries of life. "My 
wife," the Honourable John would write, "sends her Mama 
some limes and some plums, and thanks her for the An- 
chovies, Walnuts, and Biskets," or "sends four Colly 
Flowers of her own raising." Once there went forward 
from Jersey a "Mocking Bird, which is the finest I ever 
saw. His food is the tenderest part of Raw Veal, cut into 
small pieces and put into the smallest Troff; at the other 
end of which, put Milk. The big Troff is for Indian Meals, 
or soak'd Bread, and I wish him safe to hand." Again, 
Stirling was asked to send "something proper, in green 
or Blew, with linding, to cloth two wenches, a man, & a 
Boy — with as much flannen as will make your little nephew 
two petticoats." 

Governor Jonathan Belcher of Jersey relied upon the 
Honourable John for help in furnishing the mansion. At 
one moment the governor wanted "One Coach Wipp and 


a pa. Steele snuffers," at another he needed "an earthen 
teapott, and a pr. Brass Candlesticks" ; all these, of course, 
to be procured from the already superior New York shops. 
Such luxuries were scarce in an Amboy which had not real- 
ized the hopes of its founders. According to Burnaby, the 
traveler, the town could then claim only "One hundred 
houses, with barracks for 300." Still, the same authority 
describes the Honourable John's neighbors as "hospitable, 
and far more liberal than the Pennsylvanians," suggesting 
an explanation of their being able to shop in the metropolis 
when he adds that "their paper curency is at 70 per cent, 
preferred by New Yorkers to their own." 

It was not all plain sailing for the Honourable John. 
At the very moment when he was building a new ship "to 
cost not less than 2000 pounds," he would have to write to 
Stirling for help in a "most unfortunate incident" : 

Combe, Monday, Feb'y 18, 1750. 
A brig of mine arrived yesterday from Teneriffe and, in 
passing the man-o'-war at the Hook, the latter fired several 
shots at her. The seamen supposed they wanted to press, 
therefore were so resolute as not to suffer the Captain to 
Bring-too. Two Boats were sent after Her, the wind lulling; 
they came up with her and took away one of her men — 
William Freeman. I beg you will apply to Captain Roddam & 
endeavor to have the man cleared. The seamen meant nothing 
more in what they did than to save themselves from being 

Although press-gangs threatened his crews now and then, 
and although the wine trade sometimes flagged, the Hon- 
ourable John had no lack of suggestions for new enter- 
prises. Not all of these, to be sure, were accepted. Thus, 
one Thomas Crowell wrote him from Antigua, in 1751 : 

Sir, as I formerly sail'd in your Employ and by misfortune 
forfieted your favours I hope you will not forget the old proverb 


that is forget and forgive ; it may be a Satisfaction to you to 
hear Somthing of our Vo3 T age, we left the coast of guinea the 
27th of Nov'r last with 52 Slaves on board besides privileges. 
We arrived here ye 20th Jan. 1750/51 with the loss of but one 
Slave and came to good markets with them, and are all sold but 
a few small ones. I purchased two fine young girls of about 12 
or 14 years with what small ventures I had which was rum. 

I hope Sir that if you should be concerned in that branch 
of trade I shall be heartyly willing to serve you in any Station 
above a Comon Sailor, So as to reprieve the Loss you sustained 
by me ; and if it should happen that you should have a Vessel 
in the African trade I hope you will remember me once more 
for I should take the greatest pains in Life to serve you with 
Double Diligence ; and I think if you had a small Vessel in 
that trade it would suit you, as you have had a small run in 
selling of Slaves of late. And you would find it much more 
profitable than to carie them from thence. 

In spite of this interesting invitation, the Honourable 
John did not become a "blackbirder." More legitimate 
trading, afloat and ashore, appears to have sufficed to keep 
him fully and, upon the whole, profitably occupied. Fre- 
quently, this trading carried him to New York for pro- 
tracted visits. While upon one of these, in 1752, he learned 
from Thomas Bartow, another associate in Perth Amboy, 
that "I just now saw your son. He is very well and your 
Sister says he is as well satisfied as if he had always lived 
with her; and she says Dick desired you would send down 
the wheels of the Chair that he may bring it up with him." 
Dick, who needed the chair's wheels, was red-headed Rich- 
ard, to whom the care of little Johnny was often intrusted 
when his father and mother left home — Richard keeping 
a most exacting account of every penny laid out in 
Johnny's behalf. However, the Honourable John could 
afford to be liberal, for his property holdings were con- 
stantly increasing in value. Within the loosely bounded 


limits of Hunterdon, Stevens holdings dotted the map from 
the Assanpink Creek at Trenton to where Port Jervis now 
stands. They included the Rocky Hill copper mine, which 
the Honourable John's father had finally acquired in reali- 
zation of the dream that first brought him to Jersey, though 
this appears to have been rather sentiment than invest- 
ment. After one inspection of the works the Honourable 
John wrote that they had "got, out of several pits five or 
six feet deep, about 100 weight of sollid Oar, some of it 
mixed with a little Virgin Copper." But mining never 
proved as profitable for him as land-owning, particularly 
after his share of James Alexander's estate made his an 
enormous belt of Jersey territory. It has since been broken 
up into dozens of towns, hundreds of farms, and thou- 
sands of small freeholds; Stevens- Alexander deeds are the 
most numerous in all Jersey title history. 

Political events, notably the land riots just then arous- 
ing the anger of governor and Proprietors, deeply inter- 
ested the Honourable John. "The Germans," he wrote 
Stirling, "seem to be confoundedly frightened and I hope 
will be good subjects for the future. What we have done, in 
getting those concerned in the Riot of Feb. last indicted 
at the Circuit Court at Trenton, will, I believe, have a great 
effect on the Rioters." Interest of this sort pushed him 
more and more into public life until, in 1751, his friends 
insisted upon his standing for the assembly. He consented 
under protest ; but, being elected, he determined to be active. 
An infrequent debater, by the records, he appears to have 
been a sound one if judged by the conservative British 
standards which were naturally his. Before long his eyes 
were wide open to the colony's position, both in relation to 
Britain and in respect of the growing friction between 
Britain and France. The assembly's minutes on questions of 



preparedness for defense show him always voting for more 
troops, with more money to feed, clothe, and pay them. 
With Johnston he formed the committee that waited upon 
Governors Hardy of New York and Morris of Pennsylvania 
to discuss means for protecting the frontiers against Indian 
depredations. When the building of block-houses was de- 
cided upon he personally superintended much of this work 
at Drake's fort, Normenach, and Phillipsburg, while his 
further recommendations are set forth in a letter to James 
Alexander, October 28, 1755. 

The Indians have made so great a progress in the province 
of Pennsylvania, in their design of driveing us all into the sea, 
and are dayly expected over into this, that I must put off my 
business till a more favourable Opportunity ; having under- 
taken with Mr John Johnston (as I think it all our Duty's, 
as well as interest, in time to endeavour to prevent the like 
Calamities in this province that our neighbours have suffered) 
to go up to the frontier in order to build blockhouses and to 
endeavour to put our Forces there in such a way as to be able 
to keep off the enemy. That we [may] not rest under the 
security of having two hundred and fifty men on our Frontier, 
and perhaps not one of them properly acquipt to make any 
stand against the enemy. And it's like [ly] many of them are 
not able-bodyed. 

As the Assembly have given the soldiers great pay (two 
shill.s proct. a day) we intend to see that they are all men fitted 
for the purpose (as the high wages, I doubt not, will give us 
an Opportunity of chusing such) and that they have each a 
good Musket & Cattouch Box with a sufficient number of 
Carterages (of which, I suppose, at present there's not one 
among them). 

If we can get our soldiers in this order while we are there, 
the Commanding Officer, having strict instructions, may keep 
them in the like & if so I think we shall be defended at least 
against the incursions of the Indians. Inclosed is a copy of the 


present instructions to the Commanding Officer, to which I 
think there may be some good additions. 

In 1756 he became paymaster of the Jersey Blues, his 
brother Campbell's regiment, and in this office he continued 
for some years. At heart he was not really unfriendly to 
the Indians, and for this reason he was appointed, in 1758, 
to the commission which included Richard Salter, Charles 
Read, William Foster, Andrew Johnston, and Jacob Spicer. 
These gentlemen were directed to negotiate an Indian treaty 
— probably the most important event of Governor Bernard's 
administration. Months of talk were necessary; endless 
powwows were held with Teedyescunk, king of the Dela- 
wares, Hopayock of the Susquehannas, and other chief- 
tains, before a satisfactory agreement could finally be 
reached at Easton, Pennsylvania. Very carefully the Hon- 
ourable John followed these discussions; just as carefully 
he preserved his copy of the commission's final report. 

For several years Mrs. Stevens had not found, in her 
occasional visits to New York, enough of diversion to pre- 
vent her being rather bored by the monotony of country 
life. She had persuaded her husband to say to the Alexan- 
ders: "If the Axtell's House should be sold for much less 
than its value (as I imagine it will) (my wife being de- 
sirous we should have a House in Town) I should be glad 
to get the refusal of it." But Mrs. Alexander had expressed 
the opinion that the Axtell family "would be affronted, 
even to ask about it," and nothing had come of the idea — 
somewhat to the relief of the Honourable John, who was 
extremely busy in Amboy and not anxious to quit it. 

However, by 1760, Mrs. Stevens had succeeded. Winter 
quarters for the family were secured by the purchase of 
No. 7 Broadway. Appropriately enough, the site is now 


covered by huge steamship offices, but the Stevens house 
was one of that block of four which is to be seen in every 
print of Bowling Green as it once was. The Kennedy man- 
sion, later the home of Washington, began the block ; Rich- 
ard Watts was at No. 3, with the Van Cortlandts next to him 
and the Livingstons, beyond, at No. 9. From the sidewalks, 
if not from the very windows of the house, most of the 
city's sixteen thousand inhabitants could be seen walking 
along those crooked winding streets about Battery Park — 
narrow but well-paved streets "adding much to the decency 
and cleanness of the place and the advantage of carriage." 
Mrs. Stevens, in this environment, could be sure of miss- 
ing nothing of the gaieties of the metropolis. It was gay, 
too, in that time when richness of dress, with variety of 
color and excess of frill and furbelow, was just reaching 
its most extravagant point in American history. 

In his combination day-book and diary the Honourable 
John made note of the steps taken to cut down the country 
establishment in favor of the one in town. "I sent the old 
wench Dinah to Bloomfield," he wrote, "at 12 pounds cur- 
rency per annum. In case she should be confined to her bed 
I am to pay something more; & I bid Marcus tell Bloom- 
field's wench that, if she took good care of old Dinah, I 
would give her a PC. of 8/8." Besides such pleasantly pirati- 
cal flavoring as pieces-of-eight, other bits can be gleaned 
from the record thus kept for over thirty years. Events 
of state importance were slipped in between careful counts 
of the Stevens horses, cattle, and hogs, or between details 
of transactions on behalf of the Society of Proprietors, 
in which the Honourable John became increasingly promi- 
nent. Occasionally there is a word or two of Johnny, such 
as Uncle Dicky's statement of account. At eleven, Johnny 
was living with Richard in order to attend Kenersley's Col- 


lege near Woodbridge, where five months' tuition cost the 
great sum of "two pounds, five and six." His father paid 
the two years' total of some sixty-seven pounds without 
protesting even such an item against Johnny as "To 2 
tickets in Dunlap's Lottery for him and Polly, £1 lOd." 
Possibly it was Johnny's failure to win the grand prize at 
this tender age that made him write, years afterward: "I 
have never been a betting man!" But he was one. Like 
Pierpont Morgan, he was an inveterate bettor upon the 
future of America. 

Establishing a New York house involved the Honour- 
able John in many journeys between that city and Amboy, 
thus affording him first-hand knowledge of the generally 
poor condition of Jersey roads. He was, at about this time, 
one of the road commissioners and he appears to have been, 
with James Parker, the most active member of that body. 
It was these two who submitted the report, "for themselves 
and in behalf of the other commissioners": 

We the Commissioners appointed by Law to make Surveys 
and to Report to the General Assembly the Practicability of 
laying out strait Roads through certain Parts of the Province 
of New Jersey and for establishing a Lottery to defray the 
Expence of the same, Beg leave to inform his Excellency the 
Governor, His Majesty's Council, and the Honourable House 
of Assembly THAT agreeable to said Law, Books for the Lot- 
tery were printed and a considerable Number of Ticketts dis- 
posed of in this and the neighboring Colonys. That surveyors 
and Chain bearers were employed in surveying Some Part of 
the Roads by which an Expence hath been accrued and no fund 
but the Lottery to pay the same. 

WE THEREFORE Humbly Propose (As a Method Least 
Detrimental to Individnals to free the Province of any Expence 
and to support its credit on that Account) That the said 
Lottery should be drawn as soon as the remainder of the 
Ticketts can be disposed of; And so much of the monies aris- 


ing therefrom as will be sufficient to pay the Charges of the 
Lottery be applied to that Purpose, and the Residue to be laid 
out, one-half thereof in the Improvement of the Road from the 
City of Burlington to the Ferry House opposite to Perth 
Amboy, and the other half, after deducting the Expence of 
Surveying aforesaid, to be laid out in the Improvement of the 
Road from Elizabeth Town to New Brunswick and from thence 
to Trenton; and that a supplementary Act to the former 
Lottery Act be passed to Restrain the Commissioners from 
straitning said Roads but in such Parts thereof as the owners 
of the Land through which they pass shall consent. And pray 
that leave may be given for a Bill to be brought in for that 

The report is typical of the then prevailing method of 
paying for public works, not through taxes but through 
an appeal to the ordinary human desire to get something 
for nothing. When the grand prize and the lesser prizes 
had been paid, it would be possible to think of spending some 
money on the roads themselves ! Another feature which 
would be unfamiliar to-day is the provision for restraining 
the commissioners, at their own request, instead of restrain- 
ing the property-owners. To our present purpose the report 
shows how intimately the Honourable John, like his father, 
and more particularly like his son not many years after- 
ward, was concerned with the communication between Tren- 
ton, Burlington, and New Brunswick. 

On June 9, 1763, the Honourable John was appointed 
to the council of Governor Bernard, an office in which he 
remained active until that body had held its last meeting 
under Governor William Franklin, the son of Benjamin 
Franklin, who cherished opinions differing so widely from 
those of his more distinguished father. A thorough-going 
royalist, Franklin's only concessions to the colonials were 
made with the object of preserving peace. His efforts in 


that direction appear to have consisted largely in ordering 
impressive social functions, at which class distinctions were 
not very definitely drawn. From attendance at these func- 
tions the general world of Jersey was expected to absorb 
a strong feeling of loyalty to the crown. 

The Honourable John, of course, was born a Tory. Dis- 
approving war against the crown, he supported the gov- 
ernor in every honest attempt to avoid it. Consequently, 
Franklin liked him, dined now and then at his house, and 
frequently made use of him in the negotiations between 
colonies. Thus, when he wrote to Governor Colden of New 
York, in the winter of 1763/64, Franklin said, in part: 

An Act being passed in this Province for raising a Number 
of Troops (not exceeding 600) for the King's Service, in 
Proportion to what the Colony of New York has raised, or may 
raise, I must desire the Favour of you to certify to me what 
Number you have now in the Pay of your Government. . . . 
The Honourable John Stevens, Esqr., one of the Council of 
this Province, will present you this Letter, and I should be 
glad you would deliver to him the certificate above mentioned. 

However, the governor could never persuade his councilor 
to go beyond a certain distance with him along the road 
that led to completely submerging the colonists into mere 
crown subjects. Ten years before the Revolution there was 
a very definite point at which the term "American" took 
on distinct meaning for the Honourable John. Loyalty was 
one thing; submission to oppression was quite another. 
When despotism reared its ugly head he struck at it, as 
witness his firm stand in the council against any undue ex- 
tension of the right of search. He stoutly maintained that 
an American's home, if not to be classed as a castle, was 
at least its master's own and therefore inviolate, except under 


all due process of law. What we now so often recall as the 
Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was a hard-held 
tenet of the Honourable John's. 

He was in New York during that early fall of 1765 when 
indignation against the Stamp Act was rapidly rising to 
the boiling point. He, too, resented the stamps, but his was 
among the cooler heads in town. With some knowledge of 
mob-psychology as well as with an inherent horror of un- 
necessary violence and bloodshed, he looked out from his 
Broadway window upon the crowds milling around the soap- 
box orators and agitators. He discussed the whole situation 
with Judge Livingston — "Gentle Robert," as the chancel- 
lor's noted father was so often called — with John Cruger, 
the mayor, and with Beverley Robinson, men whose names 
were known to every New Yorker. It was these four who 
waited upon Colden to insist that no stamps be issued and 
to guarantee, in return, that there should be no further 
rioting. Colden being wise enough to yield, a "broadcast" 
notice was nailed to every prominent tree and every board 
fence. For the moment, at least, debate replaced open street- 

"Except they should have other cause for complaint" 
It is almost possible to assert that it was the Honourable 
John who wrote that reservation into the broadcast, for the 
phrase exactly expresses his attitude. In Jersey council 
and out of it, as the great quarrel grew sharper, he leaned 
more and more toward the colonial side. Indeed, as time 
passed, that council came to include what Franklin in his 
letters calls "the unruly three" — John Stevens, Lord 
Stirling, and Richard Stockton. To the very end, honor- 
able peace between Britain and the colonies was, by these 
three, held as highly to be desired ; from the start, peace at 
any price was anathema. Any particular grievance being 


removed, they were content to treat as amicably as before 
— except they should have other cause for complaint! 

Young "Johnny," then about seventeen, was enrolled, 
for his further education, in King's College. To provide 
for him, and give him a home when the family should be 
out of the city, his father selected a dependable friend. 
The Honourable John's journal gives us this enlightening 
entry : 

Dec. 12, 1767. I gave Mr. Jas. Duane £100 ... in part of 
£200 I agreed to give him with my son John, who is to stay 
with Mr. Duane till he is 21 years of age. Dec. 29th, pd. Mr. 
Duane £100 more, in full. 

Johnny's own impressions, of what easy and rapid trans- 
portation may mean, must have become fixed at about this 
period, never to be forgotten. One letter of his was written 
when his father, at Burlington, in council, had given him 
certain commissions to execute. 

New York, September 15th. 
Honour'd Sir: 

I received your letter yesterday afternoon and was for some 
time puzzled to find out the meaning of your desiring me to let 
you know whether I had heard anything of Uncle Lewis. But, 
upon looking at the date, I soon unravelled the mystery ; tho' 
I must confess, I was a little chagreened to find it contained 
nothing new, as I have seen you since. 

I got to Amboy about four o'clock that afternoon and the 
next day, meeting with no opportunity of going, Aunt Sarah 
and I waited upon Mr. Parker for dinner; where, upon con- 
sidering the matter, they were all of opinion that, since Tom- 
son was not to go till Tuesday, and since the house was but 
poorly guarded against the many accidents that might hap- 
pen, the surest and most expeditious way was to hire a chair 
at the ferry. Accordingly, the next morning, I went over and, 
after waiting two hours, till they had pack'd & secured every- 


thing as well as they possibly could, I was furnished with a 
chair, which, for antiquity, I may safely say might vye with 
anything in the country. However, crazy and old as it was, I 
had the good fortune to escape shipwreck and arrived about 
twelve o'clock at Watson's. As there was no boat there at that 
time, I was obliged to walk to Duglases. Where I dined and 
waited until after six in expectation of more passengers, but 
as nobody came, I chose rather to pay the fare myself, than 
stay all night from home. 

As it was dark before I got home, and no candles in the 
house, it was some time before I could gain admittance; but, 
after repeatedly knocking, Scyphax had resolution enough to 
bellow out "Who's there?" It gave me great satisfaction to 
find everything was right and no mischief had happened. . . . 

Your ever dutiful and most obedient son, 

John Stevens. 

"Scyphax" can be identified vaguely as a family servant; 
"Tomson," who was "not to go till Tuesday," is a mystery. 
Aunt Sarah, however, was the sister of the Honourable 
John, who divided her life between the homes of her sev- 
eral brothers. It was John, as a rule, who cared for her; 
up to the time when, as he put it, "Almighty God was 
pleased to put an end to her life," May 26, 1790, his journal 
carries entries which enumerate the exact number of months 
and days she spent with him, between those occasions when 
"my Brother Richard came in his light waggon" to "fetch 
her" one way or the other. 

Occasionally Aunt Sarah accompanied her brothers to a 
tea-drinking or a dinner; but more often it was to Mrs. 
John Stevens that there fell the major part of representing 
the family in society. It was, of course, necessary that Mrs. 
Stevens should hold her own with the other women of the 
day, in dress. Even upon this point the journal is able to 
help us, for we find toward Christmas time of 1767 that 


"Mrs. Stevens begs leave to give Capt. Kennedy the trouble 
of bringing her the following things from London": 

A patera for a Brocade Neglige 

Broad Brussels lace for Ruffles, Tucker, and Ruff 

A fashionable Necklace and Earings (not past[e]) 

Stomagher & Bows to suit the Neglige 

A hansom fan. 

The £47 15s 6d which the Honourable John entered as 
paid to Captain Kennedy did not include the last two items 
on the list. Apparently, the gallant but unlucky captain 
could find no "Stomagher" suitable to the "Neglige" he 
brought home, nor anything sufficiently handsome in the 
way of fans. As to what Mrs. Stevens, in her disappoint- 
ment, may have found to console her, the journal is re- 
grettably silent. 


The family event of 1768 was young Johnny's graduation. 
His letters and papers say nothing of his college life or 
study, but "The New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury" 
of May 23 carried this notice of King's College : 

On Tuesday, last week, was held our annual COMMENCE- 
MENT in St. Paul's Chapel, in this city ; when, after the 
usual exercises, which were highly applauded by a numerous 
and polite Audience, the PRESIDENT conferred Degrees 
upon the following Gentlemen: 

Benjamin Moore, Gouverneur Morris, John Stevens, Gulien 
Verplanck, James Ludlow, Charles Doughty, Peter Van 
Schaak B.A. 

Rev. John Beardsley, Robert R. Livingston M.A. 

Two silver medals were presented to Messrs Morris and 

In length that list of graduates would be completely lost 
in the columns of names connected with a modern Columbia 
University commencement. Yet there were some good New 
Yorkers represented. Ludlow and Moore, for instance; or 
Verplanck, who was one of the charter founders of the famous 
old Tontine Coffee House, gathering place of business men 
and bloods. More immediately to be connected with Colonel 
John Stevens was Gouverneur Morris — first as personal 
friend but later, when canal commissioner, really a stum- 
bling-block in Stevens's progress. Again, the Robert Liv- 
ingston who here received his M.A. degree was not only 
Stevens's prospective brother-in-law but also the future 



member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of 
Independence, a framer of the constitution of New York, 
and ultimately chancellor of his State. What the class of 
'68 lacked in size it made up in quality. 

Law being a part of every gentleman's equipment, 
Johnny's studies next turned in that direction and secured 
for him, three years later, an appointment as practising 
attorney from Admiral Sir William Tryon, royal governor 
of New York. That it should have been politics, however, 
rather than law that aroused his interest is easily explained 
by his family connection. In addition to his own sister 
Mary's engagement to Robert Livingston, his mother's sis- 
ter had married Peter van Brugh Livingston, whose whole 
family was immersed in politics. Livingston influence, rep- 
resented in the assembly, in the council, and on the bench, 
was felt in every corner of New York and naturally had 
the support of the Honourable John. Hence he and Johnny 
were much chagrined by the setback encountered by the 
Livingstons at the elections of 1769. 

Sir Henry Moore, then governor, had dissolved the as- 
sembly in order, as he supposed, to give his own Republican 
party a chance to recover lost seats. But the opposite hap- 
pened; more seats were lost than won, and Moore himself 
went down, to be succeeded by that rigid churchman, Colden. 
The Livingstons, who might have gone in with the church 
party, declined to do this. In the final count, they ran "Phil. 
Livingston, 666 votes; P. V. B. Livingston, 535" — neither 
good enough to win against Cruger, De Lancey, and the 
rest of the opposition. In reporting this disappointment to 
Stirling the Honourable John added: 

I am sorry that our Friends . . . have thus injured their 
Interest in this town. . . . Great pains have been taken to 


prevail with Mr. Philip Livingston to joyn the three old Mem- 
bers — which, if he had have done, it is generally believed there 
would have been no poll. All the complim't was paid him by 
what is called the Church party that he could have wished or 
desired. . . . His friends are exceeding sorry he should so mis- 
manage the best interest any man ever had. 

Histories galore have dealt with the political fortunes 
of this famous family. Chief importance here lies in the fact 
that its weight was first used in the interest of John Stevens 
and later used very much against it by preventing the real 
progress of steam navigation in the United States. 

The normal activity of the Stevens family in politics was 
mainly confined to Jersey, where the Honourable John soon 
found himself drawn into the dispute over the true bound- 
ary line between that State and New York. He had been 
expecting this, for he had long before written James Alex- 
ander, requesting "anything that is published relating to 
the Division Line" as first drawn. "I want," he added, "from 
page 31 to 47 of Jersey. I have page 1 to 22 of York, and 
whether there is any more or not I cannot tell. I should be 
glad to fight for this line with my head as well as other- 
wise." He was now to have his chance, as his journal for 
the year shows. 

Being appointed one of the agents on the part of New 
Jersey, & the 18th July being fixed by the Commissioners, I 
accordingly set out for N. York the 15th, by way of Amboy. 
Mr Parker & I went up the next day to where we met with 
Lord Stirling and Mr D. Ogden. And the 17th we went over to 
N. York where, the next day being the 18th as above, we en- 
tered on the business of the Line, on which I attended till the 
Commissioners gave their Decree, which was on Saturday, the 
7th October. I stay'd with Mr Parker and Mr Rutherford at 
York till the 9th at noon, writing letters to our agent & others 
in London on the subject of an Appeal. 


I got home the 10th in the afternoon; to which time, from 
the 15th July, being 87 days I was attending on this business, 
except about eight days' absence at different times at my Ferry 
at S. Amboy. My expences to & from New York, & my horse 
keeping at Paule's Hook (I wrode him to Bergen & Sussex) 
I charge the Proprietors of E. New Jersey. 

Walter Rutherfurd made the commission two thirds a 
family affair, for his wife was also a daughter of James 
Alexander. However, Parker was in full agreement with 
the other two when they finally reported themselves as "con- 
ceiving they have fully supported their claim and shown 
that a Line, from the Latitude of Forty-one Degrees on 
Hudson's River to Forty-one Degrees and Forty Minutes 
on the Northernmost Branch of Delaware River, is the true 
Boundary and Partition between the two Provinces." Un- 
fortunately for their own State, they did not win. The actual 
line, since some subsequent modifications, now runs from 
41 on the Hudson to the junction, at 41.27, of the Dela- 
ware and the Mahackamack — a loss to Jersey of many 
square miles which her original commissioners tried to save 
for her. Because of the months required to send appeals 
and arguments on both sides back and forth across the 
Atlantic, the Honourable John's draft of the final action 
was not drawn up until November, 1774. 

We, William Wickham & Samuel Gale, two of the commis- 
sioners, and John Stevens and Walter Rutherfurd, two others, 
do hereby certify that we have ascertained and marked the 
Partition Line so that it may be sufficiently known and dis- 

That the Rock on the west side of Hudson's River, marked 
by the Surveyors in the latitude of 41 deg., we have marked 
with a straight line throughout its surface passing through 


the place marked by the said Surveyors, and with the follow- 
ing words and figures : "Latitude 41 North" and, on the south 
side thereof the words "New Jersey" & on the north side 
thereof the words "New York." 

That we have marked Trees standing on the said Line with 
a Blaze of five notches. And that we have erected stone monu- 
ments at one mile distance from each other along the said 
Line; except the monument Number Twenty-six which, by rea- 
son of the Long Pond, we were obliged to place one chain 
further from the station on Hudson's River. 

(To my attendance on running the line, 17 days at 30/proc. 
per day — the same that was allowed in the year 1769) 

During these visits to New York the Honourable John 
was very often to be found with his social club, which in 
summer met at Kip's Bay and in winter at Sam Fraunce's 
tavern. John Moore, the loyalist, who carefully noted the 
politics of each club member just before the Revolution, 
wrote the Honourable John down as "disaffected." Toward 
many of the crown practices, so he was, even in 1770. But 
at that time he still favored crown rule in the colonies, 
as appears from his views on the Chancery Court, given 
at Governor Franklin's request: 

I am of the opinion that a Court of Chancery in this Prov- 
ince is requisite, and that it ought to be kept open ; but that, 
at this time and ever since the year 1713, the Court has not 
been held on a proper establishment. 

As no other ordinance for erecting said Court, or qualifica- 
tion of the several of the Chancellors, appears, I therefore 
with submission advise that the Governor and Council do form 
an ordinance for the establishment of the Court of Chancery; 
to consist of His Excellency the Governor with such of the 


Council or others as shall be thought proper and fitting for 
the Trust ; and that all shall take the necessary qualifications 
for the due discharge of their duty. And, that every step may 
be taken to give authority and permanence to the Court, I 
would propose that a full state [ment] of the Court of Chan- 
cery, as to the manner in which it has been from time to time 
held, be made out and transmitted to our Most Gracious 
Majesty, for his further instructions with regard to his will 
and pleasure therein. 

Burlington, March 26th, 1770. 

The Honourable John had some cause to be dissatisfied 
with this court, for to this period belongs the beginning 
of that noted case in Jersey Chancery "John Hunt against 
the Devisees of James Alexander, and Others." Hunt 
claimed wide acres in and about Elizabeth Town as part 
of the original holdings of one Hugh Hartshorne of the 
earliest East Jersey Proprietors. Parker, Stirling, the Hon- 
ourable John, and a long list of defendants insisted that 
all these lands had long before passed by open sale to Peter 
Sonman, that other old Proprietor whose Amboy "Lott" 
formed the southern boundary of Mr. J. Stevens's first 
property in the town. Because "the Honourable John 
Stevens had wrote him to the purpose," Parker engaged 
"Mr Chew of Philadelphia" as leading counsel, and with 
an array of equally brilliant legal minds on both sides the 
case soon bade fair to rival Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Al- 
though the main issue was finally settled, shreds of side 
issues still hang from Jersey court records. But the Hon- 
ourable John, in the course of this wearisome litigation, 
at least gained the reputation of being "courteous and re- 
fined in deportment !" 

A more cheerful incident of 1771 was the marriage of 


Mary Stevens — the Polly for whom her Uncle Richard 
bought the lottery ticket — to Robert R. Livingston, Jr., 
heir to beautiful Clermont on the Hudson. Determined that 
Polly should lack nothing in the appointments of her house 
in town, the Honourable John proposed to furnish this for 
her. The full details of his present, as set down in his jour- 
nal, give an excellent picture of a "proper Interior," as 
then demanded by fashion. There are such items as "A Wil- 
ton Carpet, Bought of G. Duyckinck, £ Callico window 
Curtains & making, with 2 Honiton Ditto: A Mahogany 
Save- All, a large looking-glass (with fraim) as well as a 
Suite of Red Silk Curtains with a Mahogany Bedstead; 
Blankets, Chimney Branches, and Damask Knapkins." At 
the foot of a long column were added "Two Negro Girls, at 
£100 Proct. is £106 4s, York," and then, as happy after- 
thought, there was "A Case of Artificial Flowers." Polly 
Livingston should lack in nothing obtainable, though it 
take all of 531 pounds sterling to make certain of that. 

Events like family weddings must just then have been 
peculiarly welcome as a change from public affairs. Day by 
day, the part of a member of the Jersey council was becom- 
ing increasingly difficult to play. Franklin was more than 
ever pig-headedly against any concessions to the citizens; 
the assembly was just as obstinate in nursing its growing 
list of grievances and in blocking the governor by declin- 
ing to vote him the money he demanded. Standing between 
the two, the council received from both sides the batter- 
ing that is the common lot of all buffers. To dine with the 
governor, and still agree with the assembly upon many 
issues, called for the most delicate diplomacy. 

Peace — a decent, respectable peace — was still earnestly 
sought by the Honourable John. Appreciating the colonists' 
side of the quarrel, he could not hear, unmoved, the vio- 


lent Tory sentiments of some of his friends. On the other 
hand, he had an equal number of friends who were as fiery 
as Charles Carroll, with his "Stop writing Parliament and 
give it bayonets !" Presently, the Honourable John could 
scarcely attend the most formal business meeting, or go to 
the most casual social affair, without becoming involved in 
acrimonious discussion. To avoid this he decided to withdraw 
almost wholly into the country, to an estate inherited from 

This was a spot as picturesque as any other in the Jersey 
hills — Round Valley, near Lebanon. There he built a house 
which stood for a hundred years as a landmark and was 
then torn down to give its foundations to a modern atrocity. 
To-day's tenant is a Russian Pole who has no thought to 
spare to tradition. His mongrel hens scratch in stubble that 
was once a widespread lawn; and his interest in the little 
river that bends and twists through those green old acres 
is limited to wondering whether he can make of it a public 
swimming-pool. In the memory of the very grayest beard 
of the country-side, the name of John Stevens has faded 
to a dim shadow. 

As a rule, the family in residence just before the Revo- 
lution rarely included young Johnny. He was for the active 
life of town and for travel, in both of which his father 
encouraged him. Every opportunity was seized to send 
Johnny upon such missions as that of aide to Governor 
Franklin when the latter, in 1773, visited Albany to confer 
upon the colonial situation with the governor of New York. 
Of such journeys the father's day-book tells us that Johnny, 
against his expenses, received "18 half Johans, at 64s. N. Y. 
currency, is £57 12s, and also £17. Of this total, he spent 
£70 7s 6d, to pay for a Sulkey, Rivington for Books, Cutts, 
etc." Johnny's later interest in amassing an extensive 


library grew out of his spending much time and money in 
the shop of the noted printer; and his belief in the power 
of the press was largely due to constant reading of the 
famous "Gazette." 

However, even Lebanon was not entirely out of the world. 
Friends and relatives would not allow the Honourable John 
to escape, in his pleasant hills, either fresh demands upon 
him or the mounting stream of political news. They haled 
him out, for instance, to attend the New Brunswick con- 
vention of 1774, where he and Uncle Dicky were lay dele- 
gates who helped to consolidate the Episcopal church in 
America. And he had hardly got home again before Walter 
Rutherfurd was writing him upon other matters : 

New York, New Year's Day, 1775. 

While you enjoy peace and Tranquility in your Retreat, 
we are disturbed here with continual alarms. News from the 
different Provinces, of wild and impractical schemes, or actual 
riot that may have fatal consequence, and in our Town our 
best Friends threatened with Destruxion, alarming Hand Bills 
flying about, and a letter to Mr. Eliot threatening him with 
sudden death if he does not deliver up some arms seized at the 
Custom House for want of a cachet. Mr. Livingston stopt in 
the street, taxed with formenting rebellion, and his life threat- 
ened. When men of such benevolent Dispositions are attacked, 
what may we not expect? Next week the Assembly sits, when 
we expect there will be considerable Disputes, tho' for the sake 
of Union in the Colonies the Congress measures will be 
adopted ; yet four fifths of this town are far from approving 
them in Gross. 

We abound in pamphlets on both sides ; I have done reading 
any of them. 

A month later, public duty dragged the Honourable John 
away from home in connection with the security of the 


colony's treasury-chest, a matter of increasing concern to 
those responsible in such exceedingly difficult and compli- 
cated hours. The treasurer's own report gives the immediate 
emergency, and the steps taken to meet it: 

Perth Amboy, February 9th, 1775. 

The House of the Assembly taking under their inquiry the 
state of the Eastern treasury and the security given by the 
treasurer, and signifying to Mr. John Smyth, treasurer of the 
Eastern division, that . . . the house required further security, 
on which Mr. Smyth named John Stevens, Esqr., and being then 
told that if he would procure said Stevens as one of his securi- 
ties it would remove all scruples and give the house satisfac- 
tion and stop all further inquiries concerning the state of 
the treasury. Whereupon said Smyth applied to said Stevens 
and desir'd he would become one of his securities as above, to 
which said Stevens answered that he would comply with said 
request on the following condition and agreement viz 

That all the publick moneys that by law ought to have 
been cancelled (but not done) should be cancell'd as soon as 
possible, and that said Smyth should not lend any money out 
of treasury without the consent of said Stevens ; and these 
conditions being agreed to by the said Smvth, the said Stevens 
thereupon executed a bond with said Smyth, Messrs. John and 
Stephen Johnston, and Jonathan Deare, dated this day in the 
penalty of £10,000, proc. money, condition'd that the said 
Smyth justly and truly executes the office of treasurer. 

Witness my hand John Smyth 

It was to be more than fifteen years before the Honour- 
able John would be able to conclude his connection, in one 
way or another, with this matter of the treasury. 

Meantime, other accounts of the latest developments con- 
tinued to reach Lebanon, usually in letters to the Honour- 
able John himself but sometimes in those that his daughter 
Mary found means to send to her mother : 


Clermont, Sept. 9th, 1775. 

Its an age my dear mama since I have heard from you; if 
you have no opportunity of sending your letters, I wish you 
would send them to Philadelphia to Mr. Livingston and he 
will send them to me. I was in hopes I should have seen you 
this fall. I hope John will come with Mr. Livingston. 

I begin to fear this war will last a grate while, as I dont 
hear the people of England are for us. G. S. [General Schuy- 
ler?] has been sick and left the Army but is much better and is 
going back. G. Montgomery has surrounded St. Johns and 
cut off all communication, the French are all for us and the 
Indians will not fight against us. 

I am affraide the Congress will sit all winter ; if that should 
be the case, I will come and stay with you grate part of the 
time. Everybody here has been sick except myself; they are 
all gone to grandpapa except Caty and myself. She de- 
sires her love to you; my love to all friends and my duty to 
papa. I wish he would get me the metheglin he promised me, 
as wine will be very Dear. 

A month or so later her husband Robert wrote, regretting 
his inability to leave Philadelphia because the absence of 
so many others from New York's delegation made it im- 
perative that he should remain. "I sent," he added, "by Mr. 
Cullen, a letter to Gen'l Gates which I hope John rec'd 
before he set out for Boston; if not [gone] I shall expect 
his company to the Manor" — whither he himself planned to 
start during the following week. 

Johnny, according to his father's journal, had already 
left. The entry, dated two days earlier than Livingston's 
letter, runs: "Gave my son, on his leaving for Boston, £50 
Proct.," but does not say whether Johnny was carrying the 
letter to Gates. 

By this time the Honourable John had abandoned all 
idea of retirement, for there was hardly a day when the 
royal council was not in session. As late as September 25, 


1775, the council's address to Governor Franklin, signed 
by the Honourable John as present, still avowed the coun- 
cil's "utmost abhorrence of any design to break up the Brit- 
ish Government in America." But most of the members, 
with the echoes of the volleys at Lexington and Concord 
still ringing in their ears, felt that the discussion of peace 
with so thoroughgoing a Tory as Franklin could be little 
more than academic. All Jersey might swallow Franklin's 
unexplained parentage, or even attend his elaborate garden- 
parties ; she could not suffer his obstinate clinging to King 
George. The "unruly three" councilors kept up the form 
of loyalty, but they were already trying to ride two horses 
over political fences that daily became stiffer. The presence 
of more and more British troops in Staten Island aroused 
fresh alarm in the Provincial Congress, and when Smyth 
the treasurer met with an accident in which he broke his leg, 
fresh claims were made upon the Honourable John. Smyth's 
letter to Samuel Tucker, president of the Congress, is 
taken from "New Jersey Revolutionary Correspondence": 

February 26, 1776. 

Mr. Stevens, according to my request, has been so good as 
to come down to this place, to whom I communicated the let- 
ter sent me by the Congress relative to the removal of the 
Treasury, as I did to my other securities some time before. 
I find that they are willing to continue security for me, con- 
sidering the difficulty of the times, provided the chest is re- 
moved to a place where the office may be executed in the usual 
manner. I would therefore propose that as I am not now able, 
and have little prospect of being so in less than six weeks, to 
attend the chest it be removed to Mr. Stevens', who will 
receive the taxes that are still to be paid in, and the county 
collectors may be desired to attend at his house for that pur- 
pose; in which case no one will or can have access to the chest 


but those who have already entered into engagements, and are 
by law accountable to the public for the due performance 
of my office, which cannot in justice or reason be expected of 
me or them, without the chest is suffered to remain in my or 
their possession. 

As this proposal fully comprehends the declared intention 
of the Congress in removing the chest, I cannot doubt its prov- 
ing fully agreeable and satisfactory to them. Whenever I am 
able to attend to the duty of the office abroad the chest may 
then be removed to any other place that shall be agreed upon 
by all concerned — there to remain until we see happier times. 

Mr. Stevens goes home by way of Brunswick, to whom I 
beg you will please to give your answer, who will forward it 
to me. 

I am your most humble servant 

John Smyth. 

The next day the minutes ran : 

On the question being put, whether the Treasury chest of 
the Eastern Division of the Colony, lately removed by a re- 
solve of this Congress, from Perth Amboy, in order to be 
lodged in the hands of Peter Schenck, Esqr., at Milstone, for 
the sake of greater safety, be, agreeable to the request of Mr. 
Smyth, the Eastern Treasurer, carried to the dwelling house 
of the Honourable John Stevens, one of Mr. Smyth's securities, 
there to remain during Mr. Smyth's indisposition, or until 
this Congress shall take further order therein, on the terms 
expressed in the above letter, to wit, that Mr. Smyth and his 
securities continue bound by their former obligations : and 
provided they be at the charge of such removal? It was carried 
in the affirmative. 

In obedience to this resolution, the Honourable John gave 
his personal receipt for "the sum of £6,101 2s, together 
with a bag sealed and said to contain £4,915 5s 9d." There- 
after he administered the office of treasurer until on July 15 
he was allowed to stand security for his son's assuming it. 


Before that date the Honourable John had stated his posi- 
tion to the governor : 


It is with the greatest concern I see the dispute between 
Great Britain and these Colonies arisen to the present alarming 
situation of Both Countries. While I had hopes of an accom- 
modation of our unhappy Controversy, I was unwilling to quit 
a Station which enabled me to be Serviceable to my Country, 
but the Continuation of Hostilities by the British Ministry 
and the large Armament of Foreign Troops daily expected to 
invest our Country leaves me no longer room to doubt that 
an entire submission of These Colonies with a view to Internal 
Taxation is their ultimate object. 

Your Excellency will not wonder that I should prefer the 
duty I owe my Native Country to any other Consideration. 
I therefore beg leave to resign my seat at the Council Board. 
I am 

Your Excellency's most obedient and humble Servt. 

John Stevens. 

No sooner had his resignation been accepted than he was 
elected to represent Hunterdon county in the newly formed 
provincial council. New Jersey chose this body under her 
state constitution, adopted when she subscribed to the Decla- 
ration of Independence. A week after he took his seat, the 
Honourable John was voted into the chair as vice-president, 
which meant that he was to preside, throughout most of 
the Revolution, over the joint meetings of council with the 
lower house or assembly. Immediately, too, he was called 
upon to provide a share of the State's armament. 

Brunsw'k 7th August, 1776 

I am directed by Convention to write you respecting a 
Piece of Cannon, either a four or six pounder, which they are 
informed is your Property, and is now in the Possession of 


Mr. Vandyck of Somerset. They are desirous of purchasing 
Cannon of every size, as they have immediate use for them, and 
therefore would be glad to be informed whether the Piece just 
mentioned is your Property and for Sale. If it be, Convention, 
no doubt, will purchase it provided that, on Trial, it should be 
deemed fit for Service. 
I am, Sir, with Respect, 

your most obedt hum'l Serv't 

Wm. Patterson 

Like father, like son. Johnny Stevens, now a man of 
twenty-six, was prompt to offer his own services to the 
American army. His father wanted him to have a commis- 
sion and to that end sent him at once to Stirling, who was 
already a prominent military figure in the State. Soon after 
setting out to secure a captaincy, Johnny wrote home : 

I got to Basking ridge in the Evening. My Lord (Stirling) 
has given me a letter to General Washington. They proposed 
paying you a visit very soon. The next day I set out by way 
of Elizabeth Town. I saw a review of the Regiment & dined 
with Mr. Chetwood. Mr. Livingston has been there these three 
weeks, & has not been very well tho' better now. He was kind 
enough to give me a letter to Gen. Lee. Mr. L. told me there 
was a small bundel left at Mr. Morgan's in Bound Brook for 
Betsey. I lodge at Mrs. McAvoy's where are the Mr., Mrs., 
and Miss Delany; that past thro' our Country on their way 
from Bethleham. They live at Annapolis in Maryland. There is, 
too, a Mr. Loyd Delany with his wife, who is an exceeding 
pretty woman, very young. The two last, with Major Ether- 
ington & four more Sothern Gentlemen, who all lodge here, 
go in the packet for England that sails in a day or two. I 
called at the Post Office but no letters for Mrs. Reid. We 
have no news here to be depended upon except that Gen'l 
Schuyler has wrote to Congress that G. Montgomery has St. 
Johns besieged & that the Canadians join them very fast. 

At that moment the news was not only as little to be 
depended upon as the absolute loyalty of one's next-door 


neighbor, but also unbelievably slow in traveling. Too late 
to do anything to prevent it, the Honourable John was hor- 
rified to learn that his old and valued friends James Parker 
and Walter Rutherfurd had fallen under the suspicion of 
the council of safety, to be finally confined in Morristown. 
That theirs was merely a test case, designed to have its 
efFect upon what the British military authorities might de- 
cide to do with certain other gentlemen detained in New 
York, now seems fairly clear. At the time it created a great 
stir in Jersey. Parker and Rutherfurd made frantic appeals 
to the Honourable John ; his influence obtained for them a 
less stringent restriction and, ultimately, a release. Ruther- 
furd's British father, and the extent of his British business 
connections, made it hard to convince the colony's committee 
of safety that he was not an entirely proper object of grave 
suspicion. How much was to be expected from this committee 
in the way of soft-heartedness is brought out by a letter 
of Johnny's to his father : 

Friday evening, 3 o'clock. 
Mrs. Rutherfurd has just now met with a most terrible ac- 
cident. By a fall from her chair, she has either dislocated her 
shoulder or broke her Arm — and now lies in the greatest 
agony. She has sent Conrad with this to entreat you to do 
everything in your power to prevail on the Governor and 
Council of Safety to permit Mr. R. to come home, if only for 
a day or two. We have sent for all the doctors in the neigh- 
borhood ; the pain is exquisite and she apprehends she may not 
recover. For God's sake do all you can. I sent Charles with 
the hay this morning. 

Being appointed one of the loan commissioners "in and 
for" Hunterdon county, Johnny had the duty of collect- 
ing every possible penny for the Continental armies. Thus, 
at twenty-seven, he was fairly well prepared for the new 


responsibility, as state treasurer, which he assumed on July 
15, 1776. His vouchers and reports were often written upon 
the blank half sheets of old letters or upon the torn ends 
of canceled indentures. They were drawn up in the field, 
by candle-light at a tavern table, or in the saddle under 
the moonlight. The treasurer's office was moved from place 
to place in the State and established wherever Captain 
Stevens found a place to hang his three-cornered hat with- 
out exposing state papers and funds to the enemy's rifle- 
shots. Sometimes at Burlington, it was again at Trenton, 
at Amwell, or even in Philadelphia, as the army moved up 
or down through Jersey. Its mere routine, with so many 
different moneys passing current, and with exchange values 
changing at almost every British or American hit upon the 
target, would have harrowed the soul of any man. Without 
a staff of bookkeepers and auditors; without steel vaults 
to hold the money; and often without definite legislative 
authority for some emergency step, it is hardly surprising 
that it should have been years after peace had been signed 
before a final settlement of New Jersey's Revolutionary 
accounts could be made. 

It was not expected that his duties as treasurer would 
occupy the entire time of Captain — or Major Stevens, as 
he shortly became. The speaker of New Jersey's assembly 
relied upon the major to provide a proper ceremony for 
receiving a visit from William Livingston, by this time the 
State's governor after a close contest with Richard Stockton. 

Tewkesbury 14th July, 1777. 
Major John Stevens. 

The Council of Safety sits in Germantown to-morrow — 
about, or a little before, Noon, the Governor is expected. Mr. 
Patterson proposes that some Officer of Note of the Militia, 


some of the Gentlemen of the place, with a Small Detachment 
of Militia, would go out to meet his Exc'y on the way. That 
Matter must be under your direction as Col. Taylor I under- 
stand is out of the way. Perhaps, if you come up to German- 
town in the morning, Capt. Berry or Rinehart or both might 
be able to collect a few of their companies to go with you. 
I believe it is generally expected that Mr. Rutherford and 
Mr. Parker will at this time show some evidence of their At- 
tachment to the present Government. I wish they would ride 
up & take the oaths in a voluntary way without being call'd 
upon, perhaps a hint from your Father upon that Head might 
be of Service. If you think best upon consulting Mr. Stevens, 
I will endeavour to present their being call'd upon for the first 
day or two of Council's sitting to give them an Op'y of being 
Volunteers in the matter. 

I am, sir, your very humble ser't 

John Mehelm 

This letter gave the Honourable John that opportunity, 
which has already been mentioned, of restoring Parker and 
Rutherfurd to good standing in the colonies. He was able 
to seize it because he was rapidly taking the position of sec- 
retary of state to Governor Livingston, by whom he was 
constantly called upon for advice and help. Correspondence, 
both personal and official, flourished between these two 
throughout the war. 

Having occasion [wrote Livingston from Morristown on 
March 30, 1777] to desire the meeting of a privy council to 
take their advice respecting the erecting of Beacons or sig- 
nals, agreeable to the request of his Excellency General Wash- 
ington for the more expeditiously collecting our Militia on the 
next irruption of the enemy into this state, of which I expect 
he is under some apprehension ; respecting the stationing of a 
guard near Woodbridge, pursuant to the petition of that 
part of Middlesex County; and on the subject of a proclama- 
tion of Congress for a fast, I shall be glad of your attendance 


as one of the Board at Princeton on Thursday the 7th day of 
April about Noon. 

I am your most h'ble serv't 

Wil. Livingston. 

The ever-helpful journal is filled with notes upon the re- 
ports and rumors of war which reached the Honourable 
John from all sources. Often, however, what he learned came 
to him in the most direct official manner. Thus, a day or two 
after he had made the entry "Oct. 4, 1777. T'is said General 
Washington made an attack on Gen'l Howe's Army at 
Chestnut hill near Philadelphia, at daylight," he had com- 
plete confirmation from Stirling: 

Pawlin's Mill, 30 miles from 
Philadelphia Octob. 5, 1777 
Dear Sir 

I have received your letter of the 29th Sept'r and am much 
afflicted to hear of the dangerous state of Mrs. Reid's health 
but hope soon to hear of her recovery. 

The Event of yesterday, I do suppose, will be variously re- 
lated, and therefore take this opportunity, which is an ex- 
press to Baskingridge and which I send on purpose thro' 
Prince Town, to give you the particulars. 

General Washington having obtained Certain Intelligence 
that part of Gen'l Howe's army was detached towards Chester 
& that the British & Hessian Grenadiers were encamped on the 
common near Philadelphia, thought it a favorable opportunity 
to attack the main body of his Army near German., and deter- 
mined to endeavour to effect it by Surprise. Our Army accord- 
ingly marched from their encampment (then about 20 miles 
from Philadelphia) about 7 o'clock in the evening of the 3rd 
Instant and proceeded towards German Town, disposed with 
the following order. The Right Wing consisting of Small- 
wood's, deBoore's, Dayne's & De Haas's Brigades in one col- 
lumn to go in upon the right of the town, commanded by Gen- 
eral Sullivan; these were flanked on the Right by General 


Conway's Brigade. The Right [left?] Wing consisting of 
Muhlenberg's, Weeden's, Woodford's & Scott's Brigade, com- 
manded by General Green, in another column, flanked by Mc- 
Dougal's, were to go in on the left of the town. The Jersey 
and Maryland Militia on the left of the whole, the Pennsylvania 
Militia on the Right of the whole, stretched near to Schuyl- 
kill, the Reserve of the whole, consisting of Maxwell's Brigade 
of New Jersey troops and Nash's Brigade of North Carolina, 
I had the honour to command. 

The different corps got to their several stations near Chest- 
nut hill about daylight, and immediately after attacked the 
Enemy's Pickets, which they drove in to Mount Airy, where 
the light Infantry were encamped, these also they drove before 
them down thro' the town and fields to the Market House. 
Two other Encampments were also soon Brooke up and in 
short the Enemy everywhere flying with the utmost precipi- 
tation and there was for three hours every appearance of a 
compleat victory. 

But the fog of the morning, together with the Smoke of the 
firing, involved them & us in a cloud of darkness which pre- 
vented our seeing which way to follow, and from distinguishing 
friend from foe. This gave time for all the grenadiers to arrive 
from Philadelphia and their main Army to rally and form. 
The impossibility of our different columns acting together on 
account of the fog and smoke rendered a retreat absolutely 
necessary, which was effected with as much order as could be 
expected, their -Grenadiers and fresh troops attempting to at- 
tack our Rear. But the Reserve which covered, advancing upon 
them, drove them back so effectually that they never again 
attempted to follow the Right wing of the Army; the left 
which took the White Marsh Road, were followed and over- 
taken about four miles from Germantown, but on their facing 
and giving them a few Cannon, the Enemy withdrew and never 
attempted anything further. 

We came to this camp yesterday in order to refresh the 
Army and put it in condition to operate more successfully 
hereafter. The Loss on either side I know not ; ours is not yet 
ascertained, but it must be but trifling, excepting some con- 
siderable officers wounded badly ; among the rest Gen'l Nash 


wounded by the Cannon Ball which killed Major Wedderspoon 
who was that moment with great composure receiving orders 
from me at the head of the Reserve then marching thro' the 
streets of German Town. I had a number of officers wounded 
from Mr. Chew's house which was filled with the enemy and 
which we were at last obliged to Cannonade. 

Altho' we have not, in this enterprise, succeeded to our 
wishes, yet it will evince to the world that we can outgeneral 
our Enemy, that we can Surprise them, that we dare attack 
them, that we can drive them before us, and that we know 
how (when it is necessary) to Retreat in good order and defy 
them to follow us. 

Our Army is in fine spirits and wish for another oppor- 
tunity of engaging them in clear weather & a good Northwest 
breeze to clear away the smoke. We are now stronger than 
we were the day before yesterday and strong Reinforcements 
are high at hand. The Enemy will find that after every Battle 
our Army will increase and theirs diminish, and that this is 
fighting at such a disadvantage that they cannot support the 
war in America. 

Covering the Retreat I had my horse killed under me with- 
out any mischief to myself but, as some who saw me fall re- 
ported me dead, I mention this circumstance to account for the 
report should it ever reach you. 

You will be pleased to communicate this account to Gov- 
ernor Livingston, as I believe Gen'l Washington has not yet had 
time to write him. My best wishes to our friends and am 

Your most obed't humble serv't 


Many other letters of the next spring illustrate the 
army's attitude, as far as Stirling could reflect it, upon 
events both military and political. 

Camp Valley Forge April 30, 1778 
In addition to the very unexpected accounts we have lately 
had from England, of L. North's propositions, &c, Mr. Robert 
Morris has received a letter from the patriotic Governor 


Johnston Member of Parliament in which he tells him, that 
France is about to offer very advantageous Terms to America, 
and advises us not to be in a hurry to Conclude anything, 
for that Great B. will soon offer us terms still higher. In 
short, I am almost led to believe that if we appear strong- 
handed when the Commissioners arrive, they will give us In- 
dependence Itself rather than not accommodate matters ; for 
they are hard run by the French, whom they cannot avoid 
going to war with, and are afraid we shall be in Alliance with 
Defensive & Offensive. I sincerely wish all our Battalions were 
filled, — that & that only will Secure us Success in the Nego- 

Lady Stirling & all the Girls join in their love to all your 
family with your affectionate Humble Serv't 


Camp Valley Forge, May 1st, 1778 
I wrote you two days ago by Lawrie Jun'r. Every hour 
almost since brings us extraordinary news from Europe. 
France and Spain have declared our Independence and have 
entered into a very honorable Treaty of Alliance with our 
Ambassadors, a French fleet is on its way to America in de- 
fiance of Great Britain; that is one side of the question. It 
is on the other certain that Commissioners are coming out 
from Britain with full powers to treat with us, even unto in- 
dependency. This sudden change in their behaviour is owing to 
their having discovered that France was going into Treaty 
with us, and the fear of loosing us induces them now to give 
whatever we shall ask, to be in alliance with them. 

Thus unexpectedly are two of the mightiest nations of 
Europe become Courtiers to the people of America and our 
efforts to bring this to pass will no longer be called a Rebellion 
but a Glorious Revolution. 
Communicate the Contents to 

Gov' Livingston. Stirling 

Young Major John's view of the situation went on to 
Livingston at Philadelphia : 


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Dear Robert: 

I have rec'd yours by Mr. P. Livingston, who brought with 
him a N. York Paper printed by Rivington, and I will venture 
to say the best his Press has yet produced. You will readily 
guess what it contained. Yes — his Lordship has here given up 
taxation — and for solid Reasons, too — For, says he, the Reve- 
nue to be drawn from America by it will never indemnify G. 
Britain for the Expence of the war. Besides the primary object 
was not to enforce taxation, but to support the supremacy 
of Parliament over the Colonies. 

It is from the establishment of this power over us then, 
that his Lordship looks for an indemnification. Otherwise we 
may apply, with equal force, against Supremacy, the reasons 
he assigns for giving up taxation. But tho' this Supremacy 
may appear to his Lordship an object of vast importance, yet 
thus far I think we venture to decide upon it that, from the 
local situation of this country with respect to Great Britain, 
there are but two attributes of this almighty Power (if I may 
be allowed the expression) by the exercise of which she can 
draw advantage from us — Taxation and Regulation of Trade. 
The one his Lordship is willing to concede to us, the other was 
never disputed. 'For what then, were we precipitated into this 
expensive and disgraceful war?' is a question must naturally 
occur to every Englishman & to which it stands his Lordship 
in hand to give a satisfactory answer. 

But, leaving him to extricate himself in the best manner 
he can, let us, my Dear Robert, turn to a more agreeable sub- 
ject. And now I most heartily congratulate you on the happy 
effects of our Exertions to the Northard in the last Cham- 
pagne. The Capture of Burgoyne and his Army has wrought 
Miracle in our favour and, if I don't mistake his meaning, it 
has gone near to reconcile L. North himself to Independence. 
All Europe seems ready (as it undoubtedly is in their inter- 
est) to espouse our cause. And indeed were they still to hesi- 
tate, fearful to draw upon them the resentment of Britain, yet 
the humiliating Concession she now offers to make, would in- 
fallibly determine them to take an active part. I cannot help 
flattering myself that the Period is not far distant that will 


rid us of our savage enemies and restore this persecuted country 
to the Blessings of Liberty, Peace, & Plenty. 

Do not fail to send the money you mention by the first safe 
hand, tho', if what we hear be true, I am in hopes you will not 
stand in need of it. Mr. M. Furman dined with us yesterday 
and among other things tells us that the Credit of Continental 
Money has lately rose amazingly in Phila. and that it passes 
current among them at the rate of two .Continental for one 
silver dollar. 

J. S. 

Similarly, the Honourable John had no sooner set down 
in his journal for June 20, 1778, "Gen'l Washington's whole 
Army crossed Corryell's Ferry and encamped at about 
Mr. John Hart's," than another note from Stirling arrived 
by express messenger. 

Camp near Corriel's, June 22nd, 
10 O'c. p.m. 

I take the liberty of sending my two Baggage waggons to 
your care for a few days as they are to march light ; we begin 
our march tomorrow morning at three o'c ! Our Route I believe 
will be towards Prince Town. The waggoners, their horses, and 
the Servants you will be pleased to order to be quarter'd at 
some neighbouring house, who will be paid for it ; when I want 
the Baggage I will write to you. 

I wrote Lady Stirling this morning it will [not] be worth 
her while to attempt to meet me for the present. My love to all 

The army's objective was soon evident. A journal entry 
announced that "On Sunday morning, June 28th, near 
Monmouth Courthouse (the Weather very Hott) Gen'l 
Washington's Army attacked General Clinton." Some ac- 
count of Lee's debacle and the Commander-in-Chief's just 
fury might have followed, had not the Honourable John 
just then been peremptorily summoned to privy council by 


the governor, who added, "I pray you will bring cash, if you 
have any, as the treasurer has not enough to honor the £500 
draft of the Council of Safety of Princeton." The two 
Stevens' were called upon not only to keep the State's ac- 
counts but also to supply her, from time to time, out of their 
private purses. 

Stirling, in these months, continued optimistically to an- 
ticipate peace. After writing to ask the Honourable John to 
represent him at the next meeting of the East Jersey Pro- 
prietors, he added, this time from White Plains : 

Aug. 2nd 1778 
We have nothing new in camp, excepting new deserters 
from the Enemy every day, and we are well assured that, if 
they could find opportunities, the bulk of their Army would 
follow them. The distress and confusion at New York must 
be very great ; they are distracted between the design of escape 
by the way of Sandy Hook or through the Sound, and I believe 
the Commissioners would now gladly assent to our Indepen- 
dence provided they were suffered to depart in peace. 

But Lady Stirling, perhaps because "it was not worth 
her while" to attempt to join her General, took a much more 
serious view in her note to Mrs. Stevens : 

Middle Brook, Dec. 29, 1778 
Dear Sister: 

I hope Mr. Stevens and you will excuse my troubling you 
again, but as I know not who to applie to upon these occations 
but my friends, and as I think Mr. Stevens and you are 
among the greatest of that number, I applie to you with more 
freedom than to any other. 

I should be happy if Mr. Stevens would let me know if 
Sister Hoffman and I are to have the Wheat he has ingaged 
for us, some time ago. We are uneasy about it as it was to have 
been at Baskinridge some time ago, and we shall be without' 
bread if we do not get it, and I shall take it very kind of you, 


if you know that Mr. R. Stevens has common tea and Musco- 
vade sugar, if you will send the bearer of this to his house for 
4 lb. of tea and my little bag full of Sugar with the prize of 
both and the prize of lofe sugar, CofFe, and Chocklet if he has 
any, for there is not anything to be had here. 

Your Br. joyns me in love to you and yours and all that 
are with you and wish you all a happy Christmas and many 
happy Years. I am your affectionate Sister 

Sarah Stirling. 
I send a small bag for the Sugar and a pece of old linnen for 
the tea. 

Lady Stirling's letter suggests the personal cares of the 
Honourable John; meantime, there was always his official 
family to be considered. Members of the state legislature 
and of Jersey's representation in the Continental Congress 
were constantly appealing to him. Of the former body, 
Nathaniel Scudder, for one, was anxious to resign his seat. 
He wrote the Honourable John because, he said, "I rely 
freely on that candor for which you are so distinguished 
and that Friendship which I flatter myself you entertain 
for me." Could not the Honourable John prevent his re- 
election? The service, said Scudder, had "added so much to 
the Reduction of the small Remains of my Private Fortune, 
to the Distresses and Uneasiness of my Family, and to the 
injury of my Children's education, that another year's at- 
tendance would be ruinous." He had "never been able to 
keep a servant and seldom a horse" ; he was willing to sub- 
mit his "Frugality and Economy to the strictest Scrutiny," 
but he did regret never having been able "in three instances 
to invite half a dozen of my most select Friends to a neat 
family Dinner at my Lodgings, notwithstanding innumer- 
able Instances of Invitations from Members of Congress 
and other Gentlemen." Did the Honourable John think it 
possible for a man to go on in this way, even with the best 


intentions? Might not others resign, to have their places 
filled by "ambitious, designing men of like contracted For- 
tunes, who might not so fully withstand those powerful 
lucrative Temptations which here surround us," as, said 
Scudder, "I firmly boast I have done"? 

Abraham Clark, a signer of the Declaration for New 
Jersey, reported himself too ill to continue in the Conti- 
nental Congress, a situation which he relied upon the Hon- 
ourable John to understand and excuse. Dr. John Wither- 
spoon, Princeton's famous president, wrote in December of 
1780 to say that Patterson, Frelinghuysen, and Taylor 
were urging him to come to Somerset on "a Business of 
the utmost Moment which they say must interest my Feel- 
ings as a Citizen, a Whig, and a friend to the Liberties of 
Mankind." Would the Honourable John tell him what this 
business might be, and whether he ought to become involved 
in it or go on to Philadelphia as he had already planned? 
If Clark must retire, there would be all the greater need for 
Witherspoon's constant attendance in Congress, but he 
would be governed by the Honourable John's reply. 

Elias Boudinot wrote that "nothing short of an invariable 
principle I fixed as the rule of my Conduct, at engaging in 
an Opposition to G. Britain, to be always ready on the Call 
of my Country," would induce him to accept a position in 
Congress for which he felt himself unfitted. Only because 
the appointment was "for a short time," though it proved 
to be a long term of years, including those as president of 
Congress, would he accept at all. And he begged the Honour- 
able John that the legislature might furnish him with "their 
Ideas of the Number of Inhabitants of the State — with the 
true state of their finances — the state of the acct. between 
the United States and this state — and any other general 
matters that the delegates should be well acquainted with," 


because he was "confident Ignorance in these particulars 
have been and may hereafter be, peculiarly prejudicial to 
the publick interest in the present Important Era." 

A month later, Boudinot, feeling himself rather slighted 
by the wording of his appointment to Congress, wrote the 
Honourable John again : 

Philadelphia, July 24th, 1781 
I set off from home on the 12 inst. I have just entered on 
my mission. 

On Dr. Witherspoon showing me the Vote of the Joint Meet- 
ing, by which we were appointed, I was surprised to find that 
from the wording of it, Dr. Elmore & myself can have no vote 
in Congress without one of the former members are with us. 
I informed D. W. that I could not take my seat under this 
appointment and do justice to my own Character & feelings, 
but he assuring me that it was verily a Misprision of the 
Clerk, I have been prevailed on to continue until your answer 
on this Head can be had and if Possible a proper Certificate 
from Secretary by your Order. 

In addition to settling these delicate points, the Honour- 
able John had his own position to consider. At sixty-five 
he did not hold himself wholly outside the "draft," for his 
journal notes that "a man being Hired to join the Conti- 
nental Army, for the class I am in, for 20 bush, wheat and 
1000 Dol'rs, pd. Mr. Thos. Bowman £120 as my proportion 
& am to pay that of the wheat in the fall." A day or two 
later there is a note that he "this day paid Mrs. Furman 
5000 Dol'rs as Mrs. Stevens' subscription to the Soldiers 
of the Jersey Line." 

Meanwhile, Johnny's duties as treasurer were not always 
irksome. In February his brother-in-law Robert had written 
him from Clermont: 


... I am sorry . . . you had not only almost but quite 
determined ... to pay us a visit. But I see that the disa- 
pations of town have more attractions for you than our quiet 
retreat, and the gay fair ones of Philadelphia more prevail- 
ing charms than the untaught innocence of our Little belles. 
Tho' I suffer by this, it is too common to deserve censure and 
I acquit you. I expect shortly to hear that you are about to 
tread ... in the way of all flesh — unless we except the stale 
flesh of old maids & Bachelors. 

I have heard of the nomination you mention & am much 
obliged to the gent, who did me the honor . . . but I am per- 
suaded the matter will go no further ; offices of such impor- 
tance are never obtained without solicitation & intrigue, & I 
am above both — indeed, too easy in my present situation to 
be anxious about a change. I rejoice that the Confederation is 
at last closed; it will give weight to Congress & enable them 
to agree to form a Council of State, which will be a better 
executive government than that of the whole body at large. 

We are at present under the greatest embarrassment for the 
want of money ; the new money cannot be drawn into circu- 
lation on account of the vast number of certificates which are 
now circulating. The legislature wish to emit it without regard 
to the old, establishing a fund for sinking the old at the current 
rate of exchange. We have it also in consideration to quit our 
claim, upon certain conditions, to the Vermonters, who are 
dividing themselves into two governments, taking a slice of 
New Hampshire. 

Polly desires her love to you ; she feels too lazy to write and 
pretends to have a headache. Betsey [his daughter] thanks 
you for the ribband and would send you a kiss — but Dick has 
nowhere how to carry it. 

Meanwhile, Johnny, in his next letter home, gave his own 
impressions of Philadelphia : 

I expect to leave this place Saturday. I find the town totally 
immersed in dissipation — the infection seems to have com- 
municated itself to all ranks. There are sometimes three or 


four parties a night. You can tell my amiable cousins that 
their friends have had their share. 

I heard a story yesterday of a King's Speech which covered 
a disposition of the ministers for peace — but no one will say 
he has seen it. The Citizens last week gave an entertainment 
to the Officers of the Pennsylvania Line, at which an unhappy 
affair happened. One of the waiters of the Tavern refusing to 
deliver a sword to a Col. Craig, was by him stabbed in the 
breast, of which wound he died in a few minutes. 


No Revolutionary soldier could properly go a-courting 
unless he went on horseback. Least of all could a major, 
about to get his colonelcy, appear before his world with 
any lack of dignity. These points, as much as the general 
need of good horses for his journeys as treasurer, were in 
Major John's mind when he appealed to his father: 

I have one favor to beg, which is that you get Ten Eik's 
horse for me. Tho' he is not as handsome as mine, yet I have 
seen no other near as good a match. If he does not incline to 
swap, get him for as low as you can for hard money, which 
you may engage to pay him in a week. 

Rachel, daughter of Colonel John Cox of Bloomsbury, 
near the outskirts of Trenton, had captured the major. 
She was a descendant of the Langfeldts who originally set- 
tled New Brunswick. Her grandfather, as a Trenton lawyer, 
had been one of the commission to draw the line between 
East and West Jersey, as well as a member for some years 
of the royal council. Her father, as the operator of an iron 
foundry, assumed importance at the outbreak of the Revolu- 
tion. In the fall of 1775 he had described his situation to 
that brilliant, tragic figure of Revolutionary Philadelphia, 
Esther de Berdt Reed, the wife of Colonel Joseph Reed, 
Washington's military secretary and later adjutant-general: 

One of the Pilot Boats despatched some time ago to West 
Indies for powder, arrived a few days ago from the Mole, with 
upwards of 500 quarter casks & there are two more daily ex- 



pccted ; so that, in all probability, we shall ere long be pretty 
well supplied in that articale, which we have been in great pains 
about — for, without that, all our spirit and military prepara- 
tions would answer no valuable purpose. 

If there should be any cannon shot wanted in the camp I 
should be glad you should think of Batsto [his foundry] as 
I could supply the Army with any quantity they might stand 
in need of. I am now casting for our artillery company. May 
God bless and protect you. 

Eventually, Colonel Cox became assistant to Nathaniel 
Greene, the quartermaster-general. He served with Bayard's 
battalion of Cadwalader's brigade, missing the Christmas 
night attack on Trenton but crossing the Delaware in time 
for the battle of Princeton. Among the younger officers, 
however, these things were as nothing beside his being the 
father of five daughters known from end to end of Jersey 
and beyond it as the "Cox Beauties" — girls about whom the 
Continentals swarmed whenever Trenton was in American 
hands. In that quaint old print of Washington's "Triumphal 
Entry" into the Jersey capital on his way to be inaugurated 
President, beneath the banners that proclaimed him "De- 
fender of Mothers" and "Protector of Daughters," the 
Cox sisters appear in the front rank of the "flower-laden 
maidens" who touched his heart and inspired him to notes of 

Although in that year of 1781 Colonel John had been ex- 
pected to visit Clermont, too many gallant cavalrymen were 
hitching their horses to the Cox gate-post. He would not 
risk leaving Trenton, even when his father received a re- 
monstrance from the chancellor. 

Clermont, July 8th 
... As for John, we give him no quarter & unless he is 
over head and ears in love, he will find it hard to make an 
apology for his silence and his absence. 


It was more than a year before John could get quarter from 
his Rachel. Finally, while the guns were still roaring, on 
October 17, 1782, they were married. During her half cen- 
tury of life with a man she commonly addressed most form- 
ally as "Mr. Stevens," Rachel preserved a strong sense of 
humor. At critical moments, when her fortune as well as his 
own was to be mortgaged in some great new enterprise, she 
needed such a sense. 

One anecdote handed down through the family is that 
of the colonel waking early one morning with his head full 
of plans for a new engine. Mrs. Stevens still slept beside 
him and, having no paper and pencil at hand, he sketched 
between her shoulders, with his finger, the angles of eccen- 
tric and connecting-rod. As she awoke, he asked: "Do you 
know what figure I am making?" "Yes, Mr. Stevens," was 
her answer, "the figure of a fool !" 

She gave him children — nearly a dozen of them. She pre- 
sided over his generous table; and when she had invited six 
guests to drink tea, only to find that he had casually brought 
in twenty others, she found some way to make the sandwiches 
and cakes go around. Her letters to her sons away from 
home were less often filled with anxious motherly advice than 
with accounts of their father's activities or of the events of 
the week, both at home and abroad. In everything about her, 
her interest was keen and her eye observant. 

Some small help for the household when it was first estab- 
lished came from Stirling, who made Colonel John his deputy 
as surveyor-general for the eastern division of the State. 
"The law of 1719," ran Stirling's instructions, "requires the 
records of the office to be held in Perth Amboy. But, as the 
situation of that place renders it not only dangerous but 
impracticable, you are to open and hold a public office at 
Trenton (being, in my opinion, the most safe and convenient 


place for the purpose) to record and safely keep all papers, 
etc. relating to the common Estate of the Proprietors of East 
Jersey." The matter of these records was of importance to 
the colonel's father, too, for the Honourable John was at this 
time president of the Society of Proprietors and very busy 
with an effort to obtain, through Sir Guy Carleton, British 
commander in New York, many society papers which had 
been carried to that city by Tory members evading the 
Jersey council of safety. Trenton being apparently a safe 
place for an office, the Honourable John sent there, to his 
son's custody, a large portion of the family plate. At the 
same time, not to be behind his son in public service, he 
accepted his election to the Continental Congress and sat 
through the next session — one mainly devoted to purely com- 
mercial questions. 

During this year and the next the colonel was frequently 
called upon to practise law as the representative of the 
Proprietors in their many quarrels over property rights. 
These, as the closing months of the Revolution established 
the fact that peace was finally at hand, dealt with the many 
problems of readjustment between those who had been among 
the Continentals and those who had remained loyal to the 
crown. Property formerly owned in partnership by men who 
had taken opposite sides in the struggle immediately became 
matter for dispute between the parties, both being very fre- 
quently members or the heirs of members of the proprietary 

Money standards were, of course, in a hopeless tangle, 
with much talk of repudiating both state and Continental 
currencies and of completely writing off the state debts to 
citizens through loan certificates and the like. To transfer 
the accounts of his office as treasurer became a huge diffi- 
culty for the colonel, not to be met without another drain 


upon those resources of his father which had, of course, 
suffered like those of others through the seven years of war. 
An idea of the situation is conveyed by an extract from one 
of the colonel's letters to his father : 

As to the Continental money left with me by my uncle 
[Richard] I have it here except nine or ten thousand pounds 
I borrowed in order to make up fully the balance due the 
state. So that if you can purchase that much for me I shall 
be greatly obliged to you. 

At this late date it is impossible to say upon what basis of 
currency the final settlement with the State was effected. 
One great hardship fell upon Colonel Stevens as former 
treasurer, through the repudiation by several of the States 
and by the Continental Government of the various issues of 
paper money, which thus became valueless except to numis- 
matists. In fact, the trunks and boxes from which the bulk 
of the material for this story has been drawn also contain 
thousands of Revolutionary bank-notes of every denomina- 
tion. Many of them were found to be as fresh and clean as 
though they came from yesterday's press; and yet by a 
stroke of the pen their face value was destroyed. 

After the peace, the colonel and Rachel planned to go 
back to New York. Rachel's mother, writing to the Honour- 
able John, says that "I do myself the pleasure to inform you 
of their safe arrival on Wednesday," January 14, 1784. 
"Their goods were one day too late at Brunswick," so the 
colonel "left my daughter," went to see after them, had them 
taken out of the Boat and sledded down to South Amboy, 
where they were again taken on board and went immediately 
to York." Colonel Cox was to have escorted his daughter to 
the city, but "he was again taken ill." Mr. Stevens, accord- 
ingly, "came himself in the stage — stay'd but one day with 

78 john stevens: an American record 

us and then our sleigh took them as far as Newark, from 
thence they went on in the stage. Rachel received a letter 
from Mrs. Stevens which she would have answered but 
thought it might lay a great while here & that she could 
convey it more readily from New York." So much for the 
mails and for the transportation problems of those trying 
to get back across the Hudson after the British left. 

The old family house at No. 7 Broadway was sadly in 
need of repairs, and the social side of life was seriously 
complicated. Close friends of other days still lived across the 
street or around the corner, but long years of war and 
passions had built up all sorts of barriers of misunderstand- 
ing and prejudice. Many a backbone, still loyally British, 
could not bring itself to bend to another that had as stiffly 
followed the cause of Mr. Washington; a bare nod in the 
street was often all that passed between those who had once 
been in the habit of dining together twice a week. Many 
looked upon the Stevens family as vile traitors to their king ; 
a few, like the Van Cortlandts, welcomed them home. It is 
a good proof of the height reached by such social feelings 
that Rachel, after all the elder members of the family had 
been properly complimented in the matter of names, should 
christen her youngest daughter Catherine Sophia Van Cort- 
landt Stevens — a huge burden of gratitude to lay upon a 
small infant! 

There were, of course, the Livingston and the Rutherfurd 
relatives, upon whom reliance for a certain amount of social 
activity could be placed. One invitation belonging +o this 
period is a good example : 

Mrs. Rutherford's comp'ts to Mrs. Stevens, beg to know 
if the Treasurer and Mrs. Stevens are returned from Crom- 
wall, and if we are to have the pleasure of their company 
at dinner this day. 


Should be obliged to Mrs. Stevens for a tablespoonful of 
Creamer Tartar, will return it in a few days. 
Monday morning 
Please hurry boy. 

No doubt Mrs. Stevens did hurry the boy with the vital 
tablespoonful, which was perhaps intended to make it possi- 
ble to offer her a dessert at dinner. If she ate it that night, 
she probably arrived at the Rutherfurds' in her newest pres- 
ent from the colonel — a crane-necked chariot "with harness 
compleat," bought through Henry Waddington from Mrs. 
Wentworth for £142 8s — not to mention ten-pence for 
"advertising for the same." 

For the colonel himself, there were old threads to be re- 
knotted and new ones to be picked up here and there. In 
this year he joined the St. Andrew's Society, that time- 
honored association of Scots for the relief of their poor and 
deserving fellow-countrymen in America. The purpose of 
the society was one always close to the colonel's heart, and 
he had, of course, all the necessary qualifications of Scotch 
blood. His grandfather, James Alexander, w r as charter mem- 
ber and first vice-president of an earlier charitable effort, 
the New York Society of Scots, while in the later organiza- 
tion both his maternal uncles, Stirling and Walter Ruther- 
furd, were among the first to preside over the annual gather- 
ings — "at six o'clock exact" — to honor the Land o' Cakes 
on St. Andrew's night. The colonel never missed those 
gatherings ; he too keenly appreciated taking a glass of good 
wine — after peering through it at a flickering candle — 
with men whose anecdotes, and whose opinions on matters 
political and commercial, were as worthy of attention as 
those of their white-haired successors of to-day. 

New York as a year-round home would have smothered 


the colonel. To be buried alive in Lebanon, out of direct 
contact with all the city's activities, would have been as 
intolerable to him as to Mrs. Stevens. In the search for 
something between the two limits it was the lower end of 
the Hudson Palisades that caught his eye. 

Hopoghan Hackingh — Land of the Smoking Pipe — was 
the Indian name for the rolling hillside upon what was 
originally a swampy island facing Manhattan from the 
west shore. An Indian origin for the modern Hoboken is 
a pleasanter one than any obscure village in Holland or 
Belgium, and Whitehead's exhaustive research into colonial 
history supports this Indian derivation. Land of the Smok- 
ing Pipe is certainly appropriate to the present appearance 
of the city, but in 1783, when the colonel crossed the river 
for a closer look at the land, there was no sign of any town. 
It was the view up the river and down the bay that made 
him explore the hillside and its history. 

Its first place in written records had been given to it, 
in October, 1609, by Robert Juet of Henry Hudson's gal- 
lant Halve Munde. As mate of the good ship, Juet recog- 
nized Ins duty to set down in her log every event of inter- 
est; and, after describing a voyage of river exploration 
which ended on the second in a running fight with savages, 
he wrote: "Within a while after, we got down two leagues 
beyond that place [the top of Manhattan] and anchored 
in a Bay, cleere of all danger of them on the other side of 
the River," where he saw a good piece of ground ; and hard 
by it there was "a Cliffe, that looked of the colour of white 
greene, as though it were either Copper or Silver Myne ; and 
I think it to be one of them, by the trees that grow upon it. 
For they are all burned, and the other places are greene 
as grasse." 

As to others after him, the serpentine rock had offered 



false promises of paying ore to Juet. Since his day three 
centuries of the river's nibbling have worn away some of the 
base, while boulders have been blasted off to build walls 
and arched gateways to the hillside estate. Men have drilled, 
scooped, and pounded down a level stretch for a row of long 
wharves. But above the smoking pipes of ocean-going steam- 
ers, the cliff still stares defiantly across at Manhattan, 
much as Juet described it and as the colonel saw it for 

Twenty years after that log had been written a deed, 
among the earliest of those in New Netherlands, had re- 
corded the land behind the cliff as bought for a certain 
"quantity of merchandise" from the Dutch directors and 
council "for the behalfe of Mr. Michael Pauw, absent." To 
Pauw was granted full authority "peaceably to enjoy, oc- 
cupy, cultivate, and hold" an estate which he never actually 
came from Holland to visit, although the Latin form of his 
name was made permanent by calling the whole tract 
Pavonia. His purchase was never popular with his Dutch 
associates, while those Indians who had been accustomed to 
deposit their peltries there for ferriage resented all paleface 
interference. As the records have it, the absentee ownership 
"occasioned much quarreling and jealousy, and prevented 
the colonies from prospering as they would have done." 
After a heated controversy, Pauw's fellow-directors of the 
West Indian Company had persuaded him to surrender his 
rights for twenty-six thousand florins. 

In 1636, Hendrick, son of Cornelius van Vorst, had been 
the first white actual inhabitant. Four years later had come 
van Putten, under a twelve-year lease from Director-General 
Kieft. A house had been erected for van Putten by the 
Dutch company, in which he is supposed to have originated 
the business of brewing in Hoboken. But his tenancy had 


soon been succeeded by that of Dierck Clausen, who had, 
in his turn, been driven out by marauding redskins, to leave 
No Man's Land behind him until Nicholas Varlet had it 
granted to him by old Peter Stuyvesant in 1663. As Colonel 
Stevens discovered, Varlet's marriage to the widow of Sam- 
uel Bayard had resulted in the property's descending into 
the hands of her children by her first husband and re- 
maining a Bayard holding for .over a hundred years. 

In Revolutionary days the owner, usually called "Weep- 
ing Billy" Bayard, was known to the colonel and every one 
else as "a man of wealth and refinement." On his tract a 
garden had "flourished, filled with peaches, plums, and apri- 
cots ; dwellings, stables, and outhouses for horses, cattle, and 
chickens had been erected, and a thousand young grafted 
fruit trees spread over the hillside and down into the plain." 
In 1771, Bayard himself had advertised it for rent as 
"at Hoebuck, lately established into a ferry, kept by Corne- 
lius Hearing, with every convenience for the entertainment 
of travellers, such as one of the best of wharfs. A better 
fishing place for catching shad, etc.," continued the bill, 
"there is not on the North River, with plenty of oysters in 
the creek and before the door." 

All true enough, in early Revolutionary days, when the 
Massachusetts delegates to the Continental Congress had 
been the guests of Bayard, then active in the cause of the 
colonies. But for all the influence the sturdy sons of New 
England had upon him, Bayard had decided that the crown 
would win and had seized the first opportunity to change 
his coat from blue to red. His bad guess meant that what 
war's raiding parties had left of his fruits, gardens, and 
dwellings had been confiscated from him as a proscribed 
loyalist and now lay waiting for the hammer of the State's 
auctioneer. Colonel Stevens, standing under one of the tall 


forest trees near the edge of the cliff, took another long look 
up the river. What an estate for a man of thirty-five to own 
and develop ! He resolved to go to the public sale and put in 
a bid. 

Baron von Steuben, casting a covetous eye upon Hoboken, 
very nearly wrecked the colonel's plan. Writing to Governor 
Livingston, the baron hinted that a very graceful way of 
acknowledging such service as he might have given New 
Jersey and the Continentals would be through a grant of 
this particular tract. But Livingston fortunately took a dif- 
ferent view. Freely admitting that the obligation was a 
great one, he pointed out that such a grant might establish 
a bad precedent in what was to be so democratic a country. 
Furthermore, would it not be a mistake for the baron, after 
losing so much gallant blood, to risk a hand-to-hand meet- 
ing with "that troublesome and venomous little volatile, the 
Musquitoe?" Annoyed, perhaps, by this frivolousness, von 
Steuben did not push his claim, nor back his interest to 
the point of bidding. On May 1, 1784, the tract was knocked 
down for £18,340 to Colonel Stevens. 

Five hundred and sixty-four acres were covered by the 
first deed from Cornelius Haring, agent for forfeited estates, 
as the alien property custodian was then called, and a sec- 
ond deed transferred a further hundred and twenty-five 
acres. It was plenty of land, but Bayard's buildings were 
wrecks and his thousand grafted trees were stunted and 
withered ; everywhere lay the ragged stumps left by soldiers 
cutting for their fires. As a beginning, the colonel proposed 
to clear out the dead wood, of which, in the autumn, he 
wrote to his father : "I have near 200 boats of wood cut at 
Hobuck, and hope to have 3 or 400 more by winter. I 
have made a road up into the yard which will save me much 
expense in cutting." 

84 john stevens: an American record 

Early in the next spring Jacob Depuy and Gilbert 
Bodine, with D. Egbert, apprentice, obliged themselves 
"to sett out from Lebanon Township on Thursday next for 
Hobuck, and there undertake to build an House, Kitchen 
and Barn for John Stevens, Junr." The colonel, for his 
part, promised to "pay the three men Seventeen Shillings 
New York Currency at 8/10 the Dollar for each and every 
day the said Hands shall work at the Buildings aforesaid," 
in addition to agreeing to "provide a House for DePuy to 
live in, with Pasture for a Cow & Horse & Fire wood; to 
pay the Board for 3 men, and to employ as many more 
Carpenters as he shall think proper." Since such was house- 
building just after the Revolution, small wonder that it was 
far into the summer before the colonel could report to the 
Honourable John: "We expect the chimnies both of the 
house and Kitchen will be carried up by tomorrow night. 
I could not go to Rahway because my masons have just come 
and could not go to work without me." Lumber, standing 
ready to hand, was plentiful, but skilled workmen were so 
scarce that the colonel soon found himself "quite out of pa- 
tience with the slow progress." For one thing, he was de- 
layed by lack of the "nailes" which his father had promised 
to manufacture at Lebanon and send down to him. However, 
the colonel could at last say that he had "the floors laid in 
the back rooms above and in the back and front below," 
the "scratch coat" going on, and the roof in process of "pay- 
ing with tar and Spanish Brown." Since there was "a vast 
deal of fence to build and Farming utensils and Stock to 
get," the colonel's loan certificates, bought from the Conti- 
nental Congress during the war, went, with such "other 
paper" as he had, to raising a thousand pounds in cash. Of 
this sum, he had enough left to buy "a good little farm 
of 150 Acres, near Tappan," and he consequently begged 


the Honourable John to spare him "the negro boy of- 
fered," as he found "there is no doing anything on a farm 
without a boy or two." When making this request he took 
occasion to add that "Rachel is much obliged to Mama for 
the Dyed Silk Gown." 

That gown reached No. 7 Broadway in time for a signifi- 
cant event — the birth of the next Stevens generation. A 
son was the first of Rachel's eleven children; in deference 
to both grandfathers, she named him John Cox Stevens. 
To differentiate him from the three earlier Johns, he should 
be definitely thought of as "John Cox" — particularly be- 
cause such bits of family history as have been printed often 
refer to "Colonel John C. Stevens" and thus confuse the 
father's achievements with the son's. John Cox never became 
a colonel; essentially, he was not an engineer but a sports- 
man. In sports he won and held a well-earned American 
prominence, but this was a long way ahead of him when 
the Honourable John wrote from Lebanon to express "no 
small concern at missing the celebration over the birth." 
To this grandfather it was cause for "congratulations with 
the family" that at last he had one grandson to offset 
Colonel Cox's eight granddaughters. 

It was a blessing that was not to come singly. By 1787, 
the house at Hoboken was completed and overlooking what 
the colonel hoped to make a good American copy of the 
great English "parks." Keen as he was to occupy it perma- 
nently, circumstances were keeping Rachel on the New York 
side of the Hudson. No incident of her life was more im- 
portant than that of which her husband, in October, wrote 
to Lebanon : "On Thursday week, last, Rachel was safely de- 
livered of another fine boy — Robert Livingston Stevens." 
When the baby was two months old his mother added a 
postscript to one of the colonel's letters : 

86 john stevens: an American record 

Mr. Stevens tells me that he has not said one word about 
the children. I take up the pen to inform you they are both 
well. I wish very much to introduce Robert to you. I can say, 
&, I think, without vanity, that he is one of the finest children 
in the State of New Jersey. He is much handsomer than John 
[Cox] but whether he will be as bright a child, time alone can 

R. S. 

Time was not long in making that determination. So 
prompt was Robert in taking the lead that "Ask Rob" and 
"See what Bob thinks about it" became stock phrases with 
his ten brothers and sisters. The colonel, finding his own 
creative imagination reflected — brilliantly enlarged — in 
Robert's, proposed to give the boy a definite training in 
mathematics and the elements of mechanics, to put paper, 
pencils, and tools into his hands as his fingers were strong 
enough to hold them. Thus it was that Robert, as scientific 
knowledge widened and tools grew keener, became able to 
cut for himself a bold niche in the hall of American engi- 
neering fame. The colonel, as he went down the hill of life, 
was to see many a young and apparently foolish dream of 
his own come true through Robert. 

One such dream came to the colonel when, soon after 
Robert's birth, the family, with its many trunks, carriages, 
and servants, attempted to move across the river. Never had 
it struck the colonel so forcibly that transportation was 
irregular, slow, and often actually dangerous. In fact, the 
ferriage seemed to be very little, if any, better than when 
it had been the subject of the earliest recorded ferry ordi- 
nance, in 1654: 

Daily confusion occurring among the Ferrymen on Man- 
hattan Island, so that the inhabitants are waiting whole days 
before they can obtain a passage, and then not without danger 


and at an exorbitant price, it is Ordered, by the Director Gen- 
eral and the Council . . . 

The preamble had been followed by a long schedule of 
fares, under which ferrymen were allowed "for a waggon 
(either with horses or oxen), or a head of cattle, two florins," 
and must carry "savages, male or female," at the rate of 
about three to the florin. But the ferryboats had been of the 
crudest, to be succeeded by but slightly better pulling-boats 
and by sailboats properly termed periaguas, though usually 
known as "pittyaugers" — these last much of a piece with the 
one advertised by the "Gazette" of May 3, 1733, as "taken 
away from S. Bayard's plantation in Hoboken ; thirty-one 
feet long, five feet wide, made of white wood and painted 
red, white, and blue; thirty shillings reward." 

Since the Revolution, there had been little improvement ; 
the same boats carried the traffic. Under oars they were 
slow ; under sail they were the toys of wind and of the strong 
river tide. A crossing remained an ardent passage, not to be 
undertaken casually. But ferries were plainly profitable, 
for many private boats could be hired, and very often the 
municipal government of New York issued fresh ordinances 
to control them. Archibald Kennedy of lower Broadway 
once attempted to secure a monopoly of ferries ; while, from 
the other side, Bogart of Hoboken was a keen competitor in 
the business. 

To await any other man's pleasure instead of crossing the 
river at his own will was galling to the colonel. It was more 
for this reason than for a purely profit-making one that he 
decided to embark in the business with which his name has 
ever since been so closely connected. First of all, he had 
to buy out Bogart. His letters show that he "found a certain 
Vanderbeck chaffering with Bogart for his license, and 


therefore agreed to pay the latter £1,250." He added that 
"if this sum is more than it is worth, still I am driven to it, 
or suffer my own ferry to be sacrificed." But the bargain 
was not entirely one-sided; with the license the colonel got 
title to one hundred-odd acres to add to the estate, and he 
could thereafter go and come across the river as he pleased. 
Until his death he would always please to work at better 
and more comfortable means of ferriage. 

In the midst of buying the ferry, decorating Stevens 
Villa, and laying out elaborate driveways, gardens, and 
pastures, the colonel should have found few leisure moments. 
Yet, as soon as the new Federal Constitution had passed out 
of the hands of the Philadelphia convention he seized upon 
and earnestly studied it — a study certainly stimulated by 
the election of his father to the presidency of New Jersey's 
convention to consider a document materially different from 
what had been offered as the "New Jersey plan" of union. 
The draft brought down to Burlington by Witherspoon was 
much more like the Virginia plan, and therefore it could not 
be instantly acceptable to his fellow-citizens. But the Hon- 
ourable John felt that the Constitution, as it stood, was so 
much better than it might have been that it ought to be 
ratified at once. In this opinion he was supported by Robert 
R. Livingston, who wrote him a characteristic letter: 

Clermont, Dec. 8th, 1787. 

I am very glad to hear the choice your county had made 
of members for the convention, & hope from the general com- 
plection of your state that you will have the honor of being 
the first in acceding to the new constitution. In saying this, I 
answer your question and let you know that it meets with 
my sincere concurrence, & indeed I sh'd censure a constitution 
which I had no small agency in framing, if I were not to 
approve it. 

It is expressly formed upon the model of our state govern- 


ment. My vanity is not a little flattered to find that the only 
new idea in government which has been started in America, 
where so many have thought on the subject, owes its birth to 
me, & has been adopted by such respectable bodies as Massa- 
chusetts, New York, and the general convention. I mean the 
council of revision, tho' the alteration they have made, in 
vesting this power of revision in the executive magistrate 
alone, rather than, as with us, in the Executive and Judicial, 
the latter of whom are independent, is a material defect, since 
the legislature have always been equally solicitous to encroach 
on both. 

I have not leisure to enter into a minute description of the 
federal constitution. It is not without its defects, but these 
are abundantly over balanced by its advantages. A perfect 
government is hardly to be expected till angels make it, & 
perhaps not then — for we find the Jews dissatisfied & rebellious 
under a "theocracy" (or the government of God himself). In 
all popular republics the wise & the weak, the ignorant & the 
experienced, will divide the influence, & each must be grati- 
fied ; their favorite child, like the son of the patriarch, will wear 
a coat of many colours — tho' this may excite the censure of 
envious brothers, yet I fondly hope that the parallel will still 
hold in this instance and our community, like the house of 
Israel, owe its prosperity to this reviled brother. 

War [in Europe] is the great subject of conversation here; 
our diplomatic politicians say there will be none — I differ from 
them, the stake appears to me too large to be given up by 
either ; it is no less than who shall direct the marine & politics 
of Holland & into which hands this East India establishment 
shall fall. 

Since he claimed so large a share in its making, it has been 
astonishing to discover how the chancellor, as lawyer and as 
business man, ultimately interpreted it. Twenty years later 
he was inclined to blend the "coat of many colours" into a 
Livingston tartan. However, it is a fair presumption that 
he was always an opportunist ; for the moment he was back- 
ing Hamilton in the fight for ratification by New York. 


From what I can collect [the colonel wrote his father at 
Burlington], There is like to be a considerable opposition 
made to it in the State of New York. The Governor [Clinton], 
Lamb, and Willet are openly opposed to it; indeed, it is 
natural that men in office will set themselves against it. If, 
however, this Party should prevail, and the new Constitution 
be rejected, they will throw the state into the utmost confu- 
sion and must finally submit in case the other states adopt it. 
I have got my Cyder mill and Press [at Hoboken] finished 
and hope to make at least one hundred barrels. 

In another letter after explaining that his long silence is 
due to having burned his hand in nitric acid (without add- 
ing what might well have been interesting details of his first 
experiments with chemicals and gases), the colonel went on: 

I sent Col. Cox a pamphlet written by a Jersey Farmer; 
please to read it and let me know how you like it. The Consti- 
tution must be either wholly received or wholly rejected. 

Cornelius has brought the cattle safely down. You have sent 
them to a bad market at this time, as Beef has sold in New 
York at 2d. the pound. We have thought it best to keep 
them. When the river closes up, Beef will be Dearer. I am 
much obliged to you for your offer of a yoke of oxen in the 
spring, as I am determined to secure the causeway in the com- 
pletest manner possible and to open a road to Bergen. If 
Mama can spare as much homespun linnen as will make [black] 
Daphne a shirt or two, it will not come amiss, I believe. 

It was the publication of John Adams's "Defense of the 
Constitution" which aroused the colonel to marshaling his 
own ideas and arguments. At Christmas he wrote to Lebanon : 

I have sent Mama a political pamphlet, which was written 
by a very great friend of hers, the sentiments of which I hope 
will not displease her. Please to read it and give me your 


The pamphlet was not a very thick one, but it bore the 
sonorous title of "Observations on Government, including 
some Animadversions on Mr. Adams' Defense of the Consti- 
tution of Government of the United States, and Mr. De 
Lolme's Constitution of England." On the flyleaf the author 
was described as "A Farmer of New Jersey," the printer be- 
ing W. Ross, in Broad Street, New York. The moment it 
appeared on the street the work was universally accepted 
as coming from that brilliant pen made famous during the 
Revolution — Governor William Livingston's. To-day, where 
a library or an historical society boasts one, it is usually 
attributed to Livingston. But, since a copy found in Thomas 
Jefferson's papers bears Jefferson's own note, "Written by 
John Stevens," and since a part of the first draft is among 
the colonel's papers, the true authorship cannot be a matter 
of any doubt. 

Upon many points the colonel disagreed sharply with 
Adams. "After reading the [Adams] book," said he, "we 
are constrained to call him, notwithstanding his great abili- 
ties, nothing more than a state empiric, who prescribes one 
single remedy for all disorders. Let the disorder proceed 
from what cause it may, you have only to administer a dose 
of 'Orders' and 'Balances' and the body politic will be im- 
mediately restored to health and vigour." 

Enlarging upon his own view, the colonel declared that 
"the security of the liberties of a people or state depend 
wholly on a proper delegation of power. The several com- 
ponent parts of government should be so distributed that 
no one man, or body of men, should possess a larger share 
thereof than what is absolutely necessary to the administra- 
tion of government." In the construction of a free govern- 
ment, "we should endeavour so to connect the interest of 
those in power with the interest of the community at large, 


as to make the promotion of the public good, and their own 
private advantage, inseparable." Upon Adams and his "bal- 
ance of power" theory the colonel was rather severe. How 
could "Adams' scale," held by the weakest hand and spill- 
ing now one way, now the other, produce an average of good 
government? "Is Mr. Adams," says the pamphlet, "a learned 
Doctor of Laws — or a posture master or rope-dancer? If, 
in order to understand the operation of political powers 
we must resort to mechanical powers, I would compare a 
well-constructed government to a jack" — meaning, not the 
screw-jack, but the then common spinning- j ack for roast- 
ing meats. 

"The weight," he said, "is the power from whence the mo- 
tion of every part originates. However complicated in its 
construction — tho' one wheel may be made to impel another 
ad infinitum — yet, without the weight, the machine must 
forever remain at rest. Thus, too, if the weight should be 
opposed by an equal weight, the same effect will be pro- 
duced; the machine must of course cease to move. But the 
friction of the wheels will be greater in one part than in 
another; and the meat, too, if not very nicely spitted, will 
give more resistance in one part of its revolution than in 
another. To counteract, therefore, the irregularities which 
these effects would produce in the movements of the machine, 
a flyer has been added, by the operation of which an equa- 
bility of motion is at all times preserved. The flyer, indeed, 
is of admirable use. Let the tendency to disorder proceed 
from what cause it may — whether the weight should at 
times be too great or too little, the friction in some parts 
increased for want of oiling and cleaning or the meat put in 
the spit without sufficient attention to its true centre of 
gravity ; whether the tendency to disorder arises from one or 


from a complication of these causes, the efficacy of the flyer 
in preserving regularity and equability of motion is con- 
stantly and invariably the same. It is scarcely necessary to 
add that, in government, the weight or origin of power is 
the people and the people only; the jack is the machinery 
of government, the motions of which are regulated by add- 
ing a check or flyer." 

There are, in the pamphlet, other passages worth quoting. 
"Good government," wrote the colonel, "requires constant 
activity. The people ever have been, and ever will be, unfit 
to retain the exercise of power in their own hands; they 
must, of necessity, delegate it somewhere. Hence the immense 
importance of a representative Legislature and a Tryal by 
Jury." Again, when he was summing up his own case, he 
said: "After all it is by sober common sense and close ap- 
plication to business that the affairs of this world are to be 
managed; genius has too fine an edge for common use." 
For 1787 this was sound American doctrine. 

Considering the Constitution as it had come from Phila- 
delphia, the colonel proposed three amendments. To begin 
with, he suggested that the President should not be required 
to make appointments only "by and with the advice and con- 
sent of the Senate." As reasons for this suggestion, he ad- 
duced first, the dignity of the office ; second, and more impor- 
tant, the unfairness of the Senate's insisting upon a voice 
in choosing the executive's advisers, and at the same time 
retaining the right to impeach him if he proved ill- 
advised. The colonel most clearly foresaw the political 
squabbles over patronage appointments which are to-day 
so familiar. 

It was his second suggestion that the Chief Justice of the 
United States should hold his own office "during good be- 

94 john stevens: an American record 

havior" and that he should have the appointment of his 
own associates, in the first half of which idea his fellow-citi- 
zens were not long in concurring. Tlrirdly, forecasting in 
some sense the very wide powers of present-day secretaries 
of the treasury, he advocated provision for a superintendent 
of finance. This officer was to manage all matters of collect- 
ing revenue and disbursing it ; to appoint receivers, customs 
officers, and excise officers ; and to form, with the President 
and the Chief Justice, a board to consider from three points 
of view — executive, judicial, economic — all bills that might 
be passed by the Congress. 

It is impossible to say whether the opinions of the Jersey 
farmer, as expressed to his father while the pamphlet was 
being written, exerted any influence upon the convention 
over which the Honourable John presided. The latter had 
already had the valuable experience of steering his State's 
legislature through the hard years of the Revolution, and 
he was not likely to fail in any effort to crown the victory 
at arms. As to that, it appears that his convention, in spite 
of the failure of the New Jersey plan, was favorably dis- 
posed at the outset. Gouverneur Morris, writing to General 
Washington in October of this year, seems to have felt that 
this State would even go to the length of civil war to en- 
force Federal supremacy. "Jersey," he said, "is so near 
unanimity that we may count on something more than 
votes, should the state of affairs require pointed arguments." 
And it is, of course, a matter of record that to become the 
third State to ratify, New Jersey required only nine days 
of deliberation. This finished, her convention offered a ris- 
ing vote of thanks to its president and directed him to pre- 
sent the official sanction to Congress, in person. In due 
course the Honourable John reported his compliance to 
Judge Brearley at Burlington. 


Feby. 11, 1788. 
Dear Sir: 

As soon as I heard there was a sufficient Number of members 
met to make a Congress, I proceeded to New York, and on 
Friday the First instant I delivered to the President in Con- 
gress Assembled the New Jersey Ratification of the proposed 
Constitution of the United States ; and I have the pleasure to 
inform you that in conversation with the President at the 
Chancellor's, he said he had no instructions to make me any 
answer to what I said to him in Delivering the Ratification, 
but that he thought it the most ample of any that had been 
delivered to Congress, and in particular, the Convention's re- 
citing the powers by which they were convened. I was exactly 
in time, as the First of February was set down for taking 
up and entering the several Certificates, and I delivered ours 
before they began that business. Pray present my best respects 
to Mrs. Rrearley. 

Your obed't Serv't 

John Stevens. 

This was to be the last act of the Honourable John's 
public life, and a fitting climax to many years devoted, as 
he found opportunity, to the service of the State. During 
what remained to him of life he would maintain an active 
interest in everything that absorbed his son's attention and 
would also continue to be the leader in directing the still 
unsettled affairs of the East Jersey Proprietors. Up to the 
end, too, he made regular trips through the State in order 
to keep a personal eye upon his widely distributed property. 

For the colonel the spring of 1788 opened a busy year and 
a memorable one. On the New York side he improved the 
family property by sinking a bulkhead in the river, filling 
in behind it, and building what was then a considerable dock 
for private purposes, being all of ninety-six feet long. Its 
actual constructor, one Elias Burger, agreed, upon receipt 


of his total charges of £48, "to keep said dock in good 
repair for a year and a day." On the Jersey side, the crop 
in Hoboken proved to be such a bumper that the colonel 
wrote to his father: "I have so much produce to take in, 
and am so behind hand with my work, that I cannot think 
of leaving home at present." However, he did find further 
time to dwell upon national affairs. 

Among other things that interested him in this connec- 
tion were the writings of Dr. Richard Price. This English 
dissenting minister and speculative philosopher, the friend 
of Franklin, had always been an advocate of independence 
for America and of liberty in general. Indeed, it was he 
whom Burke, in the famous "Reflections," censured for his 
warm support of the French Revolution. Writing to thank 
Dr. Price for expressing belief in the bright future of the 
United States, the colonel joined his own prayers to those 
of the doctor for so happy an end. In conclusion, his letter 

To form a national government, sufficiently energetic to co- 
erce obedience, and at the same time to leave such a degree 
of independent sovereignty to the states individually as would 
prevent a complete consolidation, was no easy task. Local in- 
terests and prejudices, the pride of state sovereignty, an aver- 
tion to innovation; these, and such like considerations, had 
well nigh rendered abortive the labours of our genuine and best- 
informed patriots. Yet the features of the new Constitution 
are, I trust, so happily blended as to produce one WHOLE 
which, for strength and beauty, I may venture to call un- 

However, though a subscriber to democratic principles of 
government, the colonel was very much the aristocrat at 
heart. For one thing, he liked good clothes and never 
grumbled at the size of his tailor's bill. He believed that 

75 \A?*a<ves, 


tL^^/la/je^ **^> '2rn<7/& 


«^7<w^ far™™*!****. 




clothes certainly helped to make the man, and when mis- 
fortune overtook him on an early spring journey by coach, 
he could hardly wait to reach the printer's with his ad- 
vertisement : 

LOST: From the stage-waggon, on Wednesday, somewhere 
between Major Egbert's at Brunswick and Major Reading's 
at New Ark, a small HAIR TRUNK, with brass lock and 
handles, containing, amongst other things, a variety of articles 
of apparel. Six ruffled shirts, marked J. S. ; a pair of black 
silk smalls, a pair of Buff casimer ditto, a white coat with 
silver buttons; Some Money, and other articles of value to 
none but the Owner. Whoever lodges such information as will 
permit the Owner to recover the contents shall be liberally 

It was no moment to lose such things. Entertainments 
inside Stevens Villa or upon its wide lawns were already a 
feature of each season ; to be short of ruffled shirts and sil- 
ver buttons could be nothing less than humiliating. Thus, 
although the record is entirely silent upon the fate of the 
trunk, it is to be hoped the colonel's peace of mind was re- 
stored by his recovering it, brass handles and all. 

The Stevens children were doing famously. Robert, at 
six months, was gravely reported as having "half a dozen 
teeth," while young John was already eating "salt pork and 
apples all day long!" By August, Robert could "almost 
walk" on the very day made memorable by the decision of 
Congress to "make New York the place of meeting under 
the new Constitution." The day before, it appeared, they had 
"carried it by 6 or 7 for Baltimore, but Carolina changed 
her vote and Georgia was divided, so it went for New York 
7 to 5." Under these circumstances the colonel was willing to 
consider the proposal that he should himself be a candidate 
for a seat in the august body. 


It would be very convenient for me [he admitted] to be a 
representative, tho' I am not very sanguine, as I am not in- 
clin'd to take the pains that some will, in order to get it. I 
have a few days ago written to the Speaker, I have sent him a 
number of my pamphlets to distribute among the members. 
Also, a draught of a constitution for this state, together with a 
pretty long letter which I desired he might communicate to the 
house. So you will see I have given them a sample of my abilities, 
by which to judge how well I may be qualified for this business. 
If, therefore, you think there is a chance, I have no sort of 
objection to my name being made use of. 

Some of the colonel's "qualifications" and opinions may 
be gathered from a letter he sent to Samuel, brother of 
Richard Stockton, the Signer, and husband of Mrs. Stevens's 
younger sister: 

I had no opportunity of conversing with you on political 
matters while at Princeton. I am informed the Assembly have 
taken a vote on . . . the Election Bill prescribing the mode 
of choosing representatives. I conceive this to be liable to sev- 
eral weighty objections. 

As every man throughout the State, entitled to vote, will be 
entitled to hand to the clerk of this county such nominations 
as he may think proper ; thus the nominations will be very very 
numerous. . . . Public attention will be so much divided and 
distracted by the multiplicity of candidates that the very pur- 
pose of previous nomination will be defeated. The public, re- 
specting the men they are to vote for, will be very vague and 
uncertain; it will be impossible that a proper scrutiny may be 
made of each candidate. This may put it in the power of a 
combination, amounting to not more than one-tenth of the 
State, to send representatives to Congress. The majority in 
each county may vote for some favorite within the county, and 
the votes be so split that a man might be returned without 
one-twentieth part of the whole vote. 

I would propose a mode similar to that in the draft of a 
State Constitution enclosed for your perusal. By this, no 


candidate can be elected by less than a majority of the whole 
vote, and the number of candidates is so limited that every 
man may become acquainted with their character. The suc- 
cess of the new constitution will depend very much upon the 
wisdom and virtue of the men who set it in motion. According 
to the direction they may happen to give it, its future opera- 
tions may become mischievous or salutary. We are especially 
called upon, in an election law, to lessen the chances of men 
not duly qualified being returned by us. 

Another important consideration. Jersey sends but four 
members, whilst other States send eight or ten. We should en- 
deavor to make up, by the weight of influence, our deficiency 
in numbers. 

The draft of Constitution enclosed was put together at dif- 
ferent times this fall, as an amusement of leisure hours. 

Although his candidacy was w r armly advocated, in letters 
written by both the Honourable John and Colonel John 
Cox to their influential Jersey friends, it presently trans- 
pired that Colonel Cox secretly longed to be a candidate 
himself. Not wishing to run against his father-in-law, Colo- 
nel Stevens promptly withdrew; a step which he inwardly 
regretted but which it is as well that he made. Had he be- 
come deeply involved in the frantic struggle for legislation 
appropriate to the new Constitution, and had he devoted 
himself to all the almost insuperable difficulties confronting 
both State and nation, not even his abundant energy could 
have met the new and engrossing interest which now seized 
upon him, never to let go. 


The colonel's grandfather, deploring the primitive commu- 
nication of his dark age, had been able to do little beyond 
petitioning the Jersey legislature for improvements. Under 
the same impulse the Honourable John had become an active 
commissioner to build better highways across the State. 
Fifty years after his grandfather's death the third John 
Stevens felt the family urge and recognized transportation 
as the chief national need. Young enough at thirty-eight to 
begin a new life's work, he prepared to produce means for 
meeting that need upon the water. 

"It was," says his own apologia, "toward the close of the 
year 1788 that my attention was drawn toward the im- 
provement of the steam engine. Mr Rumsey, Mr Fitch, and 
others had made several attempts to apply the power of a 
steam engine to propelling a boat. But there was an obstacle 
which lay in the way, to remove which appeared to be in- 
dispensably necessary in order to render the project of any 
utility. This was the great weight and bulk of the boiler, 
when constructed in the usual manner. To effect this, Mr 
Rumsey invented what he called his pipe boiler. As this in- 
vention was supposed to be a great improvement, and became 
a subject of general discussion, I was insensibly led to direct 
my thoughts upon this important object." 

James Rumsey of Virginia and John Fitch of Connecticut 
had already begun their bitter fight over relative priority 
in steamboat invention, a fight from which neither emerged 
with the credit justly due him for contributions to the in- 



fant science. In various pamphlets and treatises each set 
forth his claims, supporting these by affidavits from personal 
friends and by statements from all available well-known 
men — including, in Rumsey's case, General Washington 
himself. Chancing upon one of these pamphlets, the colonel 
hunted out the rest, studying them and setting them aside 
for further study. After considering the claims and making 
many notes, he wrote to Rumsey: 

September 5th, 1788 

I shall not trouble you with an apology for thus addressing 
you, although to you an utter stranger. If the following hints 
prove of any service towards perfecting your project you are 
heartily welcome to them. Though they may not suggest any- 
thing new yet, as the writer thereby manifests his good wishes 
toward the promotion of useful discoveries, you cannot but be 
pleased with them. 

I have not been able to procure any other information re- 
specting your plan of propelling a Boat by means of Steam 
than what I could collect from your pamphlet published at 
Philadelphia and from another published at the same place, 
entitled "Remarks on Mr John Fitch," etc. Your invention of 
generating steam by means of a worm is certainly of the ut- 
most importance, but more particularly so when applied to the 
purpose of navigation. An insuperable objection to the appli- 
cation of steam in any mode hitherto made use of is the very 
great proportion of room which the boiler and other appara- 
tus must necessarily occupy on board a vessel. . . . 

Suppose a b c d to be a circular stove of sheet or cast iron. 
The figure e, within the same, will represent the convolutions 
of a worm made of copper or other metal ; these convolutions 
must lie close, one on the other, to prevent air and smoke from 
passing between them. 

From the top of the worm a funnel or flue must be carried 
to the height of a foot or 18 inches above the top of the stove. 
The fuel must be placed in the upper part of the stove on each 
side of the flue. 


As soon as the flue becomes sufficiently heated, the current 
of the smoke and flame will follow the course represented by 
the dotted lines in the figure; that is, after passing down 
through the sides of the stove and the outer edges of the worm 
to the bottom, then rising up again in the circular space con- 
tained within the convolutions of the worm, the smoke will 
finally issue out at the top of the flue. The smoke thus de- 
scending through the live coals, resting on the grate at / f, 
is converted wholly to flame and acquires a degree of heat much 
more intense than when it passes immediately upwards in the 
usual way. 

Within the worm aforesaid should be another worm, ex- 
tending the whole length thereof; the interior worm should be 
filled with water (this to be supplied by a reservoir placed 
above the stove and over the flue) and should be perforated in 
different parts of the circumference with small punctures or 
holes, so as to distribute the water equally against the side, or 
inner circumference, of the outer worm. It is obvious that a 
machine thus constructed would occupy very little space, would 
be very light, and would generate an immense quantity of 

With very little additional machinery, the piston, which is 
raised by means of the steam and depressed again by the pres- 
sure of the atmosphere, might be made to force water, through 
two trunks alternately; through one at the rising, and one at 
the falling, of the piston; by which the force of the engine 
would be doubled. 

In this letter the colonel expressed the opinion that the 
chief objection to Rumsey's device would lie in the imprac- 
ticability of obtaining "any great degree of velocity" if ap- 
plied to vessels. However, said he, a "simple contrivance" 
might give "motion to a system of oars and, by lengthening 
or shortening the paddles, a velocity of perhaps fifteen or 
twenty miles an hour might be acquired." Thus, at the out- 
set, the colonel emphasized what was to be the object of 
every Stevens effort for the next hundred years — more speed 


without undue waste of power. No one more clearly foresaw 
the future's demand for rapid transit and delivery ; no one, 
in the face of every discouragement, worked harder to meet 
that demand. 

Not wishing to be beaten by Fitch or Rumsey at the start 
of the race, and hoping to secure legal standing with other 
inventors, the colonel next wrote his friend and city neigh- 
bor, John Watts, then very active in New York's legis- 

I see by the proceedings of the Legislature, printed in 
Child's paper, that Mr Rumsey petitioned for an "exclusive 
privilege" of building Steam Boats, and that Mr Fitch has 
petitioned "that the prayer of the petition of the Rumseyan 
Society may not be granted." As neither of these gentlemen, 
from what has yet appeared, have brought their Schemes to 
that degree of perfection as to answer any valuable purpose 
in practice, I conceive that neither of them are entitled to such 
an exclusive privilege as may secure to them all the benefits 
arising from the improvements invented by others. When an 
application of this nature is made to parliament it is usual, 
I am informed, for the parties to exhibit an exact model or at 
least a draught of the machine or improvement for which they 
are desirous of obtaining an exclusive privilege. And, if they 
— or others — afterwards make any material improvement, an- 
other patent may be obtained for such improvement. This 
mode of proceeding is obviously necessary and proper. I am 
unacquainted with the particulars of either Mr Rumsey or Mr 
Fitch's plans, but — be they what they may — they should, at 
least, be exactly and minutely described before any exclusive 
privilege be granted. Under a presumption, therefore, that 
the legislature will in this business adopt the mode practiced 
in England, I have been induced to draw up the enclosed peti- 
tion, which I request the favor of you to present and at the 
same time to support, as far as it may appear equitable and 

Had the experiments of either of the Gentlemen who have 


petitioned succeeded so far as to prove that their machines, 
without still farther improvements, would answer any valuable 
practical purposes, I should not have troubled the legislature 
with my petitions. But it should appear that my machine is 
totally different in its structure and principles, from that of 
either of the Gentlemen. The only thing which my scheme has 
in common with the plan of either of these Gentlemen — so far, 
at least, as has come to my knowledge — is that, with Mr 
Rumsey, I raise water thro' the bottom of the boat and force it 
out at the stern. But, as this is an invention to which neither 
of us is entitled, we have both an equal right to the use of it. 
It was a Mr Donaldson of Philadelphia who first tryed the 
experiment, and it is said the hint was given him by Doc. 

If Fitch & Rumsey have not yet exhibited exact draughts 
or models of their different engines, which they should cer- 
tainly be required to do before a patent can be granted to 
either, I must request of you not to show my draught and 
explanations — except to such gentlemen in whose honor you 
can confide, under a promise not to communicate it to others 
. . . Should the Chancellor be at Albany, please to show him 
this together with the enclosed. 

With the description of his boiler the colonel sent an 
exhaustive comparison of it with Rumsey's apparatus, which 
he thought less efficient than his own "perpendicular tube" 
design. In substance, he claimed the following advantages: 

A form of tube admitting the use of cast iron. 

The lower end of the tubes never exposed to the immediate 
action of the flame, and no difficulty in keeping the joint 

Jets, dispersing the water over the surface of the tubes, 
insuring equal heating and preventing sudden production of 
steam and danger of bursting. 

A great saving of space and consequent greater ease in 
handling the steam. 

Greater heating surface and more rapid generation by 


"spreading the water more thinly" over his tubes than was pos- 
sible with Rumsey's pipe. 

More perfect control of the steam, with the ability to raise 
it to "four atmospheres" (60 pounds). 

Applying pressure to the piston in both ascent and de- 
scent, to obtain uniform resistance and smoother operation. 
Not depending, as Rumsey did, upon counteracting the ex- 
pansion of steam, on raising the piston, by only the weight 
of the atmosphere and that of the water in the pump. 

John Watts presented the colonel's papers to the legisla- 
ture on February 9, 1789. They were referred to a committee 
including among its members G. Livingston, Mr. Van Cort- 
landt, and others, already engaged with Rumsey's petition. 
Since none of the committee knew anything about steam, 
they could not pass upon mechanical differences or relative 
merits. Under existing law they might have granted "exclu- 
sive privileges" to both petitioners, but they chose to play 
safe by sticking to the rule of first come, first served. Rum- 
sey having been a few days ahead, the grant made to him on 
February 25 was a perfectly natural outcome of the gen- 
eral ignorance. Pending this action, the colonel proceeded 
with further sketches and plans; discussed engines with 
Nathan Read, the Salem experimenter who visited New York 
at about this time; and sought out any one else who had 
even a glimmering of knowledge in steam. Fascinated by the 
new T study, he resented every interruption of it but could 
not avoid many of them. 

He was, for example, obliged to be constantly in New 
York in an effort to sell No. 7 Broadway. Failing in this, 
he urged the Honourable John to let it to "a lady by the 
name of Laurens, from Boston," who proposed to run it as 
"a lodging-house for the Gentlemen in Congress from that 
State." Since "the rental would be £100 a year," said the 
colonel, "I am apprehensive that, if you do not accept of her 







fiuJfrrtii 2 fefc^vjqt 




as a tenant, the house may stand empty." Certainly, he him- 
self had then no wish to live there, for he was too intent 
upon keeping the children out of the city. Although Hobo- 
ken had no doctors, John Cox "happily escaped taking the 
small-pox" then epidemic in New York, while Robert, though 
"afflicted with a bad breaking-out on his face," could soon 
be reported as recovering rapidly. At the moment, Hoboken 
was a health resort by comparison. 

The unfavorable news from Albany did not convince the 
colonel that his engine was not sufficiently different from 
Rumsey's to merit some special protection; he proposed to 
appeal directly to the Federal Congress. If the provision 
of the Constitution calling for "the encouragement of science 
and the useful arts" meant anything at all, it must author- 
ize Congress to legislate along this highly desirable line. 
Thinking it high time something of the sort were done, 
the colonel submitted a petition similar to that sent to Watt, 
asking Congress for patents to cover his boiler and his 
"method of propelling a boat by steam." His arguments 
in favor of steamboats described his dreams of the "happy 
consequences" which might attend "rendering the inter- 
course between the most distant regions safe and expedi- 
tious." He considered it evident that from "a reciprocal ex- 
change of the production and manufactures of one country 
for those of another a general advantage would result to 
the whole. The earth would then be everywhere stimulated 
to bring forth with its utmost vigor; civilization and the 
arts would spread rapidly over the face of the globe; then, 
and not till then, might it be said that man was really the 
master of this world, with everything in it subservient to 
his will." Fearing, however, that his picture might seem 
too highly colored for general appreciation, he added an 
"apology for this rhapsody." 


Among the men then in Congress, he had a number of 
friends to whose particular attention he presented the 
awakening of American interest in science and invention. 
To prevent the sort of wrangling that had arisen between 
Rumsey and Fitch, he urged immediate and comprehensive 
legislation; without this, he said, confusion as other men 
came forward to clamor for protection would be worse con- 
founded. Something must at once be done. As his friends 
began to press his points a spirited debate followed, with 
the ultimate result that Congress, in April, 1790, framed 
the first Patent Law of the United States. While this was 
still in the form of a bill, Rumsey in a letter to Thomas 
Jefferson reported it as being favorably regarded, but failed 
to add that it had been sponsored by the "stranger" who 
had ventured to trouble him with a few suggestions on 
boilers and engines. Through such omissions as this it has 
escaped the notice of the two groups chiefly concerned — 
engineers and patent lawyers — that the colonel, himself 
barely started as an inventor, had stepped into the position 
of godfather to all future members of that honorable if 
precarious profession. 

As soon as the new law became effective the colonel and 
others applied for protection. Jefferson, having assumed the 
portfolio of State, appointed Henry Remsen, future cashier 
of the Manhattan Bank, his secretary, and it was from Rem- 
sen that the colonel received reports of progress. 

Philadelphia, January 25, 1791 
The Commissioners named in the act for the promotion of 
useful Arts, judging it most expedient not to proceed further 
in the business thereby committed to them, until a bill supple- 
mentary to the said Act, and which is now before Congress, 
passes, have directed me to inform you that the hearing of the 


parties who have applied for Patents for the discovery of new- 
applications of Steam to useful purposes cannot take place 
on the first Monday in February, which was the time they had 
assigned for the purpose, but that they will be duly informed 
of the day as soon as it is fixed. 
John Stevens, Junr, Esq. 

Two months later Remsen reported that "the claimants 
for Steam-patents are required to have their claims ready 
for hearing on the first Monday in April next." Jefferson, 
taking patents very seriously, was not to be hurried. When 
an application reached him, he sent for the secretary of 
war and the attorney-general — his fellow-members of the 
board — and gravely read them the complete specification. 
With his own opinion, he weighed theirs as to originality 
and priority, bluntly determined that there should be noth- 
ing haphazard nor any perfunctory issue of patents upon 
payment of the stipulated fee. Since he was the only member 
with any real pretension to mechanical knowledge, it is 
not astonishing that long delays brought disappointment to 
the applicants. In April, the colonel urged Remsen to ex- 
pedite action because he himself w r as "actually engaged in 
constructing the different parts of the machinery of a Steam 
Engine, in order to make an experiment for propelling a 
Boat." He also wished to know whether Fitch and Rumsey 
had reached an "accommodation" of their rival claims, and 
of this he learned something from Remsen's letter explain- 
ing the delay. 

May 4th, 1791 

. . . The investigation of the claims of Rumsey & Fitch to 
a priority in the application of Steam to navigation, which 
was to have been made by persons mutually appointed by them, 
was attempted but not compleated ; and the Commissioners at a 
late meeting agreed to grant patents to them — and to all 
claimants of steam patents — according to their respective 


specifications. I have since then been almost constantly en- 
gaged in drafting patents by the specifications, to be submitted 
to them at their next meeting — which will be on the last Satur- 
day of this month. 

The annexed will show what progress I have made in de- 
scribing your improvements, and, indeed, how far your speci- 
fication enables me to do so. It is silent with regard to some 
of them which I must beg the favor of your describing. The 
Commissioners have required the descriptions, in every in- 
stance, to be inserted in the patents from the claimants them- 
selves, but I felt disposed to be at this small trouble with re- 
spect, Sir, to you, as you was at a distance. They also require 
models and draughts of each invention, discovery, or improve- 
ment, before the delivery of the patents. 

The description of your several improvements should be 
distinct from each other ; but they may be made out on the 
same sheet of paper, which can be annexed to your Specifica- 
tions. No references should be made in it to your draughts. 
If you finish them before the 15th inst., you can put them 
under cover to Mr Jefferson; if you do not, by that time, it 
will be best to enclose them, when finished, under cover to 
Genl Knox, as Mr Jefferson about the 15th leaves town. 

The required description was as follows: 

The cylinder lies horizontal in the bottom of the boat and, 
on each side of it, is placed a vessel somewhat more capacious 
than the cylinder itself nearly filled with water or oil ; into each 
of which vessels the steam from the boiler is alternately ad- 
mitted and propels the water or oil into each end of the cylin- 
der. By this means the piston is driven backwards and for- 
wards by the action of the water or oil upon it. 

The piston, being hollow, is of the same specific gravity 
with the water or oil. The rod of the piston has a number of 
teeth which catch in the teeth of a small wheel, on the axis 
of which is fixed another, larger wheel, the teeth of which 
catch on each side into the teeth of two rods which pass thro' 
the stern of the boat. To the ends of these rods, floats are 


fixed, which operate as paddles to propel the boat thro' the 

Hoping to expedite action, the colonel next addressed the 
commissioners directly, forwarding a list of "the following 
improvements respecting the generation of steam and the 
application thereof to different purposes, not before known 
or used": 

1. A Boiler, being a collection of tubes placed vertically and 
opening at each end into a vessel containing steam and water. 

2. Another Boiler, in which the heat is conducted thro' a 
number of flues passing thro' water. 

3. An improvement on Savery's machine or engine for rais- 
ing water by means of steam, which improvement consists in: 

a. Interposing oil between the cold water and the steam, 
to prevent the condensation of the latter. 

b. Opening and shutting, by means of machinery, the cock 
for admitting and discharging the steam. 

4. Working a forcing-pump, by means of steam, in order to 
supply the boiler with water. 

5. An application of the power of steam to raising water, 
not before known or used. That is to say, a Piston is made 
to play up and down in a cylinder by the admission of steam 
into each end thereof alternately. The rod of this piston, de- 
scending perpendicularly into a well, is connected to the piston 
of a forcing-pump constructed so that the water shall be ad- 
mitted into and expelled from each end of the same cylinder 

6. An application of steam to the purpose of working a bel- 
lows, precisely the same with the above, excepting only that 
one fluid is substituted for the other; viz: Air in the place of 
water. An application of steam not before known or used. 

After two or three months of further delay, the first dozen 
of United States patents — among which was the colonel's 
— was issued on August 26, 1791. Reading these patents, it 
is hard to believe that engineering ever could have been so 


primitive ; but, once that basic fact has been accepted, they 
loom up like signboards on the engineering highway. 

By the time his papers had reached him, the colonel was 
facing the problem of providing for fast-growing children 
of both brain and body. He wanted more capital to build 
new machines for experiments ; Rachel needed more capital 
to keep the nursery up to date. On January 29, 1790, she 
had added James Alexander Stevens to the villa family; 
barely two years behind James came another son, Richard, 
with Francis Bowes Stevens following shortly. These must 
have been the influences that led the colonel to indulge ex- 
tensively in the common practice of buying lottery tickets 
— something he regarded as entirely distinct from betting. 
There was always a street to be paved by some municipality 
or a church needing a new steeple and more pews — most 
lottery players being devout churchgoers and such schemes 
for raising money being duly authorized by law. St. Peter's 
at Amboy, for one, sold the Honourable John a half dozen 
tickets that finally passed into the colonel's hands — and re- 
mained there — while plenty of other opportunities came his 
way without bringing him a grand prize. Only trivial 
amounts could have been at stake when he wrote to an 
Amboy friend that Rachel was "apprehensive lest the time 
for payment expire and begs you will hand the enclosed 
tickets to my Uncle Richard to collect." 

Had the colonel won any considerable sum, he would 
promptly have spent it upon another engine. As matters 
stood, he used all the funds in hand and whatever he could 
raise by mortgages on the Hoboken acres. Outside the small 
circle of the very wealthy, money was extremely hard to 
find; even inside that circle wealth was more often repre- 
sented by vast acres than by actual bank balances. Conse- 
quently, the colonel fell into the prevailing custom of giving 

TH E Lieutenant Governor 
declares he will do nothing in 
Relation to the STAMPS, but 
leave it to Sir Henry Moore, to do as 
he pleafcs, on his Arrival. Council 
Ch amber, New- York, Nov. 2 1765. 
By Order of his Ho'nour, 
Gw. |*anyar, D. CI. Con. 
The Governor acquainted Judge L/- 
vingflqn, the Mayor, Mr. Beverly Robin- 
Joti, and Mr. John Stevens, this Morning, 
being Monday the 4th of November, that 
he would not iflue,* nor fufFer to be if- 
iued, any of the STAMPS now in Fort- 
George. Robert R. Living fl on. 
John Cruger, 
Beverly Robinjon, 
John Stevens. 
The Freemen, Freeholders, and In- 
habitants of this City, being fatisfled that 
the STAMPS are not to be iflued, are 
determined to keep the Peace of the Ci- 
ty, at all Events, except they mould 
have other Caufe of Complaint. 


(page 39) 


promissory notes-of-hand, for various terms, which circu- 
lated under a blanket of successive indorsements and passed 
current for the necessities of life as well as for business 
deals. This was a convenient method; but through such a 
cloud of personal paper it became very hard to see who 
was actually in debt and to which creditor. In the colonel's 
case it finally led to great complication of his financial af- 
fairs; always very rich in land, he was often hard pressed 
for a few hundreds in cash. And in this respect he was not 
much better off when, in May of 1792, he lost his father. 

The Honourable John's long record had won him many 
friends and relatively few enemies. But the money he had 
from time to time advanced to Continental soldiers had not 
been repaid him ; and his meadows had not infrequently been 
battle-fields. At the end of the Revolution his strong-box 
was one of many crammed with practically worthless paper 
money — seven-dollar bills and seventy-dollar bills which he 
might as well have used to light his fires at Lebanon. As 
a generous brother, he had helped every member of his gen- 
eration, no matter how often a claim had been made upon 
him, while to his children he had always been liberal. As a 
figure in public life, he had kept his house open to guests 
and his position in the community at full front. Though wide 
acres brought him some rentals, these were often in the form 
of crop-shares, which meant, in bad years, that he had to 
wait. Some lands, too, were so far apart that he could not 
visit them sufficiently often to prevent depredations such as 
that which induced a woman tenant of his to "walk all the 
way from Newfoundland (N. J.) to Hoboken, to report 
lumber-thieves on the wood-lots." Yet though he was empty 
of pocket in ready cash, he was full of honors. He had been 
trusted by the most suspicious Indians, consulted by gen- 
erals and governors, and relied upon as security for the 


public funds. When he was buried "beside the Frame Meet- 
ing House, near Lebanon," he had fairly earned his title, 
"The Honourable John Stevens, Gentleman." 

In administering the real estate left by his father, the 
colonel sought the help of Samuel Stockton. It was Stockton 
who first spoke of the colonel as "in something of Martha's 
situation — having to care for many things"; an apt sug- 
gestion, since the colonel was certainly of those sons of 
Martha, the engineers who "transport and deliver duly the 
sons of Mary by land and main." As agent, Stockton fre- 
quently made his reports to his principal in a light vein: 

You will remember that Kitty [Mrs. Stockton] in the multi- 
plicity of her house-demands for loaf & brown sugar, tea, cof- 
fee, candles, brandy & gin, keeps a hawk's-eye on your money. 
And on our going to Pliila. she could resist no longer but 
perched her little talons on it & flew off to Phila. where, before 
I could call her to strict account, she had spent every farthing 
of it but a five-penny bit. However, I have received some small 
matters since, so I was able to honor your draft. 

Chancellor Livingston, whose association with the colonel 
was very close, would soon catch "steamboat fever." The 
earliest of his many letters of this period were, however, 
chiefly upon agriculture or the international situation. Hav- 
ing been somewhat neglected in the most recent distribution 
of political plums, the chancellor was in no optimistic mood 
when he wrote the colonel in October : 

Mr Labigarre speaks very highly of your mulberry trees 
— mine have been neglected and promise little. What think you 
of French affairs? The cause of Liberty will have much to 
contend with in the ignorance and precipitation of the Con- 
vention ; it will, I hope, finally triumph. It certainly would 
have done so in easier times, had not the madness of the young 
Jacobins or Maratists excited those dangerous commotions 
which now convulse the nation. All I dread is that the people 


may be wearied out & seek in tyranny a permanent refuge from 

I have just been reading Mr Genet's letter to Gov. Moultrie. 
Has he not neglected a fair opportunity of confounding his 
adversaries by denying the charge publicly, as I am told he 
does privately? 

The position of the scheming representative of France 
had become somewhat less in doubt when Stockton, in Janu- 
ary, 1794, wrote to Hoboken: 

I have just received, from a gentleman of my acquaintance, 
an important piece of news which I trust may turn out to be 
true. It is that the vessel, sent by the President to France 
some time ago, has returned & is at Marcus Hook ; that she 
has brought dispatches from the Convention of France, dis- 
approving of the Instructions given by the Council to Mi- 
Genet, & approving of the constructions put on the treaty 
with France by the Pres't, & of Mr Jefferson's reasoning on 
it. We shall hear more of it soon. 

In kind, and at his usual length, the colonel replied to all 
such letters. But he put more personal and local news in 
letters to his mother, then wintering at Clermont. 

February 17th, 1794 
My dear Mama 

I have just this moment received your favor, which by an 
endorsement made by the Postmaster must have been written 
before the 13th. ... I am extremely happy to hear that 
you are all in good health . . . but you say nothing about 
when we are to expect you in town. . . . 

A vessel arrived here on Saturday from Amsterdam in 50 
days; she brings an account of the retaking of Toulon, but 
in an indirect manner. However, there's little doubt the event 
will soon take place, as the French have an immense Army 
employed in the siege. I see by the paper today an account of 
a very bloody action between the Prussians and French, in 
which the Prussians confess they lost 11,000 men and were 


under the necessity of removing the Military Chest, etc, ex- 
pecting another attack. 

New York never was so gay as it has been this winter. Two 
or three private Balls or Parties for every night in the week — 
besides plays, concerts, Assemblies, etc. We have been to only 
one play this winter, tho' at several private parties but not to 
any dancing. We were at a superb entertainment at Mrs John 
Laurence's on Friday evening, where everything was conducted 
in the most elegant stile. Mary Cox counted no less than 24 
spermacetti candles, besides four patent lamps, in the Supper 
Room, and the Drawing Room was a mere blaze of light. 

There is an elderly gentlemen here from the West Indies 
with a fortune of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds ster- 
ling, who keeps neither horse nor servant, so is at great loss 
how to spend his income. But the ladies have kindly put him 
in the way. He has already given one Ball but is to give an- 
other tomorrow night at the Belvedere House, to which 500 
people are invited, and which, from the accounts we hear of the 
preparations, is thought will cost him 1,500 or 2,000 dollars. 
It is said he means shortly to give another, to the little Misses. 
Betsy and Peggy must make haste to town or they will miss 
it. The gentleman's name is Beese. This is a very trifling news, 
but I thought it might amuse you to know what we are about 

Twenty-four spermaceti candles just then had a special 
significance. The candle-makers of Rhode Island had organ- 
ized what was the first American trust; only the upper 
crust could so lavishly scatter candles about their supper- 
rooms. Mr. Beese, no doubt, could do it — as long as the 
ladies' help lasted. That help must have been efficient, for he 
left no imprint upon the city's commerce, nor does it appear 
that he invested any money in behalf of any inventor badly 
in need of capital. 

However, more serious than the lack of ready cash was 
the other obstacle confronting every early engineer — the 
absolute dearth of competent mechanics. Opportunities on 


this side of the Atlantic had been so rare that Englishmen 
trained to a trade preferred to hunt out and fill the open- 
ings at home. When American mechanical enterprise was 
first born, few Englishmen heard its faint cries and fewer 
still cared to cross the ocean to answer them. Later, they 
were to cross in shoals — after many an American idea, for 
lack of a trained hand to execute it, had come to nothing. 
The forges and shops that existed here were unbelievably 
crude. If a tool of special shape appeared to be needed for a 
particular job, it was roughly hammered to a poor edge and 
poorer temper, with scarcely even a name to distinguish it 
from the other oddities among which it lay. The modern 
workman, surrounded by machines of almost human intelli- 
gence and of much more than human accuracy, recoils with 
horror from the "finished piece" of his long-buried predeces- 
sor. Yet, because the old-timers actually got their parts to- 
gether and made their machines move in spite of leaks and 
knocks, that same modern artist might do worse than study 
the days when what he calls "a thousandth clearance" was 
commonly known as "within the thickness of a worn shill- 
ing." As Robert Louis Stevenson said of the end of the 
eighteenth century, "engineering was not a science then — 
it was a living art !" 

Facing the prevailing difficulty, the colonel was further 
hampered by having had no training for his own hands. He 
could design a boiler or make engine-drawings sufficiently 
"working" in character to be followed to-day. With his own 
hands he could not build the boiler or the engine. To make 
up for this lack he pored over every book dealing with fun- 
damental principles as thus far understood. Descriptions of 
every effort in steam, from Savery to Newcomen, were con- 
stantly before him; on almost any night, the account of 
James Watt's experiments could crowd the Bible from the 


table under his bed-candle. If he could not build anything, 
he must at least know how it should be built. When Robert 
Livingston asked casually, "Have you seen Dr. Priestley's 
new work, or read Count Rumford's account of his last ex- 
periment?" the colonel would clap on his hat. Hurrying down 
to the foot of his lawn, he would leap into the always waiting 
periagua and shortly be making the rounds of the city 
bookshops. Failing to find what he wanted, he would not let 
the day die without posting an order to the Strand or 
High Holborn, directing instantaneous shipment of the 
book in question. He believed in books for everybody ; but it 
was less to this good purpose than in order to miss nothing 
himself that he took shares in the New York Society Library, 
just then organized by Samuel Jones and Isaac Kip. To 
the same end of keeping up with the times, he became a 
charter member of the Society for Establishing Useful 
Manufactures in New Jersey, originally headed by the 

Study did much for him, but still left him compelled to 
employ any mechanic at hand. One of the earliest of these 
was John Hall, of relative ability but of quite undependable 
personal habit. Unfortunately for Hall, the most telling 
thing that has ever been said of him was the colonel's re- 
gretful remark that he was "a confirmed sot." But of the 
work in hand there is some record in the colonel's instruc- 
tions to Hall: 

Upon reflection, I should suppose it would be most con- 
venient to make the piston of cork, with a plate of iron of 
sufficient strength on each end; the rod passing through the 
plates and cork and fastened with a nut and screw. As the 
engine is to be but small, perhaps it would be best to make 
the wheels and cogs, the rods and teeth, all of wood. However, 
I suppose it would be necessary that the teeth attached to the 
piston, and the small wheel which works therein, should be 


made of iron. As soon as you have prepared the models for the 
castings, please to let me know, that I may pay attention to 
the casting. 

In his anxiety to "build something that will run" at least 
sufficiently well for demonstration, the colonel was not too 
greatly concerned with the lasting quality of material nor 
with mass production. Pistons of cork and cogwheels of wood ! 
From these unpromising seeds have sprung the enormous 
plants that give forth a motor-car or an aeroplane in a 
mere matter of minutes. In 1793, even the boring of a cylin- 
der was a complicated affair, involving, according to Hall's 
bill for doing it, such items as "Pd. for four pints of spirits 
given to labourers while boreing, 4 sh." ; while his letters to 
the colonel indicate something of the other problems they 
were attempting to solve. 

I should be very glad if you could inform me what thickness 
(or depth) from the underside of the frame on which the Ma- 
chine is fixed to the underside of the Boat, as I want to know 
the length of the Spindle that must pass thro' the bottom 
... in order to work the forcers. 

The cedar poles are not yet come over ; they are very much 
wanted in order to have the whole finished, which will be in a 
very short time except I am very much disappointed in my 
expectations. As soon as I can get the Iron work done, shall 
get it fixed so that an experiment may be tryd in about 2 or 3 
weeks if there should be nothing more than I can foresee. 

What Hall failed to foresee was his own inability, before 
this engine was completed, to pass along all the pints of 
spirits drawn to encourage the workmen. Too many remained 
between his own hands ; in a fury, the colonel discharged 


To reconstruct in imagination the noisy, ineffective steam- 
engines of the seventeen nineties is scarcely harder than to 
picture New York and Philadelphia annually scourged, 
during the same period, by yellow fever. What in one case 
was known of thermo-dynamics about equaled what in the 
other was known of medicine. The aeroplane and the clean- 
ing up of the Canal Zone are near enough to one another 
in date to represent goals reached through equally long 
struggles from a blind start. 

All the doctors of old New York had pet theories to ac- 
count for the scourge. Without suspecting the mosquito, 
they blamed vegetable putrefaction, sudden changes in tem- 
perature, bad water, and a dozen other causes. From every 
point of view long essays were written and distributed, none 
of these interesting Colonel Stevens as much as that issued in 
1795 by his friend Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchell. He held 
Mitchell to be what others called him — "the Franklin of 
New York, giving scientific reputation to the whole State; 
deeply learned in physics and chemistry, and an authority 
upon natural history and botany." Hence, when Mitchell 
wrote upon contagion in fever and upon the importance of 
recent researches into the effects of carbon-oxides as gen- 
erated by animals and men, the colonel's attention was 
caught. "Because of this ingenious essay," he declared, "mis- 
tery and vague conjecture must soon give place to certainty 
and science." If the doctor's theory of contagion proved 
just, "a flood of light must soon be poured in upon us," while 



the "speedy discovery of the means of preventing the rav- 
ages" would inevitably be "the happy consequences" of the 
doctor's "learned labours." Begging "indulgence for a few 
crude and hasty remarks," the colonel wrote Mitchell a let- 
ter of many pages. Why, he asked, should yellow fever and 
ague and fever be attributed to precisely the same causes, 
when the former, confined wholly to cities, was so very con- 
tagious and the latter, prevailing chiefly in country districts, 
was attended by so little contagion? If the two fevers had 
the same origin, why should medical men recommend "total 
abstinence from animal food and spirituous liquors" in one 
case, while advocating "a more generous style of living" in 
the other ? Question followed question through the letter, but 
at the end the colonel made a suggestion which has no 
precedent in available records: 

An idea has just struck me. It is that temporary stages be 
fraimed of dock-logs and moored off the City at a convenient 
distance from the wharfs. On these, suitable apartments might 
be erected for the reception and accommodation of the sick. 
In order to prevent, as much as possible, the accumulation of 
contagion, let these stages be multiplied as much as they con- 
veniently can and placed at proper distances from each other. 
The most important benefits would probably result from such 
an arrangement. . . . 

As the removal of a sick Person to a Hospital of this kind 
would probably prove extremely salutary to him, there would 
remain no reluctance either on the part of the sick person or 
his friends ; and thus the efforts of the police to separate the 
sick from the well, so far from meeting opposition, would be 
aided and assisted by everybody. 

The opulent, as a necessary precaution, would no doubt 
provide hospitals of this sort at their own expense. Thus situ- 
ated, every comfort and convenience might be afforded the 
sick and their friends might attend upon them with scarce any 
apprehension of danger. These aquatic Lazerettos might also 

122 john stevens: an American record 

be employed in another way, probably to great advantage. 
The air of the City during the hot season is extremely in- 
jurious to young children. Vast numbers are carried off every 
year during the summer season by disorders of the bowels. It 
is truly astonishing what an immediate effect removal from 
the foul air of the city has on infants labouring under these 

As is the case with other ideas originated by the colonel, 
we no longer find the benefits of floating hospitals aston- 
ishing; in fact, we could not do without them. The concep- 
tion very probably came to him from Rachel, who constantly 
kept before him the necessity of protecting infants. On the 
twenty-eighth of July, 1795, she presented him with a sixth 

Edwin Augustus Stevens, compared with his several 
brothers, proves to be a little less gifted than Robert as 
inventor; not so enthusiastic a bcm vivant or so inveterate 
a yachtsman as John Cox ; and never so successful a fisher- 
man as James. With some of the qualities of his father he 
combined a share of those of each of his brothers. Consider- 
ing the family as an assembled machine, in which the colonel 
and Robert were the high-speed gears, Edwin became the 
flywheel that, on a dozen occasions, kept the machine from 
tearing itself into a thousand fragments. Organizer, finan- 
cier, refuge of his family in every emergency, but for him 
there would have been little left of the great Hoboken estate 
and certainly no such permanent memorial as the college he 
founded. Measured by what his father wrote of genius, Ed- 
win was less "fine-edged," yet no phrase could better describe 
him than the "sober common-sense and strict attention to 
business" which the colonel held essential to regulating the 
affairs of the world. Marking his birth is a letter to the 
colonel from Chancellor Livingston: 


Clermont, August 30th, 1795. 

I congratulate you and Mrs Stevens upon the increase of 
your family. I flatter myself that you will go on as you have 
begun — at least till, like another Apollo, you beget another 
Aesculapius. The next, I think, will be a physician by birth. 

I did not doubt that we should agree on the subject of the 
treaty [with England] which I find we do, by your observa- 
tions on CATO, who speaks very much as I think. But I am 
at a loss to conceive how you sh'd suppose that I, who love 
upon all occasions to play the young man, sh'd think of wrap- 
ping myself in the mantle of the old Roman senator 1 

The more I have considered the abominable instrument, the 
more I am shocked at the dangerous spirit which dictated it. 
Unless its evident unconstitutionality shall prevent Congress 
from confirming it, I think the sun is set upon the prosperity 
of this country, as far as it is connected with our commercial 
navigation. I wrote to the President upon this subject as soon 
as the treaty reached me, & have since rec'd a polite note from 
him, in which he tells me of his intention to ratify it, & assigns 
as his reason that, tho' it does not do all we wish, yet it is 
sufficiently advantageous to render the ratification advisable. 
I also have a letter from Madison on the same subject; he 
assures me that all parties in that state unite in reprobating 
it. Monroe, in a letter of the 23 June, complains heavily of 
the manner of its having been negotiated, of Mr Jay's refusal 
to communicate it to him, tho' he sent an express to England 
for that purpose. They had not then known its contents in 
France but were greatly agitated about it. He says if the 
terms are not favorable to us the negotiator will be unpardon- 
able, as there is nothing so much dreaded by England as a war 
with America & as France was ready to make common cause 
with us in case we had made no advances to England. He as- 
sures me that everything in France is as the most sanguine 
Republican would wish; that the last convulsion, tho' blown 
up by Royalists, has — from the conviction it afforded them 
that the revolutionists intended to restore the system of blood 
— united them to the existing government, which is now 
stronger than ever. Spain, he represents as on the eve of a 


peace. The Emperor is negotiating one & England has, thro' 
Mr Edin, made overtures. 

The hailstorms we have had here have destroyed all my 
agricultural improvements, so that for this year I find myself 
descended to the humble state of a politician. If your house is 
finished on the plan you once showed me, it must make a very 
handsom appearance from the river, as well as afford you the 
comfort of a great deal of house room — a very agreeable cir- 
cumstance in the country. Do let me know when the Proprietors 
meet, as I wish to attend but have forgotten the time in Oct. 

From Mitchell on fever and from Livingston on politics, 
the colonel turned to letters from John Fitch, that unfor- 
tunate visionary whose odd-looking craft, crawling down the 
Delaware under steam-driven oars, rank among the very 
earliest American steamboats. His quarrels with Rumsey 
combined with his own disappointments, poverty, and ob- 
scure death to cast a shadow over him which not even West- 
cott as biographer could wholly lift. Little is known of his 
precise activities at the moment when he was writing to the 
colonel — at first apparently to borrow money. 

I, the subscriber, for value received, do promise to pay to 
John Stevens, Esquire, twenty dollars on demand. I also prom- 
ise to make Conveyance of, to the said John Stevens, if required 
in Eight Days from this time, four-tenths of the Patent Rights 
of the Horse Boat on the North River and Rariton River, 
which said Patent belongs to me and Henry Voight in partner- 
ship. This I promise this 11 Day of April, 1795, as witness 
my hand 

John Fitch. 

The colonel, somewhat doubtful of the effectiveness of 
horse-boats, addressed an inquiry to Matthew Barton of the 
Pennsylvania legislature. According to his reply, Barton 
"called on Mr Henry Voight, a very ingenious man," to be 


told that Voight himself was the inventor of the boat and 
the real owner of the patent. Voight did not, however, "be- 
lieve he should ever derive any advantage from it ; the Boat, 
in its construction, being very expensive and requiring four 
horses to work it." As to the rumor that it had made a trip 
from Philadelphia to Trenton, Voight insisted that this jour- 
ney had been performed, instead, by Fitch's steamboat — a 
statement in which other records bear him out. "Upon the 
whole," said Barton of Voight, "he spoke of it as an inven- 
tion more to be admired for its Novelty than for any ad- 
vantage that could result from it." All this was convincing ; 
but the colonel pursued the matter a little further by writ- 
ing to John Nicolson, to whom Fitch had also referred 

Mr J. Fitch called upon me a few days ago with a proposi- 
tion of being concerned with him in erecting ... a Horse 
Boat. He at the same time informed me that he had conveyed 
to you the greater part of the interest in the Patent he had 
obtained therefor; that in consequence of this, you had com- 
pleted the construction of a boat . . . which had performed 
a voyage to Trenton and returned ... to Philadelphia in 
the short time of ten hours. 

My reason for troubling you on this subject is that, being 
the proprietor of the Ferry from South Amboy to New York, 
if there really is a prospect of this invention being usefully 
applied to the propelling [of] passage boats, I might possibly 
be induced to take a concern in the business, upon such terms 
as would prove mutually beneficial. I, therefore, take the lib- 
erty of enquiring of you what has been the results of your 
trials and experiments of the Horse Boat. And, in case the 
project should be feasible, whether you incline to be engaged 
in the construction of a boat to be built here. 

At the same time he wrote to Dr. Ben Say of Philadelphia. 
"What," he asked, "are the boat's defects and why has it 


not been used as a passage-boat?" Dr. Say could give little 
information, because, as he wrote, he had not been greatly 
interested and hence had "not attended the works" during 
the building. He had, however, "seen her at work, last fall, 
when she appeared to get along with some reputation tho' 
the tide was then against her." She was, he added, "a double 
boat with a platform extended across between them, in order 
to increase the surface — as long, perhaps, as a cleaver-sized 

Although the colonel was not encouraged, Fitch was per- 
sistent. In midsummer he wrote that his feeling of serious 
obligation to the colonel induced him to request the latter to 
take "a share in a business which cannot fail to become 
lucrative." The new boat he proposed building would be 
much as Dr. Say had described the old one — that is, really 
two boats, fifty-five feet long and seven feet in beam, bolted 
together by "sundry timbers" five feet long. Fitch thought 
the distance between boats should be such as to permit their 
supporting a circular platform of twenty-one foot diameter, 
upon which the horses — or oxen — were to walk. For machin- 
ery, Fitch contemplated "a cog-wheel of 21 foot, moved by 
the horses, to operate on the cranks, the shaft of which was 
supported at top by a light fraim with 6-inch posts." The 
horses were "to work on arms fixed at the top of these 
shafts; of course, their strength would be principally laid 
out on this fraim and, had it been placed on land, it could 
not long sustain the draft of four horses." As an alterna- 
tive, he offered a plan calling for only one boat — a sixty- 
five-footer of fourteen foot beam and four foot six draft. 
"This," said he, "will take into the boat a 13 foot wheal, 
supported just under the wheal by four stout friction wheals ; 
the arms for the horse to be bolted at the top, and these 
friction wheals may be screwed up to the shaft with such 


nicety as to keep the [main] wheal perfectly steady." In a 
burst of enthusiasm, he declared that "this, Sir, is as im- 
possible of failure as that four horses would fail of drawing 
a wagon . . . and on this opinion" he would "pledge the 
mechanical reputation of John Fitch." Let him but super- 
intend the business and he would ask only "a moderate sus- 
tenance." To all of which he begged an early reply, as he 
planned to stay at Sharon, New York, until he should 
"think it time to set about the business in order to have a 
boat compleated by the first opening of the spring of 
1796." Even when he got no reply at all, he wrote again, 
quoting the earlier letter and discussing the general propo- 
sition for the Hudson River: 

On the supposition that there was 100 chances to 1 of its 
not answering the desired purpose (which I cannot admit) and 
[supposing] the Boat to make a voyage from Albany to New 
York in two days, being so unfortunate as to have but 15 pas- 
sengers on board at 3 cents a mile, and only run 262 days in 
the year — yet the boat would earn fourty thousand dollars. 
This, in ten years during the patent right, would amount — as 
Mr Steaphen's half-part — to two hundred thousand dollars. 

But, even should it be possible that we could or did miscarry, 
the risque of loss would not exceed seven or eight hundred dol- 
lars ; there would be but trifling loss excepting only of the 
machinery of the Rowing works. Say the loss to be 800 dollars ; 
the promise of success, after deducting one-half for the chances, 
is two hundred and fifty times the sum. But an Impartial Es- 
timate would be five hundred times. If it is justifiable for 
men to risque money in a lottery at 12*4 per cent, how much 
more would it be in this, where nothing but able mechanicks 
is required to make the prize sure? 

In still another note, dated a few days later, Fitch re- 
peated his intention of having a boat ready for spring and 
added that he "wished Mr Stevens to have the honours and 

128 john stevens: an American record 

emoluments of it." He meant, he declared, "to make a con- 
veyance of one-half the patent right on the North and 
Rariton Rivers to the person who will take me by the hand 
so far as to get one boat agoing compleat." Again he begged 
for an answer, to be sent through his friend King "at Mr 
Barneybus Rappleyear's near Coonches Dock" — meaning, 
presumably, Coenties. 

Had the colonel gone into the business, he would cer- 
tainly have left a record of it. Hence he obviously had no 
share in the grant Fitch had received from New York's 
legislature in 1787 — the exclusive right to run steamboats 
on the Hudson, under which right the year 1797 has been 
generally accepted as that in which Fitch made his demon- 
stration on the old Collect Pond, over the site of the Tombs 
prison between Catharine and Franklin Streets, New York. 
John Hutchings, describing himself as "a mere lad" hired 
by Fitch to steer this boat, insisted that both Chancellor 
Livingston and Fulton were on board her and that Fitch 
explained the modus operandi to Fulton. "From hearsay," 
added Hutchings, "I believe that Colonel Stevens of Hobo- 
ken and another person by the name of Rosevelt had some 
knowledge of the enterprise." Undoubtedly it is true that 
the colonel never would have missed such an event; but if 
Fulton was there, then all the biographers who have placed 
him in Paris at the time must have been mistaken. Yet how 
could Hutchings, who spoke of often seeing Fulton in after 
years, have confounded him with a man so utterly unlike 
him as was the colonel? The exact facts are not available, 
for Hutchings was, after all, writing his account from a 
memory that might have played him false. As far as Fulton 
is concerned, it does seem unquestioned that he heard all 
about Fitch's boat when his great friend Joel Barlow gave 
him the latest news of American progress in steamboating. 


Certainly the efforts which the colonel had for years been 
making received fresh impetus not only from Fitch but 
also from Captain Samuel Morey, the most interesting of 
the early New England experimenters. According to Guy 
Hubbard's interesting story of him, Morey began in J 790 
and received his first patent for a boat in 1795. Some twenty 
years later, when William Alexander Duer was attacking 
Colden's biography of Fulton as a prejudiced claim for all 
steamboat inventions, Morey sent Duer a letter with evi- 
dence to the contrary. Dated October 31, 1818, it described 
some early experiments and continued: 

. . . The next season [1796] ... I went again to New 
York and applied the power to a wheel in the stern. ... I 
invited the attention of Chancellor Livingston and he, with 
. . . Mr Stevens and others, went with me from the ferry as 
far as Greenwich [Village] and back, and they expressed great 
satisfaction in her performance. 

Morey added a description of his next year's effort at 
Bordentown, using two wheels at the sides instead of one 
at the stern. Since the colonel was constantly coaching 
through New Jersey, he undoubtedly saw Morey's boat and 
discussed it with the chancellor and also with his new asso- 
ciate, Nicholas J. Roosevelt, brother of the late President's 
ancestor. Roosevelt was already interested in the Schuyler 
foundry at Second River, the town now called Belleville on 
the Passaic. Several men recently out from England were at 
work there; as mechanics, they might be presumed to know 
something of British steam-engines. One was Charles Stou- 
denger, later to become Fulton's engineering foreman. An- 
other was Rhode, future preceptor of James P. Allaire, the 
man whose plant was to build many engines in the early 
eighteen hundreds. A third was the draftsman and pattern- 


maker, John Hewitt. Roosevelt was certain these men could 
construct an American design of engine at Soho — the 
Schuyler plant being so named in honor of Watt's works 
at Birmingham. Like the colonel, Roosevelt felt that the 
first essential would be to make sure of Livingston's co- 
operation. Legislation might be needed, and there stood the 
chancellor, his pockets fairly bulging with potential votes 
at Albany. Since he was connected, by profession or by 
marriage, with all the most prominent men and women of 
New York, not a governor of the State — much less any 
assemblyman — could afford to ignore him. He was too close 
to the throttle of a political machine which, when it did not 
actually run the ship of state, was always warmed up and 
ready to do so. Livingston must by all means be persuaded 
to join the enterprise. 

At the first three-cornered conference it became evident 
that the chancellor would come in only upon the condition 
that the boat and engine should follow his own design — 
one no longer wholly approved by either of the other two 
men. When Stoudenger, chosen as foreman, saw the Liv- 
ingston plan in December, 1797, he shook his head. "I'll 
make the drawings," he said, "and I'll build the boat ex- 
actly as he wants it. But don't blame me if it don't work !" 
He did not like Livingston's clinging to the scheme of lifting 
water through the bottom and expelling it at the stern — 
the idea credited to Franklin by the colonel but no longer 
approved by the latter. 

Later, the chancellor's vote was for a water-wheel, hung 
under the keel horizontally and driven from the engine by 
a vertical spindle. The truth is that Livingston was not 
as practical as any of his associates. As a combination of 
gentleman-farmer, judge of vintage- wines, epicure, politi- 
cian, and diplomat, he was a distinguished man. But as an 


omnivorous reader of books, with some latest work always 
in hand, he was apt to reach the final page with a firm con- 
viction that the last word had been spoken upon the par- 
ticular subject, even though that word might contradict an- 
other he had just read with equal confidence. Hence he was 
often led astray in his ideas of steam-engines and always 
sure that his last path w r as the best. What he insisted upon 
building was described in his letter of January 22, 1798, 
sent to Roosevelt at Soho : 

Let her, on the widest part, not exceed ten feet 2 inches; in 
the narrowmost, where the wheels are placed, 9 feet 6 in. In- 
stead of making her sides five feet, make them only three feet 
high. Let her bottom be made of oak plank as well as the bow; 
the sides only of pine or cedar. Let the timber be as light as 
possible, except in the stern where it is necessary to fix the 
machinery. The knees may run six inches above the gunnel 
round the bow, to which l/o inch planking may be nailed so as 
to prevent the spray from washing too much over her. Let 
her be floored with only inch boards. In short, every measure 
must be taken to make her as [so?] light as not — when not 
loaded and without her engine — to draw more than 3 inches 

The water-wheels may be reduced to four feet and a half 
and the plank run past the center of the well so as to make all 
power act directly. The keels not to exceed three inches by 
four, each, as even they will be great obstructions. 

Every means should be taken to lessen the weight of the 
machinery. If the fly runs 3 times at a stroke it need not be 
large or very heavy ; I sh'd suppose 400 pds. sufficient and do 
not see, in that case — as the cog-wheels will not be more than 
two feet — how the whole engine can exceed three tons. At least, 
I think it may be brought to that by using wood where prac- 
ticable. At all events, we must manage it so that the boat, en- 
gine, & fuel do not load her more than six inches ; so that, when 
she has her fly & engines on board, she may not draw more than 
one-foot water. In this case she may be made to go eight miles 
an hour, which will fully answer our purpose. 

132 john stevens: an American record 

On the following day, in another letter to Roosevelt, he 
made a point of saying : "I adhere to this plan. My Brother's 
plan I have not seen but, if it consists in having tivo wheels 
turning toward each other, I have it under consideration 
and prefer the one I have fixed." This was a disappoint- 
ment to the "Brother," for the colonel was already at work 
upon his own idea of a wheel in the stern rather than un- 
der the boat or at its side. 

During the winter, before actual building began, Living- 
ston had bestirred himself over a bill to secure steamboat 
rights on the Hudson. Dr. Samuel Mitchell introduced this 
bill at Albany and at the end of March it became law. As 
passed, the grant began by repealing the previous law in 
favor of Fitch, by which the latter was given "the exclu- 
sive privilege of constructing, making, using, employing, 
and navigating all and every species of Boat or watercraft 
which may be urged or impelled by the force of fire or 
steam, in all creeks, Rivers, Bays, and waters whatever, 
within the boundary and jurisdiction of this state for and 
during the full end and term of fourteen years from and 
after this present session." Although Fitch, under this 
sweeping authority, still had three years to run, he had 
made no real effort to do so. Every one believed him dead, 
and Westcott says that he was dead. At all events, his entire 
rights were transferred to the chancellor upon the condition 
that the latter, within twelve months, should produce "such 
proofs as would satisfy the Governor, the Lieutenant Gov- 
ernor and the Surveyor-General of the State" that he had 
a boat of at least twenty tons, "capable of proceeding with 
or against the current of Hudson's River at a speed of not 
less than four miles an hour." It was further required that 
when — or if — Livingston succeeded, he should keep a boat 


plying between New York and Albany — under the condi- 
tions, a magnificent opportunity. 

Only a small share in the proposed boat was allowed to 
Roosevelt. "You have," the chancellor wrote him, "12/100 
in the patent rights and also in my rights under the [state] 
law; with the exception I mentioned to you, of all ferries 
to the New Jersey shore; to prevent any interference with 
my ferry or Mr Stevens', the exclusive use of boats to which, 
we claim." At this stage of the proceedings the colonel's 
ferry rights formed a point with the chancellor far more 
tender than it afterward became. 

Under the not very propitious circumstance of promoters 
in disagreement on design, the work of building — begun 
that spring at Second River — progressed but slowly. The 
chancellor, impatient over every delay and resentful of 
every call for more money, exclaimed, "Had I anticipated 
this, I should have imported a Bolton Watt engine from 
England." In the fall he went so far as to send an inquiry 
to England, proposing to buy "a 24* inch cylinder, making 
four feet strokes" with "the furnace only, for a wooden 
boiler." This letter, quoted by H. W. Dickinson from the 
Boulton and Watt manuscripts, indicates the chancellor's 
overconfidence in his own influence, for, through a long 
period of years, only three engines were permitted to leave 
England. One went to France for the pumping-station at 
Chantilly ; a second came to America for Aaron Burr's water 
company, and a third was the one Fulton, after long nego- 
tiation with the British authorities, succeeded in bringing 
over for the Clermont. 

Work at Soho having in the meantime progressed, the 
horizontal wheel almost immediately proved a failure, in- 
ducing the chancellor to try something else. The colonel 



then designed a set of elliptical paddles, to be driven by a 
Boulton and Watt engine as understood and built by Stou- 
denger and a new assistant, Smallman. To superintend, 
Roosevelt remained at Soho, while the colonel frequently 

(1 f 

i n 


U I 

\ u 


drove up from Hoboken, and the chancellor, at Clermont, 
continued to be impatient. In June he wrote the colonel: 

I still anxiously expect the fruit of our labours in seeing you 
arrive here at the rate of five miles an hour. . . . Mr Dela- 


beyarre has prepared his battery to give you a salute when 
you pass Red Hook. 

To the actual trials on the Passaic all the notables were 
invited, among them the Marquess d'Yrujo, Spanish minis- 
ter to the United States. This dignitary estimated the speed 
at "upwards of five miles an hour," but the colonel and 
Roosevelt were not inclined to claim more than three and a 
half. With this particular trip we had, until quite recently, 
a living link in the late Mayor Abram S. Hewitt of New 
York. The mayor was the son of John Hewitt, the pattern- 
maker of Soho, and therefore able to quote his father's 
words in telling the story : 

There [to Soho] John Stevens came and built the first low- 
pressure engine. He himself ordered and paid for the first non- 
condensing double-acting engine that was built on the Ameri- 
can continent. That engine was put in a boat in which I 
traversed the route from Belleville to New York and back 
again ; John Stevens being the owner, builder, and captain of 
the boat; Mr Smallman, Mr Rhode, and myself being the pas- 
sengers. And we came to New York in that boat nine years 
before Fulton put the Clermont on the Hudson. 

John Hewitt gave this account just after he had taken 
Abram — a boy of six — over to Hoboken to meet "the great- 
est engineer of his time." The mayor himself said: "I was 
introduced to John Stevens, then eighty-three years old 
but in possession of all his faculties. He called my father 
'John' and they began to talk of old times and particularly 
of this remarkable story. It was often repeated to me by 
my father, or I should not remember it so well." Having 
seen the boat itself, Mayor Hewitt recalled it as "having a 
wheel in the stern"; hence it was evidently that one with 
which the colonel and Roosevelt were not fully satisfied. 


John Hewitt quoted the colonel as declaring that the wheels 
should have been at the side — an opinion in line with Roose- 
velt's. Among the colonel's own papers is his criticism of the 
excessive vibration, causing the piping to leak and the boat's 
seams to open. In his opinion, a radical defect in the engine 
was the "alternating pressure," which he discussed at some 

It may, perhaps, be necessary to subjoin a few remarks, in 
order fully and justly to appreciate the great magnitude of 
the alternate pressures on the cylinder upwards and down- 
wards at each stroke of the piston. Setting aside friction, the 
piston may be considered as working loosely in the cylinder. 
If, therefore, a vacuum be formed on one side of it, and an 
elastic fluid be introduced on the other, a partial pressure will 
take place against the exterior and interior surfaces of each 
end of the cylinder. The one end will have to sustain the pres- 
sure, whatever it may be, of tins elastic fluid gainst the interior 
surface, counteracted by the pressure of the weight of the 
atmosphere on its exterior surface. The other end will have 
to sustain the pressure of the whole weight of the atmosphere 
on its exterior surface, without the counteraction of any pres- 
sure on its interior surface. Should, therefore, the pressure of 
this elastic fluid be less than that of the atmosphere, the differ- 
ence will be the amount of the partial pressure. Should it be 
greater, the excess added to the pressure of the atmosphere 
will constitute the whole partial pressure. 

We will suppose, then, that the steam has an elasticity suffi- 
cient to raise a weight on the safety valve, equal to eight 
pounds on the circular inch; and the pressure of the atmos- 
phere is estimated at twelve pounds on the circular inch. The 
whole partial pressure will then be, alternately on every cir- 
cular inch of each end of the cylinder, equal to twenty pounds. 
On a cylinder, then, of thirty inches diameter, making only fif- 
teen double-strokes per minute, there will be an alternate pres- 
sure upwards and downwards — changing every two seconds — 
of no less than 18,000 pounds. No strength of timber in a boat 


could withstand the enormous strains which such a pressure, 
changing, too, so frequently, would occasion. 

Believing this to be the most serious shortcoming in the 
American Watt engine, the colonel redoubled his efforts to 
design something better. Roosevelt, for his part, next pro- 
posed to the chancellor that they "throw two wheels of 
wood over the sides, fashioned to the axes of the flys, with 
8 arms or paddles." He recommended that "the part which 
enters the water" be made of sheet iron and so fitted that 
it might be shifted up or down "according to the power they 
require." This might serve to drive the boat until a larger 
engine, which Roosevelt considered desirable, could be built. 
A little later he wrote Livingston urging that he "could 
wish your plan to be contrasted w r ith paddles upon Mr 
Stevens' plan or with wheels over the side, so as fairly to 
ascertain the difference in the application of power." But 
the chancellor had no faith in the side-wheeler, and thus it 
was years before Roosevelt's idea was generally adopted in 
America. Livingston was always confident that his own 
scheme — whatever it might chance to be — was the best. To 
that effect, he frequently wrote the colonel such letters as 
this one: 

Clermont, Feb. 5, 1799 
. . . You tell me nothing of your opinion of the last im- 
provement I have made on the engine that I sent you. I have 
since discovered, as I think, a way to make a complete rotary 
motion by the common engine, without any loss of power but 
the friction ; so that buckets may eventually be used instead 
of a ship's pump, with various advantages, & steam engines 
— even on Watt's plan — be rendered much more useful. 

I fear I tire you with my projects, but this is no place for 
news and, as for the politics of the day, they are too un- 
pleasant to be thought of. It is well we can find sources of 


amusement while the winter excludes us from the pleasures of 
gardening and agriculture. 

Never philosophic in temperament, the chancellor was 
just then nursing a political grudge over his defeat by 
John Jay in the race for governor. Consoling himself as 
best he might with steam-engines, his next letter dealt with 
the colonel's theory that no matter what was finally adopted 
to give the actual impulse to the steamboat, the proper 
place for the device would be at the stern. This letter of 
Livingston's also set forth his idea of the existing partner- 

It is impossible to give you my opinion as to the number 
and size of paddles, without knowing the velocity you propose 
to give them or how many will be required for the motion. 
I do not see why you do not fix on fewer and larger ones ; 
too many small ones will not be convenient. But I dare say you 
know more about this subject than I do. 

As to Mr Roosevelt, I think nothing could be fairer than 
our proposition. We embarked together in the project with 
him, on terms of equal risk in proportion to the sum of shares. 
And, if one scheme failed, we were — if we thought it prudent — 
to go on with further trials on the same terms. We now pro- 
pose a second trial ; if he wishes to share in one-third, he 
should stand that share of the expense. For the advantage of 
your invention and aid, you are ... as far as relates to this 
. . . upon equal ground with me. That is, one-half of the first 
expense on one-third of future ones. I am content to join in 
for 1/3. 

Unfortunately, much of this letter is no longer decipher- 
able, but enough can be quoted to show the renewal of part- 
nership. No agreement was put into writing until 1800; 
after that it became one of the chief causes of the often 
acrimonious debate that arose some years later between 
the brothers-in-law. 


At this stage in American steamboating, Marc Isambard 
Brunei presented himself. This young man, born in Nor- 
mandy and educated at Rouen for the priesthood, had aban- 
doned holy orders to join the French navy. Mechanical taste 
and real ability, demonstrated when he was only seventeen, 
had won him almost instant recognition and an apparently 
assured future at sea. But as an ardent royalist at the time 
of the Terror he had been forced to fly for his life to 
America. Naturally planning to earn his living as a me- 
chanic, he applied to the colonel, who was not long in dis- 
covering that a place must be made for a young man who 
knew so much more than the average. 

Brunei found the colonel in the midst of an effort to get 
higher steam temperatures and consequent greater boiler 
efficiency. Experimenting with primitive "flash-boilers," the 
colonel was led to something new in engines, of which we have 
this description: 

I do hereby certify that the machinery for propelling a boat, 
a draft of which Mr Stevens has put into my hands for the 
purpose of constructing a working model, is not in any part 
my invention but, as far as I know, altogether an invention 
of his own. 

The essence of which invention consists principally in the 
following particulars, viz: A piston working in a cylinder and 
put in motion by the explosion of an inflammable gas; and is 
re-acted upon by the pressure or elasticity of the air in the 
cylinder above the piston. 

This air, as the piston rises, becomes more and more com- 
pressed and, in proportion to this compression, its resistance 
increases. By this means, the motion of the piston is gradually 
retarded, and must finally be arrested, without violence or 
injury; let the force of the explosion be what it may. 

The explosion is instantly succeeded by a vacuum under the 
piston and the condensed air, acting above the piston, presses 
it down again. Thus an alternating or reciprocating motion 


is established which, with proper machinery, may be applied 
to any mechanical purpose. The present application towards 
propelling a boat is, by means of cranks, to give an elliptical 
motion to a number of paddles in a mode not hitherto practiced. 
New York, January 30, 1798. I. Brunei. 

The internal combustion engine originated with Papin 
and the Abbe Hautefeuille, Frenchmen of about 1680, who 
used powder explosions for motive power. A century later, 
in England, John Barber mixed coal-gas with air in a re- 
tort, lighted this mixture, and discharged it against a pad- 
dle-wheel. In 1794 the explosion of gases ignited outside 
a cylinder was first used by Robert Street, another Eng- 
lishman, to operate an actual piston. It is entirely possible 
that the colonel had studied Street's engine, but his own is 
the earliest that has been found in any American record. 
Some further account of it is to be had from a letter written 
to him by Brunei: 

Soon after your going off, I began some experiments on the 
machine. The heat of the brass cup was sufficient to create the 
gas. Having injected some Spirit with the Seringe and kept 
the candle by the hole in the front (I mean the hole which 
was shut with a little bit of wood) an explosion took place; 
such a one as to blow water out from the horizontal or square 
pipe with a great vilence. The fire ruched through all the 
apertures, though there was but little spirit injected. 

I tried immediately a second explosion, which impressed like 
the first one. I could not get a third explosion, the cylinder 
being quite full with Smoke. I blowed out all the smock and 
then tried again. I met with the former success. I proceeded 
further but, the more I tried, the longer was the time necessary 
to create another explosion. I found that the bellows ought to 
have a very large aperture or pipe leading to the Cylinder 
in order to blow the Smock out. I suppose that is the cause 
which causes so much delay in the intervals between the ex- 


plosions. The explosions don't make much noise, about as much 
as yesterday, when the gaz-box was open. I will make no altera- 
tion until you see the same effect. 

The Chance begins to assume a fair prospect. 
Your Obedient Servant 

I. Brunei. 
My men got terrified when, at the first explosion, Smith who 
set the candle to the aperture was watered by the blowing 
out of the water. 

Much interested by the possibilities of these explosions 
as a means of increasing engine efficiency, the colonel thus 
described his ideas and intentions: 

After procuring inflammable gas or air, by distillation from 
wood or pit coal, perfectly pure and separated from all mix- 
ture of tar, oils, acids, etc — by means which will be particu- 
larly described in the specifications of a patent I propose 
applying for at some future day — and after mixing the same 
with a due proportion of atmospherical air, my invention con- 
sists in introducing inflammable matter . . . into each end of 
the cylinder of a steam engine. When the piston in the cylinder 
shall have moved one-third of the way (or such distance as may 
be found most advantageous) from the top to the bottom or 
from the bottom to the top, I set fire to the same, (i.e. the 
inflammable mixture) thus causing an explosion in each end of 
the cylinder at each stroke of the piston, up and down. 

Of the mechanical means of performing these operations most 
conveniently, I shall not attempt to give a description, as they 
may be variously modified and will not affect my claim to the 
Principle itself ; which may be generally stated thus : 

The explosion of any inflammable or combustible matter or 
substance, whether gaseous, fluid, or concrete, in such manner 
and under such circumstances as that the temperature of a 
given quantity of steam shall be raised therby, and its elas- 
ticity and operative power increased. 

The impression made upon Brunei by these experiments 
was never effaced. Years after he had gone back to Europe 


he was still making tests of liquefied gases as fuels and as 
motive-power, never losing faith in ultimate success. Not 
all his inventions of shoemaking machines, copying machines, 
and circular saws, nor his attempt to dig a tunnel under 
the Thames, could keep him from devoting his spare time 
to the theory of the gas-engine. His enthusiasm and ability 
inspired Colonel Stevens to go on until he had built the 
first ocean-going steamer in history, just as they afterward 
inspired his own son, Kingdom Brunei, to build the Great 
Western, first steamer to make regular ocean trips. It was 
a real disappointment to the colonel when Brunei, finding it 
politically possible to do so, went back to France. 


Determined that all his sons should follow him to King's 
College, the colonel directed their earliest education toward 
that end. When Robert was twelve and James nine, their 
father consulted a cousin of his grandmother's, Bishop 
Provoost, in the matter of a tutor and finally chose a stu- 
dent under the bishop, Richard Channing Moore. Moore 
had begun life as a doctor of medicine and acquired a fair 
practice, when he suddenly abandoned this for theology — ! 
apparently a wise change, since he eventually became a cele- 
brated Episcopal Bishop of Virginia. In 1799, he was en- 
tirely ready to augment a meager salary with the tuition 
fees of Robert and James : "Six months, with coach-hire for 
them, etc, £52 18s 5d." 

The colonel and Moore pressed the boys on to good rec- 
ords. Before long, however, a small building was erected 
on the Hoboken lawn and in it a scholar named Bogle took 
up the preparation of the Stevens boys for college. Four 
brothers went to King's in due course, but Robert, whose 
mental curiosity was the greatest, obtained his father's 
permission to continue under Bogle and become an engineer. 
Study was no trial to him and much of his playtime was 
spent in gazing through the window of a second out-house, 
in which some experiment of the colonel's was apt to be 
in progress. Edwin might be beside Robert on such occa- 
sions but John Cox usually preferred the tiller of a sail- 
boat. James, as a boy, used boats mainly as a way to go 
fishing. In this favorite sport, he practiced to such purpose 



that in late life he could entertain his friends by sitting in 
a chair, silk hat upon his head, and casting flies neatly into 
teacups placed at incredible distances from his feet. Only to 
Robert did boat, from the outset, inevitably mean steamboat. 

Constantly on the river with the father, the boys often 
heard him inveigh against the prospect on the east bank. 
As their boat drew near the New York landing-stairs, the 
colonel damned the dingy city that Henry Adams would long 
afterward describe as "like a foreign seaport; unpaved, un- 
drained, and as foul as a town surrounded by the tide could 
be." With its fevers and its prevalent plagues, how could 
men and women endure living in such a hole? As much for 
colorful protest as for good advertising, the colonel resolved 
to mark the birth of a new century by expanding and en- 
riching his Hoboken gardens. 

To any one interested in flowers he gave a warm wel- 
come. From Richardson Brothers, booksellers, of Cornhill, 
London, he ordered each book on horticulture as soon as it 
left the press, while every local sale of seeds or bulbs found 
him elbowing his way to the front rank of buyers, in case 
some new variety might be offered. When he learned that a 
plaster "to promote the growth of trees and heal their 
wounds" had been compounded by Forsyth, a gardener to 
King George for whom the well-known shrub is named, the 
colonel's trial order went back to England by the ship that 
had brought the news. Every experimental fertilizer had its 
carefully tended plot at Hoboken ; each plant and tree upon 
the hillside was given its best chance. 

With Michael Floy, leading commercial florist of the 
day, and with Robert Renwick, the colonel entered into a 
definite horticultural partnership. By agreement a complete 
inventory of all plants, shrubs, and trees in the Stevens gar- 
dens was made, including the contents of those conspicuous 



novelties called greenhouses. In addition to the estimated 
value of this inventory, the colonel's share in the enterprise 
covered ten acres set aside for the firm, the use of the build- 
ings already erected and of any new ones found necessary, 
and the required supply of fuel for heating. All the fruit 
produced within a certain hedge of poplars was to be 
divided; one half to the colonel and one fourth to each of 
his partners, with the understanding that all grass and hay 
was to be his alone. Floy and Renwick, the former as treas- 
urer, were to devote all their time to the business, but they 
do not appear to have done so. Originally made for ten 
years, the agreement soon languished and the inventory dis- 
appeared. Since, except for Dr. David Hosack's effort in 
New York, the Stevens gardens were the most elaborate and 
the most scientifically cultivated of the day, it is unfortu- 
nate that the record is not more complete. Those gardens 
— and the breezes that blew across them — undoubtedly 
played a leading part in making the heights of Weehawken 
New Jersey's richest modern field for wild flowers. Their 
history should be more than a patchwork of such odd scraps 
as the back of a note inviting the Stevens ladies "to drink 
tea with the Misses McCall on Saturday next" — used by the 
colonel for the rough draft of his letter to Gordon & Darmer, 
in London: 

I have been very unfortunate, both in the seeds and plants 
which you shipped for me last spring. Instead of being near the 
top, they were put into the bottom of the vessel; the conse- 
quence of which was, they were so much confined and heated as 
to occasion the impairage of the greater part of them. But, in 
addition to this misfortune, the contents of the box in which 
the flowers and tender plants were packed were entirely de- 
stroyed by rats. Had they, however, escaped being heated and 
eaten by rats, they were certainly shipped a month too late. 


Instead of arriving here in April, I did not receive them until 
near the latter part of May. 

No wonder the colonel changed his British agents. In 
America, with William Hamilton, Dr. Hosack, and a score 
of others, he was constantly exchanging fuchsia for hy- 
drangea, banksia for magnolia, and so on. To the superin- 
tendent of the botanical gardens of Jamaica he wrote, asking 
for slips and bulbs from "exotics," to which he carefully 
gave their botanical names. Particularly it was with Chan- 
cellor Livingston that he carried on a lively trading of this 
kind, as suggested by one of Livingston's letters : 

I send, by this stage, poplar of the species I mentioned, a 
single oleander in seed, a Yucca gloriosa, a double-flowering 
pomegranate, a small plant of Bladder Senna — red, as I be- 
lieve, but the seed being all off I may mistake it — the American 
Bladder Senna, and the Clermont or single white rose. You 
can send me, by the return of stage, anything you have of 
which you have reason to expect I have none. 

Here the colonel paused, to make a marginal note of what 
he would send: "Fuchsia, Rosa Simplex Florans, Oxalis, 
Double Althia, Cornilla Emrus." Then he read the rest of 
the letter. 

I have anxiously expected to hear of the boat, from which 
I have learned nothing; by which I fear she has not succeeded. 

Your Mother proposes to spend the winter with us, tho' I 
believe is not absolutely determined thereon. What effect will 
Bonaparte's failure have? Will it procure us peace or shall 
we have war at all events? 

A week later, Livingston was still mixing horticulture, 
personal items, and engineering. 

I rec'd in good order the rich present of plants that you have 
made me, and wish it was in my power to return anything 


further from here. I do not know anything but the double 
sunflower, the seeds of which I send herewith. 

In all our former calculations, we have forgot that one-half 
the power is necessarily lost by water not acting as a solid 
body, and that so much force as is lost in making it recede is 
lost. By this time, I hope that your boat is finished ; I hope 
by experiment that it will answer as well as you expected. 
Your mother, who had not fortitude enough to be frozen in 
here, will tell you all the news of your friends. 

The colonel could never find time enough for his gardens 
because so many other activities clamored for his attention. 
At this particular moment, when New York's recurrent 
plagues were ascribed to foul water, the whole question of a 
proper supply came very much to the front. The shrewd 
Aaron Burr was the first to see how a screen of pure water 
could be used to hide a rival to Alexander Hamilton's 
banks ; behind such a screen the Manhattan Company was 
born. Public service being the company's ostensible, highly 
laudable object, the necessity for what we should call a con- 
sulting engineer was apparent. Livingston, then inclined 
to Burr and very active in lobbying the legislature for a 
charter, suggested the selection of Colonel Stevens, who ac- 
cordingly subscribed for a thousand shares at two dollars 
and a half and became a member of the company's original 
Board of Directors. At the first meeting he was appointed 
the head of a committee including Samuel Osgood and John 
B. Coles, with instructions to report immediately upon the 
best way to give the city fresh water. Very soon the company 
was buying hundreds of pine logs and boring them to build 
mains, while lead pipes were prepared as leads to carry the 
water actually into the houses. The published proposal 
stated that "each house shall be supplied with water in 
every quantity desired," with an estimate that "on paying 


20 cents each month, each subscriber shall be supplied with 
at least one Hogshead of water during every 24* hours, and 
so in proportion for greater quantities." Later, the basis 
of payment became the number of fireplaces, a house with 
four of these being charged five dollars a year. To lay the 
hollow logs, with their clumsy gate-valves, and to connect 
them with the company's wells near the Collect Pond, became 
the colonel's job. The water was delivered to the surface 
"through plugs at convenient distances," while a fountain 
at the foot of Dey Street was used to supply the shipping at 
the wharves. Eventually, supplying two thousand houses 
through twenty-five miles of mains, the system ran all the 
way up to Bleecker Street; remains of it, in unexpectedly 
good condition, are still occasionally dug up by downtown 
excavators. To the colonel, Burr's underlying purpose was 
unimportant, although it was plain enough from a letter 
written to him by the chancellor: 

Clermont, April 6th, 1799 
You have seen the charter of the water works company of 
which you are a director and I hope will accept, at least until 
the thing is in motion. Never was a more liberal charter 
granted ; as you find, it is perpetual and they are not limited 
in the application of the money. You should now endeavour 
to get the cheapest projects on foot, that more money may 
be spared for other purposes. I left you some observations on 
the health of the town, which it would facilitate your plans to 
publish and put out of the people's heads the idle idea of 
watering the streets. 

In June the chancellor added: 

I hear not what your company is doing as to a supply of 
water, but I hear it generally reported that you mean to do 
nothing but that job. I hope that this suggestion is not well 


The country looks charmingly and our prospects of plenty 
are very pleasing. And I hope, in spite of our government, that 
our prospects of peace are not less so. I write surrounded by 
five Gent'n, whose jeuw d' esprit are constantly calling my at- 
tention ; be not, therefore, surprised at the incoherence of this, 
but present me affectionately at home. 

Although the colonel became a depositor, he had little or 
nothing to do with the founding of the bank. His time was 
spent in laying new pipes or in demonstrating that watering 
the streets was no "idle idea" but a vital factor in public 
health. Upon this point there was quite a spirited discussion, 
the colonel maintaining that salt water would not promote 
but retard the putrefaction of the refuse with which most of 
the streets were filled. Also under consideration was the 
question of the best power to use for distribution, the colonel 
believing that the horse-pumps, costing "at least five thou- 
sand dollars for 250 to 300 thousand gallons per diem," 
could profitably be replaced by steam-pumps. Livingston 
then suggested that the Manhattan buy one of the experi- 
mental engines previously built by Roosevelt, Stevens, and 
himself, contending that it was "astonishing how they [the 
company] obstinately refuse what is known to answer, and 
run after new ideas," to say nothing of "the negligence and 
fraud in the contractors or their servants, through which 
the [horse] pumps perform one-half they contract to do." 
Should Roosevelt be unwilling to part with the engine, the 
chancellor suggested importing one from England, only to 
discover that the colonel had plans for a steam-pump of his 

Savery's pump appeared to him to be the best of the 
English designs. This introduced steam into a water-filled 
cylinder, expelled the water into a delivery pipe, and then, 
by clearing the cylinder of steam, created a vacuum to draw 


more water from the well. But steam in direct contact with 
water — using, in effect, a water-piston — meant enormous 
condensation losses and prohibitive fuel-cost. To the colonel 
the importance of reducing these to reasonable limits was 

"My improvement," he wrote, "consists in placing the 
valves" — by which he meant the suction and discharge 
valves in the water-chamber — "at the bottom of a shaft 
[cylinder] of about 25 feet long." To cut off communication 
between the steam at the top and the water at the bottom of 
this "shaft," he placed "a column of oil 10, 15, or 20 feet 
high on the top of the water" ; proposing, by mixing mineral 
and vegetable oils of differing specific gravities, to make this 
"separation between water and steam" complete. On top 
of the oil floated a cylindrical bag, made of canvas, and 
hooped to prevent its collapse; above this the top of the 
shaft was closed by a cone of wood through which was 
passed the steam-pipe from the boiler. Under steam-pressure 
the bag descended the shaft, forcing the water under the oil 
out through the discharge-valve and at the same time closing 
the suction-valve. After each "stroke" the steam was re- 
leased from the cone through an exhaust-pipe, while the oil 
and water rose again in the shaft. As shown by his sketch, 
the colonel built the pump in two stages, discharging from 
the first into a second shaft and thus obtaining sufficient 
lift. In order to make the cones as little conducting as pos- 
sible, he had "the hoops of wood covered inside with oil- 
cloth, having an interlining, between the hoops and the oil- 
cloth, of flannel or soft blanket." Further to save steam, he 
exhausted both cones into condensers placed in the two 
shafts or water-chambers. The pump was installed on the 
premises of the Manhattan Company, and, though we should 


to-day hardly call it efficient, it did prove mechanically 

Learning that Appollos Kinsley, owner of a small 
machine-shop in Greenwich Street, had an idea but no 
money, the colonel next advanced some capital in exchange 
for a share in the patent-rights. Kinsley's letter indicates 
that what he had in hand was not only a pumping-engine 
for the Manhattan but also a device for operating power- 

Aug. 16th, 1801 
We put our steam engine in operation yesterday ; it revolves 
47 times in a minute by a second-hand watch. It will lift eight 
pounds by a cord on a seven-inch wheel — which is equal to 
raising a gallon of water 70 feet high, per minute, or 1440 gal. 
70 feet in 24 hours. . . . 

It went with sufficient force to turn the wheel handsomely 
with a gouge & chisel, which is on the axis & [the axis] is six 
inches diameter. It several times lifted a 56 [pound] weight by 
a cord on the axis, but it was a little too heavy for it. 

The quantity of fuel used after the furnace was hot was 
very trifling indeed. It appears as if it might run a century 
without a repair that would cost a shilling. One of twice that 
size would be worth four or five hundred dollars a year, to 
carry a turning-lathe. I intend to fix a small pump to it &, 
after we have played with it a while, that & the engine are at 
your service. Will you please to call tomorrow with Dr Brown 
[a Manhattan director] and see it operate. 

Upon this, the colonel made numerous proposals to the 
Manhattan Company, most of them addressed to its presi- 
dent, Daniel Ludlow, an old friend for whom the colonel 
sometimes broke an established rule in order to bet ten 
guineas on their respective bushels of corn to the acre. In 
June, 1801, the colonel pledged himself "to have, in three 


months from this day, a steam Engine complete, capable 
of delivering, at the height of the present reservoir, two 
million gallons of water per diem." The cost of this was to 
be fifteen thousand dollars, "with annual maintainance at ten 
thousand." Of this there is a record in the directors' minutes, 
September 4. 

A letter from John Stevens, Esquire, was read, requesting 
that he be permitted to occupy a space of about twelve feet 
square for the purpose of erecting a steam-engine, within the 
building containing the horse-pumps, not in any way interfer- 
ing with the same. Whereupon, RESOLVED 

That Mr John Stevens be permitted to occupy the ground 
therein mentioned, for the purpose of erecting a Steam-Engine. 
It is understood, however, that the Company do not hereby 
engage to make a purchase thereof, but are at liberty to order 
the same removed, whenever they think proper. 

Two boilers were then built by the colonel and arrange- 
ments were made for laying twelve-inch pipes "in a range" 
to the water wells. But as "Doc. Kinsley" fell ill and was 
unable to complete the engine, another one, constructed by 
Robert McQueen on the Boulton & Watt model, was sub- 
stituted. This appears to have been in operation for many 
years, the Manhattan supplying the city with water until, 
in 1844, this service was taken over by the municipality. 

Experimenting with pumps did not wholly distract the 
colonel from his main object — an engine to provide better 
means for crossing the Hudson. Still largely dependent upon 
a squadron of "pittyaugers," the colonel was determined to 
replace these with steam-driven boats, both to increase his 
own convenience and to provide a decent public service. 
Believing that steam, through its great saving of time, would 
in the long run be cheaper, he could see, by studying the 
existing ferry rates, just what the competition would be: 


Bergen Court House, June 11, 1799, the Board of Chosen 
Freeholders met, pursuant to Adjournment. . . . Isaac Nicoll, 

From the fifteenth day of July next, the following rates to 
be taken at the different ferries on Hudson's River: 

For every single person 0.06 

Man and horse 20 

Horse, Cow, or ox 18 

Cow and calf 22 

Sheep or hogs, per head 04* 

Horse, chair, and single person 37 

Horses, top chair, and single person 42 

Coach and two horses 1.25 

Phaeton " " " 90 

Sleigh " " " 75 

" "one " 62 

Iron, per cwt 02 

Pipe or hogshead of beer 75 

Barrel of Beer or Cider 12 

Barrel of flour 06 

Bag " " 03 

Goods, wares, or merchandise up to 150 pds.. . .06 

All persons, carriages, cattle, etc., which pass between sunset 
and nine o'clock in the evening, to be double ferriage. 

An idea of the design of steamboat then in hand may be 
gathered from the colonel's letter to Roosevelt in mid- 
summer : 

I would wish to determine on our plan for placing the pad- 
dles in the stern of the boat, and proceed immediately to 
putting it into execution. You and Stoudenger and Smallman 
must lay your heads together on the subject and, as soon as 
you have fixed upon the plan you conceive will be most eligible, 
I wish you would take a ride down here and communicate it 
to me. At the same time, I will give you the result of my cogi- 
tations. I think it will be necessary to have two or three rows 
of paddles in the stern. 


In reply, Roosevelt was apologetic: 

I wish it was in my power to expedite the boat faster than 
I do, as I am not only anxious to see the experiment made but 
ready to give you all the assistance in my power. Pray come up 
and see how things go on here, that I may be clear of all blame. 

Be so obliging as to send the paddles to the ferry house 
(York side) that I may get them up and begin fixing them so 
as to have all ready by the time the vessel is. . . . My pride 
will not suffer me to say anything on the subject of the cylin- 
ders, which is, at present, the only difficulty to be encountered. 

Yet this was a most serious difficulty, because, power- 
driven borers being unknown, the turning of cylinders and 
pistons required great hook-tools, manned by several hands. 
A very similar job of boring a thirty-eight-inch cylinder for 
the Philadelphia water works required nearly four months, 
during which two men "practically lived in the cylinder, 
relieving each other night and day." Hence the Stevens- 
Roosevelt design used up plenty of time, in which the chan- 
cellor, still a partner in the business, could write the colonel : 

I had been impatiently expecting a letter when I received 
yours. . . . The experiment seems to have been made under 
many disadvantages. The point of the utmost importance 
to ascertain is the actual velocity of the boat with a given 
power. ... I should conclude that your paddles have about 
the same effect as my wheels. ... If it should clearly be ascer- 
tained that the present engine will carry her 31/o miles an 
hour, then I should by all means agree with you in proceeding 
in the business on our joint account with Mr Roosevelt. 

Progress with the small boat and paddles convinced the 
colonel that a larger craft should immediately be built — 
a suggestion of his which brought another letter from 
Livingston : 


Clermont, Aug. 2nd 
I am happy to find you so well satisfied from your last ex- 
periment of the practicability of your plan as to determine 
to proceed on a larger scale. It is much to be regretted that 
we could not have begun, during the long days and mild 
weather of summer, to set the boat in motion. No means should 
be neglected to do it as early as possible, not only on account 
of the profit but the great probable success of the scheme, 
before the boisterous weather starts. 

I see many advantages in your new mode of placing the 
paddles, and but one difficulty — that of steering; unless you 
fix the rudder in the bow, which would perhaps be the best 
mode. The placing the condenser under water would, I believe, 
occasion some interruption in the motion of the boat ; nor do I 
believe that the condensation can be in any way so rapid as 
by jet. To produce this, I think, the raising water into the 
condenser was quite unnecessary, since the jet might be made 
by a syringe or forcing-pump, acting on the water below the 
boat, which would be cooler than that raised into the well. 
And some weight and room in the boat might be saved thereby. 

Both the colonel and the chancellor were attracted by 
the idea of using mercury in the steam cylinder, and about 
this the latter consulted the famous Dr. Priestley, discoverer 
of oxygen. When Priestley replied that "mercury may be 
used as proposed, without any great inconvenience," the 
chancellor sent this on to the colonel with the comment: 
"The more I reflect on this, the more I am satisfied that, 
with your improvement of the double-ejection air-pump, 
this [mercury] removes every possible defect of the steam- 
engine !" 

Such enthusiasm was characteristic of the chancellor. 
In despair over one move of the colonel's, the next would 
so please him that he would prepare for a long leap forward 
into a rosy future. He was never aware that he was not 
as soundly practical as either of his two associates ; never able 


to realize that he could do most for American steamboating 
by making fewer suggestions himself and throwing his full 
influence and whole purse to the support of their ideas. 
Thus, on Christmas day, after considering a fresh plan of 
the colonel's, he wrote : 

1st., the alteration you propose will enhance the expense; 
the whole frame for the support of the works must be altered 
or re-formed. 2nd, the casting and boring will be more difficult. 
3rd, the boiler, being now barely sufficient for a 16-inch cylin- 
der, will not suffice upon your plan because the steam, being 
exposed in the two cylinders to a greater surface than while 
confined in one, more of it will be lost ; and also because the 
steam, being divided, double the time is afforded for the cylinder 
to cool. 

Evidently the chancellor was not, at the outset, taken 
with the colonel's theory that the engine should be com- 
pounded. After some further reflection, his next letter was 
on feed-water heaters as proposed by the colonel: 

Your improvement, as I understand it, consists in putting 
the cylinders in the boiler so as to keep them always at the 
heat of boiling water. This, I think, it will perhaps more effec- 
tually do than the mode I proposed. ... If the Manhattan 
will undertake it, as I think they certainly should, I should 
prefer your mode because it will save a considerable portion 
of steam. But in what way do you propose to get rid of 
your air and exhaust steam? I suppose you mean to annex 
air-pumps ? 

However, the chancellor did gain time for further experi- 
ments by obtaining from the New York legislature that ex- 
tension of the Hudson grant which came to be known as the 
Fourth Law. In a pamphlet published during one of the 
many steamboat quarrels of the early eighteen hundreds 
this law was described as "a confirmation of the 3rd, passed 


to Nicholas Roosevelt, John Stevens, and Robert R. Living- 
ston . . . three gentlemen, two of whom are Jerseymen 
and the third married to a lady from that state and with a 
large property there." It was after this legislative success 
that the three bound themselves in writing to share, for 
twenty years after 1800, any steamboat enterprise which 
either of them might inaugurate upon the Hudson. 

Livingston was not very sanguine with the colonel over 
the third partner. "As to Roosevelt," he wrote early in the 
year, "I believe we can expect nothing from him, for he is 
pursuing new schemes." And this was at least partly true, 
because Roosevelt had contracted to build several steam- 
pumps for the Philadelphia Water Company and had also 
undertaken to cast guns for the frigates of the Constitution 
class. Still, he had not altogether abandoned steamboat in- 
terest, for in August, 1800, he wrote the colonel from Laurel 

I am putting in new braces as well as new paddles — the whole 
will be done by the last of this week ; if I can get finished 
before, I will inform you. I shall remain at home on Saturday 
in hopes of seeing you. I suppose your authority suffices, with- 
out the Chancellor's, as I consider you and him as one in this 

During all these months, discussion of steamboats had been 
growing, although this, to be sure, was more evident in Eng- 
land than in America, where many citizens understood so 
little of Boulton & Watt that they thought the steam-engine 
itself ridiculous. The father of John and Benjamin Latrobe, 
both of whom afterward became prominently connected with 
the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, was a typical skeptic who 
particularly irritated Colonel Stevens. 

"There are," said he in what became known as "Latrobe's 


Objections," "indeed general objections to the use of the 
Steam Engine for impelling boats, from which no particular 
mode of application can be free." These he proceeded to 
enumerate as follows : 

The weight of the engine and fuel. 

The large space occupied. 

The tendency of its action to rock the vessel and render it 

The expense of maintenance. 

The irregularity of its motion, and the motion of the water 
in the boiler & cistern, and of the fuel, with the vessel in rough 

The difficulty arising from the liability of the paddles or 
oars to break, if light ; and from the weight, if made too strong. 

Latrobe, by adding that "a sort of mania began to prevail 
for impelling boats by steam engines," branded the early 
American inventor with the adjective "crackbrained" that 
has ever since stuck to the profession. Believers were few, 
scoffers many, and the latter never hesitated to take a fling 
at the former. "The substitution," declared an Englishman 
named Brewster, "of the power of steam or heated air in 
place of the strength of men, appears to us no invention at 
all [ !] ; if it were, we should have numerous rivals contend- 
ing for the honour of applying the Steam Engine to the 
threshing-machine. When Mr. Jonathan Hulls, therefore, 
in the year 1736, took out a patent for the application of 
one of Newcomen's Engines to a vessel for towing ships in 
and out of harbour, he merely proposed to substitute the 
power of steam in place of the power of men. His proposal 
w r as neither characterized by sagacity nor inventive genius ; 
and the intermediate mechanisms by which the reciprocating 
motion of the piston was converted into the rotatory motion 


of the paddle-wheels or fans, as he called them, was clumsy 
and imperfect." 

Robert Stuart's comment upon the caustic Brewster ex- 
presses a rather better spirit toward the early pioneers of 
Colonel Stevens's day. "It is not always fair," he declared, 
"to judge of the value of a contrivance by its importance 
as estimated in times of comparatively refined invention. At 
this moment [1824] we should call the application of the 
Steam Engine to move Balloons a very fine invention, 
although the engine itself should be the identical one that 
had moved a threshing machine or a coal wagon!" In this 
spirit, it is perfectly proper to credit to-day's flights over 
the Pole or across the Atlantic to those determined experi- 
menters who insisted that a steam-engine could and would 
drive a vessel. 

In this same connection it seems only fair to give Nicholas 
Roosevelt his due. If he did not actually invent side- wheels, 
he was certainly one of the most insistent among their early 
advocates. We have already seen that he wanted to use them, 
in 1798, for the Polacca, as the small craft at Second River 
was called, and there is good evidence that he stuck to them 
ever afterward. One of the Latrobe sons, in his "Lost Chap- 
ter in the History of Steam Navigation," summarizes Roose- 
velt's views ; it would be an insult to the intelligence of 
Robert Fulton to suppose that he did not study these views 
when the plans of the Polacca came to him in Paris, just as 
he studied the views of Cartwright, Watt, and others. Giv- 
ing full credit to Roosevelt for paddle-wheels, there is one 
passage in Latrobe's brochure which is also significant with 
regard to Colonel Stevens. "That both Stevens and Fulton 
were wrong," said he, "and that Roosevelt was right, time 
has conclusively established." Since the "time" at which he 
wrote was one that called the side-wheeler a commonplace 


and the propeller still a novelty, Latrobe naturally missed 
what is now obvious. The colonel's "wheels in the stern" were 
the real prophecy. 

Notwithstanding his great hopes of succeeding with an 
American engine and the obvious difficulties in the way of 
importing an English one, the colonel thought it prudent 
to investigate the cost of a Boulton & Watt. The British 
engineers listed a four-horsepower engine, exclusive of 
setting-up, at £130; an eight-horsepower type at £500; 
the smaller of the two being designed to burn ten or twelve 
bushels of Liverpool coal in ten hours. An engine capable 
of raising 1500 tons of water thirty feet in twelve hours 
would be delivered at any port in England for £480; one 
that did the same work in six hours would cost £670 not in- 
cluding pumps. Of these two, the first was expected to burn 
"half a ship's bucket" (50 pounds) ; the second, a whole 
bucket. Since delivery at a British port was one thing, and 
getting them out of England quite another, the colonel con- 
cluded he would continue with his own efforts at home. 

He was scrupulous in informing Livingston of every new 
Idea, in order not to violate what was really the most im- 
portant clause of the three-side agreement: 

It is further agreed that all improvements that may be made 
by either of the parties, in the mode of navigating a boat by 
steam, shall be for the mutual benefit of the parties in propor- 
tion to the respective shares they may hold. This agreement 
to continue in force for the term of twenty years unless sooner 
dissolved by mutual consent, either party reserving the right 
to sell or dispose of his share, first offering the pre-emption to 
the others. 

Under this clause it was next proposed that Roosevelt should 
build a new engine, each of the three paying one third the 


estimated cost of twelve hundred dollars and Roosevelt for- 
feiting one dollar for each day's delay beyond the first of 
the next May. These were the details: 

First, a new cylinder is to be added to the Engine in the 
stead and place of the one now used, which new Cylinder is 
to be sixteen inches diameter, to work double; to make the 
usual threefoot strokes, and to be cased in the usual manner. 
The Boiler is to be so altered, agreeably to a plan proposed 
by . . . Robert Livingston, as to admit the hot water for 
replenishing the Boiler without the necessity of suspending a 
hot-well above the Boiler. The necessary cranks and paddles, 
upon a plan of John Stevens, are to be made; the frame work 
to be fixed; and the Machinery to be put in such a state as to 
be enabled to perform as far as the same may depend upon 
the skill of the operation. Two-thirds of the sum stipulated, 
being Eight hundred dollars, to be paid to Nicholas Roosevelt 
in equal weekly instalments. 

When May came and the boat was not finished, the chan- 
cellor became caustic. "Is the whole scheme given over," he 
asked the colonel, "or has it miscarried? Or has the attrac- 
tion of cohesion that usually subsists between you and Ho- 
boken operated too strongly to permit those excursions to 
Second River which alone can overcome Roosevelt's delays? 
I think you should bring R. to some conclusion. If he will 
do nothing for us, it is not right that he should share in 
our inventions." As always, the chancellor could not appre- 
ciate the difficulties in the way of mechanically applying a 
theory ; the distance that often lay between conception and 
realization was not appreciated by him. Upon these points 
the colonel remained the go-between; it was to him that 
Roosevelt replied when Livingston's complaint had been 
duly passed along: 

The boat has constantly engaged my attention since you 
were here. I have had one set of hands employed the whole time 


in boring, one set a-chizzling; one smith's fire, and three hands 
on the vessel. Every part of the work is now finished except 
the cylinder (which will require 10 nights' work, the only time 
I can devote to it) and the paddles, which might have been, 
long since, if the other work had been so forward as to require 
it. In two weeks, I now expect to be moving — how fast, I will 
not venture to say, but much faster than we have yet gone. 

I will be silent about the execution of the work and leave you 
to judge of its merit and of how much I will lose by the job 
after receiving $1200. The Cylinder, it is true, has been the 
most tedious part of it, but, when finished, will add considerable 
volume to our engine. I am sorry we have all of us been disap- 
pointed in the time, but as I am the greatest sufferer I have 
the most reason to complain. I will wait on you some time next 
week. . . . 

John Stevens, Esq 

(To be left at Glendening's 
Smith-shop, Fork of the road 
to Powl's Hook and Hoboken) 

Finished and given several trials, this boat proved not 
wholly satisfactory in that the vibration was very great. 
"Scrap her," said the colonel, "and build another." Living- 
ston's view was that the "engine had been so fixed that the 
air could not pass under the bottom of it and therefore the 
bottom of the boat has been strained by the pressure of the 
atmosphere." He then suggested that this engine be sold to 
the Manhattan Company and that the old principle of 
Barker's wheel be adopted "as the simplest and best that can 
be applied to the propelling of a boat." Neither Roosevelt 
nor the colonel agreeing with this, the arguments that fol- 
lowed indicated that the partnership had one or two corners 
too many. The colonel, disappointed in the boat, and just 
then in very bad health, was further depressed by the loss 
of his mother, Elizabeth Alexander Stevens ; the chancellor 
could find nothing cheerful to say except that he was pleased 


with the "success of the Presidential election." Not until 
after the new year did the colonel get this more hopeful line 
from Clermont: 

I have written to Col. Burr on the subject of taking our 
engine, as also to Doc. Brown & Mr Coles. I wish you would 
push this business, as it is a heavy and dead expense that 
keeps us from prosecuting our first idea, which I am sure we 
may accomplish and which I am now ashamed to relinquish. 
We join in our congratulations to you and Mrs Stevens on 
your entry into another century and wish, if you can amuse 
yourselves agreeably for the time, you may live happily to the 
end of it ! 

Reason for Livingston's better spirit is to be found in his 
having just been appointed minister to France. His leaving 
the country was a blow to American engineering progress, 
for his money, his enthusiasm, and his influence were all 
much missed by those who went on building engines without 
him. His own active interest in steamboating does not appear 
to have been rearoused until he met Fulton in Paris, for 
his early letters to the colonel were upon other matters — 
first impressions, for example : 

Paris, January 25th 
Accept from me a very hasty letter, written when I am 
fatigued with finishing my public one for this conveyance. 

You have heard of our passage, of its risks and dangers, 
and of our safe arrival at a moment which proved destructive 
to so many others in these seas. Our women behaved with 
fortitude on the most trying occasion and landed in good health 
at L'Orient. 

This gave us an opportunity of seeing a great part of Brit- 
tany and some of the most beautiful country in the world, 
along the Loire; since I have seen their country, I am less 
surprised at its exertions. The cultivation is carried to the 
highest state of perfection and its population is prodigious. 


In travelling, you are never out of sight of towns and vil- 
lages — sometimes four or five are in sight at once; nor are 
these interior towns small. Their population often amounts 
to 20,000 and sometimes more than that. 

The inhabitants have an appearance of ease, both in their 
looks and manners. They are not only well-clad themselves but, 
in the winter when I saw them, their cattle are so, too — all 
having linen about their loins and every cow being attended 
by a woman who sat spinning in the fields ; sometimes alone, 
at other times in groups notwithstanding the inclemency of 
the season. The people of this country seem absolutely insensi- 
ble to cold, which, though less severe than with us, is enough 
so to be felt. This constant living in the open air gives great 
health and brilliant complexions. 

But I shall never finish if I tell you all that is new to us 
here. You will not, however, excuse me if I say nothing of the 
most interesting object here — the First Consul. 

His face you may judge of by the busts you have seen; they 
are like him. He is of your height, but very thin ; his eyes are 
grey but lively and sensible; his manner in the circle easy and 
graceful; and he never fails to say something polite to every 
man of rank. He is, however, very seldom seen except by his 
ministers, with whom he is constantly employed. He gives audi- 
ences and dinners once a month to foreign ministers, and he 
visits nowhere. He is absolute here in Europe, where he gives 
the law. His court, therefore, as you may suppose, is very 
brilliant, as all Potentates are courting him. He is at present 
at Lyons, where he is gone to rest and give law and consti- 
tution to the Cisalpine Republic. 

The people seem satisfied here. There are not wanting, how- 
ever, some discontents even in the Army, but they will amount 
to nothing that will affect the government during his life at 
least, nor will any change be made which approximates the 
government to democracy. 

Wealth and power being in the hands of new people, a gen- 
eral corruption of manner is, of course, prevalent, and the 
business of a minister is said to have been frustrated by the 
foolishness of his wife. 

As to ourselves, we are agreeably situated but not so much 


so as to make us prefer this to our own country. We were re- 
lieved of our anxiety on account of your health by a letter 
we received from Edward Livingston, informing us of your 
recovery. Polly has been unwell and confined to her room for 
some time past by a severe cold. She is somewhat better and 
joins me in presenting our love to you, Mrs Stevens, and the 

Adieu, my dear Sir. Let me hear from you very soon. Write 
only of home, or of your own affairs ; of this country, I shall 
have enough. Adieu again. 

yours affectionately, 

R. R. Livingston. 

At least one close observer was able to present the First 
Consul without a rotund figure and the inevitable hand 
thrust into the breast of his coat. 

In other letters, the chancellor showed that his interest in 
science, if a little side-tracked, was by no means lost. He 
wrote the colonel of European sheep and their breeding; 
of European plants and flowers; and, at some length, of 
Le Bon's experiments in making illuminating-gas from char- 
coal heated in a double stove: 

. . . The gas as given off is passed thro' water, then led 
thro' pipes. When it comes in contact with the air, it is in- 
flamed and continues to burn as long as the wood affords inflam- 
mable gas. The forms given to this light are extremely beau- 
tiful. ... It is not sufficiently purified from carbon to be 
agreeable in a closed room. 

I had several conversations with Count Rumford on the sub- 
ject. He thinks it can be of no economical use. 1st, he says, 
much of the heat of the stove is lost ; 2nd, the light is un- 
steady and by no means so intense as that of a candle. Not as 
much light a6 six candles would give you, but enough to read 
by — as by three candles. ... I trust you will immediately 
set your fertile mind to work on this subject, so that when I 
return I may have the use of your models. 


It was naturally impossible for the colonel to resist the 
suggestion that he do some experimenting along this new 
line. He went over to No. 7 Broadway to do this — possibly 
because Rachel would not let him begin at home. Almost 
nothing being known about purification in those days, the 
story goes that he soon had downtown New York thundering 
at his door, threatening arrest unless this "public nuisance" 
were abated. It was among the earliest American experi- 
ments with illuminating-gas, but the colonel was regretfully 
obliged to abandon it. 


John Stevens was the first president of the Bergen Turn- 
pike Company, chartered November 30, 1802. The date was 
a milestone in the family's efforts to create Jersey trans- 
portation, but the colonel was a long time in reaching it. 
Years earlier he had circulated a broadside To Whom It 
May Concern: 

Notice is hereby given that the Surveyors of the Precincts 
of Bergen, New Barbadoes, & Hackensack have been notified 
by the Subscribers to meet at the house of Peter Stuyvesant 
in the Town of Bergen on Tuesday the thirty-first day of 
March Instant for the Intent and purpose of laying a Road 
from the said Town of Bergen to Hoboken Ferry. 
March 24, 1789 

John Stevens, Jun. 
Isaac Vanderbeck 
Elijah Gardner 
Rodman Fields 
Job Smith 
Job T. Smithe 
Henry E. . . . 

The other men who signed the notice were all landowners, 
with biblical names but without the appropriate gift of 
prophecy. As so often happened in those days, one man with 
a progressive idea had to go it alone. A few petitions for 
roads were presented, but time passed with no tangible ac- 
complishment. Then the colonel employed Abraham Ogden, 
leader of the Jersey bar, as counsel before the various com- 
mittees appointed by the legislature ostensibly to act upon 



the petitions. Ogden made a good effort; one of his letters 
is typical of many discussing the situation : 

New York, Jan'y 6, 1793 
The Commissioners, for locating the Bridges on the Rivers 
Passaic & Hackensack, are to meet at New Ark, at the house 
of Doctor Gifford, on Wednesday next, in order to deter- 
mine upon the sites for the Bridges. As one of the Advocates 
for the Location upon Passaic at or near the Town Dock, 
& upon Hackensack at Dow's Ferry, I have held up the ad- 
vantages resulting to the Public from branching the Road 
to Hobuck. This Argument has had weight. 

But it has been objected that the Causeway to Hobuck 
will cost more money than the Public will contribute to it. 
My answer was that you had offered to make it at your own 
expense. If you still adhere to that Resolution, as I am certain 
it is your interest to do, I beg you will be at New Ark Wednes- 
day. Permit me to assure you that our joint exertions are 
necessary on this occasion. 

Although he did adhere to Iris offer of the causeway, the 
colonel had very little satisfaction from this and similar 
meetings. Each man present having a different idea of the 
best course for the road, the first survey consumed months ; 
when finished, it proposed an impossible feat of contem- 
porary road-building — a line from Dow's ferry straight to 
the top of the Palisades. The modifying survey, made in 
1794, aroused a howl of protest from those across whose 
lands the line ran. Ogden, lobbying the legislature for a 
fresh act, urged the colonel to "keep in the background," 
lest it be said that he alone would profit from any road to 
Hoboken. When the act passed, designating Messrs. Kemble, 
Neilson, Tuthill, and others as commissioners, the colonel 
disregarded Ogden's advice. He came forward with a re- 
newal of his offer to build the causeway and a further offer 
to make himself surety to all property owners damaged by 


the road. Fortunately for him, the commissioners "viewed 
the land through which the said road was layed out . . . 
across the fields of Marcelus Marselison, Peter Stuyvesant, 
Jacob Newkirk, and Cornells Van Vorst" and agreed that, 
of all these, only Marselison, "to the amount of Fifteen 
Pounds New York Currency," would suffer any damage at 
all! But there were still many grumblers. An attempt to 
satisfy all concerned filled two years of controversy and 
left little room for any real progress. 

Following his own idea for the course of the road, the 
colonel covered the whole line on horseback, in his carriage, 
or on foot. "You may," he told Ogden, "recollect passing a 
Gully down which a small stream of water was precipitated 
over huge masses of rock? That I should leave no place 
unexplored. ... I ascended this Gully and, contrary to 
my expectations, found that it was not only practicable to 
make a road of it, but that ... it was preferable to any 
other route. You will perceive that it is much the nearest to 
Hoboken." Since what had long been known as the "English 
Neighborhood Road" was distant only "45 Chains, crossing 
two lots of poor land," the colonel was convinced that his line 
was the best. He offered to pay for an official survey to 
prove it. 

However, he added that his plan would "probably bring 
the whole town of Bergen down upon my back," and this is 
exactly what happened. Many mass meetings were held, at 
one of which the colonel declared that he had never been 
"insulted and abused in the manner of these People." To 
meet their views, he would have to run his causeway in a 
different place, at about double the estimated cost. This he 
eventually agreed to do, engaging John Seely for the cause- 
way and also to build a bridge. The causeway was con- 
structed of timbers sixteen feet long, over which cedar 


boughs were laid and covered with sand a foot thick, to 
raise the road some eighteen inches above the level of the 
salt meadow. The colonel paid Seely "two hundred pounds 
and also allowed him the pasturing of two cows," besides 
furnishing the necessary timbers. For building across the 
marsh a bank, twelve feet wide and five feet high, Seely got 
twenty shillings a rod, the colonel supplying "four carts and 
four yoak of oxen with keeping for the same." 

The road, as built, was a poor compromise. It crossed 
the English Neighborhood Road at "Dan Kelly's Hotel," 
and, as the Hudson County History describes it, "a con- 
siderable portion was built through a thick and growing 
cedar swamp." Nobody was really satisfied, and even the sur- 
vey of 1858 did not settle all the titles and other questions 
still in dispute. Indeed, the road varied so greatly from its 
original authorization that the Jersey legislature, as recently 
as 1922, found itself busy with supplementary clarifying 
acts. It is small wonder that the colonel, while the road 
was building, chafed under all the disagreements and 

Among other obstacles, after he had built his causeway, 
he had to overcome the unwillingness of the commissioners to 
open the Hackensack bridge unless the road more closely 
followed the survey, a matter for which the colonel held 
himself in no way to blame. "Surely, Gentlemen," he wrote 
them, "it is unnecessary for me to point out to you how 
much the public are interested in having the road opened as 
speedily as possible. Your sense of the duty you owe as 
Commissioners will stimulate you to every exertion." Ap- 
parently it was another Ogden — Samuel, himself one of the 
commission — who finally got the bridge open. In a letter 
on the subject he said: "If it is not done, I have no objection 
to becoming prosecutor, and will sue the road-overseer once 


each week under the Road-Law. Push on your own road and 
everything else will follow." 

Actually completed and opened at last, the road was 
described as "well and sufficiently drained by ditches and 
subterraneous passages, with a dry and solid foundation 
at all seasons of the year." To see that upkeep was not 
neglected, the latest act provided that "six judicious free- 
holders" should pass upon the road's condition at intervals. 
For their judiciousness, it may at least be said that the 
road is still there. 

The Bergen Turnpike Company included, as additional 
incorporators, Lewis Moore, Robert Campbell, Nehemiah 
Wade, Garret Lansing, and Adam Boyd. It had a capital 
stock of seven thousand dollars per mile of road, with shares 
at twenty-five dollars each open to public subscription. 
When it had eventually been authorized to collect toll, the 
charges, covering almost every contingency, varied from 
"9 cents for each sleigh or sled" to "25 cents for each car- 
riage drawn by two beasts." On wagon-wheels there was an 
"abatement of one-quarter for fellows and tyres that are 
flat and at least six inches wide," while one half was remitted 
if these felloes reached the width of twelve inches. It was 
most carefully stipulated that no toll was to be collected 
from "any person passing to or from public worship, or to 
or from any mill to which he may resort for the grinding of 
grain for his family use; or horses or carriages solely con- 
veying persons to or from a funeral ; or any person passing 
to or from his common business on his farm ; or any militia- 
man passing to or from any training on a muster day." 
With these rather broad exceptions, all travelers must pay 
for the privilege of using the road, and they were numerous 
enough to warrant fixing the maximum dividend to stock- 


holders at 15 per cent., with the surplus to go toward re- 
ducing the rates of toll. 

For years the increasing rivalry between Hoboken and 
Paulus Hook broke out in quarrels over the roads. For 
example, in 1804< the "Associates of the Jersey Company," 
organized ostensibly for road-building and maintenance but 
similar to the Manhattan Company in its unavowed purpose 
of operating a bank, petitioned for authority to collect tolls 
from Paulus Hook all the way to the Hackensack. This 
brought the colonel immediately up in arms. "In a Business 
of this nature," he insisted, "the public convenience and ad- 
vantage ought to be the primary object. . . . Should the 
application be approved . . . great injustice would be done 
to the Public as well as to the owner of the Ferry at Ho- 
boken. . . . Travelers to Hoboken would be compelled to 
pay toll to Paulus Hook, a distance of nearly three miles. 
. . . They would travel on said turnpike no further than 
the intersection of the road to Hoboken . . . about half a 
mile. ... If any favour was to be conferred on either ferry, 
I conceive Hoboken is clearly entitled to preference. . . . 
The road from Hoboken to the intersection with the Paulus 
Hook road was bought from the owners of the land at very 
heavy expense, and has been made and kept in repair at my 
own expense for years past." To his plea was added that of 
the "Inhabitants of the Counties of Bergen, Essex, and 
Morris," who saw nothing but graft in a requirement that 
they pay tolls on a road they never used. The attempt was 
blocked. Like other similar fights, it served to spur the 
colonel to greater efforts in designing boats and engines 
that should make the Hoboken ferry of such commercial im- 
portance as to turn all business its way. 

In these early years of the nineteenth century a constant 


correspondent was Dr. John Redmond Coxe of Philadelphia, 
with whom the colonel was connected through the doctor's 
marriage to Rachel Stevens' sister Sarah. When this wed- 
ding added the final vowel to the maiden name of Sarah 
Cox, she remarked : "From now on, I mean to take my E's !" 
The two families were always close friends, although Dr. 
Coxe was sometimes a little condescending in his amusement 
over the colonel's conjectures upon the causes of malaria 
and yellow fever, or upon the use of boneset tea as the sover- 
eign remedy. At the same time, the doctor was deeply in- 
terested in the mechanical devices and experiments at Ho- 
boken ; without venturing his own views, he often published, 
in the magazine of which he was for some time editor, the 
colonel's articles upon such subjects. Hence it was natural 
that the colonel should write the doctor for information 
about Oliver Evans, another figure whose vision, like that of 
Fitch, was clouded with bad luck; whose efforts have been 
neither fully nor too kindly dealt with in American engi- 
neering history. 

In the narrow news columns of "The Philadelphia 
Aurora," sandwiched between the advertisements of ship- 
chandlers and those of house-brokers, some account of 
Evans's experiments had caught the searching eye of the 
colonel. "I think," he wrote to Coxe, "that Evans and I 
may have hit upon the same idea." Explaining how he was 
himself making use of M. Belamour's discovery that "the 
elasticity of steam is nearly doubled by every addition, to 
the temperature, of 30 deg. F.," the colonel urged Coxe to 
obtain details. The specific questions, to which have been 
added the answers as Coxe wrote them, were these: 

With what weight is the safety-valve loaded? 30 pds. 56 


With what material is the piston packed? With hemp. 

Does the piston move in the cylinder in the usual manner? 
Yes. Six inch diameter. 

Is the piston attached to a Balanced Beam ? To the crank of 
a fly-wheel. 

Is there any peculiarity in the construction of valves or in 
the working gear? Two cocks with gears are worked by the 

What is the length of stroke, and how many strokes per min- 
ute? Ten inches. 30 strokes per minute. 

Repeating his hope that there need be no clash with 
Evans, the colonel declared that "unless Mr. Evans should 
claim all the credit," there would be none. However, to pre- 
pare for even that unfortunate chance, he asked Dr. Coxe 
to mark the exact hour when the letter reached him and to 
note particularly the boiler-sketch inclosed in it, with a word 
of explanation. 

After a prompt call upon Evans, the doctor reported him 
most pleasant and communicative. His engine "appeared to 
be very powerful," though at the time of the visit it "was 
leaking badly, which he endeavoured to stop by throwing in 
meal." From this, and Coxe's specific answers, the colonel 
concluded there would be no interference between Evans 
and himself. However, he took the additional precaution of 
sending a full description of his own devices to Dr. Mitchell, 
then editing the "American Philosophical and Medical Jour- 
nal of Philadelphia," with the request that Mitchell also 
make note of the exact hour of receipt. 

Subsequent letters dealt with rumors of further improve- 
ments by Evans. Dr. Coxe reported "everything about as 
before," except that "Evans expects to blow you all up with 
an engine on the principle of a volcano!" This new design 
was attributed by Coxe chiefly to Valcourt, a French new- 


comer, of whom there is but a disappointingly thin thread 
of record. Such efforts eventually made it as well for the 
colonel that he had taken his precautions as to "day and 
hour of receipt." Evans was not long in applying for pat- 
ents, and it was only these exact data on the colonel's letters 
which convinced Evans that there had been no attempt at 
copying. Evans could secure protection for his actual ma- 
chines, but could not, of course, patent the principle, nor 
bar any one else from using it. Some time later Evans wrote, 
proposing to build for the Stevens boat an engine which he 
declared he would "warrant to work four years without 

If [said he] the speed of the English engine [Watt and 
Boulton] be 6 miles per hour and the engine and boat cost 
$15,000 — or $2,500 per mile — then another mile would be the 
most valuable of the 7, because speed is what counts. I assume 
that you will willingly pay me in that proportion for all the 
additional velocity I can give my engine — that is, $2,500 more 
for that extra mile. If I use more fuel — say, 1/8 more — then I 
will deduct 1/8 from the price. But if I use 1/8 less fuel, in 
proportion to the square of the respective velocities — then you 
pay me 1/8 more. 

Evans, because he always "preferred that those who had 
spent so much time and labour to produce useful steamboats" 
should have the first opportunity to use his engine, declared 
that he was anxious to cultivate the colonel's friendship. 
Unable to resist his fling at "other inventors," he complained 
that these had sneered at his engine just as the millers had 
sneered at his improvements in the method of grinding flour. 
The millers had not dared to risk a trial until some one else, 
by doing so, had proved that Evans's method meant more 
profit; now they were "freely paying large sums for the 


< ^ 


License to employ what they refused as a gift, years before." 
According to his letter, Evans then had ten steam engines 
in use and ten more under construction. One, which he asked 
the colonel to inspect, was at Middletown, Connecticut, and 
could not, declared Evans, he surpassed for "simplicity, dur- 
ability, & economy." It had twenty-four horsepower, but he 
was ready to build the colonel one that should be twice as 
powerful. However, the colonel at this time bought nothing ; 
it was some years afterward that certain parts for Stevens 
engines were built at Evans's factory on the Delaware. 

The colonel was more particularly interested in boilers, 
his next patent, of April 11, 1803, covering his improved 
multitubular type on the following specifications : 

Suppose a plate of brass of one foot square, perforated 
by a number of copper tubes of one inch diameter and 
two feet long, the other ends of which are to be inserted 
in like manner into a similar plate of brass. The tubes, 
to insure their tightness, to be cast in the plates. These 
plates are to be closed at each end of the pipes by a strong 
cap of cast iron or brass, so as to leave a space of an inch 
or two between the plates and their respective caps. 
Screw bolts pass thro' the caps into the plates. The nec- 
essary supply of water is to be injected by means of a 
forcing pump into the cap at one end, and, through the 
tube inserted into the cap at the other end, the Steam 
is to be conveyed to a cylinder of a steam engine. 

As the boiler now described embraces the most eligible 
mode that has yet occurred to me, of applying the prin- 
ciple, it is unnecessary to give descriptions of boilers less 
perfect in form and construction, especially as these forms 
may be diversified in a thousand different modes. 

John Stevens 

Signed in presence of us 
Jas. Keese 
Chas T. Keese 


It was a correspondence in connection with this patent that 
brought about an intimacy with Dr. William Thornton, then 
superintendent of the Patent Office. Thornton after mov- 
ing to Philadelphia from the West Indies, where he was 
born, had led a busy life. While practising medicine he had 
invented a system of lip-reading for the deaf ; later, he had 
worked out a code of phonetic spelling. When general science 
had drawn him altogether away from medicine, he met John 
Fitch, to whom he gave both advice and money. When Fitch 
formed a stock company to push his engine, he was joined 
by Richard Stockton, Benjamin Say, Henry Voight, John 
Nicolson, and others ; of them all, Thornton was the best in- 
formed. Steamboating attracted him as a branch of philoso- 
phy, just as the politics of the then Republican Party con- 
vinced him because Jefferson, a philosopher, was at the head 
of it. Incidentally, Thornton, like Jefferson again, was an 
early and ardent abolitionist, though he is doubtless better 
remembered for his work in the designing of the Capitol at 
Washington. In him the colonel found a good friend and, 
later, a stanch ally. 

Books, rare flowers, and elaborate engineering experi- 
ments kept the colonel in chronic need of money. Moreover, 
Rachel had been anything but idle, since in the past seven 
years she had presented him with three daughters — Eliza- 
beth Juliana, Mary, and Harriet — and was about to add a 
fourth, Esther Cox. The family was distinctly land-poor in 
1804», and the colonel therefore proposed to lease fifty of 
the best lots at Hoboken, "fronting on the Turnpike Road 
to Hackensack which, to the extent of one mile from the 
ferry, will be opened to 100 feet wide," and having a sandy 
soil, "dry at all seasons and admirable for sickly persons." 
But his requirements for tenants remained so rigid that he 
actually executed only a very few leases, some of which, 


however, serve to illustrate his ideas of property rights and 
the ethics of a landlord. Samuel Campbell's lease covered 
a house, a farm, and a ferry consisting of two pittyaugers 
and two ferryboats, with due right to use the ferry stairs 
at New York under proviso that the colonel might occa- 
sionally call upon him for free ferriage. Except for the 
actual heating of his house, Campbell was "not to cut wood 
from the lots back of Hoboken"; he was not to deny the 
colonel's right to pasture cows on the large field to the west- 
ward of the road and fence the field off if he so pleased. 
The arrangement appears to have satisfied Campbell, for, 
when an opportunity to sell aroused the colonel's interest, 
Campbell's ready consent brought a note of appreciation: 

Considering the disadvantages to you, and the two un- 
expected ferries intercepting your Custom ; the repairs you 
have made, and the improvements, have added to the value of 
my property. I further recollect a considerable expense you 
were at, in the experiment of Ploughing and Ditching my Salt 
Meadow which, though unsuccessful, yet, if it had succeeded, 
would have added much more to the value of the Meadow. I 
consider your making the Milk-room impregnable to Rats 
a durable improvement, and many other Items have been very 
expensive. One thing more is the disappointment to you from 
Gen'l Cummings' not running his Stages to Hoboken, which I 
make no doubt was the principal Stimulus to your agreeing to 
such a high rent. I again refer to my disposing of the land and 
your giving up possession. Justice should be rendered to you. 

I put down the sum which I think you ought to pay for the 
last Six Years at 6000 Doll., with £350 for the coming year. 
If you have any objections, state them candidly, and let us 
have an amicable settlement, without the assistance of other 
men. For assuredly no one knows more about our affairs than 
we do ourselves. 

Litigation, under any circumstances, was never the 
colonel's choice. As he saw the goddess whom lawyers call 


Justice, she either wore her bandage very thin, or else ad- 
justed it badly when she was hurried into court. In his 
opinion, man to man was always the cleanest and most 
honest method of settling a difference. Dozens of his letters, 
on every sort of question, prove it. 

The scarcity of leases presently led him to offer eight 
hundred small lots at public sale. For an auction, he natur- 
ally selected the Tontine Coffee House ; noon of April 9 was 
set, as the hour when gentlemen of leisure and fortune were 
up and about, while gentlemen of affairs were gathering to 
hear the day's news before their early dinners. At great 
length, the colonel offered his inducements : 

As many persons are desirous of obtaining situations, where 
they may transact business free from the danger of yellow 
fever, the restrictions of quarantine, the duty on auctions, and 
the heavy taxes on incorporated cities ; the subscriber offers 
for sale the most advantageously situated part of his estate, 
laid out in the form of a town and subdivided into full lots for 
the convenience of purchasers. . . . 

The townplot will extend along the turnpike road about 
half a mile. . . . Streets of 80 feet wide will run parallel to 
the turnpike on each side. . . . Nearly in the center ... a 
square, or oblong, at least 800 feet long, by 400 feet wide, will 
be reserved for public uses. . . . 

The water lots will, for the most part, have a margin of 80 
or 100 feet above the bank of the river, and will extend into 
the river about 400 feet to the channel. 

From the ferry stairs at Hoboken to De Cline's wharf 
near the New York State prison was — as the colonel took 
pains to point out — a mile, the shortest distance across the 
Hudson. Every day in the year — Sundays, of course, ex- 
cepted — public stages reached and left the Jersey shore. 
The colonel promised to erect, during that summer, wharves 
that would be "more secure from high winds and ice than 


those on the opposite side," while warehouses, "where ships 
of any burthen might deposit and dispose of their cargoes," 
would promptly be built. He declared that the "harbour 
of Hoboken is as easy of access as . . . New York, and more 
convenient for vessels navigating the Hudson." Vessels clear- 
ing from the Jersey side during the prevalence of yellow 
fever in New York would avoid the inconvenient expense of 
quarantine on arrival in foreign ports. To himself he would 
reserve the right of public ferriage, but the owners of water- 
lots were to be permitted to "keep boats for crossing them- 
selves and their families to and from New York but not for 
other persons." Finally, easy payments were provided for, 
the colonel even promising to lend small sums to those who 
should "prove desirous of making spirited improvements." 
Although it is to be hoped the colonel never contemplated 
such exterior designs as often cover the ideal homes of to- 
day, his general development plan is familiar enough in 
modern Jersey. Property-owners were to be allowed a re- 
stricted use of the walks, drives, and lawns upon the hillside 
— the Elysian Fields, as they came to be called — for a cool, 
quiet resort. To stir New York to greater appreciation, the 
colonel used his favorite newspaper, the "American Citizen." 
Its June issues, in the columns next to the announcements of 
Signor Manfredi's breath-taking, death-defying feats upon 
the tight-rope, offered more restful entertainment across the 

The public are respectfully informed that, at this peculiarly 
pleasant retreat, every attention to accommodate parties with 
refreshment in summer season may be met with. 

An active waiter is wanted ; no one need apply, without good 

At the above place are for sale a very handsome pair of 
Bay horses, equally fitted for the carriage and the Saddle; 


they are well broken and in complete order. Horses and car- 
riages to let. 

On the colonel's petition, the legislature authorized the 
incorporation of "The President and Directors of the Ho- 
boken Company" whenever certain conditions had been met : 
Fifty thousand dollars must be spent upon wharves, build- 
ings, and improvements, with another half million subscribed 
"by citizens of the United States" for similar purposes and 
also "to erect a bank, an insurance company, and other 
useful departments." Twenty families must have become 
regular inhabitants before incorporation was to be per- 
mitted. As a preliminary, the colonel proceeded with the 
wharves, employing Captain John Anderson of Newburgh 
to build these and also to lay out more roads. Captain Ander- 
son has left a trace of his struggle : 

Sir, I am pressed very hard for some cash to pay the men 
who are digging the road. I assure you I have not a farthing. I 
have paid all the cash I had last week. I have not, nor have I 
had this week, cash sufficient to enable me to get common 
necessaries for my Family. 

I am sorry to call on you but I wish to have some little as- 
sistance from the men who stand like vultures ready to devour 
your friend 

J. Anderson. 

Could Mr. Micawber himself have said more? A note on 
this letter, in the colonel's hand, runs, "Sent Mr. Anderson 
$100" — by which it is to be hoped the vultures were at least 
temporarily appeased. Captain Anderson was a faithful and 
an able builder of roads and wharves ; his work lasted until 
modern methods would have none of it. But other develop- 
ments lagged, and the colonel chafed under vexatious delays. 
He wanted progress for its own sake and he needed the 


"ready hard." His notes of hand, in varying amounts and 
for terms anywhere between several days and several years, 
became so thickly sprinkled among his friends that some 
of them were nearly snowed under. Ultimately to meet these 
obligations cost him sacrifices. Still, he grudged no sacrifice 
that might take him one step nearer the Hudson River — 
and a good ferry service across it. 

With Livingston, in Paris, he was in constant correspond- 
ence, sometimes on purely scientific questions, often on per- 
sonal matters. Dr. Coxe's brother Daniel, a Philadelphia 
loyalist during the Revolution who afterward moved to 
Europe, had become involved with the Paris police, and in 
his behalf the colonel appealed to the chancellor. The plea 
for Daniel Coxe's "enlargement," or at least "parole within 
limits," is of interest chiefly because of Livingston's reply. 
This brought to the colonel his first news of the man who 
would later stand so obstinately across his path: 

Paris, April 28th, 1804 

Though I am indebted to you a letter . . . this will hardly 
be considered by you as payment. . . . 

I have, as requested, obtained the release of Mr Coxe. . . . 
He had a quarrel with one of the officers of the Police. He 
cannot be considered an American citizen, having left the 
country during the Revolution and never been naturalized. 
. . . You have no idea how much trouble I have . . . with 
claimants to American nationality, which is eagerly sought 
after on all hands. . . . 

The principal object I have in view, is to introduce to your 
acquaintance Mr Fulton, with whom you will be much pleased. 
He is a man of science and embued with the best of principles. 
. . . He is the inventor of a diving boat which is extremely 
original. . . . He was my partner in an experiment made here 
on the Steam Boat, and his object is to build one in the United 
States by way of experiment. . . . 

As you will see Mr Fulton, it is unnecessary to give you any 

184 john stevens: an American record 

further details. . . . You never have mentioned the reception 
of a very fine collection of seeds I sent you from the botanic 
gardens. ... I am not without hopes of seeing you before 
the month of September at Hoboken. 

This makes it evident that Fulton expected to return to 
America at once ; most probably, he was to have carried this 
letter and handed it to the colonel. It is unfortunate that 
the chancellor did not "give further details," since we should 
then have known how much actual share he claimed in the 
Seine experiments. As matters stood, it was not for another 
two years that Fulton was presented to the colonel, by 
which time the latter had taken strides that justified him 
in thinking himself well abreast of progress in steamboat 


In May of 1804, three young students of King's College, 
New York, did what all their world, on a bright afternoon, 
was in the habit of doing : they went for a stroll in Battery 
Park. One of them has not been identified; another was 
John H. Hill, later a notable missionary to Greece ; and the 
third was James Renwick, long to be distinguished as pro- 
fessor of natural and experimental philosophy at his own 
Columbia University, an authority on many subjects, and 
the author of several books. All three young men were in- 
terested in whatever the town might have to show them. 
It was Renwick, writing years later to Frederick De Puy- 
ster, who described the event of the day : 

As we entered the gate from Broadway, we saw what we, in 
those days, considered a crowd, running toward the river. On 
inquiring the cause, we were informed that "Jack" Stevens 
was going over to Hoboken in a queer sort of boat. On reach- 
ing the bulkhead by which the Battery was then bounded, we 
saw lying against it a vessel about the size of a Whitehall row- 
boat, in which there was a small engine but no visible means of 
propulsion. The vessel was speedily underway, my late much- 
valued friend, Commodore Stevens, acting as coxswain, and I 
presume the smutty-looking personage who fulfilled the duties 
of engineer, fireman, and crew, was his more practical brother, 
Robert L. Stevens. 

Renwick was right. In that little craft the helmsman was 
John Cox, while the figure in dungarees was fastidious 
Robert. Every one present had seen the Stevens boys often 



enough; a Stevens steamboat was no particular novelty; 
and the engine was quite obviously the latest Hoboken ex- 
periment. What baffled that Battery crowd was the very 
point Renwick had emphasized. How was the boat driven? 
Twenty-five or thirty years later many might have been 
able to answer that question ; but the Little Juliana — so 
named in honor of the eldest Stevens daughter — would still 
have been regarded as a freak. By Civil War days she would 
have been merely unusual ; in the middle of the seventies the 
world would be ready to accept her principal feature as the 
true standard of steamboating. When she got "speedily 
underway" on that afternoon of May, 1804, she embodied 
John Stevens's long-held theory of "wheels in the stern." 
In her he had made the first-known successful application 
of steam to the "invisible means of propulsion" — twin-screw 

Standing on his lawn, watching the Little Juliana puff 
across the Hudson tide to the dock at his feet, the colonel 
did not claim to be the inventor of the propeller. A develop- 
ment, from years spent in studying its possibilities, was what 
he called it. The spiral of Archimedes was a bit of ancient 
history that had long interested him, and he knew the 
Chinese water-wheel, or scull, had been in existence for 
ages. During his own boyhood, Bernouli had stated the 
mathematical principle of the screw in 1763 ; twenty-five 
years later David Bushnell had described to Jefferson the 
use of a hand-propeller to drive his submarine boat. Again 
— although this the colonel did not know at the time — 
Fulton's submarine was, in this respect, similar to Bush- 
nell's. From Paris, February 16, 1798, Fulton, in a letter 
to Cartwright, said he had "just proved an experiment on 
moving boats with a fly of four parts, similar to that of a 
smoke- jack," but not operated by steam. In another letter 


to Cartwright (1802), Fulton, although he said "the smoke- 
jack flyers will not answer for a quick movement," went on 
to explain that "reduced to % arms, it answers admirably 
for my plunging-boat," and added the details of cranking by 
man-power in the experiment that led him to tell Fulner 
Skipworth that for steam-engines he had "found oars to be 
the best." Moreover, English patents had been issued to 
William Lyttelton in 1794 and to Edward Shorter in 1800, 
covering complicated systems of endless ropes and pulleys 
through which man-turned propellers were calculated to give 
vessels a speed of one and a half miles an hour. 

The model of John Fitch's boat has a spiral in the stern. 
In his letters to the colonel, Fitch never mentioned this ; but, 
although it is hardly what we understand by a propeller, he 
may have used it as an auxiliary to his oars. These cases, 
like that of Morey and the contemporary attempts of Pat- 
rick Miller and William Symington in England, all serve to 
show that men had for some years been groping about the 
idea — the principle of a windmill, reversed. If invention, 
properly speaking, be the mechanical application of an 
established principle, or the new and useful harnessing of a 
known force, then the twin-screw, whether he claimed it or 
not, stands to the colonel's credit. He was the first to give 
the propellers a shape resembling the present one, and the 
first to drive them successfully by steam. 

Although "one thing at a time" was not one of his regular 
maxims, he had, in this case, applied it. In 1802 he began 
with a single screw, placed in the center of the stern. The 
engine with which he drove it was one he always described 
as a "rotatory," designed primarily "to overcome the mis- 
chievous effects necessarily arising from the alternating 
strokes of the engine on the ordinary construction." He has 
left a description of it. 



For simplicity, lightness, and compactness, the engine far 
exceeded any I have yet seen. A cylinder of brass, about eight 
inches diameter and four inches long, was placed horizontally 
in the bottom of the boat ; and, by the alternating pressure of 
the steam on two sliding wings, the axis passing thro' its 
center was made to revolve. On one end of this axis, which 
passed through the stern of the boat, wings like those on the 
arms of a windmill were fixed, adjusted to the most advan- 
tageous angle for operation on the water. This constituted the 
whole of the machinery. 

Working with the elasticity of steam merely, no condenser, 
no air pump was necessary. And, as there were no valves, no 
apparatus was required for opening and closing them. This 
simple little steam engine was, in the summer of 1802, placed 
on board a flat-bottomed boat I had built for the purpose. 
She was occasionally kept going until the cold weather stopt 
us. When the engine was in the boat, her velocity was about 
four miles an hour. 

It is a brief account of an event in navigation second 
only to the birth of the steam-engine itself. "Wings, like 
those on the arms of a windmill, adjusted to the most advan- 
tageous angle" would fit the propellers of any modern liner. 
Incidentally, when he rotated a shaft passing through a 
steam-drum, was not the colonel within hailing distance of a 
turbine ship? 

Leakage through the primitive packing, and severe steam 
losses in the drum, influenced him to revert to the reciprocat- 
ing engine. In doing this he kept constantly in mind the 
"necessity of guarding against the injurious effects of partial 
pressure" — by which he meant those disruptive strains to 
which his own and other early steamboats were subjected. 
"It is," he declared, "indispensably necessary that a steam 
engine . . . should be so arranged that the power shall be 
communicated to the water-wheels without causing any 
strains in any part of the boat. To effect this, the cylinder 


must be firmly and immovably connected to the support of 
the axis of the cog-wheels on each side of the cylinder." 
Upon this theory, during the winter of 1802-3, he set up a 
new engine in a shop near the Manhattan Company's plant 
in Duane Street. The assembling was done by the mechanics 
of Robert McQueen, whose shop was close by if not actually 
under the same roof. Held down upon blocks, this engine 
had repeated test runs until, early next spring, it could be 
installed in the previous year's boat. "The reciprocating 
motion of the piston," wrote the colonel, "was transferred 
to the axis by bevel cogs," and the result "gave the boat 
somewhat more than the velocity of the rotatory engine." 
In "Anecdotes of the Steam Engine" (London, 1829), 
Stuart says of the colonel's next step that "at last, he had 
recourse to a Bolton and Watt engine." This is not quite 
exact, for he had already built several on the principle of 
Watt, always modifying them by his own efforts to save 
space and weight. In this newest one he used, as Stuart says, 
"a cylinder of 4V2 inches, with a 9 inch stroke." At the 
same time he ordered from McQueen, in preparation for 
larger operations, two sixteen-inch cylinders. These he pro- 
posed to bore in his own Hoboken shop — if so pretentious 
a term may be applied to that little building on the lower 
lawn which would some day be lost in the center of a well- 
equipped progressive plant. It had long served the colonel 
as a place of elaborate designs that sprang -into his mind 
when he was inspecting his orchard or when he was taking 
wine in front of his library fire ; as a workroom for making 
detailed drawings from the crumpled sketches that forever 
filled his coat-tail pockets ; or as the scene of many discussions 
of suggestions from the indefatigable Robert, who scarcely 
missed a turn of the crude bar at work upon the cylinders. 
That work finished, it was at first proposed to use the cylin- 


ders in a new ferry-boat, eighty feet long and twelve feet 
in beam; eventually they went into a different craft, that 
was herself to make a little Stevens history. This, however, 
was not until after they had been well tested in connection 
with a number of boiler experiments. 

Boilers were a serious problem, in which lay the chief 
obstacle to using the screw-propeller. In the modern sense 
of the term boilermakers, such artisans simply did not exist 
at this stage of engineering. Materials, too, were of the 
crudest. Joints blew out a dozen times a day, developing 
fatal leaks at the very moment when a workable head of 
steam had been raised. "Begin again" was an order so often 
given in that little shop that it might well have been painted 
upon the Avail, a forerunner of to-day's "Do It Now" school. 
After each disappointment the colonel persisted in his 
favorite design, the small tubes inserted into heads. How to 
maintain the pressure for propellers was a puzzle. 

High-pressure steam, at this period, was in very bad re- 
pute. Watt had established limiting figures of two and a half 
to three pounds to the square inch; after some trials of 
high-pressure boilers, he had flatly refused to consider build- 
ing or testing any more. For that matter, as late as 1838, 
Brunei's Great Western ran on very little higher pressure. 
The fatal accidents resulting from experiments had turned 
almost all engineers against high-steam; in so many words, 
they were afraid of it. The colonel alone appears to have 
been convinced that it must finally come. He was as positive 
in this as in his belief that the propeller would finally re- 
place all other methods of driving steamboats. His pressure 
figure was one hundred pounds and up. 

Thus far his newest boilers would not stand such pres- 
sures for very long. When Robert and John Cox had made 
several trips in the Little Juliana, her boiler, said the colonel, 


"gave way so as that it was incapable of reparation." The 
boys, fortunately, were unhurt and quite ready to build a 
new boiler and have the propeller spinning again next 
spring. Naturally, these boiler failures made most observers 
sneer at the "smoke- jack fly." Those who had a rudimentary 
knowledge of steamboats admitted that paddles, or anything 
else on the sides, must tend to increase the hull-resistance — 
so much was obvious. But, with most engineers, the prevail- 
ing object was to "take a grip" on the yielding medium, 
water ; that this could be accomplished by wheels in the stern 
was, in the majority opinion, an absurd theory. But the 
colonel believed it. Low-pressure steam, with the incidental 
losses, cut propeller efficiency to a figure we should consider 
ridiculous. One screw would scarcely move a boat of any 
size ; if the boat did move, it was hard to steer because of a 
tendency to turn in circles. These developments led the 
colonel to state what he considered the proper factors to 
solve his problem. 

A multitubular boiler, which would stay tight and produce; 
High pressure steam; 

A quick-moving engine, directly connected to the propeller 
shaft ; 

Short, f our-bladed propellers ; and 
Twin screws. 

It takes very little engineering knowledge to recognize 
in this statement the germ of modern transatlantic passage 
in five days or less. The Mauretania, queen of the seas, 
traces a proud lineage back to a humble origin in the Little 
Juliana. Similar descendants, through a collateral branch, 
crowd the highways of the earth and the great circles of the 
sky. And the whole family is little more than a hundred 
years old. 

^^ '' 

^^LS, riiiA | """" 111111 ' 




In detail, the colonel's engine was simple. The piston-rod 
ended in a yoke at the top, to which the shackle-bars were 
bolted. These, acting against one another as the piston rose 
and fell, served to give the parallel motion of modern slides 
and kept the piston-rod in alinement. Cranks, bolted to the 
lower ends of the shackle-bars, carried upon their after ends 
the spur-wheels, or cogs, through which reciprocating mo- 
tion was translated into the rotary motion of the propeller 
shafts. The valves were two-way cocks, a modification of the 
one-way type used by Savery and Newcomen; at each end 
of the cylinder one cock provided for both admission and 
exhaust. Valve motion was derived from a crank on the for- 
ward end of one propeller shaft, this crank turning a rack 
whose teeth meshed with the wheels of the plug-cocks — a 
design similar to Watt's rack-and-arc. Properly described, 
the engine was double, direct acting, and non-condensing. 

Twin-screws formed the subject of many of the colonel's 
letters. Of these the most comprehensive was one written to 
Dr. Robert J. Hare, the Philadelphia physicist who wrote 
many scientific papers and became noted for such inventions 
as the oxyhydrogen blowpipe. Dr. Hare had written the 
colonel a description of experiments by a certain Mr. 
Weedon, and the colonel's letter was sent in reply. 

Hoboken, Nov. 16th, 1805 
I have received your favor of the 8th, communicating to me 
. . . Mr Weedon's contrivance for propelling boats. The atten- 
tion . . . warrants my warmest acknowledgments, as it evinces 
the interest you feel ... in my project. . . . 

With the surprising effects of the Chinese scull, I have long 
been acquainted. And it is now five or six years ago that I 
made an attempt to apply a steam engine ... to the pur- 
pose of working a system of sculls attached to the stern, but 
failed . . . principally owing to the imperfection of the boiler. 
. . . I am satisfied that my present mode of applying the 


power of a steam engine ... is preferable to any adapta- 
tion ... of sculls with an alternate movement. . . . 

You will recall the description I gave you when I first had 
the pleasure of seeing you at Hoboken. . . . An axis passing 
through the stern ... a number of arms like a windmill . . . 
[with] the most advantageous obliquity attained after a few 
trials. . . . 

The principle of an oblique stroke is the same here as in 
the sculls, but the continuity of movement . . . gives greatly 
the advantage over alternation . . . both in . . . loss of 
time and the resistance of the fluid. . . . Besides, [sculls] 
must give the boat a wriggling movement, and a tendency . . . 
to elevate and depress the stern. . . . They would also be 
. . . affected by the swells in rough water and, like the paddles 
I had some thought of using, be an awkward appendage to the 
stern. . . . The consideration that determined me ... to 
make trial of the paddles, was merely to avoid the necessity 
of giving the boat a draught of water too great to pass the 
overslaugh at Albany. This objection to the use of wheels I 
expect to obviate by an increase of . . . number . . . and a 
diminution ... of diameter. It is absolutely necessary to have 
two, revolving in opposite directions, to prevent the tendency 
to rotation which a single wheel gives the boat. 

Since you were here, I have made a fair experiment on the 
wheel compared with oars. Two men, were placed at two 
cranks by which a wheel in the stern of the boat was turned. 
With a stop-watch, the time of passing over a given distance 
was precisely ascertained. After making sufficient number of 
trials, the wheel was taken off and the same men were fur- 
nished with oars. The result was ... a few seconds in favor 
of the wheel. 

It is unnecessary to observe that the wheel must have worked 
to much disadvantage. The proper angle of obliquity was not 
attended to ; besides, the wings were made with a flat surface, 
whereas a certain degree of curvature was necessary. And, in 
order to give a due submersion to the wheel, the axis was in- 
clined at least 30 or 40 deg. below the horizontal line. . . . 

One very important consideration in favor of these wheels 


is the facility with which they can be defended from all ex- 
ternal injury by placing them in the stern, thus: 

My foreman promises to have the engine a-going in the boat 
in about two weeks time. I shall embrace the first opportunity 
of acquainting you with the result of my experiment. 

Dr. Hare replied promptly. 

Philadelphia, Nov. 19, 1805 
It seems really impossible to discover anything, in the path 
of investigation in which you have trodden, which . . . has 
not either been contemplated or essayed by you. I had a full 
opportunity of discovering my own insufficiency in this respect 
when I had the pleasure of your society at Hoboken, & from 
the experiment . . . mentioned in your letter ... it appears 
that the ingenious Mr Weedon is equally incompetent. 

The contrivance of the wheel . . . seems to me an improve- 
ment. ... I certainly did not understand this to have been 
among the methods contemplated by you, or I should not have 
called your attention ... to Mr Weedon. This may not, 
however, be altogether useless to this gentleman, in showing 
him how far he had been anticipated, saving him the expense 
of trying what had already been essayed or procuring a 
patent . . . wherein he had no priority. . . . 

The mistake into which Mr Weedon has fallen, of presuming 
himself the first constructor in the application of the scull 
to the steam engine, evinces the justness of the argument in 
favour of a publication of your experiments, as they are such 
as genius will be likely to repeat, unless forewarned of antici- 

The present volume represents a belated attempt to act 
upon Dr. Hare's advice. The design of the colonel's pro- 
peller, carried on struts outside a vessel's hull, has an obvious 
similarity to the modern type. It offers an interesting com- 
parison with the efforts of later men, such as F. P. Smith 
and John Ericsson, who took out their patents in 1836. 


Bourne's treatise on the screw propeller names these two as 
the most ardent propeller men of their day, and declares 
it to be probable that "the exertions of either would have 
served to introduce the screw into practical operation." 
To one or the other — to Ericsson chiefly — other writers have 
ascribed the invention of the twin-screw, a claim plainly 
unfounded. Ericsson's early American plan was that in- 
stalled in the old gunboat Princeton — two screws in line, 
the shaft of one inside that of the other, and the "wheels" 
themselves were more exactly drums, set with vanes. The 
rudder was at first placed, not between the screws, but 
forward of them; later, when one shaft was removed, this 
rudder was shifted back. Hence the Princeton was not, as 
we understand it, a twin-screw vessel at all. As an effort 
of the distinguished Swede, parallel to that of his American 
predecessor, she admirably illustrates the slow strides made 
by steam-engineering in an interval of thirty years. It may 
incidentally be worth noting that the men who gave Erics- 
son his greatest encouragement were Francis B. Ogden of 
the Jersey family whose interest in steamboating had been 
aroused by the success of Colonel Stevens on the Delaware, 
and Commodore Richard Stockton, a relative of the colonel's. 
Fortunately for the future of the propeller, history repeated 
itself in a generation equipped with better materials and — 
even among its seagoing shellbacks — more open-eyed to the 
power of steam. 

The hub of the original Stevens propeller had adjustable 
blades, secured by a round shank fitting corresponding holes 
in blade and hub. The blade axis was perpendicular to that 
of the shaft, the pitch being changed by a slight turn of the 
shank. It was to this design that the colonel referred when he 
spoke of attaining "the most advantageous obliquity of their 
angle." His principle is readily to be recognized as that of 


Griffith when, in 1849, the latter obtained adjustment of 
pitch by casting a plane-surface flange at the base of the 
blade and bolting this to a plane cut into the hub. It is the 
common method of to-day, but in Griffith's time it was held 
to be a great step forward. 

The colonel's particular hub and blade, illustrated here, 
have some further history of their own. In 1844), they 
appeared in the New York District Court as eloquent and 
decisive witnesses against J. B. Emerson in a suit with Erics- 
son over priority in propeller invention. In that same year 
the American Institute, before its annual fair in Niblo's 
Garden, received a letter from the colonel's son Edwin. 

New York, Oct. 17th. 

The sons of the late Col. John Stevens, of Hoboken, beg leave 
to exhibit, at your Fair, a small Steam-boat. 

The Engine and Boiler are the identical ones used in 1804. 
The original boat, being built of wood, has of course long since 
gone to decay. The Propellers are made as precisely like as 
possible to the drawing and description given by Col. Stevens 
in a letter addressed to Robert Hare, Jr. . . . 

The performance of the boat was so satisfactory that our 
father immediately commenced to put an engine in a Boat with 
the intention of making her a passage Boat to Albany, but the 
machinery taking up more room than was contemplated, she 
had not sufficient accommodations for passengers. 

The model of this Boat, Engine, and Propellers are also ex- 
hibited — together with the only portion of her original Pro- 
pellers that can be found. 

The institute appointed a committee to test the engine 
and report upon its authenticity. One member of the com- 
mittee was James Renwick, with whose knowledge of the 
original boat we are already familiar. But there were other 
features that make the report really a first-hand one. 


The Judges appointed by the American Institute to examine 
a small steam boat and the model of a steam engine exhibited 
at the late Annual Exhibition by the representatives of the late 
John Stevens, Esq., of Hoboken, respectfully Report: 

1. That the date of the construction and use of the boat, 
engine, and propelling apparatus, was fixed by the recollection 
of two of the members of the Committee of Judges, at a date 
not later than 1805. One of the members distinctly recollects 
that he saw a boat belonging to Mr Stevens, fitted with a 
steam engine for propulsion, afloat in the North River, and 
recognized the engine exhibited as that which he then saw. 
The other member saw the sculls or propellers at the machine 
shop where they were made ; and their united recollection car- 
ried back the occurrences of these separate facts to the above 
mentioned year or the previous one. 

2. The fact of Mr Stevens having invented modes of pro- 
pulsion of the character of that exhibited, long before any of 
the analogous forms that have since come into use, was fur- 
ther established by a letter addressed by him to one of the 
above mentioned members of the Committee under date of 
February 20th, 1826. 

It might have been reasonably expected, and it would have 
been no disparagement to the merit of the late Mr Stevens, 
that, at so early a period in the history of steam navigation 
as 1804, and in so imperfect a state as the mechanic arts were 
at that time in the United States, the performance of the 
engine and the speed of the boat impelled by it, should have 
been inferior to what has since been agreeably disappointed. 
By several experiments made in April last, at Hoboken, under 
the personal direction of one of the members of the Commit- 
tee, the speed of the boat, in which the engine referred to is 
now placed, appeared to be a small fraction more than eight 
miles per hour — the boat being no more than thirty two feet 
in length and six feet beam. The experiments referred to were 
made under circumstances unfavourable to so small a vessel, 
there being a strong breeze and considerable swell. 

While, therefore, the Judges are not satisfied that it falls 
within the scope of their powers to recommend, for one of the 
premiums of the American Institute, an invention of so old 


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a date, they are of opinion that it is worthy of the highest 
complimentary Notice which the regulations of the Institute 
will admit. They further concur in opinion that it is due to 
the memory of one who, at a period too early to render his 


discoveries available, had anticipated many of the improve- 
ments in Steam Navigation which have yielded fame and for- 
tune to others, that there should be entered upon the records 
of the Institute, the fact that it has been established by incon- 
testible evidence that John Stevens, of Hoboken, at a date prior 
to 1805, invented and used that mode of propelling vessels by 
steam now known as "The Propeller," the right for a patent 
to which is a subject of litigation between others, the claim 
of none of whom extend back to a date as old by thirty years 
as the experiment of Mr Stevens. 

All of which is respectfully submitted 

Jas. Renwick 
John D. Ward 
Joseph Curtis 
American Institute, New York, 
17th June, 1845. 

Without doubt, joints made in 184)4 were tighter than 
those of 1804. Edwin and Robert, wherever they remade a 
joint, painted it yellow to identify it. For all that, the 
engine's performance after forty years of idleness and de- 
terioration stands as the colonel's answer to those steamboat 
engineers of his day who maintained that the practicable 
limit of speed for such craft would be about six and one half 
miles an hour. In any survey of American engineering, that 
boat is a bench-mark. It now lies in the Smithsonian Insti- 
tution, close beside a model of the Leviathan, and a compari- 
son worth making is that between the screw propellers of the 
two ships. 

When Renwick and his associates had sent in their report, 
the American Institute, through its chairman and General 
Thomas Hardy, added a comment of its own: 

The execution of the work shows the age of infancy in me- 
chanical construction in this country and on this account it is 
a gem; it equally shows the marks of ripe intellect and skilful 


adaptation to the object sought to be attained, still unsur- 
passed by present maturity. 

Although high pressure had a bad reputation in America, 
the colonel believed that in the real home of the steam-engine 
— England — there must be some men of more advanced 
views. Once in contact with these, he might progress toward 
better means for driving his propellers and hence not have to 
revert to paddles or side-wheels. More minds, better boilers. 
Not being able to spare his own time for a European trip, 
he concluded to send one son and chose John Cox, as the 
eldest, for the purpose. He was to go with two objects — a 
British patent for his father's multitubular boiler, and an 
interview with James Watt on high pressure. Although Watt 
was well along in years, it was the colonel's hope that the 
mind that had made the steam-engine practicable would 
always remain progressive. If Watt could be persuaded to 
build boilers producing, say, forty pounds to the inch, a 
great step would have been made. Therefore, in the early 
spring of 1805 John Cox sailed for England. 

He was twenty when he began writing his letters to his 
father and sending them at the long intervals commonly 
elapsing between packet sailings. Except for the addition 
of a word here and there, obviously omitted from a hasty 
scrawl, his letters stand as they were written and offer the 
best possible account of his experiences. The first was dated 
London, April 25. 

I received a few days ago your letter, written the day 
after I sailed. I was extremely sorry to hear that Mama is 
again troubled with a visit from that most irksome companion 
— a pain in the face — but as it is extremely unfashionable to 
make long visits, I hope he has ere this taken his leave. 

I have as yet little more to say concerning the patent, as 


it progresses very slowly owing to the tediousness of the neces- 
sary forms. There have been a dozen Caveats, at least, en- 
tered against it, so that we were obliged to summon each of 
them to appear before the Attorney General ; and it was neces- 
sary to give them a fortnight warning, that they might prepare 
their several specifications for his inspection, to enable him to 
determine whether they clashed or not. Yesterday was the day 
appointed, but there was but one among the number who ap- 
peared, and he came to withdraw his Caveat as he found it 
[yours] did not interfere with his invention. So we got rid of 
the Attorney without much trouble. 

The next and last step will be from the Attorney General's 
to the Chancellor's, at an interval of ten days. Then, those 
who did not make their appearance at the Attorney General's 
must do it here if they come on the stage at all. For it is the 
last act and concert scene. But the expence here is very heavy ; 
for, in proportion as his Chancellorship excells the Attorney 
in rank and Consequence, so in proportion does the expence 
here exceed the expence at the Atto. For that reason, I suspect 
we shall not be molested by any of them. They might have 
argufied the topics at the Attorney's for five pounds, but here 
it may cost them an hundred. And, if they should, it will make 
this difference to us — that, instead of one hundred and fifty, 
the Patent will cost two hundred and fifty pounds Sterling. 
This is upon the supposition that it does not interfere with 
any of them for, if it should, there is an end to the Patent, on 
that ground at least. But, whether we do, or do not, succeed, 
it will make no difference in the expense, owing to a law 
peculiar to these proceedings (which very much resemble law- 
suits, for there is both Plaintiff and Def[endant]) which is, 
that each party pays his own costs. But I do not think it 
probable they will give any trouble, as I have not heard of 
any engine or boiler upon the same principle or construction 
with yours. 

I dine frequently with Doc. Pierson, who has promised — 
as soon as the Patent is completed (which will be the case in a 
few days more) — to furnish me with letters to Watt and Bol- 
ton, with whom he is sufficiently acquainted for that purpose. 


I could not send you the books before as a great many of 
the numbers were out of print and the Editors of the Repertory 
were obliged to rummage half the booksellers in town for 
many of those which I have sent — thinking it better to give 
them to you incomplete than not at all. 

I have but very few acquaintances, for the distance and re- 
serve of the English does not suit my temper or disposition, and 
I very often find myself extremely lonesome, even in London. 
Mr Kennedy has returned to America and Mrs Kennedy gone 
to Scotland, so that I have not seen a single soul with whom 
I could familiarly shake hands and ask how he did, since I 
have been in England ; although the people here are as numer- 
ous as the sands on the seashore, all pursuing the same object 
in many different ways — jolting and jostling each other at 
every step. Yet each is so taken up with his own concerns 
that he seems to be as much alone as if he were in the midst of 
a forest. 

To give you some idea of what sort of conscience the people 
have here, I will select one article from my dinner bill of yes- 
terday — one fowl, 9s 6d. The rest was proportionately dear, 
so that as for me, who do not understand their tricks and am 
not the greatest economist in the world, I cannot for the life 
of me live in London for less than ten guineas a week ! That is 
merely for Lodging, breakfast, dinner, and supper, without 
allowing a sixpence for amusements and hackney coachmen 
who, by the by, I believe to be the greatest set of rascals in the 
world, for they cheat me in every way. At night, if I give them 
a guinea to change, they are certain to return me all bad 
shillings and, perhaps, a pocket-piece instead of half a guinea, 
into the bargain. 

As for the servants, they are the most troublesome and con- 
tinual tax you can conceive. If you stay but one night at a 
coffee-house, you are accosted by a dozen of them at least : 
"I hope you will remember the porter, Sir ! I hope you will 
remember the waiter, Sir! I hope you will remember the Cham- 
ber-maid, Sir," etc, etc. And you cannot escape them for the 
soul of you, as they receive hardly anything else from their 
Masters besides the privilege of annoying every gentleman 


who comes within the doors. Now, those who are accustomed 
to them and understand their tricks, do not mind them; but' 
as for me I dread them as I do a rattlesnake or bloodsucker, 
for it is as much as your life or reputation is worth to go 
away without paying them. Well, if you have not any change, 
you must give them something to get changed and then they 
are sure to stay an hour or two, in hopes of wearing out your 
patience. And they have succeeded more than once with me for, 
if you have an appointment or any business to do, you must 
either break your appointment or lose your money. Their 
memories are so excessively short that, if you should return 
again in four or five hours and ask for your money, they stare 
you in the face — "Lord, Sir, you must be mistaken, sure! 
Here, James — did you change a guinea for the gentleman?" 
And then, if a bell should ring, they are off with "Coming, 
Sir, coming!" — leaving you to whistle for your money, if you 

Not long ago, I bought myself a beautiful watch for which 
I paid thirty guineas. But the London gentlemen were deter- 
mined to ease me of that watch ; I had not possession of it for 
above a week when, one night as I was coming out of the 
theatre, it was stolen from me in spite of my teeth. Ever since 
the accident, if I go to the play, I sit all night with my hands 
upon my money and, if anybody comes too near me, or jostles 
me in the least, I look first in his face and then at my Pocket, 
as much as to. say — as the man said to me in the gallery at 
New York — "Pray, my good friend, do not come quite so near 
my pocket." 

Give my love to Mama and tell her I begin to be of her 
opinion concerning the nimbleness of Londoner's fingers. Re- 
member me to Mrs Charlton and all the children — tell her I 
am not likely to fall in love with any of her countrywomen. 

Getting the patent actually approved was not so simple 
as John Cox had begun to hope. When next he wrote, he 
had come into contact with that Dickensian stumbling-block, 
the Barnacle family of the Circumlocution Office, and this 
he found it difficult to move. Moreover, a Mr. Hornblower 


had entered a protest — the same man whom the British 
records note as "cast in his suit against Mr. Watt." John 
Cox's letter was none too cheerful. 

May 30, 1805 
I am extremely sorry I could not send the books as I prom- 
ised, by the last ship; but really it was not my fault. The 
Editor of the Repertory disappointed me after having prom- 
ised faithfully to have them ready by the time the vessel sailed. 
Instead of that, he had not procured above one-half. I hope 
you will not impute it to any neglect of mine, for I have said 
and done everything in my power to induce him to be expedi- 
tious. He has at last got them together & sent them on board, 
& you will receive them together with this letter. 

I am sorry to say the Patent is not yet completed ; you can- 
not have the least idea of the innumerable and unavoidable 
difficulties and delays attached to the forms necessary. At the 
time I wrote, last, I expected it would certainly have been 
completed in a week from that date, as a day was appointed 
for its passing the Privy Seal. But a Caveat from a distant 
part of the Island was entered against it, two days before the 
expiration of the time, by a Mr Hornblower. It will be brought 
before the Chancellor in two or three days, when there is not 
the least shadow of a doubt that we shall ultimately succeed. 
Till the Patent is completed, I can do nothing, for Dr Pierson 
advises me not by any means to mention it, or apply to Watt 
and Bolton till I get the Patent. 

There is a gentleman by the name of Turner, a great me- 
chanical genius, with whom I often converse upon the subject 
of steam. I gave him a description of your boiler, which he very 
much admires. He says he has never seen nor heard of anything 
similar to it in England. The nearest approach that has been 
made to it was the passing of a few pipes through the water, 
into which the fire was introduced. They have never yet dis- 
covered a mode of making a boiler sufficiently strong to work 
with high pressure steam; that is, with any degree of safety. 
He told me there was a gentleman of his acquaintance who 
constructed an engine to work with high steam; with which, 


upon trial, he was very much delighted and intended taking 
out a patent. But, on visiting his engine, next day, he found 
his boiler cracked in many places, which gave him such a 
Fright that he gave over all idea of ever having anything to 
do with high steam again. This Mr Turner has discovered a 
kind of clay that does not contract in the smallest degree when 
exposed to the most intense heat ; also a very ingenious method 
of curing smoky chimneys by raising a brick wall about six 
inches from the back of the fireplace ; by which means the 
air between the wall and the back becomes rarefied and there- 
fore ascends and creates a draft. There must be no hole in 
the artificial back. 

I have very little news, except that I am spending my 
money ten times faster than I had any idea of — so fast that 
I fear at the expiration of three months I shall have but little 
to spend. I have not yet attained, nor do expect for some time 
to attain, the art of living 1 — that is, cheaply — in London. 
Most of their bills and charges amount, in my opinion, al- 
most to absolute robbery. 

They are still squabbling and debating in the House of 
Commons about Lord Melville, when — in my opinion — they 
had better be attending to Bonaparte and following him, if 
possible, through his moves and intricacies. For, by manoeu- 
vering his flat-bottomed boats and sending out expeditions, 
he still contrives to keep them in a most anxious state of 

I have been for the past six weeks impatiently expecting a 
letter from home, as I have had but one since my arrival & 
that was dated the day after I sailed. I hope that all mine have 
reached you ; my last you certainly received, as I wrote by a 
gentleman who was going to Boston, and he promised as soon 
as he arrived to enclose it and put it in the Post Office. Mr 
Monroe and Count Rumford are both in Paris. 

I have as yet formed very few acquaintances and conse- 
quently very often feel lonesome. Give my love to Mama and all 
the family, and tell them I begin to long very much to see them 
again. Tell Mrs Charlton I think more than one-half of her 
countrymen (no offence meant) and more than three-fourths 
of her countrywomen, great rogues. 


Evidently a turn for the better did come during the next 
week — although this did not apply to John Cox's private 
purse. The succeeding letter bears the date of June 4t. 

I have the satisfaction of informing you that the Patent 
is at last completed and dated the 31st of May, and also that 
we have completely jockey'd Mr Hornblower out of his 
Caveat. He said he wished to settle the business amicably ; 
there was no necessity of going before the Chancellor. We 
could adjust the matter between ourselves by explaining reci- 
procally our inventions. But the Editor of the Repertory 
advised me by no means to do any such thing, as he might 
take advantage of me by saying it interfered with his inven- 
tion and insisting on having a share of the Patent, or else 
not suffer me to take one out. So I left it entirely to his direc- 
tion and he, by some hook or crook, while Mr. Hornblower was 
writing backwards and forwards, got the Patent completed 
so that, at least, there is an end of that, after having waded 
through Caveats and obstacles innumerable, wandering from 
Seals to Privy Seals, from the Chancellor's to the Attorney's, 
and vice-versa. 

I shall leave London for Birmingham tomorrow or the next 
day, as soon as I have received my letters from Dr Pierson. 
I shall inform you by the first opportunity (which by no 
means occur as frequently as I expected) what success I meet 
with. I wrote a few days ago by the ship Otis. I mentioned in 
that letter a Mr Turner who had discovered a clay. . . . He 
sent me, a day or two ago, a specimen . . . which I received 
in time to transmit by the same ship. I mention this here as the 
Packet by which I write sails on Wednesday and I think it 
probable she will reach New York before the Otis. 

I recollect you told me . . . not to be afraid of writing the 
same thing twice. ... As I always like to do as I am told, and 
dislike undutiful children, I transcribe verbatim a part of 
my last: 

"I have very little news to tell you, without it is that I am 
spending my money twenty times faster than you do or did 
suppose, and ten times faster than even I had any idea of — 


so fast that I fear before the end of three months I shall have 
but little to spend." 

I have not time to go any farther for, as the Packet sails 
tomorrow, which is the first Wednesday in the Month, the mail 
closed tonight. And this is his Majesty's birthday, and they 
are making such a confounded racket that if I had ever so 
much time, and ever such a mind, I could not recollect one 
word more of it. Everybody, every thing, and every brain in 
London has turned topsiturvy and I don't think mine is much 
better than the rest. 

I think they are all getting as mad again as ever — one-half 
the Nation pulls one way, and the other, the other. They are 
now hawling Mr Pitt over the Coals. The Irishmen are begin- 
ning to play their old tricks again. Lord Nelson is wandering 
about the Mediterranean without meeting a single French ship, 
and the West India Expedition is returned safely to France 
again. I think they are getting into confusion here. I have not 
a bit more room. Give my love to Mama and all the family. 
Tell Robert he must write to me. Give my love to John Living- 
ston and tell him I expected a letter from him before this 

With the British patent at last in his hands, John Cox 
prepared for the next object of his trip — an interview with 
Watt. It took another three weeks to come within sight of 
this, for there was no further letter from him until June 24. 

Yesterday, as I was walking through the Strand, I unex- 
pectedly met Mr MacVicker, who informed me his son had a 
letter for me, which he sent me a few hours after, dated the 13 
of May. I am extremely glad to hear you are all well, but 
should like better to have ocular demonstration of it. 

In my last, I informed you the Patent was completed and 
that I intended to set off the day following for Birmingham. 
I waited upon Doc. Pierson, but he informed me that Mr Watt 
was in London. I was pleased to hear that, for I expected it 
would save me a jolting — but not so. 

I found Mr Watt and delivered to him your letter expres- 



sive of the terms upon which you wished to engage with him, 
together with the one in winch the Engine is described. After 
having read them, he told me that he had given up all con- 
cern in the business long ago and that I must apply to Watt 
or Bolton, Junior. But, at the same time, he would candidly 
tell me that he did not think they would engage in it, as they 
had uniformly refused to do such a thing, and, besides, we had 
been entirely anticipated by Mr Wolf. I told him I would 
readily allow that Mr Wolf, as well as a hundred others had 
made experiments with high steam, but it did not follow that 
we were anticipated as to the most advantageous mode of pro- 
ducing and applying it. If he would give me leave I would 
explain the matter more fully to him. He then said it would be 
to no purpose to give myself that trouble, as he would give 
me his son's direction and I had better see him about it. He 
returned me the letters, said you did him a great deal of 
honor, and wished me a good morning — he was particularly 
engaged. I then left him and went directly to Menet and 
Feeto [ ?] and got a letter of introduction to Bolton, Junior, 
and set out with my model and a heavy heart for Birmingham ; 
arguing, from the reception I met with from the old man, no 
very great success with the young one. 

Upon my arrival ... I delivered my letter ... to Bol- 
ton, Junior and explained the business. He told me in the 
first place that they had never deviated from the principle 
(nor even varied the construction) from that upon which they 
first set out. In the second place, as to high Steam, that was 
entirely out of the question. From repeated solicitations from 
Mr Wolf and other persons, they had at last consented to work 
some experiments, [agreeing that] if they answered as well as 
Mr Wolf's sanguine expectations led him to suppose, they 
would then adopt the principle. But, after having made thou- 
sands of different experiments, they found the practice to 
fall so far short of the theory that they were obliged to discard 
the principle absolutely and entirely. 

I then told him that the possible modes of producing and 
applying were so infinitely various that it was probable there 
were yet remaining many in which an engine upon that prin- 
ciple might be constructed. I flattered myself that if he would 


take the trouble to read your description or permit me to 
show the model (which I had with me) of the engine, he would 
allow that it was not only a new but a very advantageous 
mode of producing, containing, and applying high steam. He 
said I did him a great deal of honor in proposing to confide 
the construction to him. I said it was no secret, as I had . . . 
a Patent. He then replyed that it was detaining and giving 
me unnecessary trouble, as he had made up his mind never 
to engage in any other engine . . . upon that principle. I 
then asked if he would not construct an engine and make an 
experiment at my expense. . . . He said he had such a multi- 
plicity of business and so many engines on his own plan to 
construct that he could not possibly enter into it or have 
anything at all to do with it. He was extremely sorry that, 
after coming so far and giving myself so much trouble, it 
was not in his power to assist me in any way whatever. 

I staid as long as I possibly could stay, and said all I 
possibly could say without being rude, to induce him to enter 
into your view. But, so far from that, he would not even read 
the description or look at the model. So I was obliged to return 
to London with a heart more sad, if possible, than when I left 
it. For on the supposition that Mr Bolton would engage in it 
rested almost all my hopes of success. It was that which gave 
me patience to wade through all the tedious forms . . . the 
Patent was obliged to pass before its completion. 

I feel myself in a situation extremely perplexing and un- 
comfortable. I have no friends or relations to whom I can ap- 
ply for advice. Doc. Pierson is so continually engaged that it 
is not possible for him to devote much time to me. Mr Coxe 
is a Merchant . . . and knows no more about engines than 
the Man in the Moon, and General Reid is so old he can hardly 
see, hear, or speak. And those are the only persons with whom 
I am well enough acquainted to ask for advice. 

Even if I wished to have an engine constructed without the 
assistance of Watt or Bolton, and had somebody to stand 
security for the payment of it — which I assure you is no easy 
matter among the English — the chances are a thousand to one 
they would treat me in the same way, and ... I should never 
be able to get it right or tight. So I begin to feel very unhappy 


and ... in want of your assistance. I thought myself ex- 
tremely miserable in New York, but I find myself much more 
so here. I have not a single companion suited either to my age 
or disposition ; my unhappy, thoughtless, lawless temper brings 
me into trouble, go what part of the world I will. My money 
is almost all spent or stolen, for the price you pay for every- 
thing you eat and drink amounts to absolute robbery, espe- 
cially to an American. 

I shall wait anxiously for an answer to this letter, to know 
what course I am to pursue, for I am actually at a stand. Yet 
if there is still any possibility of my getting an engine built 
or set a-going, I certainly will endeavour to do my best. But 
if I should fail, I hope you will not blame me too severely; 
as to my business with Watt and Bolton, nobody, I am certain, 
could have had any better success. Tell Robert I would give 
everything I have in the world, even the coat off my back, 
if he was with me to assist me with his advice. 

The reference to Robert is a typical one. John Cox never 
had the elder-brother attitude toward his brilliant junior. 
But, since the faces of Watt and Boulton were so firmly set 
against high pressure, it is doubtful whether Robert could 
have persuaded them even to look at the model, much less to 
build an engine. With their long experience it was perfectly 
natural that these engineers should believe that no youth of 
eighteen could tell them anything about steam. Later on, 
they — the English — were much more generous; far more 
has been said and written of Robert's achievements in British 
publications than in American ones. 

One more letter gives the conclusion of John Cox's trip. 
It was written by the veteran General Reid to Colonel 

. . . Your son, considering his years, appears to be a well 
informed young man and, from the short acquaintance I have 
had of him, he promises to be a Credit to you and to his 


name. He passed several weeks at Bath and, like all other young 
men of the present age, has perhaps spent more money in that 
gay place than he would have spent in London. He has there- 
fore wisely determined to return to New York, having accom- 
plished his purpose in procuring for you a Patent . . . which 
was attended with more expense than he expected. 

... To pay for his passage in a ship bound to Philadelphia, 
and to discharge some debts which he has contracted here, I 
have supplied him — tho' at this time inconvenient to myself 
(as he knows) — with one hundred pounds Sterling, which 
... I make no doubt you will remit to me on his arrival. . . . 

I sincerely wish your son a safe voyage and hope you will 
have the pleasure of seeing him arrive safe and well at New 

John Cox's first visit to England ended in gloom. Forty 
years later, when he went back there at the head of the most 
noted group in the history of international yacht-racing, 
he met with a reception that completely reversed his early 
opinion of the country and its people. 


At home, the colonel was again very busy with the 
Manhattan Company. New York, deplored by "Blount's 
Stranger's Guide" of the day as having "too many swine in 
the street," did not then recognize any groups of half-naked 
children spending midsummer afternoons in the merciful 
streams from open hydrants. The gallant volunteer firemen 
who struggled with the famous Water Street conflagration 
were, in everything but courage, a long way from the split- 
second organization we take as a matter of course. Anything 
like a fire-boat, prepared to drive a great stream into the 
first flicker of flame from a warehouse window, had no 
place in early nineteenth century pictures of the river. 
Hence his fellow-citizens, picking their way along filthy 
sidewalks, formed the colonel's only precedent when, on 
March 4, 1805, he wrote to De Witt Clinton, the mayor: 

The command of a certain and never-failing supply of water 
for extinguishing the fires, and for washing and cleansing 
the streets during the summer months, is an object of im- 
mense importance to a great and opulent city like this, subject 
to the ravages of fire and pestilence. To effect so beneficial a 
purpose, no expense, however great, should be regarded. The 
loss sustained by the late fire in Water Street has been esti- 
mated at one million of dollars, which is fifty times as great a 
sum as would be necessary to carry into execution the plan 
which the subscriber now begs leave to offer for consideration 
by the Corporation. . . . 

For a sum not exceeding ten thousand dollars, he will con- 
tract, giving any security for performance that may be re- 



quired, to furnish . . . within a reasonable time, a steam en- 
gine which will be connected with a fire engine and forcing 
pump ; the whole to be placed on board a vessel, under cover 
and well secured from the weather. The vessel to be made 
capable of being easily transported from place to place on 
the river, as occasion may require, by the power of the engine 
with a very simple machinery. 

The engine will be capable of delivering into a reservoir, to 
be placed in the park, fifty feet above the level of tide wate^r, 
one million of gallons of water within twenty-four hours. From 
this reservoir the water can be distributed into all parts of 
the city for the purpose of washing and cleansing the streets. 
The engine, at any time, to be brought into complete opera- 
tion within less than half an hour from the time the fire shall 
have been lighted under the boiler. The vessel and covering 
for preserving the engine from the weather to be at the ex- 
pense of the Corporation. 

On this question of sanitation the colonel also wrote his 
friend Dr. David Hosack, then the city's health officer: 

. . . The Mayor views it as an object of great importance 
to the welfare of the City, but at the same time suggested a 
doubt whether salt water would answer . . . for washing the 
streets. It is readily admitted that the experiments of Doct. 
Macbride and Doct. Pringle seem to prove that a small pro- 
portion of salt has a tendency to promote putrefaction. But I 
can assert from my own observation during a residence of 
twenty years at Hoboken, that those . . . who live in the 
vicinity of salt marshes, in which there are always pools of 
stagnant water, are not by any means so subject to intermit- 
tent and remittent fevers as those living in the neighorhood of 
stagnant fresh water. Besides, it is by no means intended, 
nor is necessary, that the water should be . . . kept ... in 
a reservoir, but merely for the convenience of distribution. 
When the operation of scouring the gutters is finished, not a 
drop need be left. . . . 

Should it appear . . . that the use of salt water would . . . 


entirely remove the causes of putrefaction, by removing all 
animal and vegetable substance ... I trust you will have no 
hesitation in expressing an opinion favorable to the plan. . . . 
Should it be advisable to wash the pavements also ... on 
evaporation the salt would be left behind in a crystalized state, 
which all the world . . . are in the habit of using, as a pre- 
ventive of putrefaction. 

Evidently, the health officers supported the colonel; the 
official opinion was handed down in due course, March 4: 

Having considered the plan proposed by Mr Stevens, of 
supplying the City with water for . . . cleansing the streets, 
we are of opinion that it will prove highly beneficial . . . and 
that no evil can arise from the use of salt water. . . . 

John Charlton 
James Tillary 
Wright Post 
Wm. Moore. 

Out of these small beginnings grew New York's present 
water system with all its ramifications. Dr. Brown's sugges- 
tion that the Bronx River be used as an additional supply 
was seized upon by the colonel. Prudence suggested, said he, 
"the impropriety of relying solely upon the Manhattan 
Wells." He insisted, however, that the Bronx water be 
brought down in closed iron pipes rather than in an open 
canal. As for necessary engines, or pumps, he could build 
these himself or have them built at McQueen's. 

Making almost daily visits to New York upon this matter 
of water-supply, the colonel became more and more im- 
pressed with the soundness of his own prediction as to her 
"first magnitude" destiny, and as to the vital importance of 
her uninterrupted communication with the mainland. What 
he meant by communication was that great strategic artery 
along which a nation, like an army, is supplied with food, 


clothes, and every other necessity or luxury of life. Farm 
products delivered promptly at their best market ; the mails 
frequent and on time; goods assembled at the best seaport 
for foreign shipment, or quickly distributed upon importa- 
tion; means by which the casual traveler for relaxation or 
the harassed man of business might proceed rapidly and com- 
fortably upon their lawful occasions — the whole nation's 
enterprise and activity were included in communication as 
the colonel used the term. While he was confident that steam 
ferries would soon be in general operation, he was equally 
sure that these alone would prove utterly inadequate. "From 
the Bluff at Hoboken," he wrote, "there must and will be a 
bridge to the upper Battery. The roads from Newark, Pat- 
terson, and Hackensack must unite on the west side of 
Bergen Hill and be carried by a tunnel through the same 
to the Marsh and hence to the Bluff." The latter of these two 
predictions is now obvious in the Lackawanna Railroad. 
In advocating the former, he said that a bridge would "at 
once make Hoboken a part of New York" and turn the latter 
city into "the unrivaled emporium of the commerce of the 
United States." In support of his conviction that such a 
bridge would mean no material obstruction to river naviga- 
tion, he offered several plans. 

Frankly admitting that those to whom he wrote would 
doubtless regard the subject as "chimerical," he addressed 
the mayor and a dozen leading citizens, proposing to begin 
operations with a floating bridge. Past experience with 
steamboats led him to say that "from the prejudices which 
naturally arise against anything bearing the stamp of 
novelty, and from an aversion and even inability of most 
men to give their attention to subjects remote from their 
ordinary train of thinking," few in his circle of friends 
would fail to regard the idea as extravagant. "But," he per- 


sisted, "without boldness and some degree of an adventurous 
spirit, nothing great can be performed." Since the project 
was so great and important, why not risk a few dollars on 
an experiment? 

The matter being one of national interest, he suggested 
the formation of a company under Federal supervision, to 
be known as "The United States Bridge Company" and to 
have the object of building bridges over all rivers then 
crossed only by ferry. Such a company could proceed with 
the plan which he "had the honor to propose." 

Hollow vessels, well hooped with copper, 42 feet in length, 
3 feet and a half in the middle and 20 inches at each end. To 
save expense in execution, it will be best to make these vessels 
in three parts of 14 feet each. . . . 

They will be enclosed by framework, two of these to embrace 
the middle compartment at proper distances. Two others, where 
the ends join . . . the outer compartments, and two more near 
the middle of each of the latter. . . . 

One hollow vessel to be placed under the middle of one set of 
stringpieces, and the frames morticed and tenanted thereto 
and secured by braces. The ends of the stringpieces to rest on 
the frames of two other vessels, connected thereto so as to 
permit them to move upward and downward. The stringpieces 
fastened to the frames by chains, and each to be forty feet 
long. The plank to be laid on the stringpieces, with a railing on 
each side. 

For drawbridges, blocks to be sunk on each side of the river, 
and the bridge, when finished, to be kept in place by anchors 
and cables. 

That was the gist of the plan. According to the colonel, 
these vessels or casks would have a sufficient buoyancy to 
give a reserve of 10,000 for each set of string-pieces. Should 
this prove insufficient, he would merely increase the size of 
the casks. In estimating — as he always did — upon the cost 


of the experiment, lie took the distance across the river as 
five thousand feet. Allowing a figure for labor that would 
seem ridiculous in a modern cost-sheet, the figures for this 
bridge came out at $24,375, to which he added 15 per cent, 
for contingent expenses. This did not, however, include the 
two draws, with their necessary gear; the latter to be so 
made that "they may fly open and shut in an instant." Add- 
ing $11,000 for these, he thought the resulting total of 
$40,000 certainly not excessive. 

Such a bridge, said the colonel, should be available for at 
least eight months in the year but, "as the passage through 
the draws will occasion some impediment to the navigation, 
it might not be practicable to obtain from the legislature a 
grant in perpetuity." He held it would be better to ask for 
a seven to ten year charter, with the understanding that the 
company's real object should be to provide "permanent 
passage which shall in no wise obstruct navigation." Antici- 
pating other objections, he acknowledged that some would 
declare no joints could stand the "heavy seas" of so wide a 
river, while others would insist that the "agitation" of the 
bridge would make the passage "troublesome and at times 
dangerous." He felt that any one with the slightest knowl- 
edge of mechanics must consider these points, but he pro- 
posed "to obviate these objections in the completest man- 
ner, in a way extremely simple." Suppose weighted chains 
were attached to the frames, so as to keep the hollow vessels 
always "completely covered"? The chains would always be 
under a tension equal to the buoyancy of each set of frames, 
and thus any carriage passing over the bridge would find 
it perfectly steady. To save time, he saw no reason why the 
draws could not be made to open both ways during the day 
and to stand open "at all times during the night, with 
lamps constantly lit and so disposed as to direct vessels in 


their proper course through." Having built a model, he an- 
nounced that he would "be happy to explain it to a commit- 
tee from either House." 

Charles Loos, city surveyor of New York, had done most 
of the laying out of Hoboken. "I have not the smallest 
doubt," he wrote, after examining the colonel's model and 
plan, "that a bridge constructed on similar principles might 
be made to withstand the utmost force of wind and waves, 
or that it would remain stationary, uninfluenced by the rise 
and fall of tides and afford a safe passage over the widest 
and most turbulent rivers." Dr. Thornton, in accepting the 
colonel's application for a patent, spoke of the design as 
"an ingenious subfluvial bridge." However, when the colonel 
held that opposition could conceivably come only "from 
those individuals who may conceive it prejudicial to their 
private interests — none of these worthy of the least atten- 
tion, unless it may be what are called Skippers," he had 
accurately gauged the situation. Shipping men demurred 
that their trade, both across and along the river, would be 
snatched out of their hands by truckmen operating over the 
bridge. The East River and Buttermilk Channel were 
churned white by pittyaugers, pulling across to protest 
against any Long Island experiment; on the Hudson side 
of Manhattan the clamor was just as loud. None of these, 
declared the colonel, ought to have "weight with any mem- 
ber of the legislature, unless considerations of a party 
nature become unhappily involved in the question." To begin 
with, all he asked was that his bridge, on one river or the 
other, be tried. But the mob's voice was raised. Floating 
bridges? Never, while they were alive to fight them. The 
legislative ear heard the cries, the charter failed — and the 
colonel promptly presented his other plan. 

"It is apprehended," said he, "that a floating bridge will 


cause too great an interruption. I now propose a permanent 
bridge, with reaches of so great a height and so wide a span 
as to admit vessels of every description to pass through 
freely." Spans of two hundred feet were already in use; 
why not, then, build spans of six hundred feet? He advo- 
cated oak timbers rather than the usual pine, and advised 
shoeing the timbers with iron. The arches should be curved 
"vertically as well as longitudinally," with the ribs "firmly 
connected by diagonal braces, laid and let into each other in 
the form of lattice." At low water mark the bridge piers 
were to be thirty feet wide; or, if this appeared too great 
an obstruction, cast-iron cylinders were to be substituted. 
Ice-breakers, set at forty-five degrees and faced with iron, 
would protect the piers in winter. 

"In a military.point of view," he pleaded, "the advantages 
of bridges cannot be overlooked." During the Revolution 
the possession of the North and East rivers by the enemy had 
proved nearly fatal to our cause. Communication between 
the city and the surrounding country being completely cut 
off, General Washington had been obliged to abandon New 
York. "Intercourse between the Southern and Eastern States 
was also cut off, the country near the banks of the river 
ravaged; towns, villages, and even Gentlemen's Seats burnt 
and destroyed. The bridges now proposed would not only 
intercept the passage of Enemy Ships of War, but they 
would afford direct communication so that succor and sup- 
plies could at all times be thrown into the City." Combining 
this quality with the feature of not blocking navigation, the 
colonel thought his plan entitled to a trial. He actually suc- 
ceeded in getting legislative authority to present a detailed 
bill of the organization of a permanent bridge company; 
this with the proviso that he publish his plan in the news- 
papers. It came out in the "Public Advertiser," the "Eve- 


ning Post," "The Albany Register," and "The Albany 
Gazette," with the added suggestion of several methods of 
paying for the bridge. One was to make it an aqueduct for 
bringing Jersey water into the city; another was to follow 
the London plan and erect houses upon the bridge. Both 
failed to beat down the wall of "prejudice against the stamp 
of novelty" which restrained other men from joining in the 
colonel's effort. 

As late as 1884, when Gustave Lindenthal made his de- 
sign for a Hudson bridge, the same prejudice was effective. 
Not even the Roeblings' artistic triumph on the East River 
could convince the Hudson skeptics. In 1890 a Federal 
charter was granted to the North River Bridge Company, 
and the report of the House committee sustained John 
Stevens's long-forgotten opinion when it stressed the na- 
tional character of the work and the consequent necessity of 
Federal supervision. At that time the Pennsylvania Railroad 
could not risk its credit by financing such an undertaking, 
but its president, Samuel Rea, recently had this to say upon 
the subject: 

While the day for the construction of such a bridge in lower 
New York City, over the Hudson, primarily for steam railroad 
traffic, may have gone, the immense growth of passenger and 
highway traffic across the Hudson River, which has occurred 
since the development of the automobile and the Hudson and 
Manhattan Railroad — with the continued rapid development of 
the Newark territory — keeps the project fully alive. I, for one, 
believe that the cost of such a bridge for highway, suburban, 
and local traction would be fully justified; that its revenues 
would carry its capital investment and would ultimately amor- 
tize the cost and give a free bridge to the public. 

New York, the chief beneficiary of such an important trans- 
port artery, so located as best to serve the bulk of the traffic, 
has not yet awakened to its necessity and may not, until in- 


tolerable congestion will compel its construction. When that 
time comes, it will be found that the wisdom of Congress was 
fully justified in creating the North River Bridge Company 
with its broad powers, but still safeguarding the public in 
every way, with profits limited to ten per cent of its cost, all 
under the supervision of the Interstate Commerce Commission, 
and all declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of the 
United States. It will also be apparent that the existing char- 
ter will continue to be the most appropriate and best instru- 
ment for carrying out such a great interstate project. 

Without going into greater detail of the colonel's ear- 
nestly repeated arguments, it is evident that President Rea 
has paraphrased him after more than a century. Could the 
one man have lived later, and the other earlier, the present 
project upon the upper Hudson might long since have been 
completed and in service. Moreover, when the colonel's bridge 
ammunition missed its mark, and when he drew another shot 
from his locker, Mr. Rea would doubtless have helped load 
the new gun. In the congestion that the years must bring, 
New York and its vicinity would be helped by bridges and 
ferries, but a third link in the chain of communication must 
eventually be forged. Perhaps nothing in the colonel's life 
more clearly reflects the quality of his vision than his pro- 
posal of 1806 — the laying of vehicular tunnels, not under 
but in the beds of the Hudson and East rivers. 

Briefly, the plan was to build cylinders of timber, each 
in the form of the f rustrum of a cone ; to drive these cylin- 
ders together, build frames about them, line them with 
"brick or hewn stone," fill them with water, and sink them 
in the silt of the river-beds. When they had settled, they 
were to be pumped out and a roadway established through 
them. For the usual preliminary experiment the colonel 
proposed an eight-foot tunnel. This would be large enough 
"to permit carriages of all kinds, without tops, to pass 


thro'." If it were successful, two fourteen-foot tunnels could 
follow, thus providing two-way traffic without interference, 
and the small tunnel could then be given over to foot-pas- 
sengers. As was his habit, the colonel made an exhaustive 
estimate of the cost of the experimental building, at the 
same time running a line of soundings, at about three hun- 
dred foot intervals, from the "upper wharf e" at Hoboken to 
De Cline's on the New York side. The soundings ranged 
from three fathoms inshore to twelve in mid-stream, depths 
which he thought presented no insuperable difficulties. "We 
may," he said, "rest easy about any damage to be sustained 
by shipping of any draught of water passing over the tun- 
nels." As to the character of the river-bed, he declared him- 
self "warranted in presuming that it has been formed by 
alluvial deposits." With an "even, uniform surface, the curve 
of the sag, or festoon would deviate, in so long a distance, 
so little from a straight line that the effect upon the joints 
would be very slight." As to an interruption of river traffic 
while the work was in progress, this, in view of the ultimate 
gain, would be negligible. 

No opposition to the idea, nor failure to cooperate with 
him in the stock company which he proposed to organize, 
could ever shake the colonel from his conviction that the 
tunnel must come. In 1810 he seized an occasion to bring 
the whole plan forward again. Having read an account of 
the difficulty in digging a tunnel under the Thames, he wrote 
to Mr. Wadeson, one of the British engineers, suggesting 
that "it would be practicable to carry a tunnel on the bed 
of the river from Tilbury to Gravesend, in such a manner 
that ... it may form a regular curve." At the same time, 
repeating his arguments in America, he pointed out that 
British engineers were so far from being discouraged that 
they were proposing a tunnel under the Firth of Forth. Why 


should Americans be afraid of an experiment? He would 
put his ferry and his steamboat patents into the capital of 
a tunnel company. "An appeal," he concluded, "is now 


made to the head and heart of every man in the community 
who feels an interest in the honor and welfare of his country 
and at the same time makes a just estimate of the emolument 
he will probably make." A guess at future gains could be 
based upon the fact that New York's population had "three- 

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bled" during the last twenty years; even were there to be 
no gain, what was a "trifling pecuniary sacrifice for the at- 
tainment of an object so highly beneficial"? 

The records do not show what, if any, subscriptions were 
made to try the colonel's experiment. They do show that 
the first real attempt to dig under the Hudson was begun in 
1874, and that the Pennsylvania tunnel was started in 1903. 
One cannot but wonder whether the ears of the governor 
of New York and the governor of New Jersey, shaking 
hands a few months ago at the exact center of the Holland 
Tunnel, were attuned to hear the shade of John Stevens 
chuckle "I told you so!" 

The impressions gathered by John Cox supported his 
father's belief that war with Britain was not only inevitable 
but actually upon us. To Selah Strong, chairman of the 
Corporation of New York, he put the case bluntly : 

August 12, 1807 
Our differences with Great Britain, resting as they do on 
points eminently calculated to rouse the sensibilities — to touch 
to the quick the interested feelings of both parties — I fear are 
not susceptible of amicable adjustment. The unbending pride 
and arrogance of her pretensions to maritime supremacy — the 
rancorous prejudice and unfriendly temper of the king and his 
present ministry toward us — hold out no encouragement to 
hopes and expectations of remaining long at peace with her. 
In short, if the dread of exciting commotions among the 
manufacturers does not restrain the temper of the ministry, 
war with England is inevitable. 

The completely Jeffersonized navy was in no position to 
back up any such outburst. President Madison, had he been 
leaning over the colonel's shoulder when this letter was be- 
gun, would doubtless have reached down and rapped him 
over the knuckles for grave indiscretion. Yet it was more 


than mere diatribe; its object was to precipitate a discus- 
sion of New York's defenses. That these, at the moment, 
amounted to very little, the colonel could see by a glance 
at the list of available guns, some mounted at convenient 
points, some not mounted at all. They could hardly be called 

Belonging to New York State : 

40 iron 32-pounders 2 brass 9-pounders 

41 iron 24-pounders 10 brass 6-pounders 

Loaned by the United States: 

12 iron 24-pounders 10 9-inch Howitzers 

5 brass 18-pounders 1 8-inch Howitzer. 

8 brass 12-pounders 

It was a study of this meager battery and a talk with 
Colonel Jonathan Williams of the army, detailed to study 
the defenses, that definitely led to the letter to Strong. 
Continuing, Colonel Stevens expanded his ideas and offered 
a few suggestions : 

We all know in what manner war in that country is now 
usually declared. The first intimation we shall have . . . will 
be that our vessels are seized and plundered in every quarter 
of the globe. . . . Her cupidity and jealousy of our commer- 
cial prosperity will excite an ardent wish to lay this opulent 
city . . . under contribution or in ashes. Let us be prepared 
... to receive her naval armament in the best manner . . . 
time and circumstances will permit. Something must imme- 
diately be done that holds ... a fair prospect of success 
in a short time. ... I throw out the following plan: 

One or two miles below Bedloe's Island, let blocks be sunk, 
constructed in the usual manner for wharves, at a distance of 
50 or 60 feet from each other. These blocks to be 25 or 30 feet 
square, or longer if thought necessary, and armed with che- 


vaux-de-frises. Beginning in the centre of the channel between 
Mud Flats and the flats between Robin's Reef and Bedloe's 
Island, form two lines of blocks, nearly at right angles, in a 
northeasterly and northwesterly direction, extending each 400 
yards, making a base of 500 yards. Leaving intervals of 200 
yards, two other lines — southeasterly and southwesterly — ex- 
tending to the flats on each side. . . . The blocks approaching 
the middle of the channel must rise only to 18 or 20 feet from 
the surface at high water; all the rest, 6 or 8 feet above the 
surface ... to serve as a shelter for gunboats stationed be- 
hind them. . . . 

As a temporary expedient ... a line of frames — or rafts 
— must be moored across the opening between the lines of 
blocks. . . . The greatest use of these rafts will be to prevent 
ships of war . . . passing through the intervals . . . and to 
protect . . . floating batteries of 500 feet each, from being 
annoyed by fire-ships. These batteries must carry at least 
four tier of heavy guns ... to sweep the area between the 
blocks. . . . 

The more I reflect on this all-important business of defence 
. . . the more firm is my conviction that land-batteries, how- 
ever constructed or placed, afford no security against a fleet. 
. . . The ships can pass with little or no injury. . . . The 
floating batteries will carry, in a space of 100 yards, one hun- 
dred and twenty guns. . . . Only one ship of the line can lay 
her side — say forty guns — against one of the batteries. . . . 
When aided by upwards of 50 gunboats . . . with fireships 
in readiness and, above all, a line of Mr Fulton's torpedoes 
[mines] surely the batteries would remain impregnable? 

To give a more complete idea, my plan will be exhibited at 
the Tontine Coffee House. One collateral advantage occurs to 
me: To carry this into effect would require no further cession 
of territory from this state to the United States. I invite 
criticism, if made with candour and decency, from honest and 
disinterested motives. 

As the colonel had hoped, considerable discussion resulted. 
In response to a broadcast notice to the effect that "how- 
ever unhappily we may be divided in respect to local poli- 


tics, we are, thank God, on the present occasion unanimous," 
brought quite a gathering to the coffee house. With his 
pockets crammed with plans and sketches, the colonel arrived 
early and stayed late. A dozen ideas were brought forward, 
among them that of Jonathan Williams, who favored the 
Narrows for the defense. To this the colonel objected that 
the bar "extending from the point of the Hook toward Long 
Island" might be dangerously increased by the changes in 
the flow of current due to permanent obstructions in the 
Narrows. Also, since the time to build the Williams plan 
would take two years, would not his own floating batteries 
prove quicker and cheaper? 

The committee that was appointed does not appear to 
have made much headway, even though $100,000 to defend 
New York was appropriated by Congress. The colonel spoke 
of the committee's report as being concluded "in terms of 
utter despondency and despair." Actually, the report did 
say that "if we should unfortunately be involved in war, it 
will most probably take place before any effectual means 
of defense can be completed, and we must submit to our un- 
happy situation." Certainly this was not a very militant 
attitude, but one not at all unusual at that period. On the 
colonel's own part, the whole effort represented a mere 
branch of his regular activities, its chief significance being 
the effect it had of convincing him of the vital importance 
of mobility and of leading him to consider the designing of 
more fully protected ships of war. In addition to offering to 
construct, at cost, the batteries he had recommended, he ad- 
dressed the Jersey representatives in Congress upon a kin- 
dred subject: 

Dec. 3rd, 1807 
I find that it is contemplated to build an additional number 
of gunboats for the defence of our harbours. . . . Permit 


me, Gent'n, to suggest the propriety of apportioning these, 
provided the business can be consolidated with equal advantage 
to the public interest, among the several Atlantic States ac- 
cording to their propinquity to the places these boats are to be 
stationed. ... In conformity ... I take the liberty of rec- 
ommending the Ship Yard I have at Hoboken. . . . 

The wharf in front commands a sufficient depth of water 
and is at all times occupiable even in the severest weather. 
... A blacksmith's forge, a brass foundry, saw-pits, &c, are 
erected on the spot. There is ... in the yard a quantity of 
the best white-oak timber, cut in my own wood in the vicinity, 
which is capable of furnishing timber of the best quality for 
building, both oak and cedar, for ten or a dozen of these 
gunboats. In addition, Mr John Morgan, an eminent ship- 
builder . . . has constructed during the last summer a ma- 
chine for taking vessels of any burthen entirely out of the 
water . . . for graving, cleaning, repairing, coppering, 
&c. . . . 

As, in all probability, no application . . . from any other 
place ... in New Jersey will come forward, I flatter myself 
that you will feel some interest. 

In the same strain the colonel w r rote to the secretary of the 
navy, emphasizing the quality of his timber and pledging 
himself, as "a Native Born American Citizen," to build six 
or eight gunboats as cheaply and efficiently as this could be 
done anywhere in the United States. In the general scramble 
of unpreparedness for 1812 it appears that he got no 
chance to prove what he said, but here again his interest re- 
ceived a definite impulse toward the study of warships and 
their characteristics. The impulse never left him, and he was 
later on to yield to it again. At the moment, disappointed 
by the Government, he turned back to those more purely 
commercial enterprises in steamboating which had been en- 
gaging him for years. 


The first wholly American-built steamboat of importance, 
definitely engaged in the commercial transportation of pas- 
sengers and freight, was named the Phoenix, designed, built, 
and operated by John Stevens. His plans for her, as the 
largest craft he had yet attempted, began taking shape in 
the summer of 1806, when she appeared to be justified by 
the performance of his forty-foot steam ferryboat — three 
and one half miles an hour. While debating her exact design 
with his sons, he ordered the lumber cut and stored. 

As to machinery, he believed much could still be gained in 
reducing space and weight. For more power, he increased 
the "cylinders" in his multitubular boiler from twelve to 
nineteen; trying this in the twenty-nine-foot boat of 1807, 
he got six miles an hour. However, satisfied that he could 
not carry enough pressure of steam for propellers, he con- 
cluded to revert to Roosevelt's paddle-wheels of ten years 
before. Propellers must wait for still better boilers. 

Writing of the new twenty-nine-footer to Livingston, at 
Christmas-time, the colonel declared himself to be "upon 
the whole, perfectly satisfied with the experiments," but de- 
termined to make the boiler tubes "four inches diameter 
instead of two," to give "a greater head and surface of 
steam and water." The larger boat, which he now expected 
to lay down early in the next year, was to be one hundred 
feet long and twenty-six feet wide, finished and ready to 
operate in May. Meantime, he asked, was there no way 
in which Livingston and Fulton would combine with him, 



in order that all might have the benefit of the improvements 
which each had already made or might hit upon in the 
future? He "ardently desired to avoid collision"; could they 
not "contribute mutually toward bringing to perfection one 
of the greatest works for the benefit of mankind that had 
ever yet been effected"? Jointly, they might "set all com- 
petitors at defiance," whereas by proceeding separately they 
would probably "throw open the door to contending inter- 
lopers." Further, should his new boat prove faster than 
theirs, would their New York grant hold good? Suppose he 
obtained a license from Perth Amboy and ran his craft, as a 
coasting vessel, up to Albany with live-stock? Suppose, 
against the four miles they were prepared to guarantee, she 
should make even no more than six miles an hour? He saw 
no reason for her not making ten, but even at six would 
not the odds be too great for the Clermont? Would any ac- 
tion brought in Jersey courts avail to restrain him? Why 
should Jersey respect an act of New York's, "passed in 
contravention of the Spirit and Letter of the Federal Con- 
stitution"? If he could not make more speed than the Cler- 
mont he would not feel "at liberty, upon liberal principles," 
to contest their exclusive rights on the Hudson, but he was 
confident of beating them. He begged them to reconsider, be- 
cause it was his "sincere wish to unite upon equitable prin- 

Six months before the colonel wrote this letter the Hud- 
son River monopoly had seized that new-born Hercules, 
American steamboating, by the throat and very nearly 
strangled it. Intentionally or not, the monopoly was well de- 
signed to cut the young enterprise off from the breath of 
its life — open competition. Perhaps the viciousness of this 
"restraint of trade" was not appreciated by those who orig- 
inated it ; yet, had it been entirely successful, progress would 


have had a fatal blow. Fortunately, the cradle was not with- 
out its guardians, whose motives, although undeniably col- 
ored by selfish interest, must to-day appear commendable. 
While this struggle between the monopolists and the inde- 
pendents was actually in progress, with successive events 
fresh in men's minds, it was everywhere discussed, with pros 
and cons fiercely fought. Frequently a court decision one 
way or the other was a question of bread and butter; in- 
variably it was a question touching men's pockets. Since it 
has been fading into the long past, the history of the strug- 
gle has occasionally been considered from one point of view 
or another, but not from all of them. In the papers of Colo- 
nel Stevens, chief target of the monopolists and most often 
hit, are many letters dealing with matters never placed in 
their true light. 

The colonel, nearing his sixtieth year, had had his share 
of disappointments and of successes. Both because of his 
rather more advantageous position in the community and 
because of what he had actually accomplished in building 
and operating steamboats, he was the American leader of the 
engineering profession. In 1806, further success along the 
same line loomed so close that he could see much to lose by 
any interference with his plans. The Hudson, running past 
the foot of his lawn, was the obvious water of which he 
had already made great use and upon which he relied for 
more experiments. Albany, a hundred and sixty miles away, 
had been his goal ever since his earliest efforts with Roose- 
velt and Livingston. He was ready and eager to progress 
up the Hudson. 

Chancellor Livingston, as a party to the three-cornered 
agreement, had made a twenty-year promise to share the 
colonel's efforts. During several years in France the chan- 
cellor had not wholly lost touch with steamboat events in 


America; to some extent, at least, he must have known 
of the screw propeller and of the colonel's intention to build 
larger craft equipped either in this way or in some other — 
to say nothing of the intimate family connection between 
the two. On the other hand, the success of the experiments 
of 1802, on the Seine, had made Livingston confident that 
much could be done with the British engine as Fulton pro- 
posed to modify it on bringing it to New York. Indeed, 
Livingston had long before contemplated importing such an 
engine on his own account. Also, he was convinced that Ful- 
ton was working along the proper theory of hull resistance 
and pressure. Apart from any question of invention, he be- 
lieved that Fulton would produce a good combination. 

Hence, the chancellor's position between Stevens and Ful- 
ton was a difficult one. It was easier for him to use his in- 
fluence in securing the monopoly grant from New York than 
to extricate himself by a compromise which would be satis- 
factory to all concerned. Professor James Renwick, writing 
in Sparks's "Biographies," declares that "it is probable 
that, had Fulton himself been the sole proprietor of the 
grant, ... a spirit of compromise w T ould have governed 
him." On the contrary, the facts indicate the opposite prob- 
ability. Livingston wanted to compromise — not Fulton. 

This was because Fulton's position was by far the least 
complicated of the three. After his French experiments he 
became satisfied that a Boulton & Watt engine, modified as 
he proposed, would drive a steamboat. In view of the strict 
English law r s against exportation, Fulton had every reason 
to feel proud of succeeding in bringing one to America. His 
earlier successes with the submarine and the floating mine 
gave him confidence in his ow r n mechanical ability, and this, 
with the backing of the Livingston influence and the gen- 
erously opened Livingston purse, he was anxious to employ 


to the fullest. It was not in the least unnatural that Fulton 
should have been jealous of any interference with his high 
prospects, more especially since he was a younger man and 
very impetuous. 

Such was the situation of the three men who became the 
central figures in the long fight. Between its beginning and 
the distant day when Chief Justice Marshall, using the Og- 
den-Gibbons suit as case in point, should definitely settle 
the issue, many other men entered the struggle either as 
advisers or as active partners on one side or the other. Yet 
these later-comers are less important and may be considered 
as they appear. 

The date upon which the monopoly became effective may 
be accepted as that upon which the Clermont ran her first 
trip — July 18, 1807. Oddly enough, the event which led 
by tortuous courses to establishing the steamboat as a com- 
mercial fact in America created hardly more sensation than 
had the earlier events which made it a mechanical fact. It 
might be expected that those paddle-wheels, churning the 
river in plain sight of all New York, would have stirred 
up at least as much excitement as animated Professor Ren- 
wick's crowd, hurrying toward the Battery three years be- 
fore, to see the Little Juliana cross the Hudson without 
"visible means of propulsion." Yet the most exhaustive 
search of contemporary newspapers and periodicals will 
hardly repay the effort with anything adequate to the occa- 
sion; indeed, such a search will do little more than prove 
that an improved mousetrap, to-day, would get ten times 
the publicity. The obvious explanation lies in the fact that 
no more than a score of Americans knew what a steam-en- 
gine was, while perhaps half a dozen had any idea of its 
immeasurable future. Fulton, in raising funds for the Cler- 


mont, went through the experience that had been the 

Before the Clermont was launched, there had been con- 
siderable discussion between the three men chiefly interested 
in her building. In that long and rather bitter letter that he 
wrote on April £, 1813, to his adoring satellite, Cadwalader 
Colden, Fulton told something of these discussions and his 
view of them: 

In the winter of 1806-07, my partner, Mr Livingston, pro- 
posed to Mr Stevens to be a partner with us, to the amount 
of one-third of every advantage which might accrue from our 
United States patent and state grants, on condition he would 
pay one third of five thousand dollars, the expenses of our ex- 
periments, just paying 1666 dollars. He declined this offer. 

Here was the first of the chancellor's several efforts at 
compromise. Colonel Stevens, when he replied, through Col- 
den, to this statement of Fulton's, had this to say of the 
motives for the offer: 

They were unquestionably these — that, previously to Chan- 
cellor Livingston's departure for France, he obtained from the 
Legislature of the State of New York an exclusive grant for 
running steamboats on the waters thereof; that, by an agree- 
ment now in my possession, a partnership was entered into 
between Chancellor Livingston, Mr N. Roosevelt, and myself, 
respecting said grant, on condition of my paying one-third of 
the expenses incurred in building a Boat, etc ; the full amount 
of which third was duly paid by me. It was not, therefore, from 
motives of generosity that this offer was made me, but from 
a sense of equity and justice. 

True. Equally true that, had the earlier grant come into 
effective operation, the colonel would himself have been a 
party to virtual monopoly. Since, "during the winter of 


1806," he was to be thrust out into the cold unless he ac- 
cepted Livingston's offer, he would have saved much worry 
and a great sum of money if he had then and there put his 
pride into his pocket and taken his wallet out of it. Instead, 
he acted upon what he consistently held to be good reasons 
for refusing the offer. He had already spent more in Ameri- 
can experiments than Fulton and Livingston had spent in 
French ones; he was by no means convinced that Fulton's 
combination would eventually prove to be the best one — as, 
in fact, it did not. Already having several United States 
patents and proposing to take out more, he felt — as a vir- 
tual originator of the patent laws — that Fulton was as 
likely to infringe upon him as he was to infringe upon 
Fulton. Finally, rather than accept second place at the out- 
set, he wanted to try out his own machinery. For all these 
reasons he signed an independent contract : 

Articles of Agreement, made . . . this seventh day of 
January, one thousand eight hundred and eight, between John 
Stevens . . . and Nathan Sayre, William Gailer, Joseph Mor- 
gan, and William Williams. . . . 

That, whereas . . . John Stevens, Esq has engaged the 
parties to build a boat of the following dimensions : One hun- 
dred feet keel, sixteen feet beam molded, & six feet four inches 
from the floor to the lower part of the deck beams, the said 
parties agree to build the boat for NINE HUNDRED DOL- 
LARS . . . John Stevens finding all the materials. 

That is . . . the said parties . . . engage to do . . . all 
the carpenter's work, caulking and delivering the . . . boat, 
afloat in the water in a good and workmanlike manner, exclu- 
sive of Joiner's and Carver's work, on or before the FIRST 
DAY OF APRIL ensuing ... on condition of John Stevens 
making . . . the following payments : 

One hundred dollars when the keel is laid and the stem and 
sternpost raised; one hundred and fifty . . . when the boat is 
in frame ; one hundred and fifty . . . when the boat is planked ; 


two hundred . . . when the deck is laid ; and the remaining 
three hundred when the boat is launched and finished. . . . 
The said boat ... to be built under the superintendence of 
John Floyd, shipwright of Hoboken . . . from whom the par- 
ties are to receive and obey all instructions. ... It is further 
agreed . . . John Stevens . . . will deliver ... at the place 
of building ... all materials necessary ... so that no delay 
may take place. . . . 

For the faithful performance . . . the parties bind them- 
selves, etc ... in the Penalty of Five Hundred Dollars . . . 
to be paid by the party failing. . . . 

Nath. Sayre 
Joseph Morgan 
Wm. Gailer 
William Williams 
John Stevens 
In presence of 
Robert Cocks, Jr 
Henry Stoutenburgh 

Hardly had the signatures been sprinkled with sand be- 
fore the colonel received from Livingston and Fulton a reply 
to the proposals sent them in December. If he had been 
skeptical of the Clermont, Fulton was even more so of the 
Stevens boat, and in what the partners wrote this was the 
sentiment expressed. In the main, however, their letter was 
a long analysis of the Constitution, written in the chancel- 
lor's hand but purporting to be a joint interpretation. In 
conjunction with the rejoinder, made in two parts by the 
colonel, this letter offers a presentation of the whole case 
too exact to be omitted. Unfortunately, the "staple of argu- 
ment" in the Livingston-Fulton letter is sometimes drawn 
very fine indeed; to read the whole effusion, and then at- 
tempt to read the colonel's replies, is to become hopelessly 
lost. It seems possible to present a summary only as a sort 
of debate — which was, in fact, the method followed by the 


colonel in attacking paragraph by paragraph. He did not 
get this long letter until a week after it was actually written, 
Livingston having finally forwarded it with this note : 

I sincerely hope the proposition we have made you may be 
agreeable. ... I am satisfied it is more advantageous than 
the one you propose. . . . Still, I think if you should upon a 
fair trial succeed so as to run a mile or two faster than we 
do, that we might make a better plan. . . . 

Mr Fulton was to have been here today. He not coming, I 
send you our letter without his signature. 

The chancellor was hedging a little, to leave openings for 
a compromise. But the main letter was less hopeful: 

Clermont, 13th January, 1808 
We have consulted together and fully considered your ap- 
plication to become interested with us in our patent rights. 
We are sorry to find you adress yourself ... to our fear of 
not being able to support our pretensions ag't any new patent. 
Upon this subject be assured we do not feel the slightest 
apprehension. ... If we did, it would be madness in us to 
proceed. . . . 

A long boat, and wheels was, with us . . . the result of ex- 
pensive and numerous experiments. . . . Neither of these en- 
tered into your plans . . . nor did you, after we had told you 
of our intentions to use them, manifest any faith. . . . You 
constantly refused to come into partnership with us . . . be- 
cause you believed our propelling apparatus was defective. 
. . . Is it right to threaten to fight us with our own weapons? 
Considering how large a field the U. S. opens, we had hoped 
you would have left us the quiet possession of that we had 
pre-occupied. . . . This we flatter ourselves you will be in- 
clined to do, when we first convince you that we have an un- 
disputed right to navigate with steamboats all waters be- 
longing to this state, and conclude, out of mere friendship, 
by abandoning to you such a portion of our rights as will be 
more advantageous to you than the partnership you propose, 


because . . . not subject to . . . your method being better 
than ours. 

It is to be noted that there was no reference to the con- 
ditions attached to the original offer of partnership, made 
"from the most friendly motives." However, the colonel dis- 
regarded this omission in his hurry to get at the real issue, 
by answering this opening as follows : 

It is not true that the waters of the state of New York have 
been preoccupied by the gentlemen. I have made various ex- 
periments thereon, long before they commenced operations. I 
have had steam boats on the Hudson River during every season 
for five or six years. . . . 

Why, then, have Livingston and Fulton got . . . the start 
of me? My object has been to improve upon it [the Boulton 
& Watt engine]. . . . The arrangement ... of the parts of 
the machinery . . . has undergone alterations, to render the 
whole . . . more simple and more conveniently adapted to the 
object in view. . . . Above all is the improvement in the boiler 
. . . not merely reduced from 18 or 20 to 7 or 8 feet, but . . , 
capable of withstanding a great pressure. 

If the first point in the Livingston-Fulton letter aroused 
the colonel, he was to be really irritated by the chancellor's 
next words: 

This State has vested in us exclusively the right to construct, 
use, etc, all vessels moved by steam ... in all the creeks, 
rivers, bays . . . whatsoever, belonging thereto. ... It en- 
acts further that, if any person . . . shall infringe our right, 
such person shall, for every such offense, pay to us one hun- 
dred pounds and forfeit the boat & engine with her furniture; 
and gives any court within the state jurisdiction. You will ad- 
mit that this right is full and clear &, unless it is done away 
by something m the constitution of the U. S., that it is incon- 
trovertible. . . . The U. S. have no rights but those derived 
from the States. 


Readily admitting this to be a plain statement, the colonel 
snatched up his quill to attack the soundness of it. 

It is never to be admitted that the state could . . . grant 
to any person . . . the whole river . . . particularly in the 
sense the Gentlemen mean — an exclusive right to navigate the 
same. Such a claim on the part of the State would be too 
absurd to receive serious consideration. 

[As to the rights of the United States] this, I conceive is 
not correct. The Constitution was the work of a convention 
assembled for this express purpose, by the People. The Pre- 
amble reads "We, the People" . . . 

Taking up the Livingston-Fulton letter again, the colo- 
nel was astonished to find that the chancellor had next 
written : 

U. S. rights must be strictly confined to the express words 
of the constitution. All that is found therein . . . is . . . 
"To promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by 
securing for a limited time to authors and inventors the ex- 
clusive rights to their writings and inventions)." . . . The 
word securing shows no new right is given . . . but a natural 
right . . . confirmed ag't those who attempt to pirate it. . . . 
Congress is only empowered to turn that into exclusive prop- 
erty which would otherwise have been common to everybody. 
This is more evident by their using right instead of benefit, 
which might have had a more extensive sense. . . . All prop- 
erty must be held subject to the laws of the community. 

Knowing all he did about Patent Law, it may be imag- 
ined that he chuckled sardonically as he read on : 

I have a property in a cart with narrow wheels. Surely the 
State may say that none but broad wheels may travel their 
roads, even tho' my cart have patent wheels. . . . My right 
in the cart is not taken away, tho' its value be lessened. . . . 
A Patent only places an invention upon the same ground as 


other property, without diminishing the control every state 
has over the use of all property within their jurisdiction. . . . 
The most mischievous consequences would result from a con- 
trary doctrine. 

A cart with narrow wheels was a figure taken from the 
colonel's pet subject — transportation. Almost literally, he 
leaped upon the cart. 

There is [he protested] no prohibition of the use of wheels 
because they are patented but of narrow wheels because they 
are injurious to the roads. ... If the use of broad wheels 
is advantageous to the public, the patentee as well as others 
must submit. . . . The only question, here, is whether a state 
can prohibit all travelling on her roads, unless with wheels of 
a certain width. . . . The interest of the patentee would be 
affected . . . like any other. 

This point covered, the colonel considered the next one: 

Suppose [suggested Livingston] Connecticut so fully peo- 
pled as with difficulty to support labouring classes by the 
manufacture of linnens & woolen cloth. Suppose a patent 
granted for a labour-saving machine by which one man might 
... do the work of 500. . . . Virginia might encourage it as 
a useful invention, and Connecticut prohibit it as injurious. 

Not at all [retorted the Colonel]. I do not conceive that a 
state prohibition would be valid. Should the exercise of a patent 
prove injurious to a . . . part of the community, they are 
bound to submit for the general good. If this were not the case, 
there would be an end to all general legislation, as few laws 
bear equally upon all citizens. 

Livingston, however, had had more to say along this line : 

Authors have a right to their books. Yet, if one were to write 
against the Constitution, shall not the government prohibit 
publication? This state gives to a particular class of citizens 


the right to vend medicines ; shall a mountebank vend his drugs 
in the face of the law, and poison ad libitum, because he sells 
patent medicines? 

You have observed, Sir, in reading over the Constitution, 
that, where there is no prohibitory clause, the States & Con- 
gress have a concurrent jurisdiction in such matters as are 
vested, but not exclusively vested, in Congress. . . . The right 
to grant patents is not among those which the States are pro- 
hibited from exercising, tho' Congress also enjoys it and will 
almost exclusively exercise it. 

Laughing at what, to him, was mere circumlocution, the 
colonel cited some law of his own choosing : 

With respect to the book, surely the courts of justice might 
be relied upon to prohibit publication and also inflict condign 
punishment upon the author. In the case of patent medicines, 
the state law must be levelled against all . . . or one. A gen- 
eral prohibition would be a manifest infringement of the Con- 
stitution because many medicines are confessedly good. If 
against a particular case, the state legislature would assume a 
power ... on a subject they were totally ignorant of; the 
medicine in question may be esteemed a poison by some, a 
panacea by others. . . . 

The 7th Section of the Patent Law strongly implies that no 
state . . . after adoption of the Constitution, could grant ex- 
clusive rights for inventions. . . . Or, at least, that a patent 
for . . . right under a state could have no efficacy against a 
patent under the United States. . . . How does your extraor- 
dinary doctrine comport with the express power given Congress 
to "regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the 
several states"? The powers . . . vested in Congress by the 
8th Section of the Constitution [are] all of such a nature as 
to exclude . . . concurrent jurisdiction remaining in the states 
individually. The 12th Article of the Amendments seems to 
put this . . . beyond all doubt. It declares . . . "The powers 
not delegated to the U. S. by the Constitution, nor prohibited 
to it by the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or 
to the People." What are we to understand from this, but 


that the powers delegated to the U. S. by th^ Constitution 
ARE exclusively vested — NOT reserved to the States? True, 
it may be said that the states individually have a concurrent 
jurisdiction with the U. S. in . . . laying and collecting taxes. 
But the object and purposes are totally different. . . . One 
is confined to "payment of the debts and providing for the 
common defense and general welfare of the U. S." — the other, 
solely for municipal purposes within the jurisdiction of each 
particular state. 

If we go through . . . the powers vested in Congress, we 
shall find them all of this description; none . . . requiring a 
concurrent power to be vested in states individually. Such a 
power would be . . . productive of the greatest confusion. 
Amidst jarring and conflicting jurisdiction, no man could 
place any confidence in his patent rights. . . . 

My patent for a boiler was granted four years before the 
Act granting exclusive [state] right. . . . Long before the 
Chan'r & Mr Fulton came to this country, this boiler was in 
use on the waters of New York. I was not only possessed of the 
patent right but in the actual exercise of that right, before 
the passing of the above Act. . . . And, should it be contended 
that the [last] Act was intended to continue the right which 
Robt R. Livingston had ... by the Act of 1798, I should 
. . . have a clear title to one-third of the right ... as a 
partnership then actually subsisted between Livingston . . . 
Roosevelt, and myself. 

This last was letting the Livingstonian cat out of the bag 
with a vengeance. Plainly, the colonel recognized that the 
old agreement was a constant strain upon the chancellor's 
conscience. Hence he was not astonished to find Livingston, 
in his next argument, taking a different slant. 

You will observe [said Livingston] that our grant is not 
in the nature of a patent . . . but a contract. We bind our- 
selves to do something which the state considers useful. . . . 
They give us an exclusive privilege upon precisely the same 
grounds with a turnpike or bridge company ... in [which] 


you may see an instance of concurring jurisdictions. Congress 
have the power to regulate post-roads. The state exercises the 
same right . . . nor could Congress infringe upon the charter. 
The states may erect toll-bridges — witness those of New York 
and New Jersey. . . . Suppose a man have a patent for form- 
ing rafts such as cannot pass the draws? Shall the proprietors 
be compelled to pull down the bridge or widen the archways, 
that he may have the benefit of his invention? 

Fresh from an experience with turnpikes and bridges, the 
colonel felt qualified to discuss the laws governing them. 
First, however, he had to make a retort on the question of 
contracts : 

The gentlemen appear to be apprehensive. They contend 
that their grant is a contract. . . . But it wants the indis- 
pensable property of a contract — reciprocity of engagements. 
They are given two years to show their proofs, but this they 
are left at liberty to do or not to do. . . . 

Congress are vested merely with the power "to establish 
post-roads," not with power of granting charters. These are 
never granted on the score of invention — it is public utility 
which alone can justify legislative interference. . . . [They] 
never interfere with the power given to Congress to secure to 
authors and inventors an exclusive right. . . . Grants for 
turnpikes usually specify the manner in which the road shall 
be formed, which precludes ... a new invention. Bridge com- 
panies are in no sense vested with a general exclusive right 
. . . but merely to erect a bridge over a particular place. 
. . . Tho' there might be twenty patents . . . not one of the 
patentees would have the right to impose his bridge upon a 
company. They are merely restricted from using his bridge 
without his permission. 

All this seemed clear enough to the colonel, but Living- 
ston, in rushing headlong upon his destruction, had chosen 
to cloud the real issue with more discussion of state-rights. 


The states [he wrote] stop navigable rivers altogether. . . . 
It is usual in every state to grant the rights of ferriage. . . . 
What possible difference can be between the right of navigating 
a river lengthwise and crosswise? 

To the colonel this argument seemed irrelevant. 

Were it not for the monopoly [he replied] there might 
be 500 steamboats navigating occasionally upon the waters 
of this state. . . . Who will pretend to say to what extent im- 
provements may be carried? Shall all these patentees be pre- 
cluded from the use of them, not by operation of laws which 
public good requires, but by a direct state prohibition? . . . 

There is a material distinction made in the Constitution be- 
tween navigating a river lengthwise and crosswise. In one case, 
it is totally silent ; in the other, it declares that Congress has 
the power "to regulate commerce" . . . among the several 
states. . . . States individually are prohibited from "laying 
any imposts" — nor "shall vessels bound to or from one state 
be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another." Will any- 
one pretend to maintain . . . that a state can grant exclusive 
privileges to any man . . . for transporting goods to and 
from her navigable waters? How does this .... comport with 
the power given to Congress to regulate commerce? . . . 

Exactly so. But this was the doctrine which for many 
years would stunt the growth, through healthy competi- 
tion, of Hudson River steamboating. In an attempt to 
smother the colonel with piled-up instances — chosen to fit 
his argument — Livingston still clung to this doctrine in his 
next paragraph: 

The states exercise power in all their ports. . . . They 
might, if they pleased, forbid vessels of their neighboring states 
to enter their harbours altogether. . . . Do they not make 
and enforce quarantine laws? Do they not compel ships to 
submit to the inspection of a physician ; to take pilots though 
they may not need such services? Have not a certain number 


of men the exclusive right to keep pilot-boats? Could any 
patent take this privilege away? 

Here was thoroughly confounded confusion. Into one 
scrambled heap the chancellor had tossed what we commonly 
know as the public health service, the inland rules for navi- 
gation, and so on. The charitable view is that there were 
then many complications in interstate trade and many dif- 
ferences of opinion. This was not, however, the view taken 
by the colonel in reply. 

These incidents [he protested] have no bearing. . . . Should 
a state see fit — tho' I by no means admit her Constitutional 
right to do so — to block up her harbours ... a patentee 
would, in common with others, be precluded from the advan- 
tage ... of her navigable waters. . . . 

The answer to all this is clear and precise. ... If a paten- 
tee is prevented from enjoying . . . the benefit of his patent 
... in consequence of the legitimate exercise of the power of a 
state, he is ... in common with every citizen . . . bound to 

That anything so obvious should have escaped the chan- 
cellor is curious, yet it may have been due to his being so 
intent, just then, upon sounding the note of patronage in 
the continuation of his letter : 

What has probably led you into error is having read the 
patent law without reference to the Constitution [!]. No law 
can be valid which goes beyond the power that framed it. . . . 
The first clause of that law shows that it was ... to give 
an exclusive property such as a man may have in his house or 
money. . . . The next gives him the right to use his invention 
— merely surplusage, since every man may use his property, 
provided he does not interfere with the rights of others [!]. 
Had it [the law] ever gone further, and extended the right 
to every state, the clause would have been void for want of 


power of Congress ... or so explained by the courts as to 
apply only to cases that do not contradict other laws. 

This, in the colonel's opinion, called for no more than 
a brief comment: 

This is straining hard to get rid of a positive provision of 
the Constitution. The right to use a patent must of necessity 
be extended to every state ... or it can be exercised in none. 
Nor can any court pretend to control or limit the universality 
of this right. 

By this time, the Livingston-Fulton letter was fast be- 
coming a treatise. Determined to convince the colonel once 
for all, they spared no pains to find an illustration which 
they felt sure would strike home. They were confident that 
they had put one such into their next paragraph : 

Suppose a man to patent a new musical instrument. Would 
this give him the right to play in your garden and set your 
children a-dancing when you wished them to study? No. Your 
garden is your own ... no man shall use it in a way you dis- 
approve. You would doubtless alledge you had a right to 
choose your own fiddlers and . . . give them an exclusive right 
... to your garden. But whence have you derived this right? 
Is it not from the state? If the liberty to use, in law, means 
an unlimited use, a man may exercise it on your grounds. 
If it is limited, then . . . the right of property in a state, in 
its lands and waters, must be limited by their will. 

At this point the colonel must have sat back and chuckled 
again. Not only had he had something to do with dancing, 
but — when it came to writing letters — he could go on quite 
as long as the next man. 

Very sprightly and ingenious [he commented] but by no 
means analogous. My garden is my property exclusively. . . . 
I can prevent every other man from entering it. . . . This is 


by no means the case with states. The People have thought fit 
to form a general government, to which they have delegated 
certain powers which they have declared shall be the supreme 
law of the land. . . . Among them is the very power in ques- 
tion [patents]. How idle to talk of state government in con- 
tradistinction to the supremacy of the general government. 

Though this should have driven the chancellor out of the 
colonel's garden, he had not yet abandoned his position on 
the rights of States. 

The rivers [he insisted] are not merely within the jurisdic- 
tion of the state but make a part of territorial rights. Would 
it not be very extraordinary if the state, which can give me the 
whole river if they chose, could not give me a privilege in it? 
Certainly nothing can be more reasonable than this construc- 
tion of the constitution. Why should a man be entitled to a 
higher property in his invention than on any other of his ac- 
quirements? Any other construction would be creating a new 
species of property, unknown to any society, and would lead 
to the most mischievous consequences, enabling an individual 
to control a government [!]. 

It is curious that the colonel, at this point, did not sug- 
gest that the Hudson ran between two States, with the ob- 
vious inference that New Jersey might want something to 
say upon this question of "giving away the whole river." 
However, he contented himself with this dig at the chan- 
cellor : 

I must confess that this reasoning is too subtle. . . . He 
contends that all property is derived from . . . the state. 
Where, then, is the difficulty of the general government's 
granting me a property in a thing over which it is confessed 
they have control? As to the bugbear about "a new species 
of property," this is arrant nonsense. Every patent is a crea- 
tion of property which did not exist before. 

The People have vested this power in the general govern- 


ment. Yet he says that, if uncontrolled by the state govern- 
ments, it will lead "to the most mischievous consequences." 

The next point that Livingston had made was this one: 

Take the very instance before us. The state, as the under- 
taking was expensive and hazardous . . . thought proper to 
encourage [us] by particular privileges. . . . Would it not 
be to the last degree unjust to rob the inventors of the rewards 
held out to them [ !] merely because another person had later 
. . . found out another mode of doing the same thing? Surely 
the last comer would have no right to complain, if his inven- 
tion is not taken from him but merely prohibited where it is 
not wanted, or where prior engagements interfere with it? 

This argument having something of the nature of a 
boomerang, the colonel was quick to call attention to its 
course : 

The Gentlemen bring the present case forward as an in- 
stance and indulge in a strain of declamation on the injustice 
of robbing inventors. . . . They now assume the characters 
of inventors . . . but what reason can they assign why they 
should be placed in a better position than other inventors? 
If "another person at a later date found out another mode of 
doing the same thing," why should he not enjoy the benefit? 
The object of the Patent Law is to "promote the progress of 
science." ... It is contended that the undertaking was so 
. . . expensive . . . that no man could be induced to engage 
in it. This is not the fact. I have been engaged in similar 
pursuits and have expended more than they have — solely un- 
der a reliance upon my patent from the United States. 

Because of this very reliance, the colonel felt justified 
in reading Livingston's further argument with amazement. 
The chancellor had written: 

Your construction of the rights of a patentee would annihi- 
late our turnpike and bridge companies. Pope [a leading 


bridge-designer] might take down our bridges to erect his own, 
and the grant of a ferry would be no security against the 
patentee of a new boat. ... In our construction ... we 
are supported ... by the official opinions of the ablest law- 
yers. Mr Jay has been Chief Justice of the United States, Mi- 
Lewis of this state. As governors, they presided in "council in 
revision" and passed this law without objection. . . . They 
were bound by oath to pass on law contrary to the constitu- 
tion. . . . Three times has the law passed our legislature, 
which always contained a number of able federal lawyers. 

The facts as to passing the law are correct. Yet, as com- 
mentary upon the "able federal lawyers" of his day, the 
chancellor's statement is noteworthy. The colonel, for his 
part, was certain that equally qualified lawyers would agree 
with this view, although, in replying to this argument, he 
did not name them. 

This line of reasoning [said he] is ... a waste of mental 
powers in a quixotic tilting at windmills. No man in his senses 
would ever think of contending for such unlimited use of a 
patent as would give a patentee the right to infringe upon 
the private rights of his fellow-citizens or contravene the laws 
of his country. . . . 

From such an exercise of state legislation ... no patentee 
could have any security against ex post facto monopolies. As 
the use of his invention must be limited on the territory of a 
state, patents would become nugatory . . . serving only to 
ensnare the unhappy wight whose folly should lead him to 
place confidence in his rights. The salutary purpose of the 
Constitution and Patent Laws, to promote the progress of 
science, would be completely frustrated. . . . 

It is not at all necessary to the well-being of a state that 
she should possess the power to prohibit a general patent. . . . 
The only plea . . . would be to prevent the pernicious effect 
of some particular patent. Even such a plea could never justify 
violation of the Constitution. . . . States, as well as individ- 
uals, upon . . . known principles of justice, are restrained 


from the pursuit of their individual interests in derogation 
of superior authority. . . . 

Monopolies are very justly held . . . odious . . . for it is 
the genius and tendency of monopolies to discourage and de- 
feat, instead of encouraging, improvements. . . . But what 
hinders other states from granting similar monopolies? Should 
the navigating of vessels by steam come into general use . . . 
the monopolist in one state might set himself against the 
monopolist of another . . . and the . . . effect, contemplated 
by the Constitution, of free and uninterrupted intercourse be- 
tween states would be jeopardized. 

At this stage the colonel paused for several days, in or- 
der to study the remainder of the Livingston-Fulton let- 
ter. When he took this up where he had left it, the first 
paragraph not yet answered was this one: 

We . . . flatter ourselves that our reasoning will be con- 
vincing to you. . . . Your beginning a boat without . . . any 
previous arrangement with us may induce others to believe that 
we have no right ... or have become indifferent as to pro- 
tection. If we encourage that idea, your example will be fol- 
lowed by others. 

It has always been our wish to render our labours useful to 
you ... of which you have the fullest proof ... in the offer 
with which we shall conclude our letter; which we hope will 
be acceptable since . . . should your plan fail, you will be at 
liberty to use our experience. . . . Should your experiment 
succeed, which is at least a matter of doubt . . . our patent 
rights would insure the full benefit of it. Without it, you would 
be in danger of other projectors. . . . 

High steam is no new invention ; two cylinders are now used 
. . . and pipe boilers have long since been tried. All, then, that 
you could claim as original would be your mode of making 
them, which we acknowledge is ingenious [!]. We think it 
proper to proceed one step farther and . . . show that you 
cannot proceed on your present plan without a manifest in- 
terference with our -patent from the United States, even if 
we had no State privilege. 

252 john stevens: an American record 

Continuing, the letter gave some details of the claims 
made in the "patent of Livingston and Fulton," with their 
theory of construction, resistance, and engine power. There- 
after, the letter proceeded : 

You will readily admit that we are the first who have made 
an efficient steamboat. . . . Also the first who have specified 
in our patent that a steamboat can be made from it. . . . 
Here, then, is mental property which the patent law is made 
to secure. . . . Last winter, you denied the advantage of the 
long boat and wheels. . . . Your plan then was to use smoke- 
jack flies. Since the success of our boat, the importance of 
length and wheels are obvious, and it appears you must 
adopt them to secure success ; thereby encroaching on our 
patent. . . . 

Wheels are not a new application. ... A long boat is not 
new. This we acknowledge. Nor are the letters of the Alphabet. 
Yet an author, with 26 old letters, comprises a new book . . . 
and has his copyright secured by patent. ... In like manner, 
we take known materials . . . produce a new effect . . . and 
patent the result of our labours. . . . Should a patent not 
secure such labours, no invention can be secure. . . . 

We think you will be convinced that you cannot apply an 
engine to a boat . . . more than jive times longer than she is 
wide. Nor can you use vertical wheels, nor move within our 
table of proportions and velocities which . . . is, in fact, the 
whole invention. 

However much they proposed to restrict his movements, 
the colonel felt that he could drive one of his steamboats 
through the holes in these arguments. It puzzled him to see 
how Livingston and Fulton, after their swing around the 
circle to what had been his own position from the first — 
the sanctity of patents — could consider the "26 old letters" 
available to them but not to him. He did not propose to in- 
fringe any patents they might have, but he could hardly sit 
silent before what he considered mere arrogance. 


In my former letter [said he] I have refrained from animad- 
versions on your boat. . . . But, when you tell me that "since 
the success of your boat the importance of wheels and length 
are obvious" and that I must adopt them — thereby encroach- 
ing upon your patent rights — you compel me . . . reluctantly 
to go into some investigation of the subject. . . . 

You will not pretend to say that a boat 100 feet long would 
be an "encroachment"? No, say you, but her length must not 
exceed five times her breadth. Will you pretend to say that any 
patent will prevent me from using boats which have been 
in familiar use ; to put my machinery, for instance, on 
board ... a Durham boat or a Savannah boat because, for- 
sooth, the lengths happen to be more than five times their 

Before you can reasonably expect me to acquiesce . . . you 
must convince me that no boats now in common use are so 
constructed. . . . When the fact is notorious that there are 
at least 100 boats 100 feet long navigating the North River, 
you will not pretend that this discovery gives you any right 
to prohibit me from building ... a boat 100 feet long? I 
contend that any attempt to restrict me to any determined 
breadth in proportion to length would be arbitrary and capri- 
cious, resting on no principle whatever. . . . 

I proceed to the method of propelling the boat. . . As to 
vertical wheels . . . permit me to tell you plainly that I con- 
ceive myself at full liberty ... to use them. If you have made 
any special improvements, I am ignorant of them . . . and 
should by no means consider myself at liberty to use such im- 
provements without your permission. ... As to the best ap- 
plication of power ... I am by no means prepared to decide 
in favor of wheels. . . . Wheels are not essentially connected 
with the success of steamboats. Should you by your patent de- 
prive me ... of their use, it would only prove a means of 
enabling others to do without them. 

Having added his regret that his "strictures" should have 
been called forth by the occasion, and having suggested that 
"it would not comport with propriety to communicate our 


sentiments to others," the colonel paused to study the end 
of the Livingston-Fulton letter. 

Having thus spoken of our right [they said] we are not 
disposed to abandon it. But — persuaded that friendship and 
reason may accommodate all parties ... we submit a situa- 
tion to your consideration : 

As to the North River, we consider that we have the ex- 
clusive right . . . secured by the law of the state and our 
general patent. We have made our arrangements for navigat- 
ing this river with two steamboats. . . . Our funds are ready. 
With our experiments in France, . . . our expenditures will 
be at least $30,000. ... A second boat will cost $15,000. 
Should you succeed with high steam and our long boat, wheels, 
and proportions, and come in for a fifth-share . . . and should 
we gain $15,000 per annum, your share would be $3,000. . . . 

To avoid all contention, would it not be better for you to 
take the line from New York to New Brunswick and from 
Trenton to Philadelphia? We will grant you our whole inven- 
tion for that line of communication. ... In this granting 
you may benefit by our invention from New York to Phila- 
delphia to secure you against all risque. . . . It is to be under- 
stood and agreed to that, after you have tried high steam, 
should you find that you must work as low as 12 pds to the 
round-inch of the safety-valve; or that, to run as fast as we 
do, you do not economize fuel ; or that, abandoning skulls, 
paddles, or smoke-jack flies, you must adopt our leading prin- 
ciples and move within our tables. . . . You will give a writ- 
ten acknowledgement that your boat is worked by our permis- 
sion under our patent right. 

There, at long last, stood the Livingston-Fulton offer. 
Obviously, stripped of its show of friendly anxiety, what it 
meant was "Take your boats out of your front-yard, the 
Hudson River, so that we can fill it with our boats. Estab- 
lish yourself on the Delaware, at an inconvenient distance 
from Hoboken where you have located your building-ways 


and your shops. Admit that we are inventors and that you 
are no such thing. These conditions being met, we will pro- 
tect you with our United States Patent." 

It is incredible that the colonel should have been expected 
to accept such terms. In declining them, he wrote : 

My reasons for originally declining the concern, which it is 
acknowledged was offered in the most friendly manner, were 
the doubts I entertained from [the Clermont's] peculiar and 
slender construction. ... It is with pleasure I say . . . she 
has exceeded my expectations. . . . 

I flattered myself I should be able to make great and im- 
portant improvements & a short time, I hope, will prove my 
expectations were well founded. 

And now, Gentlemen, in respect to the overtures I have 
made you, of uniting our concerns by . . . some equitable ar- 
rangement, I confess myself not disappointed at not finding 
you yet prepared to accede to them. . . You have as little 
confidence in my success this season, as I had in yours, last 
season. So be it. 

I feel content that we should await the result of my experi- 
ment before we come to terms. As I have not the least doubt 
that both parties will ultimately find it to their interest to 
form a joint concern, I shall not attempt to . . . say anything 
in answer to your very masterly defense of your rights under 
the law of the state. But do not mistake me. It is only because 
I consider it unnecessary . . . and not because I feel myself 
unable to make a vigorous attack. 

For the moment this ended the debate. Out of this discus- 
sion the colonel at least drew a good many ingredients for 
making "sauce for the gander." It is a disappointment not 
to know what he did call a really vigorous attack. 


If the Livingston-Fulton letter represents what the chan- 
cellor made of this particular part of the Constitution, it 
would be interesting to know how he interpreted the rest of 
it. Since other statesmen and "framers" must have held 
equally unexpected opinions, it is easy to understand why 
the original quarrels over the document were hot enough to 
leave ashes that are still warm. For example, who would 
suppose that Fulton, in writing to the chancellor from 
Washington on July 12, 1809, would be able to quote James 
Madison in this way: 

Mr Madison called to see us yesterday. Dr Thornton was 
here. The conversation turned on our exclusive right to navi- 
gate with steam boats on the North River and the waters of 
the State of New York. 

Mr Madison is decidedly of our opinion — that the legisla- 
ture of a State has a right to preclude any patentee from 
the exercise of his invention in their particular State, and to 
favor whom they please and for as long as they please. I think 
we should give it out, and strictly adhere to it, that we will 
not permit any vessel moved by steam to navigate the waters 
of the State of New York on any consideration whatsoever. 

Such an attitude on Madison's part would naturally 
cause the chancellor and Fulton to accept his reputation in 
the country as strengthening their own position. In forward- 
ing this letter for the colonel's information, Livingston re- 
minded him that "the penalty is the forfeiture of the boat 
and engine and £100. Howsoever much I might be disposed 




to remit this," he added, "I doubt whether the same dispo- 
sition would be found in Mr Fulton." There never was a 
more reasonable doubt. 

With this solemn warning the brisk interchange of letters 
slackened, leaving the colonel well aware that, no mat- 
ter what the final outcome, he would meet great and expen- 
sive difficulty in fighting against these New York State rights 
of Fulton's. Having nevertheless decided to proceed with his 
own new craft, her keel had been laid and the first payment 
of $100 recorded on January 20. Unfortunately, there is no 
record of the fine trees that fell at Castle Point under the 
clause binding the colonel to find and deliver all materials, 
nor has it been possible to trace out the joiners and carvers 
whose art was employed as the work progressed. Spread over 
that spring, however, the growth of frames and planking is 
marked by subsequent instalments until, on April 28, ap- 
peared the notation: "Bal. due discharged, $100." Three 
weeks earlier, the "Commercial Advertiser" of April 6 had 
carried this announcement : 

LAUNCH. Tomorrow, Saturday, afternoon at four o'clock, 
will be launched from the shipyards at Hoboken, a beautiful 
steamboat built by Mr John Floyd for Col. John Stevens. For 
model and workmanship, she is allowed by judges to be the 
superior of any in this country. 

Boats will be in readiness to convey passengers from the 
Hoboken Ferry, Number 76 Vesey Street. 

N. B. Should the weather be unfavourable, the Launch will 
be postponed until Monday, 10 o'clock A. M. 

As the installation of her machinery proceeded, the colo- 
nel made another survey of his position — particularly in 
view of Madison's opinion as just quoted — and resolved 
again to test Fulton and Livingston in a letter dated 
July 23 : 


As my vessel and machinery are now nearly completed, I 
wish to know whether she will be permitted to navigate the 
Hudson River between the Cities of New York and Albany 
provided she accomplishes the journey in a shorter time than 
you can possibly do with your boat and machinery. Should 
you signify your permission, I shall have no objection to navi- 
gate under a license granted by you. Whereas, in case this 
permission is not obtained, she will, for the present at least, be 
cleared out from Perth Amboy, and passengers to and from 
the different landings between this place and Amboy will be 
taken in and landed at Hoboken. 

Whatever may be your determination, you will no doubt 
see the expediency of, and will of course oblige me by returning, 
a speedy answer, as the boat and machinery are in such a 
state of forwardness as will enable me to ascertain her velocity 
in the course of a week at farthest. 

Fulton being still in Washington, it was the chancellor 
who made the first somewhat caustic reply : 

Clermont, July 26, 1808 
I have this moment been favored by your . . . letter. I had 
hoped that you would have left our rights undisturbed and am 
sorry for your sake that you will not, since, if your boat 
should succeed (which I confess I greatly doubt) the world 
would have been wide enough for us both; and, as the waters 
of this State had been preoccupied, -first by Fitch and then by 
myself for years before you thought of a steam boat, the world 
will judge of the justice or delicacy of } r our interference with 
us, particularly after our generous offer to you. 

A few days later, after seeing the colonel's letter of the 
twenty-third, Fulton wrote Livingston that the Stevens boat 
must be more than "nearly completed" before her "working 
and velocity" could be ascertained. Admitting that she might 
run faster than the Clermont, he nevertheless declared that 
he had already attained the greatest speed possible with 
Watt's engine ; "as demonstrated in my table of proportions, 


it is 5Y 2 miles an hour." Continuing by stating that he did 
not "pretend to greater velocities," he insisted that he was 
"the first who has shown the superiority of wheels to take 
the purchase on the water, and proved them by practice." 
After again accusing the colonel of copying his paddle- 
wheel idea, he asked what was the "object of a patent if not 
to secure such mental property"? He flatly refused to "ad- 
mit that he [the colonel] has a right to use wheels for his 
purchase," and would "never admit that he has a right to 
use ... a steam boat, whose length shall be more than 5 
times her breadth . . . because I am the first to show the 
necessity of laying the weight in length upon the water. And 
I will never admit that he shall navigate the waters of the 
State of New York during the terms of years which the law 
of that State has secured to us." A clear statement like this 
completely disposes of Renwick's idea that Fulton might 
have compromised. 

When this letter of Fulton's had been sent to him, the 
colonel felt bound to reply to it: 

My boat is now running. She has already travelled between 
two and three hundred miles and I have ascertained satisfac- 
torily that the boiler will completely answer in practice the 
expectations I have anticipated in theory. The construction of 
the engine is also new and certainly a great improvement. 
For these, I shall take out a patent. . . . 

I have — not as the most advantageous but, upon the whole, 
as the most convenient — made use of wheels at her side. This, 
you contend, is an encroachment on your patent but I have not 
the most distant idea that this can be supported in a court 
of justice. Should you bring a suit and fail, this failure will 
prove fatal to you. Even should you be able to establish this 
claim, you will only compel me to resort to other means of 
applying the power, which will be more direct tho' perhaps not 
quite so convenient. 

Should you attempt to enforce the penalties of your state 


law, the matter must finally be decided in the federal courts 
where, I conceive, you can have no chance of success. But 
should you, contrary to all reasonable expectation, even prevail 
there, surely a sister state would have an equal right to grant 
to any of her citizens similar privileges to the exclusion of 
all others. The consequence is obvious. 

Plainly, the colonel was beginning to stir his sauce-for- 
the-gander. To show that he had some fresh ingredients for 
it, he offered the figures of his boat's performance. These 
had not been established, as they would be to-day, by runs 
back and forth over carefully measured miles that elimi- 
nated wind or current and made standardization of engines 
possible. The basis of calculation was the instant of passing 
a certain tree upon a well-defined bluff, or by bringing 
some particular church steeple abeam. But they were as 
accurate as other similar figures of the day and they were 
presented in a table: 

Passed by the mouth of Eliza- 
beth Town Creek 56 m. after 2 o'clock 
" " Church on Staten 

Island 50 m. "3 " 

" Bergen Point 50 m. "4 " 

" " Bedlow's Island ... 30 m. "5 

" " Pawles Hook 56 m. "5 " 

Hoboken 18 m. "6 " 

Distance from Perth Amboy to Pawles Hook, 30 miles ; time 
5 hours 26 minutes, which is more than 5^ miles an hour. 

Although gratified by a speed equal to that of any steam- 
boat afloat, the colonel felt convinced he would soon reach 
better figures. Believing his new craft to be ready for serv- 
ice, he named her Phoenix — appropriately enough, since she 
had risen out of a fiery dispute with the monopolists. She 
had hardly been completed before her flight was hampered 


by threats of suit and attachment from Fulton and Liv- 
ingston, making it clear that to break the hold of these 
gentlemen upon the North River would involve the colonel 
in the spending of more money than he could readily afford 
while his Hoboken lots were not selling well. Confronted 
with the prospect of abandoning the Hudson, he spent some 
furious hours in striding about his lawn or in drafting let- 
ters that, in cooler moments, he either revised or never for- 

His relations with the chancellor at this period were an 
odd mixture of personal affection and professional animos- 
ity, neither element being strong enough completely to ab- 
sorb the other. Thus, almost immediately after abusing the 
colonel for "interference," the chancellor might write in the 
most friendly way upon some such question as James Alex- 
ander Stevens's address as salutatorian at Columbia. Con- 
sulted as great authority upon such matters, the chancellor 
proposed that James take as his subject "The Progress of 
a Young Man on Entering the World," because this would 
"admit of much pathos and variety, enabling James to pay 
the expected compliments to old and young without stepping 
much out of his way." Upon a similar basis, the chancellor 
and John Cox had been partners, during the previous win- 
ter, in building an ice-boat at Clermont which "went at a 
great rate — 16 or 18 miles an hour — though they have not 
yet brought her to lie close to the wind." Yet, each time the 
steamboat question arose, the chancellor would be neither 
helpful nor encouraging. As part of an argument to dissuade 
the colonel from proceeding, he spoke of the second boat he 
and Fulton were planning to put upon the Hudson, declar- 
ing that, while she would be "one of the most commodious in 
the world," the cost of "rebuilding and furniture will not 
fall short of $1,000 which, with what we have already ex- 


pended, will make her cost almost as much as a frigate." 
He found it "surprising that everybody wants to go into 
steamboats for, should our patents be out of the way, steam- 
boats would ruin many proprietors and enrich none." He 
doubted whether such boats would "ever pay us interest 
adequate to the expense," even though he found some con- 
solation in being able to add that "the legislature has ex- 
tended our grant to thirty years." 

Such talk was of course designed to discourage the colonel, 
and certainly he was not much cheered by the news of New 
York's latest action. It would be bad enough to have to fight 
Fulton over a patent infringement — something the colonel's 
respect for patents made him additionally loath to do — 
without having to wait thirty years in order to avoid fight- 
ing over the Hudson as well. At this moment he received 
from the chancellor's brother, John R. Livingston, an offer 
for a share in the Phoenix which he was strongly tempted to 
accept ; but for suspecting the motive to be a gradual elimi- 
nation of himself from steamboating, he would have accepted 
it. To have done so would have saved him the vicious com- 
petition which John Livingston, with the Raritan, later of- 
fered him in a cutting of rates which made the whole ques- 
tion one of length of purse. But his Scots blood made him 
stubborn. His life was plentifully sprinkled with fights which, 
once begun, he never wholly abandoned. Not always right, 
he made a fair record for openness to conviction ; until con- 
vinced, he stuck to his guns. 

Ready to operate the PJwenix, he saw that to attempt 
doing so upon the Hudson would be suicidal. The influence 
that could secure a thirty-year monopoly would be unbeat- 
able in New York courts, no matter what retaliatory action 
New Jersey might be induced to take. Upon this entirely 
accurate conclusion, he began considering what other waters 




IT u proposed that the ram of 75,000 dollars be raised by a subscription of se»en hundred and 6fi 
of one hundred dollars each, for the purpose of building THREE STEAM BOATS. 

The stockholders to be entitled to ooe half of said Boats, and the other half to be the property of the su 

so sum of 37,500 ( 
stent right 
The subscribers to pay fifty dollars on each s 

subscribed, to be deposited in tjK 
to be made to tl 

I paid to birr* l 
AGREE ABLY to the tt 

fourths of the (hole stock shall be subscribed, and 


ore proposals, tTE, THE SUBSCRIBERS, 
and to pay into the bands of the person or 


£6~/£*&"~?*€£> ; /# 

'Ait TtlT-r-z & , 








^^ ^/ 

^tcv ^s-^ r. 



might be available to him as a means of shortening the long 
and wearisome journey between New York and Philadelphia. 
Although the Amboy run might involve him in so-called tres- 
pass upon New York Bay, he concluded to issue "Proposals 
for Commencing a Line of Steam-Boats from New York to 
New Brunswick, & from Trenton to Philadelphia," planning 
to build two boats, a hundred feet long and sixteen in beam, 
with a speed of not less than five miles per hour and pros- 
pective completion "in every respect as passage-boats on or 
before the first of May, 1809." 

Estimating that "through" passengers between New York 
and Brunswick would average fifty a day, in each direction, 
he proposed to carry these at $1.25; at which figure he ex- 
pected a good profit because he set the operating cost of 
each boat at $25 a day. Based upon the Clermont's con- 
sumption of "from 12 to 14 cords of pine" between New 
York and Albany, he allowed eight cords for the Brunswick 
run of less than half the Albany distance. 

Wood, at 10 shillings per load $10.00 

2 firemen & 2 sailors, at 10s per day 5.00 

Captain, per day, say 3.00 

Extra expenses, say 7.00 


Expecting that winter seasons and other interruptions 
would reduce the operating year to 250 days, a "nett of 
25,000 dollars per annum" seemed likely. Way passengers, 
coming aboard at such stops as Rahway, Elizabethtown, and 
so on, were to be counted upon for an additional $5,000, 
this sum being regarded as sufficient to meet the probable 
cost of any repairs. Hence the colonel felt justified in offer- 
ing to guarantee to prospective subscribers a dividend of 


not less than 8 per cent., payable "quarterly or even 
monthly," on the one thousand shares which he proposed 
to offer for sale simultaneously at the house of John De 
Graw in Brunswick and — inevitably — at the Tontine Coffee 

As soon as the proposals were made public, a barrage 
of anonymous letters was opened upon him through the 
newspapers. Although he was later to become accustomed to 
such covert attack, he was now infuriated by the insinua- 
tions of "A Friend to Useful Invention and Justice," who 
held forth in the "American Citizen" for October 27 (1808). 
Under the guise of wishing to subscribe but wanting 
further information, this "Friend" asked a number of 
questions, certainly very cleverly designed to belittle the 
colonel's efforts in steamboating while lauding those of Liv- 
ingston and Fulton. In particular, the point was made that 
the suggested line to Brunswick might infringe upon Ful- 
ton's United States patents — a most unfair thing to contem- 
plate. In slightly different language but to exactly the same 
effect, other unidentified writers followed the "Friend's" 

It was the colonel's own habit to sign what he wrote — 
even many of the hundreds of rough drafts of his various 
letters. At the bottom of whatever he said in a newspaper let- 
ter there invariably appeared John Stevens in bold-face, 
and of his reply to the "Friend" he made no exception. He 
was, he said, "extremely mortified to notice an anonymous 
publication of so offensive and indelicate a nature . . . de- 
signed expressly to operate against the subscription to be 
opened this day," yet, "in order that no one objection may 
remain unanswered," he would reply to it. Soon afterward 
the "Citizen" duly reported that "upwards of fifty shares" 
in the new line had been subscribed for on the first day, 


while "L'Oracle" and "Daily Advertiser" "perceived with 
much pleasure" that steamboating would no longer be con- 
fined to the Hudson. "Colonel Stevens," said "L'Oracle," 
"is a gentleman whose public spirit is well known, and who 
has eminently contributed to mechanical and agricultural 
improvements, both by his genius and patronage. His name 
will be enrolled in the archives of patriotism [because he] 
has become the parent of this scheme to facilitate travelling 
and promote intercourse between the two greatest cities of 
the Union." With this and other encouragement, a group 
of interesting signatures appeared upon that original sub- 
scription list — Fulton's, Livingston's, and those of a number 
of the chancellor's relatives and friends. However, before the 
first column had been filled, the colonel made a most startling 

Remembering how often there had been impressed upon 
him the danger of infringing upon Fulton's United States 
patents, he had become more and more anxious to examine 
these patents. Once he knew just how they were drawn it 
would be easy to decide whether he could actually be said to 
infringe them with his own machinery, and hence possible to 
defend himself against a charge which he sincerely con- 
sidered unfounded. Until he had copies of the patents in his 
hands his position was uncertain ; to get such copies ap- 
peared to be merely a matter of writing, as he accordingly 
did, to the secretary of state. A few days later he opened 
an envelope in the familiar hand of Dr. William Thornton, 
by this time superintendent of the Patent Office. Under date 
of November 2, 1808, he read : 

You write for a copy of the specifications of Mr Fulton's 
Patents for Steam Boats. . . . Not being his invention, he has 
never applied for a Patent, and he has none except the one I 
mentioned to you in New York. [Floating mines.] 


The colonel utterly refused to believe his own eyes. He had 
believed them in reading the long letter from the monopo- 
lists, with its repeated statements of the impregnable Fed- 
eral position and its final offer to protect him, under certain 
conditions, with their unassailable patents. Since Thornton 
must certainly be wrong, the colonel's pen fairly sputtered 
in another note, asking for corroboration. To this, Thorn- 
ton was no less prompt in replying: 

I am of the opinion that he [Mr Fulton] is impressed at 
present with an idea of its [the North River grant's] insuffi- 
ciency and is now preparing to take out a Patent for a Steam 
Boat containing all that he thinks essential; however, he has 
not yet taken out any patent whatsoever. 

To put it mildly, the colonel was stunned. Then the 
monopolists, for all their high talk, had no Federal protec- 
tion whatever? The boot was decidedly upon the other foot 
and their standing not to be compared with his own. The 
many involved passages in their long letter suddenly became 
clear and he was no longer puzzled by their laying so much 
stress upon the rights of individual States. With the United 
States obviously upon his side, why not risk a battle in the 
New York courts ? Why keep up an effort to get subscribers 
for his Brunswick line w T hen these subscribers now appeared 
as mere dummies set up by Fulton and Livingston? If he 
could borrow enough money elsewhere to manage the busi- 
ness, why let the monopolists share in the profits, even if they 
did not take the business away from him? He prepared for 
a radical change in his plans. 

Wishing to keep the colonel well posted, Thornton in 
January reported having seen Fulton and learned that the 
latter was "engaged in making drawings and Descriptions 
of his Steam Boat" preparatory to applying for a patent. 


If Fulton carried out this intention, remarked Thornton, 
"he must give up his exclusive claim on the North River, of 
course; but I have never thought it efficient," even though 
"he is certainly a man of great genius and ability." A week 
later Thornton wrote the colonel again : 

Jan 23, 1809 
On the 19th, Mr Fulton brought his work, which is very 
extensive and contains his improvements in the Steam Engine, 
and the various modes of applying its power. I have but 
slightly examined it but do not agree with him in his 

In this patent Fulton set forth his whole theory of "plus 
pressure" and "minus pressure," hull-resistance, and engine- 
power. It is an interesting discussion — a remarkable one, in 
view of what was then generally believed concerning these 
theories — but, as we now understand such things, it could 
hardly be called a patent at all for the very reason that it 
was theoretical. Any remaining doubt as to the date when 
it was issued has been removed, notwithstanding the destruc- 
tion, in the Patent Office fire, of the original records. A 
manuscript, unquestionably written by Fulton himself and 
now in the Pierpont Morgan collection, contains the specific 
statement that "On 11 February, 1809, Mr Fulton received 
his first patent." There is thus established for Colonel 
Stevens, in steamboat patents, a priority of well over seven- 
teen years. It is not astonishing that he thought it hardly 
fair to accuse him of infringing upon patents not yet ap- 
plied for, much less issued, when he built the Phoenix. 

However, the moral side of the question stuck in his mind 
and made him all the more anxious actually to see and study 
the patents of Fulton. At his request, Horace Binney made 
a trip to Washington, duly reporting that the secretary of 
state would shortly forward the much-wanted copies. Binney, 


as his personal view, held that "intimacy with the Patent 
Laws and the opinion of the Secretary" justified Thornton 
in declaring Fulton's "patent not worth sixpence and the 
monopoly of the North River, in point of law, of as little 
value." As to this the colonel, not receiving a copy of the 
patent, could not judge. He therefore sent his son John Cox 
to Philadelphia, with the double purpose of interviewing 
Fulton to request copies and of discovering, if possible, the 
whereabouts of any living heirs of John Fitch. Also, if 
Henry Voight made any claims, they were to be investigated. 
John Cox duly reported that he had seen "Mr. Fulton but 
thought it best not to ask of him as a favor, or what he con- 
siders as such, what we could have as a matter of right." 
As to the other objects of his trip, he wrote: 

I have seen Mr Voit, the only one alive of those you men- 
tioned as engaged in boats. . . . He said he made repeated 
experiments with wheels both on the side and in the stern. . . . 
Neither himself nor any other person thought them new even at 
that day (although a Mr Sprague did get a patent for them 
which is now run out and public property) as he had seen 
them used in Scotland frequently. 

Definitely determined to keep side-wheels in the Phoenkc, 
the colonel was pleased with this fresh evidence that others 
supported his view of them as available to any builder, pro- 
vided some particular design of combination belonging to 
another was not copied. Robert, most deeply interested and 
with a head already filled with ideas, could see no infringe- 
ment in the use of a mere mechanical principle. Changes 
which Robert did suggest were the putting of timbers out- 
board of the wheels, the strengthening of the hull of the 
Phoenix, and an attempt at what has since become known 
as "hollow" stream-lines. While these changes were in prog- 


ress Chancellor Livingston wrote, suggesting that all work 
be stopped. 

This plea was not made directly to the colonel but to 
Rachel, the chancellor insisting that he wrote to her be- 
cause her husband had treated his previous overtures "with 
contemptuous silence" but might yield to her influence. As 
a "last effort," said he, he had persuaded Fulton to con- 
cede "the ferries to and from New York and Long Island 
and the Jersey Shore, as well as the runs from Trenton to 
Philadelphia" — surely a great concession, when the only 
condition was the colonel's taking out a license from Fulton 
for the operation. In conclusion he added, "Notwithstand- 
ing the utter contempt in which Mr Stevens thinks it decent 
to tell the world he holds our rights, be assured we have 
not the slightest doubt of their validity. Nor can I think my- 
self less competent to decide upon a question of law than 
Mr Stevens." To be sure, this question of competence was 
one that would not be settled for many years, and then re- 
quire a Chief Justice of the United States to do it, but this 
was not the cause of the colonel's resenting the chancellor's 
letter. The colonel had plenty of respect for Rachel's opin- 
ions and no small appreciation of the financial help her in- 
heritance often made it possible for her to offer him, but she 
was a woman and the year was 1809. He suggested to her 
that, rather than interfere in his business, she stick to her 

To the monopolists, as one more effort to preserve peace, 
he wrote a fresh proposal: 

In case my present boat cannot be made to go with a greater 
velocity than yours, I will relinquish to you wholly the navi- 
gation by steam of the North River. Should the contrary be 
satisfactorily proved by repeated and fair experiments, I will 
restrict myself to running one boat against your two, and also 


grant you the right to use, on the North River, any improve- 
ments I have or may make in the construction of steam boats. 
Should these propositions not be acceded to, before I com- 
mence running my boat, I shall hold myself at liberty, in 
respect to navigating by steam, to act as my best interest 
may dictate. 

With a sporting proposition the monopolists would have 
nothing to do. They held the Hudson ; why risk losing even 
part of it? From his relatives and friends, scattered through 
the legislature, the chancellor could learn in advance what 
that body was likely to do and what might happen in the 
Jersey legislature. From his cousin, Judge Brockholst Liv- 
ingston, he could almost as easily learn the probable char- 
acter of any decision likely to be handed down from the 
bench. For the monopolists to take a chance upon the speed 
of the Phoenix was much less safe than depending upon the 
colonel's feeling, at heart, that their clutch upon the river 
was unbreakable. As a result of this shrewd guess, Fulton's 
Raritan was made ready to give the colonel a sharp fight. 
She was turned over to John Livingston, and the latter, 
soon after the Phoenix began running to New Brunswick, 
served a notice upon the colonel. In a challenging letter he 
announced that the Raritan would take the same route as 
the Phoenix, with a passenger-rate one third as high. She 
would make her runs on the same day and at the same hour 
as the Phoenix. As the colonel himself put it, "had Mr. Liv- 
ingston confined himself to threats of prosecution merely, I 
should probably have remained and waited the event of a 
suit. But when he had recourse to a species of warfare which 
it was presumed my limited finances would not admit of my 
engaging in, I retired." Just as he abandoned the Bruns- 
wick run, he again asked Fulton for a copy of his patent. 

Fulton replied at once, regretting that he had "left the 


patent at Clermont," but stating that he would bring it 
down after his next visit and go over it with the colonel. 
The latter would then clearly see that there were "points on 
which the success of steamboats depends," which Fulton and 
Livingston had "discovered and made visible" but could not 
give up without "throwing them open to the world and ren- 
dering them useless" to themselves and the colonel alike. 
Why he thought this could be true of a proper United 
States patent he did not say, but he did add that he and his 
partner would "cheerfully give the patent" to the colonel 
"for rivers which have not been preoccupied." He spoke of 
the Delaware as "a fine river" and contended that there 
were "numerous situations in America which must be pro- 
ductive." Let the three of them, he suggested, "meet and 
investigate like friends," because "more good is to be done 
by reason than by law." 

On its face a conciliatory letter, the colonel mistrusted it. 
As to Fulton's wishing to keep his "plans" secret, the colonel 
insisted that it was not plans but machines upon which he 
wished to be informed. He knew that Fulton was equally 
eager to see all that he had himself designed during the past 
year, if only to make good his claim that the colonel was 
using "part of the principles I have discovered and pat- 
ented." Believing principles, in themselves, to be unpatent- 
able, the colonel concluded not to show Fulton anything 
until he had seen the Fulton patents. That he was likely to 
have a long wait is evident enough from a letter written 
by Fulton to Dr. Thornton. This is preserved in the Thorn- 
ton correspondence, dated on the same day on which Fulton 
wrote the colonel he had forgotten his patent at Clermont. 

May 9, 1809 
Having been informed that Mr Stevens had applied to you 


for a copy of my patent, I request that it may not, or any part 
of it, be forwarded to him without your first having my con- 
sent. No suit is yet commenced and, until the law demands 
it, it is not my intention that he should have the examination 
of my patent. You will, I hope, see the propriety of comply- 
ing with this request. 

After reading this, Thornton hesitated to send the colonel 
a copy of the patent without authority higher than his own. 
The letter substantiates the claim that the colonel, until 
long after the Phoenix was completed and running, never 
saw Fulton's patent. While still waiting hopefully for it he 
began more seriously to consider the possibility of moving 
the Phoenix to the Delaware, a river which he believed Ful- 
ton and Livingston could not possibly control. In this there 
was also an element of pique, for Fulton had just pub- 
lished in the newspapers an open letter demanding that 
the colonel, "by 6 o'clock" on the day of publication, pro- 
duce the answer to a problem in proportions and velocities 
offered as a test of his mental agility. The colonel was not 
to be trapped into sending a possibly incorrect solution 
through the same public medium. Merely replying that he 
preferred to make his claims good with actual steamboats 
rather than with pen and ink, he resumed his study of the 

At Trenton, or perhaps at Philadelphia, he might buy or 
build repair shops. To send down to the Delaware, as super- 
intendent on the spot, he had Robert, who knew the Phoenix 
from stem to stern. With Robert at the helm the steamer 
might, before other competitors entered the field, secure the 
greater portion of the passenger and freight traffic on the 
river, notably that end of the Philadelphia-New York busi- 
ness. Finally, since New Jersey, by laws of reprisal, might 


enable him to keep Fulton out, the only great difficulty ap- 
peared to lie in getting the Phoenix actually around into 
the Delaware. 

No steamer had ever yet ventured upon the open sea. 
What sailormen called a mere "working breeze" for their 
canvas had been dreaded by primitive engineers, because it 
set up ripples in the rivers and bays, breaking the "pur- 
chase" of their eccentric oars or paddles upon the water, 
creating unprovided-for strains, and even stopping steam 
traffic for days at a time. In the colonel's own case, one ex- 
periment or another had frequently been postponed on ac- 
count of "the weather being too bad and the river too 
rough." In the general view, the business of steamboating 
was wholly a "flat-calm" affair. Hence, when the word was 
passed along the New York and Hoboken waterfronts that 
the Phoenix was to be sent "outside," it was received with 
cold disbelief or open sneers. Old-timers, sitting on the docks 
between cruises under topsails, took their pipes from their 
lips and spat derisively into the river. A steamboat on an 
ocean voyage ? They would as soon volunteer for that as for 
an expedition to the moon. 

Robert Livingston Stevens, just past his twenty-first 
birthday, was of about his father's height, but darker and 
rather more finely drawn, his mind a battery of ideas that 
charged his wiry body with energy. Watching every nail 
driven into the hull of the Phoenix, he knew the length, size, 
and weight of every part of her engine, with the particular 
reason for its choice. To him, as she lay at her Hoboken 
dock, she represented not only an advance upon the past 
but also an auspice of the future. His eyes, like his father's, 
gleamed at the shadowy steamboats he foresaw in the years 
to come; his quick ear picked up the beat of their propel- 


lers. What older men might call the folly of risking an un- 
seaworthy craft was to him the beckoning of adventure. For 
captain and engineer, the colonel need search no farther 
than Robert. 

In the early days of June there was much careful study 
of the weather. The colonel's telescope, on its tripod in the 
piazza of Stevens Villa or out upon the bluff over the river, 
swept the eastern horizon, while every cloud was watched 
and every fractional change in the barometer was noted. 
Below, at the pier, the Phoenix ran her last dock-trial and 
stowed the last possible stick of firewood from the back lots. 
On the appointed morning no puffing tugs worried her bow 
and stern; only a pittyauger or two prepared to tow her 
into the stream, while offshore a small schooner stood by to 
act as escort. In the opinion of experts, when the open sea 
had its way with "that tea-kettle," the schooner might pos- 
sibly save one or two of the crew. Numbering no more than 
the handful that to-day might watch the routine sailing of the 
Fall River Line, the crowd that gathered to watch the ship 
unmoor included only the colonel and the family, a few inti- 
mates, and the carpenters and mechanics. As her shrill lit- 
tle whistle cleared its throat, no belated mail-truck nor 
breakneck taxi dashed alongside. When the last line snaked 
around its pile and splashed into the river, Robert waved 
his hand and took up a small sheet of note-paper. 

1809 Journal of the Steam Boat Phoenix's passage from 
New [York] to Philadelphia. 

Sat'y June 10th. Cast off from the Wharf at 11 O'clock a m, 
the wind at S S S, a pleasant breeze but foggy. Got our steam 
up by noon. Came to an anchor at the Quarantine ground at 
1 o'clock p m. 


Sunday 11th 

Foggy weather with light breezes at S S E. At 8 O'clock 
p m weighed to clear hawse. At 10 the wind shifted to N E 
partly clear. 

Monday 12th 

Got under way, the wind at N, steering for Sandy Hook, 
blowing very hard. While crossing the bay, one of the revolu- 
tion Wheels on the Starboard gave way at 2 p m. Anchored 
in Spermacetti Cove, 7 miles S W from the light house. Shifted 
the buckets to Starboard. 

Tues'y 13th 

Got under way at 1/2 past 12 a m, Lay too for our tender 
but owing to a calm she could not accompany us ; at 4 o'clock, 
we past the lighthouse, very light air from N E ; at 4 o'clock 
p m the revolution Wheel on Larboard side gave way just as 
we were about to cross the bar at Cranberry Inlet ; at 20 
minutes past 4 came too in the Inlet & warped her to her 
anchorage. Squally, dirty weather from S all night. Our tender 
has not yet joined us. 

Wed'y 14th 

Wind at S blowing a gale, weather clear. Shifted the buckets 
of the Larboard Wheel. At 9 p m wind veered round N W, then 
died away calm & at 1/2 past 10 returned to S, cloudy & 
lightning. No appearance yet of our tender. 

Thurs'y 15th 

Cloudy Weather a m. Abt 1pm very severe lightning, thun- 
der, & rain. Winds variable. Sent to Tom's River for stores. 
The tender still absent. 

Friday 16th 

This morning our tender joined us. Rose the steam at 
8 o'clock a m but concluded it rash to encounter the great 
swell abroad & the intricacy of the inside passage as the wind 
shifted from N to E to S, with every appearance of Stormy 
Weather. At 9 p m moderate and pretty clear. 


Saty 17 

Got under way & past the bar at 6 o'clock a m. Wind at 
N E At 9 came too in Barny Gat, the weather appearing 
very doubtful. Our tender not yet come up to us. The winds 
variable thro' the first part of the day. Abt 6pm the wind 
began & cont'd all night to blow a hard gale from E, accom- 
panied with constant heavy rain. 

Sunday 18th 

A heavy blow & rain from the S continues. Our tender 
has not yet joined us. Wind variable from daybreak to 11 
a m, with thick S squalls, then shifted to S S W, p m, moder- 
ate & partly clear. Blew hard thro' the night ; drove a schooner 
on Shore. The tender still absent. 

Monday 19th 

This morning moderate, with the wind at S W. Wind con- 
tinues at S W, very pleasant Weather, but a very heavy sea 
on the bar. Our tender still absent. Took in some water, p m. 

Tuesy 20th 

This day has been moderate, wind at S W. Our tender 
joined us about 10 a m & our boat went on Shore to Weir 
town for supplies. William Lindry left the vessel. 

Wedy 21st 

Got under way & past the bar at Barny Gat at 3/4 past 
4 o'clock a m, with a smart breeze at N E. Past Little Egg 
harbour, 1/2 past 7 am; New Inlet at 8 O'clock; Absequcum 
by abt 10, & G. Egg harbour by 12 O'clock. The breeze de- 
creased to a light air; at 4 p m, a heavy fog. At 1/2 past 4, 
Harriford ; could not get in, consequent of the fog, bore away 
for the Capes. At 7 the wind hauled round to E b N. At 45 
minutes past 7, came abreast of Cape May; came in 5 fathom 
Water, Wind at E. 


Thursy 22nd 

Got under way, first of the flood, wind at South, foggy. 
About 10 O'clock, left Cape May. Abt two O'clock p m, thick- 
ened up with Lightning & Thunder. At 3 O'clock, the wind 
chiefly died away ; a light air at N E, accompanied by rain, 
lightning, & thunder. At 1/2 past 5, the wind came round 
to S E & S E b E. Successive Showers thro' the afternoon. 
Past New Castle at 5 minutes after 8 O'clock & came to an 
anchor at 10. Wind about East, very light. 

Friday 23rd 

At 45 minutes past 4 O'clock a m, got under way ; past by 
Chester at 1/2 past 6. A very light air & the boilers very 
foul. Came to at 10 O'clock. At 1/4 past 5 pm, got under 
way; little or no wind. We did not raise the steam, drifted 
up with the tide. At 6 O'clock, past Mud fort. Anchored at 
9 O'clock, abreast Market St Wharf, Philadelphia. 

By nature, Robert was the most laconic of men. Existing 
letters of his are disappointingly few in number and very 
short. None of them attempt to amplify this story nor even 
to suggest that it was in any way epoch-making. The log 
itself has only four more entries, dealing with the shipping 
of "Daniel" as waiter, "at Thirteen Dollars," and with the 
employment, at an unnamed figure, of Joseph Smith as 
"Pilot & hand." On the twenty-sixth of July one further 
note is added: 

This Evening the supposed William Smith was drowned 
coming or endeavouring to come on board ; he is missing this 
25th inst, & several circumstances corroborate the idea of his 

This was the only tragedy; indeed, the only mishap. It 
did not occur until the Phoenix had fooled the deep-sea 


sailormen by arriving safely in port. Of what happened to 
the tender, there is no accurate record beyond the evidence 
of her struggle with head-winds and the obvious fact that 
she was of no great help to Robert. But he was never one 
to need help in making steamboat history. 


Henry Voight, former associate of Thornton and John 
Fitch, had now become chief coiner of the United States 
Mint at Philadelphia. Thornton, resenting Fulton's claim 
of absolute priority in all steamboat invention, wrote his 
contrary views to Voight and asked for support of them. 
Voight's reply, dated June 28, 1809, and now in the Thorn- 
ton correspondence, discussed both Fulton and the recent 
arrival of the Phoenix: 

The first thing you mentioned in your letter is, that Mr 
Fulton claims the invention of the water-wheels with which 
he propels the boat. I believe he knows better, although he lays 
claim to the invention. I well remember paddle-wheels. I think 
the first use was in England. . . . 

I have purposely delayed sending this letter sooner, although 
the foregoing had been written several days already, because 
I heard that a Steam Boat was to come here from New York, 
which has arrived last week, but I have not been able to get 
a sight of her as yet. My son has been on board her, who tells 
me he could see no part of her machinery but the paddlework. 

This is not a boat of Fulton's but of an opposition party 
[Colonel Stevens of New York] which protests against Fulton's 
being the first inventor of paddlewheels. They have obtained 
the same information from me, some time ago, concerning pad- 
dle wheels, which I now give to you, and I believe they have 
made further enquiry into it and have found what I said to be 
true. . . . 

I have been told the boat is 100 feet long, but know not the 
breadth of the beam. It has two masts for sails and is to ply 
from this place to Trenton. I have not heard of any trip being 



made there yet. Whatever news I shall see or hear of this boat, 
I will inform you of from time to time, if you think proper. 

Before he sent on the letter, Voight added a postscript. 
"July 10th, the Steamboat has made a trip to Trenton yes- 
terday, & performed it 8 hours up and 8 hours coming 
back." This fixes, closely enough, the date upon which the 
colonel began that service on the Delaware which for so 
many years occupied his own attention and that of several 
sons. That the little Phoenix needed considerable equipment 
before she could be called a first-class passenger steamer is 
evident from the inventory taken just at this time. 

11 Mattrasses 
11 Pillows 

11 Doz. & 6 tumblers, insufficient for a large company or 
the tables that may be laid. 
1 Large & 1 small pitcher. 
5 Doz. & 10 Wine glasses 

1 Castor, insufficient 

2 Doz. Cups & Saucers, insufficient 
2 Tea Pots, insufficient 

2 Sugar Dishes, insufficient 

1 Slop Bowl (cracked) insufficient 

3 Hanging and fixed looking-glasses 

4 Brass Candlesticks 

Towels, none (except those brought yesterday) and two 
very small worn ones 

A skimmer and iron ladle are wanted, also a fish fork. 

Also a large size kettle to boil coffee when coffee and tea 
are wanted. 

As it was expected that the waiter, or steward, would 
soon have more than this to handle, his wages were raised 
from thirteen to sixteen dollars a month. From the start, 
Robert was determined that there should be nothing wanting 
in the new "Line." To him, a cracked slop bowl was scarcely 


less a sign of poor service than a cracked piston; either 
would be no fit shipmate for the Phoenix's passengers. 

To the colonel fresh courage and impetus came from fur- 
ther correspondence with Thornton. The doctor had re- 
ferred the question of public inspection of patents to the 
highest authority ; of this he wrote the colonel on July 8 : 

I have at last received from the Attorney-General an answer 
in favor of those who have applied for copies of Patents and, 
whenever you require a copy of Mr Fulton's, it will be fur- 
nished. I have lately heard that he had entered an action 
against you, but do not think he would run such a risk. He 
cannot, nor do I presume he thinks of attempting to, prevent 
me from using every principle he has now in use, while I can 
exclude him from many improvements ; and, having already 
exceeded his utmost efforts yet made in navigation by steam, 
I am confident I shall soon be able to convince him that he is 
very far from perfection — though I acknowledge his great 
genius and ability. 

This cleared the air. At his leisure, the colonel could now 
study exactly what protection had been claimed by Fulton, 
and what machinery had actually been patented. Finding 
that, in actual invention, there was really little or no issue 
between Fulton and himself, and believing, as he always 
had believed, that mere principles could not be patented, he 
felt greatly encouraged to proceed with the Phoenix and 
also with plans for her successor. Even if Fulton's patent 
protected his own engine, it could not prohibit others — let 
him claim what he liked. In thermodynamics, hull-resistance, 
wake-currents, and so on, one might make discoveries; once 
made, these became, like the law of gravitation, public prop- 
erty. For Fulton to demand exclusive rights to principles 
appeared to the colonel no more logical than would seem to 
us the claim that but one citizen of Detroit may build 


Perhaps Fulton himself had doubts about his position. In 
November he and Livingston, in another joint letter, as- 
sured the colonel that they were "still willing to give you 
every advantage of our machinery and experience." Pro- 
testing that they did not want the colonel to make any 
public acknowledgment of working under their patent, they 
hoped he "could have no objection to privately according to 
such an admission.' 1 '' In reply the colonel repeated, "in the 
most explicit terms," that he did not find his boat and ma- 
chinery to be any infringement of theirs ; moreover, he had 
made a number of improvements which he proposed to patent 
in his own name. "Unless," he added, "I am ready, in forma 
pauperis, to subscribe to terms the most humiliating, I am 
probably doomed to be pursued and persecuted, on the Dela- 
ware, in a manner similar to that employed on the New 
Brunswick run." Yet he wished it distinctly understood that 
"all prospect of accommodation would end," the moment 
he was attacked on the Delaware. Since "no less than four 
gentlemen of the Bar, of distinguished eminence," gave it 
as their decided opinion that the Hudson monopoly was un- 
constitutional, he thought it might well be to his advantage 
to fight it out legally rather than compromise even on his 
own terms. This, provided his new improvements succeeded ; 
otherwise, they might make themselves "perfectly easy," 
for he would have neither "the ability nor the inclination to 
contend further" with them. 

Since the Phoenix, during the past season, had actually 
been carrying passengers and freight between Trenton and 
Philadelphia with sufficient success to argue a good future, 
Fulton evidently thought it best to suggest the meeting 
which was held on November 27. After long discussion, the 
rough draft of an agreement written out by Fulton pro- 
vided that the parties should "relinquish to each other recip- 


rocally all patent rights which they now or hereafter might 
have respecting steamboats." Fulton and Livingston were 
to have New York, including Lake Champlain; the Bruns- 
wick run; and the Ohio and Mississippi, with the general 
reservation that the Stevens improvements should not be 
used by them in establishing ferryboats between New York 
city and the Jersey shore. The colonel was to use anything 
of Fulton's on the Delaware, the Chesapeake, the Santee, 
Savannah, and Connecticut rivers, as well as the Providence 
run. All these were to be his for the next seven years, pro- 
vided that, if he had not in that time established steamboats 
on any particular water, that one should revert to Living- 
ston and Fulton. Further, it was provided that each party 
should pay the other, for the use of any new improvement, 
"a reasonable consideration." Fulton took one rough draft 
to copy and wrote the colonel next day: 

I send you the writings in substance and effect the same as 
stipulated. As it is impossible to foresee how many may at- 
tempt to evade us, you must look for shelter under my patent. 
If I fail, all your rights go. I have therefore worded our con- 
tract to correspond with my patent, mentioning what I con- 
sider my particular invention, particularly these demonstra- 
tions and the superiority of wheels in due proportion. 

Although he disliked the preamble as giving the distinct 
impression that all the inventions were Fulton's, yet after 
some demur, he signed the agreement and sent it on for the 
chancellor's signature. Unexplainably — in view of his pre- 
vious efforts at compromise — the chancellor now thrust a 
spoke into the wheel. He inserted a proviso to the effect that 
the colonel, for his heirs and representatives, did "fully and 
absolutely recognize" the right of Fulton and Livingston to 
all inventions and improvements specified in their patent, 


as well as their exclusive right to navigate New York waters 
by steam for twenty years. Perhaps Livingston's early train- 
ing made him favor tortuous legal phrases and want every 
possible clause in an agreement. In any case, the colonel 
flatly refused to sign the amended agreement but allowed his 
name to stand upon the one drawn by Fulton. 

Meantime, he proceeded with modifications on the Phoenix. 
Stout enough to go to sea, he thought her too heavy and 
clumsy for river work; an opinion in which Robert, always 
interested in line and speed, concurred. Later, the colonel 
designed changes in the engine, and in order to avoid charges 
of infringement he showed a model of the new design to 
Fulton. Having looked at the model, Fulton rummaged 
through his desk and produced a rough pen-and-ink sketch. 
This, he said, was "the combination exact" as invented 
by himself in 1802. Seeing this sketch for the first time, the 
colonel asked if it had been patented. Since it had not, Ful- 
ton admitted that the colonel was quite within his rights and 
had actually added an improvement. Some time afterward 
the chancellor "briskly accused" the colonel of taking out a 
patent for an invention really Fulton's. "Nothing of the 
kind," the colonel was beginning to retort, when Fulton 
interrupted to admit there was no infringement. Indeed, 
Fulton noted this upon one of his later drawings as "in- 
vented by John Stevens," and said the same thing in a certif- 
icate he wrote and asked Thornton to sign. However, in the 
Morgan library manuscript he gives it as "Mr Fulton's" 
opinion that the design was really his own. It is to be feared 
that Fulton's crown, whatever else it contains, does not bear 
the jewel of consistency. Neither, for that matter, did 
Livingston's. Frequently, they exchanged their positions; 
the one combative, the other conciliatory. Eventually the 
colonel found himself unable to meet these sudden shifts of 


wind and therefore deemed it best simply to remain always 
politely belligerent. 

The colonel's patent dated January 3, 1810, covers this 
new method of communicating "the power from the piston 
to the water-wheels by means of crank-wheels and shackle- 
bars which work on each side of the cylinder." It also cov- 
ered a modification of the air-pump, giving this a double 
stroke and providing for pumping injection- water from the 
bottom of the condenser while air was drawn from the top. 
Further, "the extremities of certain levers, connected with 
the stems of the valves," were designed to strike "projections 
fixed on the circumference of wheels which revolve in equal 
times with each stroke of the piston, and by this means the 
Steam can be shut off from the cylinder at any part of the 
stroke." As so often happened, the colonel was here break- 
ing ground for Robert. The latter, with his nephew Francis, 
was later to devote much time to the "cut-off" and even- 
tually to bring the device to an advanced stage. 

The boiler included in this same patent was a fire-tube 
design. It had two horizontal water-drums, sixteen feet 
long, and a smaller steam-drum, placed between the large 
ones "in the recess below their diameters where they touch." 
Water communication between the three was by piping 
through the front heads. The "flues" or fire-tubes — one to 
each drum — conveyed the products of combustion to the 
rear of the large drums, through the length of these to the 
front again; whence the "flame and smoke" escaped to the 
"chimney." To make joints between piping and drums, iron- 
cement was used, while the furnace underneath was lined 
with "soapstone or fire-brick," backed by "powdered char- 
coal, mixed up with a due proportion of clay." An advan- 
tage claimed by the colonel for both engine and boiler was 


the "diminution of the weight of machinery, which hitherto 
has gone nearly to loading the boat to capacity." 

In preparing the Phoenix for the season of 1810, the 
colonel adopted his latest improvements. It was her captain, 
Moses Rogers — later on board the famous Savannah when 
she crossed the Atlantic — who reported progress to the 

Bordentown, Mar. 9th 

I have arrived . . . with the Phoenix, all well, but had some 
trouble in fetching her down the creek on account of the 
wind being ahead. The boilers are likewise here safe and we 
are taking out the engine as fast as Posable. . . . The People 
of this town are most anxious for the Welfare of the boat ; they 
have subscribed about 400 hundred dollars for to build a 
Public wharf for her to run to in this place, and do not think 
'twill cost over that sum to do it. 

The Proprietors of the Stages talk of running a stage 
through this place to Trenton and Princeton on the old road, 
and one on the Turnpike to N. Brunswick and Amboy, which 
if they do I think it will be better for us all. They are to 
meet on the subject at Princeton Saturday next. 

Since the day when the first John Stevens at last found 
himself "able to sit easy and dry" on their hard benches, 
stages had played a big part in Jersey transportation. Now, 
with the Phoenix running between Philadelphia and Tren- 
ton, and the Raritan connecting New Brunswick with New 
York, the need of a good cross-state link between the two 
steamboats became proportionately greater and aroused the 
stage-men to meet it. Robert Letson and Nicholas Van 
Brunt, at Brunswick, were the hot rivals of Perez Rowley, 
John Gulick, and Robert Bailie of Princeton; while Na- 
thaniel Shuff and John La Foucherie, stabling their horses 
at Trenton, were just as eager to get the lion's share of the 
badgered, jostled passengers. All the stage-men naturally 


looked for the colonel's patronage, each offering that sug- 
gestion for organization that would ultimately work for his 
own particular good. 

"The road from Princeton to Trenton," wrote Gulick 
and Rowley, "is so good that few, if any, would object to 
a pleasant ride before breakfast." Even though this in- 
volved changing the boat schedules, no matter; the coaches 
could make earlier starts and hence be able to take off 
half their horses. Thus Rowley and Gulick would "be sure 
of haveing a better chance to get sober drivers." At which 
Shuff and his partner were up in arms, insisting that the 
arrangement would mean their running only one stage daily, 
each way. Since they had been planning for six stages, 
they "must face ruin." Letson and Van Brunt, too, were so 
indignant that the colonel had to make a special journey, 
trying all the coaches — something he did on the express 
condition that Rowley and Gulick would "take him on to 
Trenton in a gig in the morning." Even so, the stream of 
argumentative letters did not stop. Among them all, Shuff's 
were the most colorful. 

What would passengers say [he asked] when arriving here 
at 12 or sometimes at 11, wherein they would get to Princeton 
say 3 or 4 in the afternoon; there being obliged to stay all 
night or take some of White's stages and go by land? Passen- 
gers does not like to be detained on the road at this season 
of the year [April]. The reason will no doubt be asked — what 
excuse? Why, the horses is tired, we cannot run them fur- 
ther; you must wait till morning. I ask what effect this would 
have with Travellers ? Many would say, why han't you a change 
of horses? 

One of the chief difficulties, as Shuff saw them, was 
Gulick's refusal to "run the coaches in stile." Yet, not long 

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after, he was indignantly denying complaints against his 
own "stile." 

Particularly as respects passengers being put to sleep four 
and five in a room. But this you can perceive is a difficulty im- 
possible to remedy, owing that the generality of travellers by 
the steam boat line are People of Fortune, accustomed to live 
in elegance and therefore adverse to laying more than one 
or two at the most in a room. And when there are thirty or 
forty, it is impossible to accommodate them to their wishes 
in this respect. 

Perez Rowley declared that "the inhabitants of Prince- 
ton find it very convenient to leave home in the morning, 
and very few will go any other way than by steamboat. On 
the trip before last, a number of the passengers stopped at 
Trenton and went on to Philadelphia by land, for fear of 
riding in the dark from Trenton to Bordentown." Alto- 
gether the confusion was so great and the quarrel so sharp 
that Robert had to take a hand. Already he was making 
administrative reports to his father : "I let the steward have 
the Bar [concession] for $300," or "I think we better give 
the Captain something extra for assisting the clerk in weigh- 
ing the baggage, which perhaps keeps them upon good terms 
with each other." Now he suggested getting all the stage- 
men together for definite agreement and fixed rates of fare. 
As a result, such an agreement finally was reached, John 
Livingston and the colonel on one side, the stage-men on 
the other. 

The steamboat-owners promised to solicit passengers for 
the coaches, with the understanding that the coach paid the 
boat twenty-five cents for each traveler and paid the cap- 
tains, as individuals, such additional percentage as the stage- 
men thought "right and proper." The stages were to be kept 
going at such a pace that, when the roads were good, no 


stage should be upon the journey "more than k^fa hours, 
including all stops." But the drivers were to have positive 
orders not to run their horses nor "endeavour to proceed 
each other upon the way, so as to endanger or put in fear 
the passengers." In this way, and by giving one third of 
their business to each of the three leading competitors, the 
colonel and Livingston hoped to avoid, for at least the one- 
year term of the agreement, any further quarrels. On the 
whole, they Mere successful, but the stage-men went on 
wrangling over customers like buses from rival summer 
hotels. For a suitable consideration one driver would deliver 
his passengers only at one particular tavern ; another was 
as immovable in taking them somewhere else. And that they 
were not always careful to identify their passengers, Rachel 
Stevens duly discovered. 

After a pleasant trip [she wrote Robert] we arrived at 
Brunswick about half an hour after sunset, but sorry enough 
was I that you did not accompany us. I desire you would tell 
Mr LaFoucherie that, unless he gets a more obliging driver, 
no one will take his carriage. 

All I could say, I could not induce him to stop at Key- 
worth's; he stopped at Van Brunt's, where we were obliged 
to get out. I then desired him to bring our baggage over; that 
he would not do, and the gentleman that was with us had to 
do it himself. 

We were the first carriage in. I immediately desired Mrs 
Keyworth to shew me a room, but she was so much offended 
at my stopping at Van Brunt's that she absolutely refused 
to accommodate me at all, although there were no beds taken. 
I was placed in a most disagreeable situation. 

A gentleman of New York, who came in the next stage and 
knew who I was, interested himself and told Mr Keyworth I 
must have a room. As soon as he knew I was the wife of the 
proprietor of the Steamboat, he was all civility — but nothing 


short of absolute necessity shall ever induce me to stop at his 
house again. 

All this happens from the obstinacy of Mr LaFoucherie's 
driver — which I beg you to tell him. We had a delightful pleas- 
ant passage to New York. I arrived at Hoboken by two o'clock. 

What the colonel wrote to La Foucherie may easily be 
imagined. He was just as quick to take up complaints 
against his own service, for when he heard that the Delaware 
steamboat was not clean, he made a point of asking Mrs. 
John Wallace — whom he described as "one of our most 
particular women" — to take a journey and tell him her 
whole experience. Fortunately, Mrs. Wallace was able to 
say she found "everything perfectly neat, as much as a boat 
could be; conducted with the greatest regularity and the 
captain most polite and attentive." Those who breakfasted 
on board told her the meal was "of the best, especially 
cream, which was unusual for Bordentown at that season of 
the year." The indignant captain protested that the criti- 
cism had originated with some partisan of John Livingston, 
who, "if he heard all the reports against the Raritan, would 
have nothing to do but worry over them." But the colonel 
was too greatly relieved to bother about the source of the 

Robert supervised the ship's books. "The clerk," he ex- 
plained, "enters the names of all passengers under the names 
of the places they stop at, in one book ; and, in another, en- 
ters the receipts on one side, expenses on the other, balanc- 
ing once a week." The fuel account was large, explained 
Robert, because he was "obliged to buy all wood at Phila- 
delphia, which has not been less than two cords a day, as 
ours here [Trenton] is too green to burn." As to actual 
business done, the poorest week's receipts were $183.39 1 /2 '•> 


the best week's, $852.1 2 x /2 ; and, for the season's total of 
thirty-four weeks, $1 6,492.83 y 2 . 

As one assistant, Robert had his brother Richard, al- 
though the latter was eventually headed for service as a sur- 
geon in the navy. Richard's letters home were frequent and 
generally encouraging. 

Everything at present here, appears in very good order, 
and the passengers all seem well pleased with this part of the 
journey. But they complain very much of the land line. . . . 
When we came on, we had four horses and might have gotten 
into Bordentown an hour before the other stages. But our 
driver had an idea we must all arrive together and, had any 
of the rest chose to have walked their horses, we must have 
done the same! 

A day or two afterward: 

The stages labour under the handicap of much baggage. 
One man had 4 or 5 large trunks, for which he payed very 

Yesterday I started for Wilmington and had one of the 
shortest passages that has been made these three years. The 
whole distance is 29 miles. The wind blew very hard and the 
water ran — once, a foot on the deck. Everything in the cabin, 
benches, breakfast table, etc, were overturned. There was a 
drunken man on board who came very near being drowned; 
he kept continually dancing about the deck until at last they 
had to tie his hands and feet and put him in the hull. 

The captain fixed up an open stove in the cabin and con- 
nected the smoke pipe with that of the furnace. This has been 
much wanted; for some time past it has been very cold on 
board, the early part of the day. The passengers of course 
crowd around the boiler and engine, so that James Lee [the 
engineer] can sometimes scarcely turn himself around. 

Still later, Richard made some estimates of speed: 


The boat [he said] left Ph. on Friday with 37 passengers, 
25 for Bordentown and 12 for Burlington. I had St John's 
stop-watch with me, with which I endeavoured to ascertain 
her velocity by throwing a chip out at the bow; and, what is 
very singular, I made it 5 miles without a fraction. I tried it 
2 or 3 times and always brought the same result ; but she goes 
faster, I think, since the wheels have been raised. I made the 
same sort of calculation aboard the Raritan Steamboat and 
brought out her velocity about 4^o miles. 

As the business grew, the colonel's nephew, Francis B. 
Stockton, was added to the Delaware staff. He, too, had some 
good ideas. 

Hearing [he wrote his uncle] that on Saturday last the 
quaker meeting would break up, and consequently many wish 
to return next day to their respective homes, the Captain and 
I concluded it would be an object to run up to Bordentown 
and return the same day, which could easily be done. Accord- 
ingly, I took the liberty of putting an advertisement in the 
different papers relative to it. By going there, they made $19 
independent of those for Bristol and Burlington. 

Now you have every prospect of making something very 
handsome by the boat. She goes extremely well, passengers 
increasing almost daily. 

With affairs on the Delaware in such good hands, the 
colonel planned to take Rachel to Europe. Incidentally, he 
thought he might combine business with pleasure. In view 
of what America had accomplished in steamboats, British 
or French capital might well be induced to seek investments 
or possibly to make outright purchase of his patents. It was 
then that he wrote his appeal to Thornton, with the descrip- 
tion of himself already quoted. "The object I wish to at- 
tain," he said, "is to identify and protect our persons, in 
case of capture, as citizens of the U. S." But if Thornton 
sent him anything, it must have remained undelivered ; as is 


quite possible in view of what happened to certain drawings 
which the colonel had long been expecting from the Patent 

On enquiring at the Post Office myself [he said], I found 
the package had remained there nearly a month. This was 
owing to the caution of the Post Master. As there are several 
persons of my name in this city, he was apprehensive the penny 
post might deliver the package into wrong hands. And, as it 
was directed to Mr John Stevens, instead of John Stevens, 
Esq — the usual stile of letters addressed to me — he did not 
give it to the servant I occasionally send to the post office. 

The non-receipt of his passports is a less likely explana- 
tion for the colonel's not going to Europe than his having to 
reply to so many scientific letters, written to him on every 
conceivable subject. A Colonel Tatham of Norfolk proposed 
a visionary scheme for carrying the rock of Snake Hill, on 
the Hackensack Meadows, by gravity railroad to New York 
for paving purposes. Almost in the same mail came a letter 
from the president of Princeton, Dr. Samuel Stanhope 

Knowing your attachment to philosophical sciences, I have 
presumed upon your indulgence in proposing a few enquiries 
relative to the variations of the magnetic needle in this state, 
as far as it has come under your observation. I shall be much 
obliged to you for any information with which your own 
experience, or that of others upon whom you can rely, has 
furnished you concerning the precise variation at present and 
also at any designated time. 

I will thank you also to inform me if you have found any 
regularity in the variations East and West, and if you are 
acquainted with any meridian, or points on the globe, at which, 
at present, no variation is discernible. 

Perhaps the phenomena of the magnetic needle have not 
attracted so much of your attention as some other objects. 


I presume, however, on your general taste for these important 

Much to his chagrin, the colonel was for once caught 
napping. Up to that time the magnetic needle had eluded 
him and he could do no more than promptly assure Dr. 
Smith of an intention to "communicate any well-authen- 
ticated facts obtained in the course of enquiries." 

The successful season ended in some actual prospects of 
increasing competition on the water and in rumors of a 
great deal more. Daniel French of Philadelphia at this 
time announced his new engine as cheaper yet more power- 
ful than any yet used. In his printed prospectus, French 
quoted Captain Moses Rogers as declaring the new engine 
to be "much the best yet." Rogers, taken to task by the 
colonel for an apparent disloyalty, hotly denied indorsing 
French and refused to join the latter in a plan for steam- 
boats on the Sound. Almost simultaneously, Fulton dis- 
cussed another possible competitor with the colonel. 

January 2nd. 

There is a company forming to build a steamboat to run 
between Philadelphia and Wilmington. This I have from Mr 
Bayard, a Senator from Delaware; the principle part of the 
subscribers, I believe, reside in Wilmington. The projector is 
said to be an Englishman; have you heard yet, or have you, 
or do you mean to take, any measures to prevent it? Or must 
it be permitted although it may be prevented, and then be 
decided by a lawsuit and an Intrigue to endanger all our 
rights? This is worthy of consideration, for it is important 
to get as many persons as possible to work under the patent ; 
they will defend instead of attacking it. 

I have told Mr Bayard that my plan for Building Boats 
by subscription is that, in each year, the accounts shall be set- 
tled and for the year all expenses being paid and a fixed sum 
allowed for wear and tear and repairs, so as to keep the Boat 


in good order for the whole term of the patent. Then, should 
the neat profits exceed 10 per cent, the patentee and the sub- 
scribers to divide the surplus. That is, if the neat profits be 
15 per cent, the subscribers take 12 1 /o, the patentee 2^. He 
says these terms are liberal and the company would prefer 
them to risque on experiments with a stranger, or a suit 
against us under the patent. 

Now, let us see if this is not your best Interest, both as to 
emolument and to prevent violation of our rights. Suppose 
the Boat to cost $25,000 and her gross receipts $12,000. Ex- 
pences $7,000, leaves $5,000. From this, 10 per cent (of 
original cost) to the subscribers — $2,500 — leaves $2,500. Half 
of this to you — $1,250 — and perhaps more, without trouble or 
advancing a cent, and guarding our patent by making advo- 
cates. Please to consider this and write me immediately if you 
approve the plan, and be assured this is your best plan. I will 
have the arrangement made. Reflect well if this is not better, 
than to make enemies and to have a lawsuit. 

Livingston and Fulton were chary of suits in New Jersey 
or Pennsylvania, where they were not apt to appear in a 
light as favorable as that which fell upon them in New 
York. This State had granted their monopoly ; were not her 
courts bound to uphold it? So, at least, they argued. More- 
over, New Jersey was just then deciding to protect her 
steamboating citizens by a resort to reprisal, in a bill which 
Governor Joseph Bloomfield signed that same year. Thus 
it was provided that, should any New Yorker, under his 
state law, seize a Jersey boat lying in the waters between the 
"antient shores" of the two States, the injured Jerseyman 
had his State's authority to seize a similarly situated New 
York boat. When, or if, his own boat were returned, the 
Jerseyman must release his capture in good condition. The 
act followed the theory that each State had jurisdiction to 
the middle of the river, a point recently emphasized in con- 
nection with driving the Holland Tunnel. The colonel, al- 


though he foresaw additional competition, looked to this new 
law to strengthen his position. 

Apart from his doubts as to the success of Coxen, the 
Englishman referred to by Fulton as the reported designer 
of the proposed Wilmington boat, the colonel was skeptical 
of this whole letter of Fulton's. It invited him publicly to 
contradict his own belief that his rights were independent 
of Fulton and therefore more likely to be protected by New 
Jersey; it had all of that second-place flavor that was so 
distasteful; and, while deprecating intrigue, it suggested 
just that. If he could not beat the Coxen boat on the Dela- 
ware, he was certain Fulton could not do it. Indeed, he was 
so doubtful of Fulton's ability to monopolize even the Hud- 
son that he proceeded with his own plans for a steam ferry 
at Hoboken. 

His petition to "The Mayor, Alderman, and Common 
Council of the City of New York" for the right to operate 
such a ferry under appropriate lease was on the ground 
that "the public convenience will by this means be greatly 
promoted," and he proposed to accept whatever terms might 
be "estimated as just and proper." When it became evident 
that the use of steam would be one of the conditions made 
by the Common Council, he announced that he would use 
machinery similar to that in the Phoenix. As a stand-by, 
however, he examined the invention of a certain Michael 
Morrison — "circular floats attached to a chain passing over 
horns on the circumference of wheels" — arranging to buy 
the patent rights from Morrison if these proved worth while. 
However, since he planned for a seven-knot craft, on twenty 
horsepower, he soon went back to the Phoenix combination. 
When it appeared that he was likely to get a lease, opposi- 
tion from the Paulus Hook Company immediately reared 
its head. 


This company had Fulton and Livingston behind it. The 
chancellor, in one of his periodic moods of compromise, first 
wrote to Rachel, protesting that, had her husband accepted 
the original offer of 1808, he would now be in undisturbed 
enjoyment of the ferry — a very doubtful possibility indeed, 
as we may now see it. As to Paulus Hook, the chancellor in- 
sisted he had lent that company his authority only because 
Fulton had demanded this of him. He had subscribed but 
later withdrawn his subscription, and he was by no means 
certain that he had ever agreed to giving the company ex- 
clusive ferry rights. He hoped not, for this would enable 
him to withdraw his support. On the other hand, he blandly 
hoped the colonel might be allowed to buy into the Paulus 
Hook Company, as this would accomplish his own desire 
"not to injure a family held in such esteem." 

It is impossible to guess why Livingston should not have 
known exactly what steps he and his partner had taken with 
Paulus Hook and the exact contents of any agreement he 
himself had made. If he really wanted to compromise, he was 
doomed to be disappointed. The letter written to Rachel 
merely annoyed the colonel, and he was not any better 
pleased by one received within the next few days from 

Washington, Jan. 10th, 1811 

Yesterday, I received a letter from the Chancellor inclosing 
one from Mr Stevens concerning the Steam ferry boats. 

It is now two years since the Paulus hook company have 
been in negotiation with the corporation [of New York City] 
during the whole of which time they demanded of the cor- 
poration to grant no new ferries from the state prison to 
the battery and of the Chancellor and me to grant no one 
permission to use steam ferry boats within the same district 
without their consent. This I always assented to because I never 


knew of your desire to run a Steam boat below the state 
prison until about 2 months ago. 

But, Sir, you have, I presume, seen enough of me to con- 
vince you of my readyness to promote your interest by every 
reasonable means in my power and, as the Chancellor's and 
my contract is not yet closed with the ferry company, the 
whole may yet be arranged for their, your, and our interest. 

I presume your object in having a steam boat from the 
Bear [?] market to Hoboken is more to give value to your 
property at Hoboken than any calculation on profits from 
the boat. A good ferry boat will cost about $8,000; this, for 
wear & tear at 12 per cent, is 

$960 a year 

It will cost, to run her on fuel and men 4,000 

Rent of the Bear Market ferry, say 600 

total expense $5,560 

This is for one boat. Again, the distance is so great from 
the Bear market to Hoboken that the boat could, on an aver- 
age, not go and return in less than 1 hour and a half; she 
might perhaps make 7 or 8 trips in a day. You can judge bet- 
ter than I can what would be probable gross receipts, each 
trip, and, from these, estimate the probable profits. That the 
prospect of profit is not flattering, I think certain; that it 
would accommodate the public and give value to your prop- 
erty is certain also, but how is the matter to be adjusted? 
How can I withdraw my promise to the Pawlus Hook com- 
pany, of giving them exclusive right to the State prison? 
There are several modes which may, perhaps, accommodate 
all parties. 

First, that the Pawlus Hook Company, haveing three boats, 
shall twice a week run one from the Bear market to Hoboken; 
that is, on market days ; and pay you a proportionate rent 


for your Hoboken ferry. This would increase your property, 
accommodate the public, and relieve you of the expense of 
a boat. Second: That you will not build a steam ferryboat 
until the Pawlus Hook company clear ten per cent for their 
capital, after which they will have no right to complain. Then, 
if you build boats which they consider to diminish their profits, 
you will, after making ten per cent, pay the Pawlus Hook 
company one-half the surplus profits ; this is the condition 
they make with me. 

I have suggested these modes ; others will occur to you, be- 
cause it is impossible to break down a principle understood 
for two years, in honor, without substituting something rea- 
sonable in its stead. 

"Another trap," was the colonel's comment. A trap in 
which the bait of "rising values at Hoboken" was spread 
cunningly over the steel jaw of Fultonian control of the 
Hudson. Paulus Hook boats running now and then to Ho- 
boken and treating it as relatively insignificant? Not for a 
minute. He preferred to await the result of his negotiations 
for a ferry lease from New York and to proceed, in the 
meantime, with his new plan to organize two stock companies 
— one to run a steamboat on the Susquehanna, the other to 
operate on Chesapeake Bay. 


In the hope of arousing the interest of members of the 
Government in Chesapeake steamboating, the colonel visited 
Washington, where he wrote to Dr. Samuel Mitchell, then 
a representative: 

January 5th 
Business requires my speedy return to New York. I have 
left in the hands of Mr Fulton a subscription paper with a 
request to procure me as many subscribers as he can and then 
to leave it with you. I must beg the favor ... to put your 
name to . . . ten shares. . . . Should you not wish to retain 
them, I now engage to take them off your hands. . . . 

Pardon the liberty ... of requesting your aid in procur- 
ing . . . the subscription of such . . . members of your house 
and of the senate and others as may be disposed to ... so 
useful an undertaking. . . . You will probably have it in your 
power to render me the most essential services. ... It is need- 
less for me to say how gratefully they will be received. . . . 
P. S. Mr Stevens' comp. to Mr Monroe, and would esteem 
it a particular favor if Mr Monroe would put his signature 
to his subscription paper for any number of shares he pleases. 
Should Mr Monroe not wish to retain them, Mr Stevens en- 
gages to take them off his hands, either wholly or in part, 
as he may choose. 

Where their interests did not definitely clash, the colonel 
and Fulton, at rare intervals, still held up the mask of 
friendliness and even appeared to cooperate. Thus, on the 
same day the colonel wrote Mitchell he sent a note to Fulton : 

I have made several fruitless attempts to obtain an audi- 
ence with the President. ... I wish, if possible, to procure 


302 john stevens: an American record 

the signatures of the president and vice-president . . . for a 
few shares. . . . May I take the liberty of requesting your 

Two days later Fulton replied : 

... On Sunday morning, I sent a servant to beg you and 
Robert to come and dine with me ; he returned saying you 
were gone. In the evening, I got your subscription and pro- 
posal, in which I will do all I can to aid you. 

Within a fortnight Fulton reported that the President 
had "adopted the rule of his predecessors, not to subscribe 
to anything." Meeting "a refusal at the source," Fulton 
had presumed the heads of departments would feel the same 
way, with the added reason that their salaries would not 
bear it. This ended the attempt to secure official investment. 
The colonel proceeded, however, with advertising his plans in 
open letters to the newspapers. 

It seems [he wrote] to be a prevalent idea that Steam Boats 
are only calculated for the navigation of smooth waters, than 
which nothing can be more erroneous. . . . When I first 
thought of establishing a line of Steam Boats between Phila- 
delphia and Baltimore, before I had taken a view of the 
navigation of the Chesapeake ... I must confess I felt some- 
what intimidated by the great expanse of water ... it ap- 
peared to contain. When I came to obtain correct information 
... I found this . . . extensive sea was, in fact, the far 
greater part merely shoals. . . . The ship channel did not 
occupy one-tenth part of it . . . the ebb and flow occasioned 
little current . . . [and] the agitation caused by the wind 
could never produce such a swell as to prove dangerous to 
steam navigation. 

I have also satisfied myself, by an actual survey and tak- 
ing soundings of the Elk River from Frenchtown to Elkton 
Landing, that this . . . navigation is perfectly unexception- 
able. From Elkton to Wilmington is at present 19 miles, which 


distance might, by laying out a turnpike, be reduced to about 
16. . . . 

Passage from Baltimore to Elkton Landing will always be 
performed with very little variation as to time. Besides that 
the tides are very weak, the time consumed on this passage 
requires part of two tides ; so far, then, as the currents each 
way, during the passage are of equal force, so far are their 
effects destroyed. . . . 

Delaware tides are much stronger but ... as these boats 
will draw only 2V2 feet of water, advantage may be taken of 
eddies close in shore . . . behind . . . islands that extend 
. . . between Wilmington and Philadelphia. . . . 

The entire journey between Philadelphia and Baltimore may 
be performed by this route in as short a time and with nearly 
as much certainty as it is now done by mail stage. The steam 
boat will leave Baltimore at 5 o'clock every morning, arriving 
at Elkton at 3. Passengers will then cross the Peninsula in 
stages to Wilmington and, starting from thence in the steam- 
boat between 5 and 7 o'clock, will arrive in Philadelphia be- 
tween 11 and 12. . . . Again, the steam boat will leave Phila. 
every morning at 10 o'clock, arriving at Wilmington at three. 
The passengers . . . cross to the other boat at Elkton between 
6 and 7, and arrive at Baltimore between 4 and 5 o'clock the 
next morning. . . . This estimate is justified by the perform- 
ance of the Phoenix on the Delaware. . . . 

It appears that the whole journey will be effected in the 
same time the mail stage takes . . . between 18 and 19 hours. 
But the difference between these modes of travelling is . . . 
in one case the passenger arrives fatigued and unfitted for busi- 
ness, in the other . . . unfatigued. 

When he learned that the time limited by the postmaster- 
general for conveying the mail between Philadelphia and 
Baltimore was not eighteen hours but twenty-one, the colonel 
was more than ever confident of the success of his plan. 
What others thought of it was suggested by a letter from 


Washington, January 24th, 1811 
I have had a letter from Wilmington from an old friend, 
wishing to know your standing in society and whether your 
Chesapeake project was in danger of being rivaled by me, 
or if you and I had agreed on this point. He said this informa- 
tion was desired by many persons at Wilmington who wished 
to subscribe. 

I returned for answer everything honorable to your reputa- 
tion and that you had, by arrangement with me, the exclusive 
run to Baltimore. Hence I hope you will get many subscribers 
at Wilmington. 

The Albany pendulum geniuses are proceeding with madness 
in attempts to evade and oppose my patent. Hence we are 
come to a point when we must lay aside all unnecessary feel- 
ings of ambition or originality of inventions, and combine to 
oppose our enemies. If my patent should, by any unfortunate 
accident be evaded, which I dont much fear, you of course and 
all persons working on my principles must fail of every exclu- 
sive run. I therefore think that your good policy will be to 
avow that the leading principles of your Boats are under my 
patent, and added to this in your Chessapeak boats you have 
my aid and permission to build exact on my plan. I am cer- 
tain such notice will be of use in filling your subscription for 
the simple reason that the reputation of the North River Boats 
stand very high and will give confidence in the Chessapeak 

In Fulton's letters the colonel always discovered a quid 
pro quo. To avow so much for Fulton's principles would 
mean belittling his own efforts. Moreover, it was his constant 
contention that rivals would fail through their own ineffi- 
ciency without being prevented from even trying their own 
engines. If these engines, when completed, infringed upon 
other United States patents, they could be successfully sued. 
As to the particular instance of the "pendulum geniuses," 
this was to come up a little later. 

Chancellor Livingston, wholly disapproving the colonel's 



idea of a line of boats on. Long Island Sound, was little 
more than lukewarm to the Chesapeake, although he thought 
this much safer. As he saw it, there would be required an- 
other boat to Bordentown, two to Newcastle, and two on the 
Chesapeake ; all these to cost a great deal of money. 

The fact is [he wrote] that I have never received one far- 
thing from steamboats. [With] what I have laid out upon them 
... I begin to tire of all these expenditures, & indeed I have 
not the means of working with hazardous plans of a boat on 
the Sound, unless I can get something for our state and patent 
rights . . . which may doubtless be done without making an 
advance, as the new state-law affords us ample security against 
intrusions. . . . 

Something must be done, because the public is complain- 
ing that we will neither exert ourselves nor let others do it, 
without ourselves or our connections having all the boats. 

The significance of the new state law and of public opinion 
was made a little greater by Brockholst Livingston, in de- 
clining the colonel's invitation to become a stockholder in 
the Baltimore boats. He spoke of the company "forming at 
Albany to build boats on the Hudson, which must neces- 
sarily bring in question the validity of the patents already 
granted" to the colonel and "other gentlemen." He held that 
such questions could "be decided only in the federal courts," 
and added that "it will be thought improper in me by any 
act of mine to disqualify myself from taking part in the 
decision of them." This Livingston was not only the chan- 
cellor's cousin but also a Federal judge. Obviously, the 
ethics of the day did not demand of him that, in cases where 
the chancellor was plaintiff or defendant, he find it "im- 
proper" to appear upon the bench. There is record of an 
injunction or two, issued by him, in favor of Livingston- 


John R. Livingston, operating the Raritan, also sug- 
gested that no new boats be built until the Albany case was 
decided. His point was that Fulton, if he beat these "Inter- 
lopers," could buy their boat cheap or let the colonel do so. 
Still, admitting that "people now have a rage for steam- 
boats," he thought it might be quite safe to build for New- 
castle. Should any one else build at Bordentown, he de- 
clared, they would have to run a line of stages of their 
own and also operate a boat from Brunswick to New York. 
"For," said he, "I am determined to give my captains orders 
not to admit a single passenger from their boat to cross in 
mine. This will throw a spoke in their wheel and, if they 
build a boat on the Raritan [River], I can immediately 
seize her." From this attitude toward competition in trans- 
portation John R. was not to be shaken, although the colonel 
wrote many letters and sent his eldest son to a special inter- 
view upon the subject. As a family the Livingstons were too 
canny to be drawn into anything that might result in any 
step toward breaking their monopoly. In considering this, 
one must distinguish between what appeared to be good 
business for the moment and what would have been a real 
contribution to American steamboating. 

Public interest was certainly increasing. Captain Moses 
Rogers wrote the colonel of "a great deal of talk concerning 
steamboats at present, for it is understood at Trenton that 
Mr. Fulton lost his suit concerning the North River Boats. 
They say there is some defect in the Patent Right, and the 
People have an opinion they can put a Steam Boat on any 
River they please and make use of any Patent, without any 
Consent whatever." If this opinion was only half correct, it 
confirmed the colonel's view that steamboats had "set people 
all agog" and justified his being strongly in favor of build- 
ing to reap the harvest. "The proprietor of White Hill 


Landing," said he in one persuasive letter to John Living- 
ston, "opened a subscription book and got $8,000 in no time. 
Mr. Grice of Philadelphia has come on, to know if I will 
build another boat next season." If so, Grice would sub- 
scribe; if not, he and some friends would build a boat of 
their own. Of their success in this, without any infringement, 
the colonel was doubtful — but let them try. He was confident 
that he could build the best and fastest craft on the Dela- 
ware, and "it rests with you," he told Livingston, "whether 
you will build on the Raritan and combine with me to pre- 
vent successful opposition." To him all existing* craft were 
crude. Improvements making them better and less costly 
were bound to come through building. Now was the time to 

Finding none of the Livingstons in full sympathy, the 
colonel made public a proposal to build a new boat on the 
Delaware by stock subscription. For a craft of "100 feet 
keel and proportionable breadth of beam, with a velocity of 
at least five miles an hour," the colonel wanted a capital of 
$25,000. Half interest in the completed vessel was to be his, 
but this was to be pledged as security to the subscribers, 
in addition to their owning the other half, and to them was 
to be paid one half the revenue until they had been reim- 
bursed $12,500, "with legal interest thereon." As to the 
sound, no progress was made, although the colonel held that 
opposition to that plan originated in "prejudice, malice, 
and envy." In his "appeal to the enlightened thought of the 
citizens of New York," he recalled that "in the infancy of 
steam, had it been suggested that it was practicable to 
navigate on the wide ocean with ease and safety, the sug- 
gestion would have been thought chimerical; yet it needed 
but a good boat like the Phoenhr." A similar craft would 
meet "the roughness of the Sound," as was shown by "a strik- 


ing instance" he gave. "On Monday last, during the violence 
of the storm, the Phoenix came down safely from Borden- 
town, when two of the Packets were driven on shore and a 
third obliged to put back. Repeated trials have proved that 
none of the packets can, in beating to windward, keep way 
with the Phoenix. But when the violence of the wind compels 
them to reef their sails the difference becomes still greater. 
No wind whatever has yet stopt the steamboat's progress." 
However, even this instance was not wholly convincing in 
1811 ; subscriptions came in but slowly and it was not until 
a year later that a new Delaware boat was built. 

An event in the colonel's life was the issue of a second 
patent to Fulton, dated February 9, 1811, and making the 
colonel gasp with astonishment when he read it. In addition 
to repeating his basic claim to the right to build long, 
narrow craft, Fulton made assertions which startled all 

I claim, as my invention and exclusive right, the combination 
of a steam engine with sails to drive a boat, I being the first 
who have done so and proved by practice the utility of the 
union of the two powers of wind and steam. Hence, as a boat 
may be rigged a variety of ways, my invention is not for any 
particular rig, but for the discovery and proof by practice 
of the importance of using sail with a steam engine to drive 
a boat. . . . 

I claim as my invention, to place the tiller or steering wheel, 
and pilot and steersman, further forward in steam boats than 
is usual in other vessels ; the necessity of which is, that, the 
boat long and the deck crowded with passengers, the pilot 
could not see forward unless near the middle of the deck. 
Hence, anyone who moves a steersman further forward in a 
steam boat than its usual in other vessels shall be considered 
as using this part of my invention in the convenient arrange* 
ment of steam boats. 


Others than Stevens were staggered too. Before the patent 
was issued, Thornton had written Fulton: "I cast my eye 
accidentally over your claim to rigging a steamboat with 
sails. I had one rigged schooner-fashion in the year 1792. 
The idea in the conclusion of your explanation, of restrain- 
ing anyone from building a long boat, is unworthy of you 
or of my objections." In a letter to Benjamin Say, another 
former partner in Philadelphia, Thornton declared that 
"Mr. Fulton is for engrossing not only all the profits but 
likewise all the honors of the invention of steamboats." In 
fact, the whole Thornton correspondence is full of such ex- 
coriations of Fulton as "an imposter" as Colonel Stevens 
never permitted himself. For his part, although he never 
conceded to Fulton a monopoly of invention, he often openly 
spoke of the Clermont as "the first useful steam boat," by 
which he meant the first vessel run as a useful, commercial 
proposition. Where credit was due Fulton, the colonel was 
quite sportsman enough to pay it ; but he found the patent 
in question an exceedingly difficult mouthful to swallow. 
The "long boat" was certainly the "property" of any one; 
the so-called "Durham" boats, for instance, were in con- 
stant use and built in just the ratio of length to beam that 
Fulton claimed as his invention. The claim of any individual 
to such a ratio was quite untenable; Fulton's merely served 
to make negotiations with him still more difficult. This the 
colonel discovered when he took up with the monopolists, 
by letter dated February 28, 1811, the matter of his new 
ferry-lease from the city of New York : 

I have obtained ... a lease, from the Corporation, of the 
Hoboken Ferry for the term of fourteen years on condition 
of putting a Steam boat on the ferry in two years. I am ready 
to make you any compensation you desire for your patent 


right, &c. I therefore trust you will not put it in the power 
of any Company to defeat the good intentions of the Corpo- 
ration for the public accommodation, besides involving me in 
a litigation which, terminate as it may, cannot benefit you but 
may prove ultimately very injurious to the establishment of 
your rights. It is unquestionably in your power to settle this 
business yourselves. At all events, I am fully determined to 
make no arrangement with the Paulus Hook Company. 

The lease was dated February 5. A few weeks later the 
Paulus Hook Company also obtained a lease, in their case 
covering only the ferry from the foot of Cortlandt Street to 
Jersey City. Thereupon it became a race to see which ferry 
should have the first steamboat, and in this connection the 
colonel wrote to Robert: 

I am at present in great want of your assistance here ; before 
I proceed too far with the engine for the ferry-boat, I wish 
to have your advice about the arrangement of the machinery. 
The keel, stem, stern, and floor timbers are already laid, and 
the boat builder promises to have her finished by the beggining 
of May. If, therefore, you can safely trust the boat to the 
management of the Captain and James Lee for a short time, I 
wish you come on immediately on the receipt of this. 

With Robert's frequent help the work progressed at 
top speed and finally brought the colonel out the winner of 
the race. Early in the fall the new craft was christened 
Juliana, in honor of the little twin-screw boat of 1804. The 
ferry authority from the New York Corporation had been 
sublet to David Godwin at $1000 a year, with the proviso 
that "the said Stevens and his family pass and repass, fer- 
riage free, during the term." On September 18 Godwin's 
advertisement appeared : 

Mr Godwin respectfully acquaints the citizens of New York 
and the public at large that he has commenced running a steam 


boat on the Hoboken Ferry, of large and convenient size, and 
capable of affording accommodations to a very extensive 

The boat moves with uncommon speed and facility, and 
starts from the usual ferry-stairs, at the Corporation wharf, 
foot of Vesey Street, New York, where passages can be taken 
at any hour. 

After so many years of effort on the Hudson, it seems 
entirely fitting that the colonel's craft should have started 
the first regularly running steam ferry service in America — 
the first in the world, for the matter of that. True, the 
modern Buffalo or Hopatcong, of a still more "large and 
convenient size," might be able to hoist the Juliana in on 
deck. For all that, they and the other members of the fleet 
that shuttles ceaselessly across the river are only following 
the courses she originally set. For a season or two she was 
to be unmolested. Proud of her, the colonel had invited 
New York's Common Council to make a special trip of 
inspection. The council minutes for Wednesday, October 11, 
bear this entry : 

A report of several members who, on the invitation of John 
Stevens, Esq, crossed the river in the Hoboken steam ferryboat, 
expressing their appreciation of the same, was received and 
ordered to be filed. 

Press comments were similar to one in "The Columbian" : 

Steamboats are rapidly getting into the full tide of suc- 
cessful experiment in this country. Last week, one of Col. 
Stevens' ferry-boats, employed by Mr Godwin, of Hoboken, 
was started into operation, and yesterday made 16 trips back 
and forth from that place to this city, with a probable average 
of 100 passengers each trip. 

Her machinery, we understand, is somewhat different from 
that of the North River boats, and we presume she sails con- 


siderably faster than any other heretofore constructed in our 

Speed was the most gratifying element in the success of 
the Juliana; nothing so pleased the colonel as her being able 
to double Fulton's estimate of "7 or 8 trips in one day." 
Whenever opportunity offered, the Juliana was given a 
brush with anything else on the river. One such race, after 
she began her season of 1812, was described in "The New 
York Evening Post": 

On Wednesday, the Hope started at her usual hour of 
5 o'clock P.M. for Albany, and was met as she passed the Cor- 
poration Wharf by the Juliana, the little steam Ferryboat 
plying between Hoboken and this city. But as the Hope then 
made a stop to take in some passengers, the Juliana sheered 
out into the river to prevent her getting too far ahead of the 
Hope; and when the Hope again got in motion, the Juliana 
was ahead of her perhaps 50 yards. As the tide was running 
down very strong, the Hope kept in as close as she could to 
the wharves and, getting into an eddy tide below the Fort, 
whilst the Juliana was running in the strength of the current, 
the Hope gained very perceptibly on her antagonist, so that 
when the Juliana got opposite the Fort, there were not 30 
yards between them. But this was a very short-lived triumph ; 
for, the moment the Hope, in passing the Fort, began to feel 
the influence of the ebb tide, she lost ground and, by the time 
the Juliana had reached the lower end of the wharf at the State 
Prison, she was not less than 250 yards ahead of the Hope. 
The distance between the Fort and the lower end of the State 
Prison Wharf does not exceed one mile. To gain 220 yards 
in the distance of one mile is certainly very good going, espe- 
cially when the great difference in the lengths of the two boats 
is taken into consideration, and prove very decisively that 
there must be a great superiority in the construction of the 
machinery on board the Juliana. 

But, as the Juliana now not only reigns victorious on the 
waters of the Hudson, but may be said to have even distanced 


the triumphant Hope, the lovers of the sport will probably not 
very soon be gratified with any more Steam Boat races. 

Apart from racing, the Juliana, during the time she was 
permitted to run, had good success in service. One season's 
receipts were set down as $4308, with an item of "$210 for 
a thousand cattle." As an encouragement to passengers, the 
colonel, with the assent of New York, erected a new dock 
and floating stairs opposite the old Washington Market. 
He was out for every possible success at this moment, be- 
cause his eye had just fallen upon a new figure, rapidly 
growing into the shape of another steamboat competitor — 
no less a personage than Colonel Aaron Ogden, former aide- 
de-camp to Hamilton and distinguished for such Revolu- 
tionary services as leading the assault at Yorktown. From 
Perez Rowley of the coach lines the Colonel got wind of 
Ogden's plan to run stages from Bristol to connect with the 
Phoenix and the Raritan, but more complete information 
came at first hand in a communication showing a singular 
distaste for the first letter in the alphabet : 

March 11th. 

I do not expect thet my steem Boet will be reddy to run be- 
fore the first of September next, but as she is now actuelly 
begun, I have been anxious to see or heer from you, on the 
subject, in order thet we may come to a perfect understending. 

I ought not to, neither cen I have eny motive for opposition 
to your Boet, but on the other hend, I heve, personelly, the 
strongest wishes thet you should derive all thet profit there- 
from which, in my opinion, you so highly merit. My neturel, & 
only aim, is to esteblish by Elizebeth Town Point and, from 
a steem boet there, to a steem boet on the Delewere, easy, 
cheep, and daily communication between the cities. 

Confiding in the decleretions which you heve mede, thet your 
Boet should join in any suiteble arrangements therefor, when- 
ever a Steem Boet should be established at the Point, & thet 


your Boet in thet case, if not sooner, should run daily up and 
down the river, I heve not, since I hed the pleasure of seeing 
you with Mr Mcllvaine, progressed in any measures on the 
Delewere, witing for your ultimate conclusion on this heed, 
considering thet none such has yet been made. 

In respect to steges, I have made an arrangement, already, 
for one single line only, reserving to myself the esteblishment 
of such further lines as mey appeer proper. This line will be 
reddy to start as soon as an arrangement cen be mede between 
a Steem Boet from the Point & a Steem Boet on the Delewere, 
or perhaps sooner if you shell, in the meentime, find it to your 
interest to run daily up and down the river from eny place 
you mey select at eny hours. 

Be assured, Sir, thet I have no other wish, then thet you 
should give to the subject the consideretion thet it deserves, 
and if you should find your interest, which I sincerely hope you 
may, in promoting these contemplated arrangements, so far as 
mey concern your Boet, it will give [me] greet pleasure. 

No definite arrangement to meet Ogden's stages appears 
to have been made. It hardly could have been made, because 
the colonel and Robert, in view of Ogden's new steamboat, 
were pushing fresh efforts to make the Phoenijc too fast and 
too comfortable for any competition on the river. Robert 
spent the whole spring in making improvements, most of 
which he reported to his father. 

I am altering the passage, from the kitchen to the cabin, 
to the other side of the boat; which will, by fastening the 
gangway in front, prevent strangers from going to the en- 
gine. . . . The gards in front of the wheels are finished . . . 
made of oak 13 inches deep and 5 inches thick at top, for 4 
inches, then chamfered away on the inside to 2 inches at the 
bottom. . . . 

I would have written yesterday, but the coppersmith was at 
work on the crooked pipe in front of the boiler and, as he 
confessed he did not understand this kind of job-work, I was 
afraid to trust him alone with it, for fear of spoiling it, which 


would have obliged me to go to Philadelphia for another. . . . 
I was obliged to discharge the coppersmiths we got from Tren- 
ton, as they did not appear to know anything beyond making 
a shell or tea-kettle. . . . 

The engine never worked so well before; it made from 22 to 
25 strokes per minute. The pressure varied from 4 to 9 pounds 
per inch. The cylinder is well covered with carpeting which is 
surrounded with canvas, tight-laced and painted. The trem- 
bling of the boat is trifling to what it was last year — strap- 
ping the large knees that support half the weight of the wheels, 
with iron, has stopped the vibration that was felt over the whole 

The colonel's reply was one of the few letters of which he 
made no second draft. "Preserve this carefully" was the ad- 
monitory postscript he always added in such cases, and 
Robert was particular in doing as he was bid. 

April 7th 

. . . Your account of the success of the several improve- 
ments has gratified us all very much. Had you, however . . . 
suffered the feed-pipe, as I proposed, to have entered 5 or 6 
feet into the cylinder [drum] the noise would have been pre- 
vented and we should still have the advantage of introducing 
cold water into the lowest part of the boiler. . . . 

From what you say of the trembling ... I should suppose 
the passengers who were in her last year would be forcibly 
struck with the improvement. . . . 

You can inform the land-line that I have no objection to the 
arrangement . . . respecting the fare of Lines 1, 2, & 3. As 
to . . . South Amboy ... I leave it to you. . . . 

As to the plan of running the passengers no further than 
Princeton, it meets my entire approbation. ... If they have 
a just idea of their true interest, no one of the concern [stage- 
men] but Shuff could possibly be opposed. It would obviate 
completely the difficulties we had last year. All night work 
would be avoided, except when . . . [Phoenix or Raritan] 
have an uncommonly long passage, and little or no time would 


be lost on the whole passage. ... Of more material conse- 
quence to us is [it] that passengers would have no motive 
for quitting at Trenton, which they frequently did last year, 
whilst others were deterred . . . from fear of night work be- 
tween Trenton and Bordentown [on land], as the road was 
represented to be dangerous. Whilst we continue to run 
through, we have little or no chance of picking up way-pas- 
sengers, either at Trenton or Princeton, as very few would 
be induced to subject themselves to the inconvenience and 
expense of being a night on the road and travelling a bad road 
in the dark. . . . By this arrangement, nearly all the passen- 
gers from Princeton and Trenton would prefer the steamboat 
route. . . . Starting from Bordentown at 8, instead of 7, more 
time would be allowed . . . people from the country to come 
in. ... A great thing for Rowley and I should suppose Gulick 
would be in favor of it. . . . 

Mr Fulton has at last found out that my patents will be 
of great value to him in his suit against the Albanians, and he 
yesterday had the modesty to request me to make him an 
assignment of my patent in toto, he re-conveying it to me 
after the suit is determined. But — two words to that bar- 
gain ! . . . 

J. S. 

P. S. I wish you would say whether you want Jackson and 
his wife. He wishes to go as cook. Yours, Rachel Stevens. 

The assignments of patents were wanted by Fulton in 
what has already been referred to as the suit with the 
"pendulum geniuses," whose boat was the Hope. The colonel 
told Fulton such an assignment was "totally inadmissible," 
but added that should he "conceive it will be of any service" 
he might use the colonel's name in the proceedings. As a 
matter of record, Robert was called as an expert witness 
upon the similarities and differences between the Albany 
craft on one side, the Clermont and Phoenix on the other. 
So strong was Livingston's New York position that he was 
allowed to confiscate the Hope, which he had done when she 


had her race with the Juliana. The case was a test one, serv- 
ing to reaffirm the monopoly's hold upon the Hudson. 

While it was in preparation and in progress, the colonel 
was pushing his plan for boats to Baltimore and between 
Wilmington and Philadelphia. In the Maryland city he 
published an estimate of the probable revenue and the pros- 
pects for success. 

The average number of passengers pr. diem going thro' 
between Philadelphia and Baltimore cannot be estimated at 
less than 30 each way. Between Philadelphia and Wilmington, 
not less than ten, making in all forty each way. 

80 passengers at, say, $1.25 each, $100 pr. diem. Expenses, 
say $25, leaves a clear revenue of $75. . . . 

The Boat, say, runs 280 days. This gives $21,000 per an- 
num ... on a capital of $25,000, equal to 85 per cent. . . . 

Steam Boats have been found ... so easy and agreeable 
a mode of travelling that . . . the effect has been to increase 
. . . travellers to a surprising degree. In addition . . . the 
rapid increase of population and wealth, daily taking place 
. . . will probably, in a short time, more than double the 
number. . . . The two steamboats between New York and 
Albany will this season clear $50,000. . . . 

It appears that a company is formed . . . for running boats 
on Lake Champlain. ... A Steam Boat Line would thus be 
formed from Montreal to Baltimore, 600 miles, with less than 
100 miles of land carriage. 

In making his appeal to Philadelphia, the colonel "gave 
a loose to language." Apparently, civic pride was the big 
factor in that city's progress, for it was this that he strove 
to reach. But he first gave the citizens a picture of the possi- 
bilities of steamboat travel : 

If we view this important invention philosophically, we must 
be led to anticipate the most happy effects. It is calculated in 
the most eminent degree to promote an unreserved and free 


intercourse among persons of every description in society. The 
lawyer, the physician, the divine, the merchant, the fanner, 
the mechanic, the Belle and the beau, the serious and the gay, 
all meet on board a steam boat. The opportunity and facility 
afforded her for social intercourse is nowhere else to be found. 
Freed from the restraint and pomp of formal parties, a happy 
flow and interchange of sentiments prevail, so congenial to our 
republican institutions. Our time while on board may be profit- 
ably and pleasantly spent, in reciprocally giving and receiv- 
ing instruction and amusement. Thus will this delightful mode 
of travelling have a powerful tendency to enlighten the un- 
derstandings and to polish and refine the manners of our citi- 
zens. For this ingenious and highly useful invention we are 
indebted solely to American genius. . . . 

We are now, as it were, just rising from the imbecilities of 
childhood to an astonishing display of vigor and energy in 
every walk of science and art. To give only a single instance, 
the medical school in this city at present consists of upwards 
of 400 students. The architectural improvements daily aris- 
ing and soliciting our attention as we pass thro' every part of 
this flourishing city are truly wonderful. Let us not, then, in 
this rapidly advancing state of a career so truly noble, incur 
the disgraceful opprobrium of suffering the further extension 
on our waters of this useful invention of Steam Boats to de- 
pend for its completion upon foreign aid. Shall it be said that 
the apathy and want of public spirit amongst us is such that, 
to effect the useful and laudable purpose of facilitating the in- 
tercourse between this city and the city of Baltimore, we are 
to be indebted to the citizens of New York ? No ! Let every 
citizen who can conveniently spare $50, come forward and 
subscribe and insure to himself the enjoyment of the pleasing 
reflection of having contributed his mite towards the accom- 
plishment of an object so highly useful and honorable to his 

Fulsome, perhaps, but not at all a bad forecast of the 
familiar rush-season on to-day's liners. To the colonel — and 
to his alter ego, Robert — there was no limit to the possi- 


bilities of transportation. Let Fulton express, as he did, 
nothing but a widely held opinion when in this year he wrote 
Thornton that he "could not see by what means a boat, 
loaded with 100 tons merchandise, can be driven six miles 
an hour in still water." The colonel, convinced that he knew 
better, read the chapter on what had already been accom- 
plished as the mere introduction to the history of steam 

In the closing weeks of 1811, war with Britain became 
imminent. The nation, in the phrase current at Washington 
during the last war of 1917, was in "a delightful chaos of 
unpreparedness." Reflecting upon this, Colonel Stevens con- 
ceived a new use for some of his acres and made a proposal 
to the President. 

December 30th, 1811 

The Great importance of the subject . . . must be my 
apology. ... A bill respecting the naval establishment has 
been reported in the House. . . . Among other things, it is 
provided that money be appropriated for the purpose of es- 
tablishing a dock yard in such central and convenient place 
as the President . . . may designate. . . . 

An inspection of the map . . . will shew at once the superior 
advantages of the port and harbour of New York ... as a 
site for a public dock-yard. ... It will . . . become a ques- 
tion of much importance to designate the particular spot. . . . 

In a conversation I had a year or two ago with Colonel 
Williams, he . . . finally concurred in [the] opinion that 
Hoboken was in every respect the most eligible position, both 
for a dock-yard . . . and for a safe and accessible harbour 
for stationing ships of war. Permit me, Sir, to state some of 
the reasons . . . [for] a preference ... to the present po- 
sition ... at the Wallabout. 

With respect to facility of access there ... is no compari- 
son. . . . From the extreme rapidity of the tides in the East 
River — the narrowness and crookedness of the channel, and the 
multiplicity of vessels constantly passing — there is always more 


or less detention . . . and frequently danger, passing in and 
out. . . . When the wind blows from the west — a fair wind 
for going out the bay to sea — vessels are frequently detained 
for days or thrown on shore. . . . During the winter these 
difficulties are much increased. . . . During severe frosts, 
there is frequently an interruption of navigation . . . for 
weeks. . . . The ice, coming down the Hudson is forced to 
the eastern shore, and the flood . . . making up the East 
river an hour earlier draws this ice up with it. From [all this] 
Hoboken is almost totally exempt. . . . The navigation . . . 
can never be interrupted by ice, except for a few hours at a 
time. . . . The Hudson River being completely frozen over as 
low as Hoboken ... is so rare . . . that for a century it 
has happened only twice — in the winters of 1740 and 1780. 
Westerly winds prevail and drive the ice over to the opposite 
shore. ... A clear passage is left to come in or go out. . . . 
So wide and safe is the channel that a ship of any size can 
always beat out and in against a head wind. . . . 

This is of importance ... in obtaining supplies of timber 
and other naval stores. The timber coming . . . down the 
Hudson can be deposited in rafts . . . whereas to the East 
River . . . the constant practice is to break them up and take 
them round in detached pieces. . . . 

Hoboken is an Island consisting of about 300 acres, sur- 
rounded on three sides by water and connected the main land 
by a salt marsh half a mile in width. The commanding eminence 
of Castle Point, near the middle of it, and the facility of ob- 
taining succour from the City of New York, must ever insure 
it's safety against . . . attack. . . . The bank in front of 
the river ... is sufficiently elevated to furnish ample mate- 
rial for filling wharves, &c. . . . By sinking some blocks off 
the Point, an effectual protection against the ebb ice may be 
made, and any number of ships may be safely moored inside 
these blocks ... in readiness to go to sea. . . . 

At a distance of a quarter-mile from shore — by a very 
gradual slope — the depth of water does not exceed 40 feet. 
Capacious basins for the reception and storage of timber are 
already found and may be enlarged to any extent. . . . 

Colonel Williams . . . has acquired ... a correct knowl- 



edge of the port and harbour. . . . He has it in his power to 
furnish the most authentic information. 

Beyond an acknowledgment from the secretary of the 
navy, no action was taken. In the national emergency the 
colonel, if he had not presented part of Hoboken to the 
Government, would have sold it — or leased it — at a figure 
which would now be ridiculous. Had the navy yard been 
established there, the disadvantages to private commerce 
would be obvious. On the other hand, there would not exist 
the present dishonorable situation in which the Hoboken 
docks — commandeered with perfect propriety as a war 
measure of 1917 — remain, without a penny of payment, in 
the possession of the Government as a base for its operations 
in competition with private shipping firms. Colonel Stevens's 
plan might have prevented this. What he would have said of 
it to-day may be guessed from what he said in 1795 about 
the failure of Congress to provide for redeeming Revolu- 
tionary paper money : "The reasons they assign, in support 
of this, appear to me frivolous and irreconcilable to princi- 
ples of common honesty !" 

In considering the "bold eminence" upon which his house 
stood, the colonel always thought of this as an American 
Gibraltar. When Juet's "White greene cliffe" came to be 
called Castle Point, the name was really a corruption of the 
colonel's earlier term — the Point of Castile. After a discus- 
sion with Jonathan Williams of its possible use by the nation 
during the war of .1812, the colonel wrote without en- 
thusiasm : 

It will readily occur to you that the occupation of the 
grounds in front of my country residence, as a fort or garri- 
son, would affect very much the value of my property. ... It 
will not appear surprising that I should acquiesce in the meas- 


lire with reluctance. . . . But, as you conceive this position of 
some importance ... I am induced to make . . . the fol- 
lowing proposals: 

I will convey to the United States . . . immediately in 
front of my dwelling house ... a semi-ellipse of nine hun- 
dred feet in front and two hundred and forty feet diameter 
. . . with the liberty of a road or passageway . . . down to 
a landing where the bathing-house stands at present. Also, a 
piece of land adjoining on the north side . . . extending . . . 
one hundred and twenty feet; thence, at right angles, to the 
brow of the hill. . . . 

1st In Fee Simple, for $10,000 
2nd Lease for any specified term for $8,000 
3rd Lease for an annual rental of $1,000, with $2,500 
premium in advance. 

Much as I am attached to a spot, in the improvement of 
which I have spent so much time, labour, and expense, . . . 
I should prefer disposing of my house and the ground about 
it — say, five to twenty acres — at a fair valuation. . . . 

The little-navy policy of the day made it evident to the 
colonel that much of the fighting would be close to shore if 
not actually on land. This naturally led him to the consid- 
eration of the problem of getting troops from point to point. 
The Phoenix was demonstrating the possibilities of steam to 
the proprietors of the old Union Line of Philadelphia, New- 
castle, and Baltimore packets; with these gentlemen the 
colonel entered into a preliminary agreement. He had al- 
ready pointed out the dreadful condition of the roads be- 
tween Philadelphia and Wilmington, declaring that water 
transportation would be far more comfortable and hence 
more popular. To make connections with the steamboats, he 
suggested that a turnpike be built from Elkton to Wilming- 
ton, thus reducing the land-carriage in distance and provid- 
ing for considerably greater speed. 

MacDonald & Son, Henry Craig, George Hand, Levi 


Hollings worth, and James Le Fevre were among those who 
were associated with the colonel. As announced in the papers 
of January 18, their contract provided that the boats should 
be run under the patents of both Stevens and Fulton, and 
warned off violators of either. Emphasis was laid upon the 
fact that the proposed line would result in steamboats "from 
Albany to Baltimore, a distance of 350 miles." Mechanical 
specifications for boat and engine covered a craft of 130- 
foot keel and 20-foot beam, with an engine of 28-inch cylin- 
der and a boiler "sufficiently large and strong to keep up the 
steam to 8 pounds on the circular inch." The shares, at a 
hundred dollars each, were a thousand in number. For many 
years to come the Union Line, afterward transferred to the 
Hudson, would remain a great Stevens interest. 

With the same George Hand the colonel made a prelimi- 
nary arrangement to build a steam ferry across the Delaware 
at Philadelphia, only to be greatly disappointed when the 
necessary funds were not immediately subscribed. Horace 
Binney, as usual, was the representative through whom he 
urged that a more definite contract be executed. In midsum- 
mer he wrote to Binney : 

The ferry boat now plying between Camden and your city 
is by far the best and approaches nearest to mine. But, to 
prove her great inferiority, it need only be stated that, with 
an engine of the same size and with the advantages of greater 
length, her velocity is much less than that of the Juliana; 
whilst the consumption of fuel is nearly double. In the con- 
struction of another ferry-boat, I should make considerable 
improvements, as I have improved' upon the Phoenix. ... As 
there are three or four ferries across the river to your city, 
the ferry which could obtain an exclusive right to my ma- 
chinery would have a great and manifest advantage. . . . 
These circumstances may be stated to Messrs Hand, Negus, 


Livingston's figure of the proved steamboat as "the egg 
stood on end" was an apt one. It was apparently the opinion 
of the good Philadelphians that they could proceed success- 
fully without either Stevens or Fulton. A designer somewhat 
indefinitely known as "the Englishman Coxen" per- 
suaded many to join in his enterprise, with an engine which 
at first appeared to be an infringement upon the Phoenix. 
Later, instead of bringing suit, the colonel concluded to 
save his money for a new fast craft and make with her his 
bid for the increasing trade. For the present the Delaware 
ferry might get along without him. 

The new boat was contracted for with Nicholas Van 
Dusen, the shipwright of Kensington "in the Northern 
Liberties of the City of Philadelphia." Before the end of this 
year (1812) she was finished with "One main deck, flush 
fore and aft, a hundred and thirty feet six inches in keel, 
twenty-one feet beam, and seven feet eight inches depth 
from the floor to the underside of the beams." In addition, 
she had other features. 

. . . Masts, bowsprits, topmast, yards and capstan, with a 
figurehead at bow and carved work on the stern. Stanchions 
and hand rails of oak. . . . Seats, where required on deck 
. . . supported by wrought iron cranes. . . . Two kelsons the 
whole length of the machinery, 2% feet high. . . . Hatch over 
the boiler, covering the machinery. . . . 

The ladies' cabbin . . . furnished with curled maple pannels 
and doors, the seats and surbases of mahogany, and the whole 
varnished. Two* tiers of berths across the forward end of the 
cabbin, a water-closet on one side and a closet with shelves 
on the other. The main cabbin . . . finished in a handsome 
stile, with a berth at each side in the stern. ... A Bar . . . 
fitted up with shelves, draws, &c. . . . 

The kitchen with two double berths . . . and fitted with 
shelves. . . . Sealed on top and sides, with a double parti- 


tion between it and the ladies' cabbin. . . . The forepeak fitted 
with berths for the hands. . . . 

Staircases with hand-railings down into the main . . . and 
the ladies' cabbin. . . . Windows in the cabbin five or six feet 
asunder, thirty inches deep by twenty-two wide, with blinds 
and sashes of four lights each. Small windows on each side of 
the machinery. Windows in the stern. The sides and top on 
each side of the machinery, sealed. A small skylight in the 
kitchen and patent lights in the gangway. Steps from the 
deck ... to the machinery. ... A patent rudder. . . . 

A Hogshead of rum, furnished by Stevens at the launching. 

Such was the Philadelphia, soon to be affectionately 
known up and down the river as "Old Sal." A partner in 
building her was Major Theodosius Fowler, secretary of 
the Cincinnati; a family connection since his daughter 
Maria had married James Stevens. In design the ship was 
largely Robert's, whose pet and pride she became. It was in 
her that he first introduced the method, afterward generally 
adopted, of replacing nails in frames and planking by stout 
bolts; in her, too, he inaugurated the custom of installing 
stiffening knees of wood and iron, inside the frames — a great 
advance in overcoming that shattering vibration from which 
all early steamboats suffered. As to general equipment and 
appointments, he was determined that she should outshine 
every rival. "I hope," he wrote home from Trenton, "that 
Mama will be able to get the china in New York, as she is 
a much better judge than either the Capt. or myself, and 
would get it cheaper. If she cannot, I wish you would let me 
know, that I may get it when I go down." When Rachel had 
carried out this commission, Robert was concerned that she 
should "have it well packed before she sends it, as the roads 
between Trenton and Brunswick are very rough." Mean- 
time, he himself "purchased the table cloths, tables, and 
glasses" and hurried the work of making curtains for the 


cabins until he could report that these were "to be finished 
so as to come on Friday." Completed, the new craft gave him 
a speed of eight miles an hour and very soon took her place 
at the head of the procession of Delaware steamboats. 


The Hudson and the Delaware had become object-lessons 
for sailormen. Among the old-timers who read the signs cor- 
rectly was Elihu Bunker, known as a hard driver of sailing 
packets, but a tactful man in his appeal to the colonel for a 
berth as captain of the Phoenix. "I am anxious," he declared, 
"that your line (the only proper one, in my opinion, that 
can be on the Delaware) should be managed with Honor to 
the Proprietors and the Establishment. In order to have the 
reputation of the Boat well established, she must have an 
Expensive Steward and Waiters." He wanted to work for 
such a line, but, "since the dinner apparatus, breakfast and 
Tavern must be at my expense, I cannot accept less than 
$1000 a year." At this figure, the colonel might "depend 
upon his Exertions to promote the Interest of the Line as 
far as lay in his power," while he would also "take care of 
the boats during the winter season when they are not run- 
ning." The colonel, however, would not pay more than $600, 
for which he secured the services of a certain Captain 
Abisha Jenkins on the Phoenix. 

Another captain employed at this time was George Abbott 
of Trenton, engaged by Robert to superintend a work which 
he had himself begun about a year earlier and would for some 
time continue — dredging the Delaware. Since this river, like 
the Hudson, formed the boundary between two States, the 
colonel held that both Pennsylvania and New Jersey should 
be consulted. Both, perhaps, might help him with appropria- 
tions. Authority to proceed was not difficult to get from New 



Jersey, although Governor Bloomfield wrote the colonel 
that an accompanying bill for a state lottery to provide 
funds had failed in the legislature. Pennsylvania was less 
amenable when the colonel, through William J. Duane, 
offered his petition and his bill. Co-signers with their father 
were Robert and James, in a long explanation of the project. 
The removal of the bar at Periwigg Island, they declared, 
"could not fail to be advantageous to a very large propor- 
tion of the Commonwealth, who are interested in the trans- 
portation of produce, lumber, or coal upon the Delaware to 
the market at Philadelphia." If the channel were cut, as 
proposed, four feet deep and sixty feet wide, "all persons 
descending the river from above the Falls of Trenton, or 
ascending above the Falls, would be greatly benefited." 
Under these circumstances, it appeared to the petitioners 
entirely fair that, in return for opening the channel and 
keeping it open, they should be granted an "exclusive 

What the colonel wanted was the sole right to carry pas- 
sengers by steamboat to and from points between the bar 
and the falls — a distance of about three miles. This, he ad- 
mitted, would amount to an exclusive privilege to carry 
travelers between New York and Philadelphia because, the 
channel once opened, all would prefer his route. But he 
offered what he held to be good reasons why this would not 
result in "destroying the competition now existing on the 

Although seven or eight steamboats, at different times, since 
the memorialists first introduced them on the Delaware, have 
been employed to carry passengers to and from Burlington, 
Bristol, and Bordentown, not one . . . except those of the 
memorialists, have ever passed the bar above Bordentown. 
Their owners have found it advantageous to confine their car- 


rying to points below. So there will be no greater competition 
by suffering the bar to remain than by removing it. . . . 

A turnpike road has been made between Bordentown and 
South Amboy . . . which makes the whole route twelve miles 
nearer through Bordentown than by Trenton and Brunswick. 
In addition, a steamboat is engaged to ply between South 
Amboy and New York. These circumstances give the route 
through Bordentown such advantages as may destroy the 
Trenton route unless the bar is removed. By steamboat to 
Bristol, thence to Trenton by land, has gained a great acces- 
sion of strength. On account of the frequent interruptions for 
want of water at the bar, town stages have been established 
from Trenton to Bristol, which have more than divided the 
business with the steamboat. Even if the bar be removed, the 
distance from Bristol to Trenton by land is only nine miles, 
by water, fifteen. 

With regard to "goods or other commodities" carried in 
the steamboats of others between Trenton and the bar, no 
restriction was asked. The colonel wanted "no undue advan- 
tage . . . and would be highly gratified if the two states 
would, at the expense of the public treasuries, relieve him 
of opening the bar and keeping it open to all steamboats." 
Failing the possibility of such action, he still believed that 
much public good would result from dredging; if he did 
the work, he should, he felt, be allowed this privilege as com- 
pensation. That the State of Pennsylvania did not agree 
with him is evident from the fact that her records do not 
show any action taken upon Duane's bill. The colonel went 
ahead without it. 

A dredging machine was brought down from Philadelphia 
and it was this that Robert turned over to Captain Abbott, 
who reported progress to the colonel direct. 

In my last I informed you that we had commenced opening 
the Channel ... by Ploughing, &c, with prospects of pro- 
curing Colver's [?] machine from Philadelphia. . . . We have 


accordingly got it up. It requires 5 or 6 men to work it. In 
the soft surface, the scoop filled the 1st stroke, but, the 
harder places, 2 or 3 strokes were made before the surface 
could be broken. Tho' it appears to move slowly, it is certain 
in the effect. I think there's a fair prospect of opening the 
channel 15 or 18 feet wide thro' the whole of it by November 
— provided our money holds out. We shall continue to work 
with our horse-scoop on the second or middle bar. The expense 
of Colver's machine is five dollars for each day she is worked. 

The machine [runs a later report] sank a number of times 
and produced a great deal of trouble. At last we got her tight 
and opened to a good depth on the upper flat. We raised and 
took away a number of large stumps and several long trunks 
of trees. ... A bar at the end of Periwigg remained to be 

We were moving the machine to do it when the cold suddenly 
came on, so as apparently to render it necessary to put 
the machine in winter quarters. The owner had previously 
demanded that, when done, we should return her to Phila- 

The other machine (horse) is too small. I wonder if your 
son could not construct one that would answer as well or better. 

Robert could, and did. His shovel, or scoop, was one of the 
many designs he made to meet some emergency, and it was 
never patented. Abbott had it in operation during the next 
season until, one day, the barge grounded; whereupon, to 
Robert's intense indignation, Abbott quit work and paid 
off all the men. Hiring new ones, Robert himself proceeded. 
Lamberton sloops frequently fouled the barge — deliberately, 
Robert contended, in order to claim damages. To get the 
better of them, he changed the method of anchoring, so as 
to leave more room, and then urged his father to sue every 
sloop that thereafter rammed him. To accommodate the 
passengers who objected to the temporary use of small boats 
to carry them over the shallows and alongside the steamboats, 


he built a long dock. By overcoming such obstacles as he 
met them, Robert finally had the channel dredged and 
serviceable. He thrived on obstacles. 

While the Philadelphia was building, the colonel's time 
was enlivened by a brisk interchange of letters, begun by 
Fulton on October 27, 1812 : 

I have just been informed by Mr Stoudenger that your fore- 
man, and with your knowledge, has been endeavouring to entice 
some of my workmen, who have gained experience in our 
shop, to go to work for you at Hoboken. I hope this is not true. 
But if so, and one man moves from my shop, even by his own 
voluntary act, I shall instantly insist on all the rights to which 
I am entitled in law & justice, and which have been encroached 
on in a manner that cannot be maintained. 

In his reply, dated the same day, the colonel was no less 
crisp : 

Your letter of this date is couched in terms so very offensive 
that I should not have deemed it incumbent upon me to have 
returned an answer, were it not that it is necessary and proper 
I should be informed explicitly what you mean when you say 
"I shall instantly insist on all the rights to which I am entitled 
in law and justice, and which have been encroached on in a 
manner that cannot be maintained." 

When I tell you that I have no knowledge of the circum- 
stance you mention respecting your workmen, be assured, Sir, 
that the very indecent threat contained in your letter has not, 
nor ever will have, any influence whatever on my conduct. 

At this, Fulton became slightly more explicit: 

That your foreman, or someone else working under you at 
Hoboken, did attempt to entice some of our workmen away, 
is a fact ; and, I was informed, with your knowledge ; hence my 
letter was a conditional one that, if by your knowledge or con- 
currence, I should insist on rights you have infringed. 


Your letter appears to imply that you have not encroached 
on my rights. It is time, however, that point should be settled 
by our counsel. You are running a steam boat without a license 
from my partner or me. When that boat was talked of, and 
long after the Paulus Hook was formed, the most which was 
contemplated was to carry foot-passengers. But horses, gigs, 
carriages, and cattle are carried, to the injury of the Paulus 
Hook Company, and in contempt of my United States Patent 
and Livingston and Fulton's State Grant. These, Sir, I be- 
lieve to be encroachments which cannot be maintained in 

My letter, although conditional, seems to have given you 
some offence. Your letters, last winter, to Mr Boyd, making 
yourself inventor of steamboats and I a mere cypher, had some- 
thing in them really offensive and extremely injurious, by 
raising a cabal against extending patents to twenty-one years ; 
by which you extremely injured me, and yourself through me, 
for your only protection is in the protection of my rights. 
This you will discern when suits arise on the Delaware or 

You had no claims on me, either as relation or friend, yet 
I came forward and granted you great privileges which I hoped 
you would at least see the policy of acknowledging and main- 
taining. But the arduous desire to be thought an inventor has 
kept you at constant war with Livingston and Fulton, and 
particularly with me, my interests, and your own through me. 
This you have evinced in your writings, conversations, and 
acts. But, Sir, here ends writing on this subject, on my part. 
When justice fails, the law must make up the deficiency. 

Unfortunately, the letters to Boyd, a congressman, cannot 
be found. Admitting his failure to keep a copy, the colonel 
insisted that Boyd, already opposed to any extension of pat- 
ents, had not been affected by what was simply a protest 
against an extension for Fulton alone, as "sole inventor" 
of steamboats. Sole right had always been Fulton's claim, 
and that the latter still regarded his own patents as basic 
for steamboats, irrespective of relative dates upon them, is 


plain enough from this last letter of Fulton's. Equally clear 
is it that he depended upon the New York courts to sup- 
port him — as, in fact, they generally did. "When justice 
fails, the law must make up the deficiency" is, perhaps, an 
unusual view. In this case, it was a pretty accurate one. 
The colonel knew perfectly well that any legal battle on 
New York territory would be, for him, a battle lost before 
it was begun. Without writing further to Fulton, he pro- 
ceeded to make the most of the existing opportunity to 
transport "horses, gigs, carriages, and cattle" at Hoboken. 
One probable cause of Fulton's irritation just then was 
the colonel's having torn a leaf out of the book of Hudson. 
If a monopoly there were within the law, why should he not 
find a similar opportunity elsewhere? Casting about for a 
field of operations from which, by his agreement of 1809, 
he was not already excluded, he presently decided upon 
North Carolina. If a southern connection with, say, Nor- 
folk could be established, the possibilities appeared great. 
Studying the geography and topography of the State, he 
went down the Cape Fear River to Smithville, and then 
visited Kingston, Beaufort, Swansborough, and Charleston. 
He planned to operate three boats, each 150 feet in length 
and 25 in beam; one on the Chesapeake Bay between 
Baltimore and Norfolk, one on the Albemarle and Pamlico 
sounds, and the third from Charleston, via Georgetown, to 
Kingston or some point on the Waggaman branch of the 
Pedee. This would involve a twenty-mile land-carriage from 
Norfolk to the Blackwater and an eighty-mile carriage from 
Kingston to Swansborough by way of Wilmington. With 
three boats making a run each way, every week, he expected 
to average two hundred passengers for the round trip. As to 
costs, it should be possible to carry each passenger from 
Philadelphia to Charleston, six hundred and ninety miles, 


for $43, a material gain upon the current stage fare of 

His new project would require a stock company with 
$200,000 in hundred-dollar shares, for building and operat- 
ing the boats, and yet investing 5 per cent, of the capital 
in public securities whose dividends could be applied to re- 
tiring the capital shares. For this he must have legislative 
authority, and he accordingly petitioned the North Caro- 
lina assembly for the exclusive right to run steamboats on 
the waters of the State. If granted such a right for twenty 
years, he would establish at least two steamboats; for each 
additional boat he asked an extension of five years, with the 
term not to exceed thirty years in all. Having sent in his 
petition, he was asked to amend it by promising, in case of 
his failing to start his own boats within two years, to 
"instruct and assist any persons willing and desirous to 
establish steamboats" in North Carolina ; he, by virtue of his 
patents, so far as these might be used, to share in any 
profits made. This clause added, the bill was passed by the 
legislature on December 24, 1812. 

In taking his agreement with Fulton and his own United 
States patents as a basis for his petition, he had reckoned 
not altogether wisely upon being undisturbed. Hardly had 
the engrossed copy of the bill been lodged in the state 
archives before he received an excited letter from Editor 
Lucas of "The Raleigh Minerva," to which he had become 
a subscriber. Lucas reported that a certain John Devereau 
De Lacy, acting as avowed agent of Fulton, had sent an 
open letter to the newspapers charging the colonel with 
obtaining his grant under false pretenses! Moreover, De 
Lacy, in urging the next legislature to eat the words of 
the last one and repeal the grant, declared that Fulton, 
intending suit, would file preliminary affidavits. 


Reference has already been made to the Morgan library 
manuscript, that long paper written in Fulton's hand yet 
invariably naming him in the third person. Whether he 
intended this for use by De Lacy or by Cadwalader Colden 
is not clear, but the language and the date — "Feb'y 1813" 
— make it evident that the paper represented part of his 
attempt to block the colonel's North Carolina enterprise. 
After briefly summarizing the colonel's efforts and dismiss- 
ing them all as negligible or as copies of "Mr. Fulton," the 
latter's claims to complete priority are set forth, with Mr. 
Fulton posing as Mr. Stevens's "benefactor" whom he would 
now "oppose and invade." In the same key, Oliver Evans is 
set aside as one who has "contrived to patent almost the 
whole machinery of mills and . . . written a book of dreams 
on steam-carriages." The "celebrated boats of Livingston 
and Fulton" are referred to, with some account of their 
plans for extending service to other waters. Success in pro- 
ducing "the first useful steamboat," says the manuscript, 
"required the fortunate circumstance of adequate genius 
and capital in the same person or persons, and they [Living- 
ston and Fulton] persevered to success." And the conclusion 
is that "these, my countrymen, are enterprises worthy of a 
great nation, the result of the virtuous labours of [two 
of our enterprising citizens struck out] Livingston and 

It was in this paper that Fulton made the two statements 
that throw the most light upon his conception of the Patent 
Law. "On 11 February, 1809," he writes, "Mr. Fulton re- 
ceived his first patent; on the 3rd of January, 1810, Mr. 
Stevens obtained a patent not for a steamboat but for a 
boiler and a particular combination of machinery and the 
before mentioned floats.^ Mr. Fulton's second patent, which 
is merely for some combinations in machinery, is dated 


"Feb'y 9, 1811." Apart from the obvious insinuation in 
Mr. Fulton's "receiving" his patent while Mr. Stevens 
"obtained" his, and quite apart from any question of the 
colonel's much earlier patents which are not mentioned, the 
words here set in italics perfectly illustrate Fulton's theory 
that ideas and formulas rather than actual machines were 
the objects of patent protection. This, with the chancellor's 
latitudinarianism in interpreting the Federal Constitution, 
really formed the basis of their whole quarrel with Colonel 
Stevens. At the moment of writing, three non-stop flights 
across the Atlantic have been made. By Fulton's standards, 
both Byrd and Chamberlin are distinctly infringers upon 
the rights of Lindbergh. How far Fulton pushed this point 
with the particular paper in question cannot be stated, 
because it bears no prints of the fingers through which it 
may have passed. One reference to it does appear in a book, 
but this was by a recent author who had not the contem- 
porary documents at hand and merely quoted its brief refer- 
ence to the experiments on the Seine. There is nothing to 
suggest for it any other purpose than the defeat of the 
colonel in Carolina. While Mr. Fulton was at work upon it, 
the colonel himself was writing to his son John Cox : 

Hoboken, February 19, 1813 
I have wished for some time ... to have commenced a cor- 
respondence with the Chancellor on a subject which nearly 
concerns us both and which requires to be considered dispas- 
sionately in all its bearings. Apprehension that his state of 
health might not admit of his attention to business, I now sum 
up for you what I could wish might be communicated to him, 
or not, according to circumstances at your discretion. 

In the month of October last, I received a very intemperate 
letter from Mr Fulton, a copy of which, with my answer, 
I . . . enclose. As Mr Fulton, in his reply, declines any fur- 
ther discussion and declares the law must decide between us, 


1 Pi BV** 


- ■»■» » ** rs ■ 

i \M 





I have deemed it proper to state . . . through you, what have 
been my impressions on this . . . subject. 

I have repeatedly, in conversation and in writing, declared 
unequivocally to the Chancellor and Mr Fulton, that I must 
and would have Steam Boats on the Hoboken Ferry ; that the 
accommodation of the public, independently of my own individ- 
ual interests, imperiously demanded this improvement ; that it 
could not be expected I would ever be induced to make a volun- 
tary sacrifice of such a valuable property ; but that I was 
ready to make them any compensation for their state and 
patent rights they should require. 

Accordingly, I . . . obtained a lease of the Ferry . . . for 
. . . fourteen years, on the express condition of establishing 
a Steam Boat. I have . . . had a . . . Boat running for these 
two seasons past . . . ; a sense of duty to the public, inde- 
pendently of other concerns, would compel me to support the 
establishment. However, rather than be involved in a suit with 
relations I so highly esteem, I now again repeat the offer 
... of paying such compensation ... as may in reason be 

In the meantime, in order to avoid all interference with Mr 
Fulton's patent, I shall . . . substitute a system of floats for 
which I have obtained a patent. ... It will then remain to 
be considered whether the immense emoluments derivable from 
the State law are to be jeopardized by entering into a contest 
on grounds so inauspicious. ... I hope that the Chancellor 
will not permit himself to be involved in a business so un- 
pleasant and, let me add, so very unpopular, in the prosecu- 
tion of which no benefit can result, but possibly much injury. 

A timely letter. Exactly one week after it was written 
Robert R. Livingston was dead. The personal loss to the 
colonel was great, for, often as they had been in disagree- 
ment and diametrically opposed as were their views upon the 
Constitution, still, the chancellor and the colonel had con- 
trived to keep on terms for the most part friendly. After 
all, they were brothers-in-law of long standing, cherishing 


for each other an admiration which the colonel was never 
slow in expressing. By his nephew and namesake, as well as 
by the other Stevens children, the chancellor's death was 
deeply mourned. With him, unfortunately, died all real hope 
of compromising the fight over Hudson River steamboating 
and the new struggle over Carolina. 

With Robert L. Livingston, representing the heirs to the 
chancellor's share in steamboats, the colonel did discuss a 
possible settlement of the Carolina question out of court. 
Extremely anxious to keep the Juliana running, in order to 
hold his fourteen-year lease, the colonel thought he now had 
something to exchange for Fulton's promise to leave the 
Hoboken ferry unmolested. "Since the public weal," he in- 
sisted, "demands a continuance of these boats, with what 
face can the Paulus Hook Company now come forward to 
demand of the heirs of Chancellor Livingston to stop them? 
The shortness of the ferry, and the great superiority of their 
boats in size, must forever secure them against effectual 
competition. And to wish to increase the emoluments, by 
effecting the ruin of the Hoboken Ferry would be conduct 
too disreputable to be expected." This, however, was the 
object soon made perfectly apparent. 

For peace on the ferry, the colonel offered a share in 
his Carolina grant. After some discussion with Robert L. 
Livingston, he drafted a tentative agreement which he en- 
closed in a letter. 

Hoboken, May 15, 1813 
According to promise, I have drafted and made out two 
fair copies such ... as I presume must be perfectly satis- 
factory. I have relinquished all the waters of the United States 
and substituted covenants, in the place of a simple recogni- 
tion, which bind me much more effectually. To insist, therefore, 
on such recognition, for the attainment of no valuable pur- 
pose whatever, would be not merely indelicate, it would be un- 


generous, cruel, and unjust. I hope and trust you will not 
suffer an accommodation of differences so essential to our 
mutual interests to be defeated on grounds of no real im- 

The agreement itself gave him the right to proceed with 
steam upon the Hudson, using such of Fulton's patents as he 
wished to use, provided he did not interfere with actual 
grants to the Paulus Hook Company. In return, he assigned 
one third of North Carolina to the chancellor's heirs and one 
third to Fulton, allowing the latter to undertake the actual 
management of the southern steamboats. Except for the 
waters covered in the agreement of 1809, he relinquished all 
steamboat highways and permitted the use of his patents 
by Fulton. In fact, the only thing withheld was the "recog- 
nition" of Fulton's patents as absolutely basic. Yet the 
younger Livingston, either personally or merely in behalf 
of his partners, w r ould have none of the colonel's draft and 
said so in writing. 

In resorting [he added] to the laws of our Country to main- 
tain our rights, it will ever be a satisfaction to me and to my 
family that a proposition was made (thro' me) to you which, 
had it been accepted, would have prevented any further con- 
troversy between you and Mr Fulton. 

The claim is doubtful. Within a week Fulton had drawn 
his own draft of agreement. He wanted "recognition" more 
than anything else, but he also stipulated that the colonel's 
ferry must not only have "the approval of Paulus Hook but 
also bind itself to transport only foot-passengers, goods, and 
marketing" — an impossible condition for the colonel, who 
immediately said as much to Fulton. 

... I made a voluntary offer, thro' Mr Colden, of ceding 
one half of . . . my grant, provided I should be permitted 


... to run steamboats on the . . . Ferry during the term 
of my lease. . . . This I consider as paying a very high price 
indeed for a privilege which is not ... of any value to any 
. . . but myself. 

In justice ... to myself and family I cannot consent to 
vary . . . these terms. It rests . . . with you to determine 
whether to close with the offer I have been induced to make 
from a sincere desire to avoid litigation which, terminate as it 
may, cannot fail to be highly injurious to both parties. 

Peace, except at his own price, was the last thing Fulton 
wanted; his next step was the swearing out of injunctions. 
In July the colonel wrote his son Robert that, in order to 
avoid actual seizure on the New York side, he was keeping 
his ferryboat at Hoboken. "The Paulus Hook Company 
having at last determined," he said, "that the Juliana shall 
not be permitted to run on any terms whatever, I shall set 
about dismantling her instantly and send her on to the 
Connecticut River." On August 3 he wrote again, to say that 
"James started from here with the Juliana on Thursday 
last, 9 o'clock, and arrived at Killingsworth, within 10 miles 
of the mouth of the Connecticut, at 10 o'clock on Friday 
morning. In proceeding from thence, he was chased by six 
barges filled with men — they got within four miles of him. 
He, however, arrived at Saybrook safe, at 3 o'clock in the 
afternoon, and proceeded on from thence up the river to 

Meanwhile, Fulton had done as De Lacy had predicted. 
His petition to the Carolina assembly begged that the 
Stevens grant be repealed as an injustice. He stated that the 
colonel had obtained this privilege "surreptitiously and by 
false suggestions," in violation of his agreement with Fulton 
and Livingston, and hinted that the members of the assem- 


bly had been improperly approached. Maintaining that he 
himself had been cheated, he insisted that the colonel "never 
had invented or done one thing essential or indispensable 
in the construction of steamboats" — a claim denied by Ful- 
ton before the colonel had ever made it. These things were 
stated by Fulton as his "belief," and, since he swore to 
them before a notary, presumably he did believe them. 
This is not astonishing, in view of what he believed of his 
own patents. 

These Fulton papers were duly forwarded by De Lacy, 
with a covering letter of his own, addressed to Governor 
Hawkins of Carolina. As agent, De Lacy declared that the 
grant tended "to deprive tortuously or hold in abeyance" 
the previously "vested rights" of Fulton. But thereafter 
De Lacy appears to have taken little part in the business. 
There is nothing in the papers of Colonel Stevens to indicate 
why De Lacy should have broken with Fulton, unless it was 
because he became convinced that the colonel had the right 
of the Carolina quarrel. Later evidence of this break is 
positive. It was De Lacy who inspired J. H. B. Latrobe to 
write, in 1815, his "Lost Chapter in Steam Boat History" 
which contains several highly interesting letters exchanged 
by Nicholas Roosevelt, the colonel, and the chancellor, all 
before 1800. De Lacy vigorously supported Latrobe's claim 
of paddle-wheel priority for Roosevelt and, in this connec- 
tion, hotly attacked Fulton. On the other hand, it is of 
course quite possible that De Lacy was merely a legal hire- 
ling, paid to take up the cudgels for any man. 

The colonel's own retort to Fulton was duly laid before 
the next session of the Carolina assembly by its speaker. 
In this, the terms of the agreement of 1809 were again 
quoted, the rest of the colonel's letter reading, in part: 


Nov 9, 1813 
. . . The chairman ... of the Committee to whom my 
memorial was referred and who reported unanimously in favor 
. . . thereof, can . . . state to the House that I submitted 
. . . the subsisting agreement [with] Messrs Livingston and 
Fulton . . . my patents under the United States . . . the 
opinions of the Chief Justice and other Judges ... as well 
as ample testimony . . . respecting the steam boats I had 
constructed on the Hudson and Delaware. . . . 

A very extraordinary notice has appeared . . . under the 
signature of John Dev. De Lacy, attorney pro patentees, in 
which, among other calumnies and downright falsities, he has 
audaciously declared that "John Stevens has by an instrument 
in writing . . . formally and fully and unequivocally ac- 
knowledged that . . . Robert Fulton is the inventor of new 
and useful steamboats." Not one word of which is to be found 
in the contract . . . between us. Steam boats were first in- 
vented by Messrs Fitch and Rumsey, thirty or forty years 
ago, and I myself had a steam boat going on the Hudson 
some years before Mr Fulton came back to this country. He 
therefore can have no pretense to be the "inventor" of steam 
boats, and can only lay claim to such improvements as he may 
have made. As he has obtained a patent under the United 
States . . . any person infringing . . . will be liable to the 
. . . patent law. . . . 

That I am competent to build steamboats superior to any 
now in use, I am able to procure the most ample testimonials, 
which will in a few days be transmitted. ... I trust that no 
ex parte representations will have any influence . . . injurious 
to the rights of John Stevens. 

The colonel appears to have made no specific reply to the 
memorial of Oliver Evans, in which the latter mildly re- 
marked upon his own steamboat efforts and declared his 
reliance upon the governor of North Carolina to see that 
nothing to injure him was done by the legislature. In this 
fight Evans was not deeply interested; he merely protested 
against any possible discrimination. 


For a month the various documents were debated by a 
Carolina committee including Gaston, Stone, Brown, Stan- 
ley, Cameron, and, as chairman, A. D. Murphy. It was 
Murphy who wrote to the colonel: 

Raleigh, 20th Dec. 

I enclose . . . the rough draft of the Report. ... It 
might be satisfactory to learn what views the Legislature en- 
tertain. . . . 

Messrs Stanley, Cameron, and myself . . . were members 
of the Committee to whom your memorial to the last session 
was referred. We fear the dispute . . . will prevent any of 
the Claimants from putting into operation a Steam Boat upon 
our Waters, and we feel anxious that you should not forfeit 
your rights by failing to have a . . . Boat . . . within the 
time prescribed. . . . The Report will fully fortify your Claims 
with the People. ... If you care to come on to Fayetteville, 
you might form a company on the Cape Fear River. ... I 
will subscribe for a few shares, altho' I live at a considerable 
distance, and aid your views as far as I can. 

The official report, shortly issued, gave the colonel a defi- 
nite victory. The legislature declared that its last session 
had received from him all the pertinent papers and had, in 
the interest of inland navigation, approved his petition. 
Regretting that a disagreement with Messrs. Evans and 
Fulton existed, no necessity for deciding this irrelevant 
question was recognized. But Fulton's charge of false pre- 
tenses, as a direct accusation against the State of North 
Carolina, could not be passed over in silence. It was "due to 
Mr. Stevens as well as to the last legislature to declare 
these charges unfounded and unbecoming." The resolution 
passed by the assembly on December 23 provided that 
"Robert Fulton and Oliver Evans have leave to withdraw 
their respective memorials." 

There was an unfortunate pyrrhic flavor to the victory. 


It had cost the colonel his steam ferry at Hoboken. Under 
the existing state of war he could not take up — any more 
than Fulton could — the business of building and operating 
southern boats. However, Robert, as the family draftsman, 
did make drawings for a new craft, "with what new machin- 
ery may be wanted, in order that we may get the castings." 
At Hoboken a model was built, of which the colonel wrote 
Robert that "John and Edwin undertook some experiments 
and, as was to be expected, contrived to break the spring 
at the first onset"; an expression of annoyance very rare 
with a man who usually had only praise for his sons' efforts. 
Had peace with Britain come sooner, the colonel would not 
have been obliged, just before his two-year term expired, 
to ask the legislature for an extension. 

. . . The subscriber has watched anxiously for a favorable 
opportunity . . . but the state of public affairs has pre- 
cluded attempts to introduce steamboats in North Carolina. 
... A vessel might have been built in a port of that state, 
but it would have been almost impracticable to construct the 
engine in any other place than New York or Philadelphia. . . . 

Early last spring, he put the Phoenix into complete repair 
. . . flattering himself with a hope that the existing blockade 
might have been removed and the navigation of the sea re- 
stored. . . . Had the Commissioners at Ghent terminated . . . 
an amicable adjustment . . . the Phoenix would have landed 
a second time in the ocean . . . and reached the waters of the 
state. . . . He craves an extension . . . for some definite 
period . . . say one year after the termination of war. 

The monumental work of preparing the state papers of 
North Carolina for adequate research has not yet been com- 
pleted by her archivists. Beyond the apparent fact that 
steamboats were not running upon her waters until many 
years after 1814, the trace of the colonel's early effort re- 
mains still smothered in documents. 


Of the "seven or eight steamboats" mentioned by the 
colonel as his Delaware rivals, the most interesting were the 
Aetna, built to demonstrate Evans's high-pressure engine, 
and the Eagle. Against the latter, the colonel considered 
bringing suit for infringement of his patents. Fulton, pur- 
porting to write "at the request of his partners," forbade 
any use of his patents as granted to the colonel for the 
Delaware, whereupon the colonel sought Horace Binney's 

I think [said Binney] the Newcastle and Chesapeake people 
have no right to use any improvement on your machinery 
. . . made since your agreement of 1812. . . . You should 
call upon them . . . and inform them that you cannot permit 
them to use any of your own or Robert's improvements with- 
out compensation. . . . 

You need not solicit Mr Fulton, or anybody else, to permit 
you the use of his name. . . . Since he has assigned you the 
. . . use ... of the rights of the Delaware and other waters, 
which implies the right to use his name in suits, and since the 
Chancellor assigned you his rights . . . our courts will not 
regard his [Fulton's] interdiction. ... I shall only want your 
several patents ... to proceed. 

Legally, then, the colonel was fortified. Personally, he 
cared very much more about "wiping the eye" of the Eagle 
on the river. Robert, sharing this ambition, tuned up the 
machinery of the Philadelphia and the Phoenix before re- 
porting upon them to his father. 

Philadelphia, Oct. 23, 1813 
I arrived here night before last, in time for the grand illu- 
mination of the Philadelphia. She performs wonders. 

We left Trenton at half past two . . . and arrived here at 
half past 8, yet lay at anchor an hour and a half or three- 
quarters . . . above Bordentown, owing to a piece of iron 


. . . put on one of the plungers to increase its weight, falling 
between it and the box. ... It wedged so hard as to bend the 
plug-tree, which . . . put the plugs out of place. After ad- 
justing ... we got the anchor up and were at Burlington in 
one hour. Two hours and twenty six minutes after, we were 
opposite Van Dusen's wharf. . . . 

She went, as near as I could tell by throwing a piece of 
wood overboard, 132 feet — which was accurately measured — ■ 
the first time in 15 seconds, the next in 14. The engine made 
14 strokes and a half per minute. When we arrived, I tryed the 
New Castle boat; she went 132 feet in 19 seconds. 

Steam was ... up to three pounds only, though we might 
have had as much as we pleased, as the damper was only 
half-open. . . . There was such a quantity of steam that at 
times the man at the helm could not see. . . . The vacuum 
was 26 to 29 inches. 

The [paddle] buckets have not been received; they are 6 
feet by 2. The wheel is 16 feet 3 inches. . . . The floor cloths 
are down and we are finishing what little painting there was. 
. . . The pistons are packed with oakum and brick dust. 
Everything worked smooth and regular. 

I intend the Eagle, Phoenix, and Philadelphia shall leave 
Philadelphia on Monday at the same time. 

Robert's next letter, without doubt containing a full 
account of the race up the river, unfortunately cannot be 
found. It is highly probable that his gratified father cir- 
culated it among his friends and so mislaid it. However, the 
colonel's reply was full of significant suggestions. 

Oct. 26th 
We were all disposed to be very much out of humor with 

you for neglecting to write at a juncture of so much interest; 

but your very agreeable letters of the 23rd and 25th have 

amply compensated. . . . 

The Philadelphia has indeed "performed wonders." There 


could be no doubt about her exceeding in velocity anything 
that had yet swum, but I must confess she has far surpassed 
all my calculations, however sanguine I may be. That the 
Eagle whose rapid flight was to have outstript far and away 
that of the old Phoenix — that this vaunted Eagle should be 
beaten so disgracefully by the Phoenix — that she should be 
totally disabled for the season at least — is a victory as glorious 
on the Delaware as was that of Commodore Perry on Lake 
Erie! My dear boy, I now feel the fullest confidence that the 
victory you have so meritoriously obtained will prove com- 
plete — that the enemy will never again dare to unfurl his Flag 
on the waters of the Delaware ! 

But, to descend from this airy flight to plain language, we 
shall, I trust, be exempted from the necessity of resorting to 
legal measures, so pregnant with expense, uncertainty, and 

Pray, what has become of the Wilmington boat, and how 
does Myers come on? Does the Newcastle boat run constantly, 
and has the boat on the Chesapeake got in motion yet? Do you 
expect your main beam will now be sufficiently strong? Have 
you figured a new cylinder above, between the two main ones, 
and does it answer? Does your working gear perform its office 
without much noise? 

My operations here, in the horse-boat way, have been re- 
tarded. . . . The machinery, however, is in such a state of 
forwardness that I can count on an experiment very soon. 
Since sitting down to write, I hear the rain falling. . . . The 
storm is again renewed, and the Horse Boat riding by a slender 
rope. . . . Such a succession of storms I have never known. 
I hope the Philadelphia may not have set out, but have left it 
to the old Phoenix to buffet the storm. 

The girls, three in number, purpose taking their departure 
on Monday next. 

(Wednesday morning) 

Give me as minute a detail of your rate of going, &c, as you 
can. It would not be amiss to have a puff inserted in the news- 
papers. I will try what I can do. . . . Give me also any 
particulars about the condition of the Eagle. 


In a subsequent letter the colonel gave Robert further 
details of the horse-boat with which he proposed to replace 
the Juliana: 

. . . The middle boat 90 feet long and ten feet wide; the 
deck about 35 feet wide, the horse-walk 5 feet wide, and the 
floats of the wheel about six feet long. The wheel, ten feet 
diameter. I have selected the patterns of the bevel cog-wheels 
at McQueen's. . . . 

Large wheel, 10 ft., 132 cogs, working in small wheel, 37 
in. (41 cogs) ; next, 65 in. diameter (84 cogs) working in 
wheel 24i/o in. diameter, 31 cogs. 

8.72 revolutions of the axis . . . for once around of the 
horses. . . . The water wheel about 18 revolutions in a min- 
ute which, considering their breadth, I think will be fast 
enough. I wish you would make a sketch ... of the main 
axis, coupling-boxes, &c, which . . . may be of cast iron, from 
this rough sketch [enclosed], . . . 

A month later the colonel expected "to have the horse- 
boat planked up this week — the two side boats going on here, 
and ready by the time the middle boat is launched." The 
next season she began some years of successful operation 
on the Hoboken ferry, carrying "a considerable number 
of chairs at 31 cts. ; saddle horses at l^ 1 /^ cts. ; and waggons 
at 25 or 50 depending upon whether they are light or 
heavy." Much encouraged, the colonel removed the tem- 
porary piles in the basin on the New York side and erected 
"convenient ferry-stairs, calculated to rise and fall with the 
tide, so as to preserve a due line with the fall of the boat." 
Hearing that this success had prompted the organization of 
a horse-boat company at New Brunswick, he bought shares 
in this when it was planned to follow the horse-boat Experi- 
ment with the steamboat John Fitch. As other companies 
would soon be springing into existence, he took out a patent 
for his own design. 

Chops' ^UctZH^x %Gtf^l~Jlt1£i.J{uJL£<rhJ+<™oLlaaZ4te~ 

^ &> £~*. »,uz.i&zr<i -z££*~.u. Jtzztr&L^y 

colonel stevens' draft of an advertisement of his 
ferry boats 



. . . Three boats of equal length and breadth . . . giving, 
however, a greater relative length and breadth to the middle 
boat. . . . These placed parallel . . . and firmly connected at 
such distance apart as to leave . . . room on each side of the 
middle boat for the working of wheels with floats. ... In the 
centre of the middle boat ... an upright . . . shaft, the 
lower pivot or gudgeon of which works in a cast-iron pot stand- 
ing on a support of cast iron sufficiently elevated to admit the 
axis of the water wheels to pass under. . . . 

On this perpendicular axis ... a large cog-wheel, into 
the teeth of which work the teeth of a smaller bevel on the axis 
of which is a larger, the teeth of which work alternately into 
[each of] two smaller wheels on the axis of the water 
wheels. . . . 

The axis is in three pieces . . . with coupling-boxes ; these 
... of such length as to admit the middle piece of said axis 
... to move horizontally athwart the boat about 7 inches 
each way. . . . By [this] means the cogs are thrown in and 
out of gear and the boat made, at pleasure, to move with 
either end foremost. . . . 

To the upright axis ... as many arms as necessary are 
attached, at such height as to admit of their passing freely 
over the vertices of the water wheels, and of such length as to 
admit men or beasts tackled thereto to pass around outside 
the water-wheels. 

The method, said the colonel, could be applied either to 
the ordinary paddle-wheels or to the split paddles just de- 
signed by Robert. Also, in this same patent, he covered an 
alternative "method of propelling boats" in which he re- 
verted to his favorite, the screw. This called for the familiar 
"arms of a windmill" at each end of a horizontal shaft run 
through the whole length of the boat, the arms being set 
at an angle which the colonel had "found from experience 
ought not to exceed 30 deg." Experimenting without the use 
of steam, the colonel drove this boat in either direction by 
two sets of spur-wheels, one forward, the other aft, the upper 


wheels of each connected by a long rod which would "per- 
form the office of a winch." In order "conveniently to steer 
said boat," he made use of "two rudders, attached to iron 
rods passing through the bottom near each end ; these either 
equipollent or not as might be best." Although he looked 
upon this design as little more than another provision 
against being unable ever again to use steam on his ferry, 
it has now a greater significance. In 1881 Edwin A. Stevens, 
Jr., his grandson, perfected the machinery which made it 
possible to replace the old Hoboken side-wheelers with the 
modern boats, still double-ended but driven by propellers 
both forward and aft. Thus the patent of 1813 held one 
more seed of family development. 

In the spring of 1814, fresh overhauling of the two Dela- 
ware boats by the Stevens boys resulted in a service which 
was faster than ever but still too slow to satisfy their father. 
His letter of June 9 was written to James, apparently the 
least easily convinced son. 

... It has occurred to me that it would be very practicable 
. . . and advantageous, to run the Philadelphia to and from 
Trenton every day. Before bouncing at once at a proposition 
you may be disposed to think extravagant . . . have the pa- 
tience to give the following plan a serious and unprejudiced 

During the summer . . . the Philadelphia should leave 
every morning at 5 o'clock and leave Trenton every after- 
noon (Sundays excepted) at one o'clock. Let us see whether 
this can be accomplished with certainty and ease. 

Average passages up may be estimated at 5 hours, includ- 
ing stops ; down again, 4V> hours. She would arrive, then, at 
Trenton at 10 . . . ; starting at one, arrive at Philadelphia 
again at half after five. This, surely, could not be called very 
hard work for either the boat or crew. But it may be said that 
wind and tide will occasion great variance. ... I am con- 
vinced no combination can possibly protract her passage up 


John's answer to my proposition is that it will create con- 
fusion in Accounts and there will be great risk in running the 
boats after dark. Both these objections appear to me frivolous. 

To obviate the first completely a specific sum may be charged 
for the use of the boats, fuel, wages, &c. As to the next ob- 
jection, it goes to the entire inhibition of running the boats 
at all after dark. This is a downright absurdity as, upon 
the present system on which the business is conducted, the 
boats run constantly every evening after dark; and that, too, 
in all weather — in cloudy, rainy, and stormy weather, as well 
as in fair. Lamps could be placed on each side of the ways, 
to prevent all possibility of accidents. But — they may run foul 
of vessels? By the illumination on board, this objection is 
wholly done away. 

Speeding up his service appeared to the colonel to be the 
best answer to increasing competition. Capital was becom- 
ing confident of profit in a proved enterprise. In this same 
spring, a group of Philadelphians, headed by Samuel 
Meeker, planned a steam ferry at Gloucester on the Dela- 
ware. In Connecticut, Slidell, Dunham, and Richards came 
forward with money, while similar groups elsewhere began 
buying engines and boilers or designing their own for boats 
that sometimes ran and sometimes blew up at the first trial. 
Most important of all, there was Aaron Ogden, whose Sea 
Horse, finished in 1811, was no longer to be confined to the 
New York-Elizabeth run. The colonel had described her as 
"making two trips backwards and forwards each day ; land- 
ing and taking off the passengers by running close to the 
Battery" and using small boats. When he learned of a new 
plan to connect the Sea Horse, by special stages, with the 
Eagle, it was plain that Ogden would bear watching. 

On his first entry into steamboats, Ogden had looked like 
an active ally of the colonel's, to be helpful at the very 
moment when Livingston and Fulton were securing fresh 


rights of seizure over "foreign" vessels in New York waters. 
With Daniel Dod as principal partner, and a considerable 
fortune available, Ogden appeared prepared to fight the 
monopolists. His influence pushed through the Jersey legis- 
lature an act granting him exclusive privileges in Jersey 
waters — a blow which the monopolists, through their Rari- 
tan, were not long in feeling, and which caused John R. 
Livingston, after refusing a Phoenix-Raritan combination 
for better Jersey service, to come back to the colonel with 
an appeal for help. "You will oblige me," he wrote, "by 
informing me whether the original grant to my Brother 
did not include yourself and Cornelius [Nicholas] Roose- 
velt by name, both at that time living in New York and 
considered as Jersey men. Also, whether the crank now used 
in Colonel Ogden's boat was not used in your Phoenix and 
whether his method, in your opinion, is any improvement." 
Like Fulton, John Livingston wanted Ogden's scalp, even 
though he should have to hang it before a Stevens tepee. 

The colonel did put in a petition against Ogden's Jersey 
privilege. In it he maintained that, if any Jerseyman had a 
monopoly, it should be himself as her first citizen to engage 
in steamboating. However, he declared himself opposed to 
a monopoly for anybody, describing this as "uncongenial, 
and incompatible with the nature and genius of our free 
government." For the lion's share of the business, said he, 
he greatly preferred to depend "solely upon the superiority 
of his boats" and upon the demonstrated fact that his 
Philadelphia was, by at least two miles an hour, the fastest 
craft afloat. His argument was long, but its only effect ap- 
pears to have been to play into the hands of Fulton. When 
the New Jersey assembly reversed itself and repealed Ogden's 
privilege, the colonel's position was actually no better than 


Ogden, furious with New Jersey, was not without power 
to hit back in New York. In the effort to bring about a 
repeal of the broad acts in favor of Livingston and Fulton 
he pleaded his case in person before the legislature at 
Albany. So eloquent was he in this — the first public attack 
upon the monopoly on constitutional grounds — that he actu- 
ally won in the lower house and lost by only a single vote 
in the upper one. So close a call, in a Livingston strong- 
hold, was too much for the monopolists. They promptly 
compromised with Ogden, letting him buy, for use in New 
Jersey, a ten-year right to all their patents and privileges. 
The obvious result was that Ogden was arrayed against the 
colonel, who had to wait another ten years before John 
Marshall turned the Hudson tide. 

Taken as a whole, no years of the colonel's life were more 
active than those of 1807 to 1814. The Revolutionary years 
had been as many in number but not so full. Scientific and 
commercial correspondence was so heavy that he scarcely 
found time for personal affairs. When Rachel's mother died, 
in February, 1814, he could make only a hurried visit to 
her Philadelphia home, and had to leave the care of her 
estate to his fellow-executors. Similarly, he could give scanty 
attention to such appeals as that of Robert Forman of 

The church in which your father was interred is much out 
of repair. The fence or yard is entirely done away with ; cat- 
tle, sheep, hogs, &c rest on the very earth that covers your 
father's remains in Cold Weather. Should you be desirous 
of having a marble slab placed when the floor is laid down, 
it will be placed level with it ; as also we intend to raise that 
of your Uncle Lewis [there is an inscription on his]. 

Since Forman must have a prompt answer in order "to 
finish the church and yard in the spring," the colonel's only 

356 john stevens: an American record 

reply appears to have been a subscription ; to be added to the 
others which, as already noted, have sufficed to keep little 
St. Thomas's alive to-day. Most of such intimately per- 
sonal affairs were smothered by the pressure of outside 

Yet, in addition to what has already been described or 
outlined, the same seven years included another great ac- 
tivity of the colonel's. We have no hint of his ordinary 
rising hour, beyond that it was "early"; we have nothing 
exact upon the hour when he was in the habit of snuffing out 
his bed-candle. Unless the stretch between these moments 
was very long, he could never have found time to launch a 
project that, among all his others, was considered the most 
utterly visionary although it contained the greatest of his 
prophecies upon the nation's future. To consider it, we 
must step ashore from the Delaware steamboats and look 
back to 1810. 


Rails to facilitate wagon haul run back three centuries 
from our day and vanish in a much older custom of filling 
holes in dirt roads with planks or rough logs. Beaumont's 
crude wooden affairs of 1630 represent the best-known early 
effort at definite tracks. They had the symbolic purpose of 
carrying coals at Newcastle-on-Tyne, but the carts running 
upon them were still horse-drawn. He was long dead and for- 
gotten, and John Stevens was a boy of fourteen, when 
Cugnot, in 1763, designed the first steam-carriage to run 
upon the ordinary highway. Iron rails date from 1767, but 
were not combined with the steam-carriage until much later. 

The story of English efforts to make transportation on 
land better and faster than on water is a familiar one, punc- 
tuated with the names of men who had their several claims 
to priority in one pertinent invention or another. Trevithick 
brought out his improved locomotive in 1804. Brinton's 
quaint tractor had legs at the rear — the grasshopper lead- 
ing the modern caterpillar by a hundred years — and there 
were many other strange devices. Every such attempt was 
ridiculed, yet each helped to pave the way down which the 
Stephensons finally drove their famous "Rocket," nosing 
out Ericsson's "Novelty" and convincing the world that 
steam railways were an accomplished fact. Their triumph 
came in 1829, almost two centuries after Beaumont; the 
railroad giant we know has not yet turned the hundred- 
year mark. 

Twenty years before the "Rocket," American interest in 

358 john stevens: an American record 

steam on land was almost non-existent. The clever, ambitious 
but unlucky Oliver Evans had devoted much time to his 
amphibious "Eruktor" as a prophecy that steam would 
finally come ashore, only to discover that nobody believed 
him. Most men looked upon locomotives as mere figments of 
diseased imaginations ; as will-o'-the-wisps with bodies no 
more tangible than steam itself. After one casual glance, 
they turned away, very probably to join in the canal enthu- 
siasm which Gouverneur Morris, De Witt Clinton, Fulton, 
and others labored so hard to arouse. Their plan was to dig 
the Erie Canal as the first link in a nation-wide chain of 
water communication, transporting passengers and freight 
at an unbelievably low cost. At first the idea met with con- 
siderable opposition; little by little it was widely adopted. 
Subscription books flew open. Legislatures prepared to de- 
fend themselves against a barrage of petitions for charters, 
rights of way, and appropriations. In New York State, 
shovels were sharpened and picks were fitted with new 
handles. "Dig! Dig! Canals will solve the transportation 
problem forever !" That was the slogan. 

Colonel Stevens heard the cries plainly enough but did 
not share the enthusiasm of the optimists. As to that, it 
never was his way to make one of a flock of sheep — unless 
he ran at the head. The man for his money was Sir Anthony 
Gloucester, with his motto of "Keep your light so shining, 
a little ahead of the rest!" The colonel's hat was not flung 
into the air, to fall among the rest in the canal. While he 
agreed that natural waterways were of the greatest im- 
portance for increasing the value of steamboats, he was far 
from admitting that canals would give the country that 
internal transportation upon which its future prosperity 

"Concede," he wrote at this time, "that there are now no 


Steam Rail- Ways anywhere in the world. Tins is not to say 
that they will not come — and that soon. As civilization 
progresses, water-carriage will prove too slow and cumber- 
some to satisfy the demands of humanity. And this, too, 
though it remain relatively cheap. What has been accom- 
plished, in comparatively few years, with Steam Boats, 
points, as I conceive, directly at the Steam Carriage. Merely 
by developing a method of correctly applying the same 
principles on land, a great saving in time and cost will be 

Time and cost had always been important factors, but 
never more so than just then. McMaster's "History of the 
People of the United States" is full of pertinent figures of 
the period. According to this authority, moving a barrel of 
flour down the Susquehanna from the Genessee Valley to 
Columbia and thence to Philadelphia, involved a carrying 
charge of one dollar and a quarter, plus the excellent chance 
of spoiling the flour on its slow journey in barges or behind 
plodding horses. Shippers from the Chesapeake to Phila- 
delphia sent their goods across from Frenchtown to New- 
castle under a rate schedule of six cents a bushel for wheat, 
twenty-five cents a barrel for flour, two dollars a hogshead 
for tobacco, and about nine dollars per ton of general 
freight. Overland, from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, the cost 
per ton reached the impossible figure of $125. Five dollars a 
barrel of flour, salt a dollar a bushel over a hundred miles, 
and the time running on into weeks ! Goods that could sur- 
vive the cut-throat rates perished between shipment and 
delivery; they disappeared from interstate commerce. 

It was evident to the colonel that a great factor in this 
impossible situation was the deplorable state of the high- 
ways, to say nothing of the bogs and boulders making up 
what passed as ordinary roads. Theoretically, tolls were sup- 


posed to support the roads. Across New Jersey the charges 
were a cent a mile for each horse ; in Pennsylvania, depend- 
ing upon the width of "tyres" and the number of horses, 
rates varied at about double New Jersey's. Through Vir- 
ginia a loaded wagon cost twelve cents for every twenty-five 
miles. Practically, the charges did not keep the roads in 
condition; yet, paying what it must pay, and progressing 
at a feeble crawl, American transportation had become a 
problem so serious as to be almost ridiculous. 

In proposing to improve matters almost at a stroke, the 
colonel supported the prophecies of Evans. Having a far 
wider acquaintance and a much more assured position than 
Evans possessed, the colonel resolved to make the utmost 
use of both. He began writing to all his friends, pointing out 
that most roads were impassable during the winter months 
and suggesting that this condition could be overcome by 
laying rails above the ordinary line of frost and snow. In 
England, he reminded them, horse-drawn carts had been 
successfully run upon rails. After all, he asked, wherein 
lay any great difference between horse-drawn and steam- 
drawn wagons or carriages ? Apply the steamboat principle, 
and the thing would be done. 

He did not stop at personal friends. Only let a man be 
recognized in national public life, or even no more than a 
leader in his own small community, sooner or later that man 
had a letter from John Stevens, presenting his case from 
one viewpoint or another, asking for suggestion, coopera- 
tion, or a letter of introduction to some other man who 
might be interested. Rufus King, Duane, Morris, Clinton, 
Van Rensselaer, Dickerson — these and a host of much lesser 
men all heard from the colonel upon the subject. 

As a preliminary step in the right direction, this was a 
disappointingly short one. The colonel had answers to his 


letters — dozens of answers. Both friends and acquaintances 
praised his scientific mind and called themselves flattered 
by his having written. "Your plan," said most of them in 
substance, "does credit to your highly ingenious mind. But 
I do not conceive . . ." As always, they remained his most 
humble and obedient — if quite unimaginative — servants, 
signed their names with flourishes, and posted their letters 
on their way to subscribe to more canals. 

There was excuse for general lack of conception and 
vision. The idea was new and hence impracticable of realiza- 
tion. News of English efforts was long in coming and very 
often held to be unreliable. Also, to many the accidents which 
had occurred in steamboats were discouraging if not actually 
terrifying. To others canals looked like good vote-breeders, 
while still others were unwilling to risk money in any sort of 
experiment. On top of these reasons the colonel had the bad 
luck to advance his plan at a moment when men's minds were 
full of the dreadful imminence of war with England, al- 
though this was actually more than a year away. 

Questions, whispered in one place and shouted in another, 
dealt with what Britain might do as "overt act"; with the 
possible means of defending New York city against the 
British fleet; and with the chances at sea of such ships as 
Jefferson had allowed us to keep. In this confusion there 
were many who knew that the United States was utterly un- 
prepared for war, but very few who recognized the connec- 
tion between this fact and the colonel's suggestion. The idea 
that the service of supply and the line of communication 
would come to depend heavily upon railroads was as far 
from men's minds as the conception that the old Consti- 
tution could strip to battle-canvas and, virtually single- 
handed, win "Mr Madison's War." History, with so much 
to say of "Old Ironsides" has left room for speculating 


upon what might have happened on land if Colonel Stevens's 
plans had been tried during the years preceding the war. 
Washington might not have been burned. Old Hickory, 
traveling more easily from front to front, might have bol- 
stered the defense offered by incompetent leaders against 
the British troops. It is now too late to discover. 

The general apathy, and his increasing steamboat activi- 
ties of 1811, pushed railroading into the back of the colo- 
nel's own mind. He still talked of it to any one who would 
listen; as opportunity offer-ed, he wrote of it sporadically. 
But his next real campaign was not launched until early in 
1812, when he sent Governor De Witt Clinton a letter, "put 
into the hands of Mr White, who leaves by the Mail stage 
for Albany." 

New York, 
February 24th, 1812 

I enclose a memoir addressed to the Commissioners for ex- 
ploring an inland navigation, &c. 

The more I reflect on the plan I have proposed, the more 
thorough is my conviction, not merely of its practicability, but 
that it must eventually supersede every other means of con- 
veyance, where the nature of the country will admit of its 
introduction. Under such impressions, I consider myself im- 
pelled by duty to urge its adoption by the Commissioners. 

An experiment, sufficiently extensive to ascertain unques- 
tionably its real merits or demerits, could be tried at the ex- 
pense of two or three thousand dollars. 

This was the opening shot of much gunning to bring 
down Clinton's influence in the State. The colonel did not 
greatly like the man or his Presidential hopes, but he knew 
what Clinton, were some of his attention once diverted from 
canals, could do for railroads. Were Clinton convinced, that 
mere fact would convince Clinton's party ; before long others 


would join the procession, and the "two or three thousand 
dollars" would be forthcoming many times over. 

The memoir began by "concurring heartily" with the 
canal commissioners in feeling that the value of canals would 
justify a great expense in digging them. Quoting their own 
words, the colonel agreed with the gentlemen that, "were it 
(by giving a loose to fancy) to cost fifty millions," even 
that vast sum might not be excessive. But in digging, as in 
using, canals there were difficulties such as frost and ice 
to be considered; above all, there was the vital element of 
time. To him the objects of primary importance were, first, 
completing communication with the West as soon as pos- 
sible, and next, completing it by means so efficient "that 
travel should be at no time interrupted." 

Between Lake Erie and Albany, said he, the grade was 
slight. He proposed that "a rail-way of timber be formed, 
of such angle of elevation as would admit of wheel-car- 
riages to remain stationary when no power is exerted to 
impel them forward." Let this railway be supported upon 
pillars, raising it from three to six feet above the ground. 
Let the carriage-wheels be "of cast-iron, the rims flat, with 
projecting flanges to fit the surface of the rails. The mov- 
ing power to be a steam-engine, similar in construction to 
that on board the Juliana, a ferry-boat plying between 
New York and Hoboken." 

In a few words, that sums up the colonel's proposal, the 
earliest to deal with a definite plan for an American steam 
railroad. Discussing it more fully, he dealt with the "many 
and important advantages which would result from car- 
rying it into effect." To begin with, its cost would be not 
greater than that of "a good turnpike road, well gravelled" ; 
there being little grading necessary and the work being en- 
tirely within the capabilities of unskilled labor, if super- 


vised. With the road raised above the line of ordinary snow, 
there would be practically no interruption of traffic from 
this cause. Once completed, the cost of transportation over 
it would be less than upon a canal of the best construction. 

In support of this last contention the colonel again quoted 
the commissioners. "By the aid of a railway, one horse would 
transport eight tons, supposing the angle of ascent not to 
exceed one degree." Also, he cited from "Nicolson's Journal" 
an account of the transportation, by one horse on a railway 
of several miles, the enormous weight of fifty tons. Now, 
said he, "a small steam engine, of ten inches diameter, worked 
with steam the elastic power of which was fifty pounds to 
the circular inch, would possess a power equal to five thou- 
sand pounds on the whole area of the piston, moving with 
a velocity of three feet in a second. This would exceed the 
power of twenty horses who could, by the statement of the 
Commissioners, transport one hundred and sixty tons." Al- 
lowing a liberal percentage for the appearance of exaggera- 
tion, he put the estimated transportable tonnage at one 
hundred, on the level. As the difference in elevation between 
Lake Erie and Albany, a distance of two hundred and 
eighty miles, amounted only to some five hundred feet, he 
considered it perfectly proper to speak of the line as nearly 
level, warranting an estimated speed of four miles an hour. 
How, then, was the cost of transportation to be calculated? 

Such a steam-engine as he proposed using would consume, 
he said, about one cord of wood a day. "To silence all 
cavil," however, put this estimate at three cords. Similarly, 
although wood in the given locality cost one dollar a cord, 
he proposed taking this cost as double. To "attend the fire 
and perform other services," he allowed four men, at one 
dollar a day each ; that is, for fuel and service, a total of ten 
dollars a day. If the back-load averaged only one third of a 


full freight, the net cost of transporting one hundred tons 
over the full distance of two hundred and eighty miles would 
be five days at ten dollars each ; fifty dollars total, or fifty 
cents per ton. Since this calculation took no account of 
"interest on the capital expended, wear and tear, repair of 
machinery, carriages, railways, &c, and no doubt many other 
incidental charges," it would be better to raise this cost to 
one dollar per ton. Even so, had not the commissioners esti- 
mated the cost of transportation through the contemplated 
canal at three dollars per ton? Hence, taking the cost of 
laying the railway at one fourth that of digging the canal, 
was it not "easy to see what an immense revenue the State 
might derive from toll, and still permit transportation at 
much less than could be done on a canal?" 

Here, went on the colonel, he expected "to be encoun- 
tered at the very threshold — to be stigmatized as a visionary 
projector." With confidence undiminished by the cold re- 
ception already given the idea, he was prepared to face 
criticism. It would be held by those who had studied Eng- 
land's efforts that her failure to combine rails and steam- 
carriages proved them incompatible. In answer to this the 
colonel cited what had been done with steamboats, and could 
not resist a dig at Latrobe's already quoted objections, which 
had been proved unfounded as far as water transportation 
was concerned. "If," he wrote, "the steam-engine has suc- 
cessfully been applied to boats, we surely need not despair 
of successfully applying it to carriages. We are too apt to 
look up with reverential awe to what has usually been called 
the mother-country, for every improvement in the arts" — 
why not bring this one about in America? 

Included in the memoir was a comparison of the prob- 
able wear and tear on rails with that on plank bridges, as 
well as a discussion of the shape of carriage-wheels and the 


ease with which the rails, if necessary, could be faced with 
iron. In short, every phase of the problem was touched upon, 
and in the final paragraph the colonel expressed his faith 
in the speeds of the future. 

As the power of the engine is expended principally in over- 
coming friction, which is increased in but a small degree by an 
increase of velocity and may be removed almost entirely by the 
use of friction wheels, a carriage may be made, by a small in- 
crease of power, to acquire a velocity far greater than could 
be given by the fleetest horses ; and as, too, the railroads must 
be incomparably better than the best turnpike could possibly 
be made, I am by no means prepared to say what limits may 
be set to the rapidity with which a carriage may be driven 
on these ways. 

Laugh at him? Call him a visionary projector? The gen- 
eral sentiment was far less flattering than that. True, said 
scientists and engineers, a steam-engine actually had been 
put into a boat that was making regular trips. But on land? 
Why, the carriages would run off the rails and fall apart ; 
the engines would blow up and kill their drivers. Even were 
there no human fatalities, the peaceful live stock in the 
fields would be terrified to death by such snorting monsters. 
"Much learning," in John Stevens's case, "hath made him 

Naturally, Chancellor Livingston was among the first 
to whom the colonel appealed. Enlisted upon the right side 
of the fight, Livingston, like Clinton, would be a most power- 
ful ally. Unfortunately, he remained in the great army of 
doubters, as his letter of March 11, 1812, shows: 

... I have read of your very ingenious proposition . . . 
as to railway communication. I fear, however, on mature re- 
flection, that they will be liable to serious objection and ulti- 


mately prove more expensive than canals. They must be double, 
so as to prevent the danger of two such heavy bodies meeting. 
The wall on which they are placed must be at least four feet 
below the surface, to avoid frost, and three feet above to 
avoid snow; must be clasped with iron, and even then would 
hardly sustain so heavy a weight as you propose moving at 
the rate of four miles an hour on wheels. As to wood, it would 
not last a week. They must be covered with iron and that, 
too, very thick and strong. 

The means of stopping these heavy carriages without a great 
shock, and of preventing them from running into each other 
— for there would be many running on the road at once — 
would be very difficult. In case of accidental stops or necessary 
stops to take on wood or water, &c, many accidents would 
happen. The carriage of condensing water would be trouble- 
some. Upon the whole, I fear the expense would be much greater 
than that of canals, without being so convenient. 

The chancellor's objections are typical of his day, and it 
is not at all astonishing that he could not see through the 
minor details to the major vision beyond. The obstacles he 
raised were to be overcome one by one ; when he named them 
they loomed high. Something to be noted in connection with 
this particular letter is that he apparently sent a copy of it 
to Fulton, his steamboat partner. This seems the only pos- 
sible explanation of its use, by at least one of Fulton's 
biographers, to demonstrate his (Fulton's) advanced ideas 
of railroading, as opposed to Livingston's excessive caution. 
Doubtless Fulton was to some extent interested in railroads, 
but the original of this letter is among Colonel Stevens's 
papers. Moreover, a copy of it forms part of the printed 
pamphlet into which he eventually combined the various 
documents on the subject; a use of it which he would not 
have made had it not been addressed to him. Finally, there 
is his own reply to Livingston. 


New York, March 16, 1812 

Yours of the 11th inst. I have just now received and, as you 
probably will not remain in Albany . . . I have directed [this] 
to Mr G. Morris, that the Commissioners may be duly ap- 
prized of the answers I shall give to your objections. . . . 

You say "the expense would be much greater than . . . 
canals." ... I have stated the expense of a railway at one- 
fourth. ... I am now convinced the difference will be much 
greater, if wood only is used. The Commissioners have esti- 
mated the expense of excavating ... at $1,500,000 through 
a favorable soil, without the opposition of rocks or other im- 
pediments. . . . These, however, must be expected and [will] 
perhaps double that sum. . . . The cost of the canal merely, 
is estimated ... at $3,000,000. "If the locks," say the Com- 
missioners, "be put at $1,500,000, it is the lowest rate that 
can prudently be supposed." It would indeed ... be safer to 
put them at $2,000,000. 

There remains the cost of the railway. . . . Calculating 
timber at New York prices of twelve and a half cents per cubic 
foot, four rails of six inches, by twelve inches deep, equals 
$1320 a mile. The posts, eight feet long, at twenty-five cents 
apiece ; twelve feet apart, four rows, would be $440 per mile. 
Digging holes, setting posts, braces, and carpenter work, $740. 
Total 2,500 a mile or $750,000 for the whole three hundred 
miles. $500,000 estimated for embankments, mounds, &c, 
makes an aggregate of $1,250,000 for the whole railway. . . . 
Should they require to be renewed every ten years ... a 
capital of $1,500,000 would be sufficient. . . . 

Were we to admit the absolute necessity of shoeing . . . 
with iron, the expense . . . would fall far short of a canal. 
... I should prefer plate iron about an eighth inch thick. 
. . . Shoeing four rails would cost less than $4,000 per 
mile. . . . Should cast iron be preferred, plates an inch thick 
would cost, for the whole distance, $3,000,000. . . . 

One manifest advantage. . . . We should be able to count 
the cost of the undertaking . . . before the business was com- 
menced, whereas the cost of a canal is conjectural. . . . Were 
I not thoroughly convinced of the many superior advantages 
of the railway . . . the mere saving of expense would induce 







/ Mi 

..ii'Lrti . /- 



me to press their adoption. But were railways to cost fifty 
millions and a canal . . . five, yet still the railway would 
ultimately prove the cheapest. 

The period is not far distant when the annual amount of 
saving (by substituting railways) would be equal to legal in- 
terest on fifty million dollars, even should the calculation be 
founded on the supposition that the increase of population 
should be in future no greater than . . . what it has been for 
the last ten years. The increase will be . . . much greater, 
should these railways be completed. . . . 

I am surprised that you consider canals more convenient. 
. . . On the contrary, railways have in many respects a prefer- 
ence. . . . There are no locks to pass, with interruptions and 
delays. . . . Every one, whether travelling for business or 
pleasure, can calculate with certainty . . . when he will ar- 
rive. . . . Wind and tide, rough and smooth water, light or 
darkness, would have no influence over steam-carriages. . . . 

It is not certainty alone, but the celerity and despatch of 
this mode . . . which gives it so decided a preference. . . . 
The farmer . . . will save three days out of four. . . . The 
traveller will in one day perform more than a week's journey 
on a canal. 

There are easy and effective ways of guarding against acci- 
dent. . . . Deposits of wood and water must be formed every 
ten or twelve miles. . . . Carriages must make no regular halt 
except at these places, which must be on level ground. All car- 
riages which stop at one time and place [must] be firmly 
connected together. . . . The conductor of each suit of car- 
riages is precisely acquainted with the position of each stop- 
ping-place and . . . takes care to bring-to in time, so as not 
to run against other carriages. . . . For the accommodation 
of passengers ... it will be easy to contrive ... at stop- 
ping-places, a mode of turning out on adjoining ways, to ad- 
mit of their passing carriages for the transport of heavy 
goods. . . . 

I am surprised you should apprehend difficulty in stopping 
carriages without heavy shock. On stopping the engine, the 
friction of the wheels, turning on their axis, will gradually re- 
tard the motion of the whole suit. 


You say the carriage of condensing water would be very 
troublesome. I am persuaded you would never have advanced 
this objection, had you adverted to my stating expressly . . . 
that the engine was to be wrought by the elasticity of steam 

Your objections have served to establish more firmly . . . 
the very favorable sentiments I entertain respecting the utility 
of railways. 

Enclosed with this letter was one to Chairman Morris : 

. . . The only question is, whether steam engines can, with- 
out much difficulty, be applied to . . . propelling carriages. 
To . . . opinion on this matter, I certainly have some pre- 
tension^. ... I am firmly convinced that engines can be 
applied . . . with much more facility than they are now used 
for . . . boats. . . . But to place the matter beyond all 
doubt, let it be subjected to the infallible test of experiment. 
... I pledge myself that the cost of these . . . shall not ex- 
ceed $3,000. . . . 

I am aware how unnecessary it would be to . . . point out 
to you the magnitude and importance of the consequences which 
must . . . result from these railways . . . coming into gen- 
eral use. The communication between the extremes of this ex- 
tensive empire would be rendered beyond all conception rapid 
and, at all seasons and in all weathers, invariably certain. 
What influence these circumstances would have on the moral, 
political, and intellectual attainments of the citizens of these 
United States, cannot now be duly appreciated ; unquestion- 
ably, their permanent prosperity and happiness, as well as 
temporary ease and comfort, would be greatly promoted. . . . 

As steam boats have been first brought into practical use 
on the waters of the Hudson, so I hope and trust that it will 
not be long before the abundant products of our interior will 
be conveyed to the banks of this noble river by means of steam- 

From Clinton the colonel had received a promise that 
his "interesting communication" should be laid before the 


commission. A reply from that august body came a few 
days after this last letter to Morris. Hence it appears, as a 
matter of record, that the time spent in deliberating upon 
the most important domestic question ever raised in America 
was considerably less than three weeks. Is it any wonder that 
the result of that deliberation was a rude shock to the 
colonel ? 

The commission, having given the proposals that con- 
sideration due to a "gentleman whose scientific researches 
and knowledge of mechanical powers entitle his opinion to 
great respect," found itself unable to concur with him: 

Mr Stevens proposes a railway on which a steam engine 
is to propel, by a force equal to the competent number of 
horses, one hundred tons at the rate of four miles an hour. 
... It is doubted whether an engine in a wagon can work it 
forward with as much advantage as a horse on a road. . . . 

It is proposed that one hundred tons be put in motion . . . 
at the rate of nearly two yards a second. . . . [Considering 
friction] it does not seem possible that a way could be made 
of sufficient strength. . . . Moreover, it is self-evident that 
the same way will not serve for carriages going and returning; 
the expense which would . . . for a single way, exceed that of 
a canal, must be doubled, and would therefore render the con- 
struction unadvisable, were it sanctioned by experience. 

Plainly, it was not the colonel who had the single-track 
mind. The commissioners' objection to the use of wood as 
not strong enough does them credit, but is thrown entirely 
into the shadow of their complete failure to see the greatness 
of the ultimate object or even consent to an experiment 
which might have disclosed it. In substance, John Stevens 
had told them that the future of America depended upon 
railroads, exactly the idea regarded as startlingly new when 
Commodore Vanderbilt brought it forward again fifty years 


later. A short wooden railway in 1812 might easily have 
demonstrated the necessity for iron and stimulated inven- 
tors to design the modern rail, long before Robert Stevens 
found time to do it. The years thus lost meant the defeat 
of the colonel's hope that America might lead the world 
in making railroads practicable. 

But he did not throw up the sponge. At great length he 
wrote a rejoinder to the commissioners in which he was 
somewhat caustic. "The objections," said he, "appear to me 
so void of real foundation that I am constrained to repeat — 
they merely served to establish . . . the sentiments I en- 
tertain . . . respecting railways." Continuing, he wrote: 

. . . Executed in the most durable manner, this great under- 
taking could be completed — with stone pillars and iron ways 
— for a sum certainly not exceeding four millions of dol- 
lars. . . . 

Notwithstanding the many inconveniences "the great utility 
of canals is sanctioned by experience," whereas the . . . 
utility of railways remains yet to be ascertained by actual ex- 
periment. But, when millions are to be expended, shall a few 
thousand be grudged ... on an object promising so fairly? 
. . . Sooner or later, the improvement now proposed will be 
brought into general use and, if I mistake not, long before the 
proposed canal will be completed. 

When his arguments failed to move the commissioners 
even to the point of a simple experiment, the colonel resolved 
to go over their heads to the people themselves. He made a 
bundle of all the documents, clapped on his hat, and marched 
down to interview Messrs. T. & J. Swords, in Pearl Street. 
If these gentlemen were not railway enthusiasts, they were 
practical printers. While they set up the colonel's papers in 
type, he worked at an "Introduction" which he hoped might 
strike the popular note and win approval for his "Docu- 


ments Tending to Prove the Superior Advantages of Rail- 
ways and Steam Carriages over Canal Navigation." To any- 
one who would read the pamphlet he presented a copy, but 
it appears that there are now only half a dozen in existence. 
In 1852 President Charles King of Columbia, in his address 
on "The Progress of the City of New York," told of making 
"an exhaustive search, finally to discover a copy in the New 
York Society Library." From this, Robert and Edwin or- 
dered a reprint struck off, appropriately enough by Stan- 
ford & Swords, successors to the original printers. They 
might have saved themselves considerable search by glanc- 
ing through their father's papers, where there was an origi- 
nal, still in excellent condition to-day. When it recently came 
to light, an official of the Pennsylvania system, reading it 
for the first time, called it "the birth-certificate of all rail- 
roads in the United States." So it was. Unfortunately, the 
original birth was not only premature but generally re- 
garded as abortive. The attitude of legislators was discour- 
aging. As Senator R. F. Stockton years afterward put it, 
"they turned from him with pity and incredulity." The man 
in the street was even less considerate. His comment was 
"Heard John Stevens' latest? He's making a damned fool 
of himself over steam-waggons!" Much he cared for that. 
In the introduction to his pamphlet he covered almost 
every point not specifically dealt with in the earlier letters. 

... So many and so important are the advantages which 
these States would derive from the general adoption of the 
proposed railways that they ought, in my humble opinion, 
to become an object of primary attention to the national 
government. . . . 

On the success of [an experiment] ... a general system 
of internal communication and conveyance [should be] 
adopted, and the necessary surveys made ... to embrace 


and unite every section. . . . It might then, indeed, be truly 
said that these States would constitute one family intimately 
connected and held together in indissoluble bonds of 
union. . . . 

The revenue which this mode of transportation . . . would 
be capable of producing, would far exceed the aggregate 
amount of duties on foreign importation. ... It is an indis- 
putable fact that the aggregate ... of annual interstate 
commerce is vastly greater than that of external com- 
merce. . . . 

The farmer would save four-fifths of his present expense 
in transporting his produce to market. . . . Innumerable 
ramifications would ... be extended in every direction. . . . 
The sources of private and public wealth would increase with 
a rapidity beyond all parallel. . . . 

There remains another important point . . . celerity of 
communication — a consideration of the highest moment. If 
the Proas of the Pacific can be driven at twenty miles an hour 
by the wind, I can see nothing to hinder a steam-carriage from 
moving with a velocity of one hundred miles an hour. . . . 
In practice, it may not be advisable to exceed twenty or thirty 
miles . . . but I should not be surprised at seeing carriages 
propelled at forty or fifty. . . . 

Military . . . advantages . . . would also be incalculable. 
Armies could be conveyed in twenty-four hours a greater dis- 
tance than it would take them weeks or perhaps months to 
march. . . . This . . . would afford us not only means of 
guarding against an enemy, but of expeditiously quelling in- 
ternal commotions and securing domestic tranquillity. . . . 

Whatever constitutional doubts may be entertained respect- 
ing the power of Congress to cut . . . canals, there can be 
none about the power to lay out and make roads. . . . 

I shall . . . give no encouragement to private speculation 
until it is ascertained that Congress will not . . . pay any at- 
tention to it. 

I am anxious and ambitious that my native country should 
have the honor of being the first to introduce an improve- 
ment of such immense importance . . . and should feel the 


utmost reluctance to resort to foreigners in the first instance. 
. . . No doubt exists in my mind that the value of the im- 
provement will be appreciated and carried into immediate ef- 
fect by trans-Atlantic governments. . . . 

Whatever may be its fate, should this appeal be considered 
obtrusive and unimportant ... or remain unheeded ... I 
still have the consolation of having performed what I conceive 
to be a public duty. 

In such arguments as these it is almost impossible to pick 
a flaw. It is true that in respect of Federal operation our 
catastrophic lesson of 1917 has left scarcely a boat's-crew 
of us in agreement with the colonel on that point. Yet it is 
necessary to recognize a distinct difference between the con- 
notations of "government" then and now. Nothing on a 
large scale could then be undertaken without Federal aid 
of one kind or another; what the colonel contemplated is 
much more nearly represented by our present Interstate 
Commerce Commission than by any political disorganization 
of the railroads themselves. His chief object was to make a 
beginning and let ocular demonstration do the rest. Among 
scores of men to whom he appealed was his old friend Sam- 
uel Mitchell. 

New York, June 4th, 1812 
Should your attention to the concerns of the nation in re- 
spect of Foreign Relations allow you time to give the enclosed 
pamphlet a perusal, I am confident you will be forcibly im- 
pressed. . . . Should your sentiments accord with mine, I 
have to request that you bring the subject forward, that a 
moderate sum may be appropriated for . . . making a satis- 
factory experiment. . . . 

P. S. (From my note to the President) Conceiving the en- 
closed to contain matter worthy of serious attention by the 
General Government, I now take the liberty of addressing one 
to your perusal. 


What the President thought may only be guessed. 
Mitchell was much interested, but it does not appear that he 
succeeded in persuading Congress — of which he was a mem- 
ber — to such serious attention as would result in an appro- 
priation. As might be expected, one of the few real en- 
thusiasts was Oliver Evans, who expressed himself as 
"highly delighted in reading the correspondence between 
John Stevens and the Commissioners." In his opinion, the 
colonel had "taken a most comprehensive and ingenious view 
of this important subject" and by "his plan of railways for 
the carriages to run upon, removed all the difficulties that 
remained." But to Evans, accustomed to the role of prophet 
without honor, the probable stubbornness of opposition was 
apparent. It was in almost pathetic hopefulness that he con- 
cluded it might be "enough for this generation to try canals, 
the next to try railways, and the next to adopt steam-car- 

Those who paid no attention to Evans paid very little to 
the colonel. Disappointed in the attitude of New Yorkers 
and Jerseymen, he turned to the South, where he had gone 
in connection with his Carolina steamboat grant. Said "The 
Richmond Patriot," December 29, 1812 : 

. . . Mr Stevens of New York . . . now at the Eagle in 
this city . . . purposes making application to the Legislature 
for a similar privilege [to the Carolina one] and also for 
laying out and establishing Railways, on new principles, for 
transporting, in carriages propelled by steam, produce, mer- 
chandise, &c, to and from navigable waters. . . . Should he 
succeed, he contemplates forming a company to run Steam 
Boats from the head waters of the Roanoke to the falls, and 
from thence, by . . . Railway . . . across to tidewater at 

Plans for Virginia were discussed with Captain Harry 
Heth, chief coal-dealer of Richmond and leading citizen of 


Black Heath in the coal-fields. His "waggonage" during a 
year amounted to 800,000 bushels, for hauling which he was 
paying nine cents a bushel. Estimating that a railway would 
cut this charge to about half a cent a bushel, the colonel left 
an account of his visit to Richmond. 

That I might inform myself fully on every particular rela- 
tive to the coal mines ... I spent a week there ... in the 
examination of the different works. . . . The coal-pits, al- 
ready opened, cover so large a . . . surface that there can 
be no apprehension of their ever being exhausted. I then spent 
part of three days in exploring the best practicable route from 
the coal-pits to the . . . waters of the James River. 

The present route is by turnpike ... to Manchester. The 
water will not admit of the navigation of . . . vessels larger 
than schooners or small brigs. . . . Five miles below is a land- 
ing . . . Warwick. . . . This was, on every account, the most 
eligible site for the termination of a railway from the coal- 
pits. . . . The water . . . would admit ships of any burden 
. . . and the distance from the coal-pits nearly the same. . . . 
I found the ground between . . . pits . . . and . . . landing 
a gradual inclined plane, with only one small ravine interven- 
ing; the difference in elevation, between [them], as nearly as 
I could estimate, . . . 250 feet. ... It would appear as if 
nature had formed the surface . . . precisely to suit the 
purpose. . . . 

By the employment of large vessels, and from the facility 
and certainty of transporting coals on railways at all sea- 
sons, . . . vessels would meet with no detention. As the whole 
of transportation could be secured, the formation of coal- 
yards, here and at Philadelphia, would become an object of 
great profit. 

The definite proposition to Heth was that the coal owners 
should raise $80,000, of which $50,000 would be required by 
the colonel for building thirteen miles of railroad, using red 
cedar or locust posts, and furnishing "the necessary machin- 


ery, steam-engine and carriage for the reception of the 
same." The only stipulation was to the effect that Robert or 
himself have undisputed supervision. Should the experiment 
fail, there would be no charge whatever; should he suc- 
ceed, he promised a saving of $100,000 over the cost of 
"railways on the ordinary construction." But Virginia's 
coal-barons were no more ready than their northern com- 
petitors to accept the novelty ; the enthusiasm of Heth was 
not enough to prevent the project from languishing. 

In the face of indifference, the colonel remained philo- 
sophical. Discussing his plans for improving the naviga- 
bility of the Susquehanna with W. J. Duane, he told the 
latter that "the supineness of your Pennsylvania Legislature 
is truly astonishing. To bring forward at this time my rail- 
ways and carriages would be premature. What is required 
is a portion of disinterested and enlightened patriotism 
not entirely obtaining in bodies constituted as it [the legis- 
lature] is. A fair experiment must be made before I can 
reasonably expect to inspire confidence." In looking for a 
chance to promote such an experiment, he found an excuse 
in the disastrous first year of the war, with its stultifying 
effect upon steamboats. Hammering away at the idea that 
New York city must eventually become the "chief em- 
porium of the European market," he stressed "the greatly 
increased intercourse between that city and Philadelphia." 
Because of the war, most goods might no longer travel 
safely at sea but be carted, at great cost, from the Delaware 
to the Raritan. Under existing conditions, a canal eould 
never be dug; then why not build a railway? To be sure, 
there were "many other places within the United States 
where railways might be introduced with advantage." One 
such would be from the head of navigation on the Bohemia, 
a river tributary to the Chesapeake, across twelve miles to 


the Delaware; another would be from Philadelphia to the 
Susquehanna at Harrisburg. But neither seemed to him as 
important as a link between the landing below the bridge at 
Trenton and the lower landing at New Brunswick, a distance 
of twenty-six miles. Not only as an experiment for future 
improvement, but as the immediate means of improving Jer- 
sey transportation — to say nothing of his personal ambi- 
tions as a Jerseyman — it was here that the colonel ardently 
wished to lay the cornerstone of American railroads, the 
mightiest structure on earth. 

"This tract of country," said he, "is comparatively level. 
Not a hill of any consequence intervenes, even Rocky Hill 
being to the northward of the proper line." Over this a 
double road of iron rails could be laid at the estimated cost 
of $15,000 per mile — or less, if wooden rails were tried. 
"Should the risk, uncertainty, and delays of a sea voyage be 
superseded by this cheap and expeditious mode, the major 
part of foreign foods for the supply of the western country 
would be brought from New York." On the other hand, farm 
products such as flour, then selling in the city at a cruel 
price, could be delivered there far more cheaply. The more 
he considered it, the better he liked the idea of a railroad 
in New Jersey as the first one. 

He ran the line for that road himself. "Monday, the 
3rd of January, 1814," says his journal, "left home for 
New Brunswick in my own carriage. Paid tolls $2.52." 
Next day, with rods and chain, he made his "beginning at 
George Road, at a corner of John Van Noice's fence, S 43 
W, 52.50 Ch." The antiquarian might trace that line 
through many an old Jersey name : Stats Van Dusen, George 
McKay, Vander Veer, Enos Ayres, and Andrew MacDowel. 
Saw Mill Brook, the Ridge Road past the Stone School- 
house, and on to Cranbury; the Devil's Brook, the Hide's 


Town road, and so to Princeton. Up to Rowland's Tavern 
and the Ten Mile Stone; past the Quaker Wood by Jacob 
Haw's stable, crossing the middle of the road at John 
Walker's house ; then by Mount's Mill to the Assanpink dam 
and the Hutchinson Inn at Sand Town. Crossing the Lam- 
berton Road, to finish with "6 Ch. to the river bridge gate, 
Trenton," the line passed the Steamboat Hotel, where the 
colonel "paid, for whiskey and cider, $1" — a well-earned 
drink. While he drank it he reread his plans for financing 
such a railway. 

That there may be no clashing of interest between the Pro- 
prietors of the Steam Boats Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Rari- 
tan, and the subscribers to the contemplated Rail-Ways, it is 
proposed that the whole interest of the Steam Boat Line of 
communication between the Cities of New York and Philadel- 
phia be consolidated into one common stock. That to this end 
the above mentioned Steam Boats be estimated at a fair price, 
and that the Proprietors be at liberty to receive the amount 
of such valuation either in stock or in money, in whole or 
in part, at their option. 

That whenever the nett profits of said concern shall amount 
to more than 20 per cent per Annum on the capital expended, 
such excess or surplus, whatever it may be, shall be equally 
divided between the Stockholders and the present proprietors 
of said steamboats, and the Patentee of said Rail-Ways ; one- 
half thereof to be paid to said stockholders in proportion to 
the amount of stock held by each, and the other half to said 
Proprietors of said Steam Boats and the Patentee of said 
Rail-Ways, in proportion to the capital vested in each, as a 
compensation for their respective patent rights. 

Since legislative authority to incorporate was necessary, 
the colonel presently submitted a petition, in which he was 
joined by what few Jerseymen he could convince. "In times 
of peace," ran the argument, "the safety, certainty, and 
regularity which will attend our internal intercourse will 


make it of inestimable value. When our country may be 
involved in war, as at present, with a nation capable from 
maritime power of constantly interrupting if not destroying 
our coastal trade, we shall be able to carry on the neces- 
sary intercourse between the different parts of our country, 
safe from the risks of the sea or the power of the enemy, 
in the very midst of our people with facility and despatch." 
If truths so self-evident to-day were even recognized when 
the colonel stated them, the method of establishing them was 
held to be stamped with dangerous radicalism. What was it 
to a Jersey legislature to learn from John Stevens that rail- 
ways were "already numerous in England, Scotland, and 
Wales," with one, "in the counties of Monmouth and Brack- 
nock, extending a distance of twenty-eight miles"? So lit- 
tle, that the colonel did not dare suggest substituting, for 
the horse-drawn carts on these railways, his own steam-car- 
riages. Gladly would he have accepted horses merely to make 
a start. 

His gauge of public indifference was accurate. For years 
the roar of American cheering over each shovelful from a 
waterway ditch muffled the tapping of British hammers and 
the hiss of steam in British locomotives. The chance to be 
first in the field with railroads slipped out of America's 
hands and was drowned in the canals. Not very long ago, 
Mr. Samuel Rea, discussing later attempts to break ground 
for railroads, told how "unfortunately, it was necessary for 
the country to await the experiments of the Canal Period ; 
to suffer the disadvantage of their operation for only a part 
of each year; and to see many of them operated to obso- 
lescence within a comparatively brief interval, following the 
vast expenditures upon them, much of which was a total 
loss." Thus Samuel Rea, across the century behind him, 
again shook hands with John Stevens. 


The petition failed early in 1814. Soon after this disap- 
pointment the colonel wrote to John Gulick, the stage- 
operator : 

Feb. 25th. 

Had I met with the same liberality and disinterestedness in 
the members of the legislative council as you expressed to me 
when I saw you on my way to Trenton, my railroad would 
have met with a very different fate. But, although to the eter- 
nal disgrace of the state my application failed, I have still an- 
other project to communicate to you, which I expect may be 
carried into effect without legislative sanction, and which will 
answer my purposes and yours completely. . . . To form a 
railroad on the east side of Rocky Hill, thence running in a 
straight line and falling into the old road within half a mile 
of Brunswick. The distance would be about 9 miles and I be- 
lieve there are no public roads crossing this line. ... As the 
rails would be elevated ... it would form a complete fence. 
... I should presume there would not be much difficulty in ob- 
taining the privilege from the owners of the land, for a trifling 
consideration. . . . 

Purchase of the ground . . . and forming a horse-walk 
. . . would bring the expense of the whole up . . . to $20,- 
000. . . . Whilst my bill was before the legislature, I have not 
contradicted but rather acquiesced in the exaggerated esti- 
mates that have been made. . . . 

The whole transportation between Trenton and Brunswick 
would be served. . . . All opposition would be at an end, as 
no stages would be permitted to use the railroad except those 
belonging to the proprietors. ... It would secure, without 
competition, the carrying of the mails. ... As the road from 
Trenton to Brunswick would . . . [thus] be good at all sea- 
sons, no detentions could happen. . . . 

Interest on the capital would be . . . not one-fourth of the 
profits and advantages which such a railroad would be 

This was one of the many drops which the colonel con- 
tinually let fall upon the stone of public ignorance and in- 


difference. A disappointment in one direction merely influ- 
enced him to turn his face in another. Finally, on February 
6, 1815 — two days before the treaty of Ghent was signed — 
a great hour struck in his life. The New Jersey legislature 
created a company "to erect a Rail-Road from the River 
Delaware, near Trenton, to the River Raritan, at or near 
New Brunswick"! 

This first American Railroad Act had many of the fea- 
tures characteristic of contemporary turnpike legislation. 
To receive subscriptions a commission was appointed — 
James Ewing, Pierson Hunt, and Abner Reeder. The capi- 
tal was limited to five thousand hundred-dollar shares, on 
each of which a deposit of five dollars was required when 
subscribing. When two thousand shares had been taken, the 
commission was authorized to call a meeting of subscribers 
for the election of a president, eight directors — "five of 
whom shall constitute a board" — and a treasurer. There- 
after, elections were to be held on the first Wednesdays in 
November, ballots, in person or by proxy, to be at the rate 
of one vote for every share, not exceeding twenty ; one vote 
for every five shares between twenty and fifty, and one vote 
for every ten shares above fifty. Temporary vacancies in 
the board were to be filled by the board itself, but members 
otherwise to serve for one year. All the corporate powers 
were to be in force for fifty years, but if its terms were not 
carried out within ten years, or if the works were allowed 
to decay for two years, the charter was to become void. 

To lay out the road itself, a second commission was 
created — John Rutherfurd, Mahlon Dickerson, and Richard 
Allison — who must have "due regard to the situation and 
nature of the ground and the buildings thereon, the public 
convenience and the interest of the stockholders, so as to do 
the least damage to private property." The road was not 


to pass through any burying-ground, place of public wor- 
ship, dwelling-house nor outbuilding to the value of $300, 
without the owner's consent. The commission might enter 
upon any land for "stone, gravel or sand for said road," 
but might not take this away without paying for it. Elabo- 
rate reports must be submitted to the State. 

The charter said nothing about the kind of motive power 
to be used. It merely stipulated that the wagons and car- 
riages should be constructed and moved on the road "in con- 
formity to such rules as the company shall make from time 
to time." Power was granted to "make, erect, and establish 
a railroad, passing and repassing, which road is to be com- 
posed of either iron or wood for the running of the wheels ; 
the running part to be fixed on a solid foundation, imper- 
vious to frost, not liable easily to be removed." In order that 
it might "be good at all seasons of the year," the middle of 
the road must be of some hard substance — either stone, 
gravel, or wood. A particular feature was the prohibition 
against obstructing any public road; over these the com- 
pany was required to build causeways under penalty of ten 
dollars for each day of neglect. By right of domain, the 
company might erect all necessary "works, edifices, and de- 
vices," and, for any damage to these, collect three times 
the value of the harm done. It might also purchase "lands 
and tenements," the price of such to be determined, if neces- 
sary, by arbitration. 

When not less than ten miles should have been completed, 
the governor was required to appoint three disinterested 
persons "to . . . determine the rates and charges . . . for 
the transportation of merchandise and . . . every article 
of country produce, lumber, and fire wood . . . ; also . . . 
such tolls and rates as the . . . company may receive from 
all persons travelling the road." Every ten years, when the 


company was required to lay its financial condition before 
the legislature, the rates were to be subject to revision. 
There was^ however, a stipulation that rates should never be 
set so low as to prevent a 12 per cent, dividend to the stock- 

Though a little different from its countless offspring, this 
original Railroad Act was comprehensive enough for its age 
and day. Too much so, perhaps, since what the colonel called 
the public's unenlightened mind was not up to understand- 
ing its broad possibilities. This applies particularly to the 
original commissioners, of whom, indeed, only Mahlon Dick- 
erson appears to have had any great standing. It would 
seem that a man who was chosen governor of his State in 
this very year, and who successively became United States 
senator, minister to Russia, secretary of the navy, and Fed- 
eral judge, might have caught the colonel's vision and pushed 
his efforts to fruit. Possibly these very activities distracted 
his attention; why else should he have written the colonel, 
years afterward, as if the whole idea were new to him? 

Your memorial I transmitted to Mr Van Beuren & your 
pamphlet to the President. I have not since had an oppor- 
tunity of talking with either of them. . . . 

Your pamphlet will at some future day be a curious docu- 
ment to shew your opinion upon railroads & Steam Carriages 
as early as the year 1812. 

Colonel Stevens was irritated by the general blindness of 
1815 to the inevitable future. He castigated it as a merely 
obstinate conservatism. For the moment, however, he allowed 
the question of railroads to rest, while he found an outlet 
for his energies by joining his sons in the new line of 
endeavor just opened by them. 


Dec. 26th, 1814 
His Excellency 

Governor Dan'l D. Tompkins, 
New York. 

I have the honor to inform you that I have just made an 
experiment with one of Colonel Stevens' elongated shells, which 
was fired from a 24 pounder at a Target of timber 200 yards 
distant with three pounds of powder. The shell penetrated the 
Target, as well as we could judge, about halfway; and in 
about five seconds burst and completely destroyed the Target, 
altho' it had been strongly connected with iron bolts. 

Jas. House, 
Lt. Col. Art. 

When that twenty-four crashed into the target and, for all 
the iron bolts, destroyed it, John Stevens opened a battle 
which he was to wage for the rest of his life — the fight to 
give America an armored, mobile fleet, with the choice of 
time and place in meeting an enemy, with the heaviest and 
most effective guns afloat. Up to date the echo of that shot 
is no fainter than the echo of the first volley at Lexington ; 
each, in its way, began a revolution. Old-fashioned, blunder- 
ing round-shot, harmless at any considerable range and, even 
at point-blank, apt to bounce off weathered sides, became 
things of the past — mere bricks to build monuments at the 
corners of village greens. The elongated shell took its place 
as the forerunner of to-day's seventeen-hundred-pound, ar- 
mor-piercing, high explosive projectile, common to the fleets 


of the world. Since some one had to take the first step, why 
not John Stevens ? 

The colonel himself always credited the shells to Robert, 
merely using his own position as the elder man to push their 
completion and ultimate adoption. In the main they were 
Robert's. But Robert long since had formed the habit of 
taking fire at the flame of his father ; in this, as in so many 
later inventions and works, Robert developed an idea of his 
own by discussing it with the colonel ; or, vice versa, caught 
the colonel's vague theory and gave it practical realization. 
The two can afford to divide between them this particular 
design — not forgetting that Edwin also was a contributor to 
it. The early history of the shells is most simply told in let- 
ters, one of which the colonel wrote Governor Tompkins 
soon after House made his report. Enclosing a copy of the 
artilleryman's official communication to Washington, the 
colonel's letter continued: 

I have delayed the above until I could make further trials ; 
and have now the pleasure to inform you that yesterday, in 
the presence of Gen'l Boyd, Com. Decatur, Cap. Porter, Col. 
House, Doctor MacNiven and several other Gentlemen, four 
more shells were discharged at an entire new target ... re- 
sembling, as nearly as might be, the side of a 74 ; consisting of 
strong oak timbers one foot thick, set up perpendicularly in 
the ground close to each other; across which, on both sides, 
were strongly spiked and bolted oak planks of four or five 
inches thick. 

Owing to a miscalculation respecting the length of a fuse 
contained in the interior of the shells, which it was expected 
would burst four or five seconds after the discharge, only one 
shell reached the target before explosion; but the effect of 
this was amply sufficient. The shell pierced about halfway 
thro' the target, and, in a second, exploded with a report 
nearly equal to that of the cannon, which was a 24-pounder 
charged with about 3V4 pounds of powder. 


Two of the plank behind were forced entirely off; in front, 
from the bottom — near which the shell entered — to the bottom, 
the spikes were all started. What was most extraordinary 
. . . one of the pieces of oak timber was broken in two. . . . 

These experiments . . . have established four important ob- 

1st. That the ball may be directed with, at least, as much 
accuracy as a round ball. I believe much more. 

2nd. That, by lengthening the Fuze, the time of explosion 
may be extended to any length. 

3rd. That the Fuze may always be ignited with certainty. 

4th, and what crowns all, that the effect of the explosion 
on the ship's side must necessarily be tremendous ; the thicker 
and stronger the sides, the more destructive will it prove. 

Within a few days, the colonel forwarded to President 
Madison the certificates of Decatur and Porter, with some 
comments of his own. 

If I do not grossly deceive myself, these shells are calculated 
to produce, ultimately, an entire revolution in naval and mili- 
tary tactics. A few heavy guns will be sufficient to afford com- 
plete protection against any naval armament whatever. . . . 
Each shell will do as much execution as twenty round 
shot. . . . 

A Columbiad would discharge shells containing at least 20 
lbs of powder. With such powerful means we would soon, I 
trust, be able to regain our lost supremacy on Lake Ontario 
and prevent the enemy . . . from ever wresting from us that 
on the other Lakes. On the seaboard, by concentrating our dis- 
persable force as much as possible and attacking the blockad- 
ing squadron, a great impression might be made. . . . Should 
Government be disposed to think favourably of these shells, 
every exertion will be made to furnish any number. . . . 

That your Excel'y may be apprized of the cost ... I 
transmit Mr McQueen's account for casting and fitting up the 
five experimental shells. But, be the expense of them what it 
may, if one will be as efficient as twenty round shot, they will 
prove vastly more economical. . . . 


No specific charge will be made for the services of myself 
or my son, to whose ingenuity and perseverance the public 
will be principally indebted for whatever advantages may re- 
sult. . . . We shall ask no further compensation than a moder- 
ate percentage on the value of the vessels and property which 
may be captured or destroyed in consequence of the use of 
these shells. . . . Should this principle appear just, I trust 
it will be recommended by your Excel'y to Congress. . . . 
Should the percentage be in any degree proportionate to that 
allowed for the destruction of enemy ships by means of tor- 
pedoes, we shall be perfectly satisfied. . . . 

To furnish an adequate supply will take some time. ... It 
will be highly important to know as soon as possible what 
number may be required. . . . An advance of 5 or $10,000 
will be required for the purchase of materials. . . . The Cor- 
poration of the City of New York would, no doubt, make the 
advance, if applied to by Government. 

There is no record of any reply from President Madison, 
but Captain Samuel Evans of the New York navy yard 
shortly had orders from Acting Secretary Crowninshield to 
"afford the means to Colonel Stevens of making experi- 
ments," which were continued at intervals throughout this 
summer. Tests of various guns, from 18- to 100-pounders, 
were so satisfactory that the navy ordered 1250 shells, while 
the army, on condition that more tests be first made, took 
3750. Summed up, the later tests showed progress: 

Out of nine shells fired, none burst in the gun, the explosion 
taking place not less than ten seconds after discharge. 

Direction was remarkably good; on the whole, better shots 
were made than usually done with round shot. 

From spiral creases, made by rubbing against spikes or 
bolts in the target, the rotary motion of the shells was evi- 
dent. This was confirmed by the rectilinear course of such as 
ricochetted on the water. 

Three shells that pierced the target without exploding were 


judged, from the holes they made, to have entered point first 
and then turned sideways, without injury to themselves. 

The elongated form lessened the resistance to the air, greatly 
increasing the range. 

No effort to explode the shell, except by gun-fire, succeeded. 

Emersed for a considerable time in water, the shells proved 
to be hermetically sealed. 

Of six shots, fired at a target 430 yards distant, three were 
in direct line with the center. One was one foot nine inches to 
the left; one was six feet to the left; and one was two feet 
two inches to the right ; all pronounced "very good shots." 

When the colonel, Robert, and Edwin studied these re- 
sults, their minds leaped forward in the next logical step 
— armored ships. If their projectile could knock a seventy- 
four to pieces, the obvious rejoinder by any potential enemy 
of the United States would be an indestructible vessel. The 
evening conversations on the top of the Hoboken hillside 
soon turned to the conclusion that it would be better for the 
United States to build the first such vessel ; better that she 
be designed with her machinery and vitals protected; and, 
therefore, better that screw-propellers be used to drive her. 
Of all this the colonel had much to say in a letter to Stephen 

April 29th, 1815 

When I met you last, I intimated that I had contrived a 
shot-proof vessel to carry a Columbiad for firing shells into 
the sides of ships-of-war and, notwithstanding the objections 
you urged against my mode of propelling her, I still think it 
very much superior to that described by you and which you 
informed me had been adopted by Mr Fulton. 

One of the defects of the steam engine now in use is the 
loss of power necessarily sustained by the conversion of a 
rectilinear motion into a rotary one. To have resort then, of 
choice, to the converse of this — viz : converting a rotary motion 
into a rectilinear one, would argue a gross violation of me- 
chanical principles long understood and established. 


You contend that the muscular force of men can be exerted 
to better advantage in shoving and pulling backwards and for- 
wards in a right-line than by turning a winch. This I conceive 
myself fully warranted in pronouncing a mistaken idea. . . . 
Whether a common water-wheel, or a spiral after the manner 
of a windmill is the most advantageous application of power 
I will not now undertake to determine. ... It is sufficient 
for my purposes to have satisfied myself, by actual experiment, 
that the loss must be very trifling. 

The results of repeated experiments between common oars 
and a light frame wheel are in favor of the latter. A number 
of other considerations, which would occupy too much of your 
time for the object now in view, give the spirals a decided 
superiority over the common water wheels. The perfect se- 
curity against shot afforded the former, by their total sub- 
mersion, is a consideration of the utmost importance. 

On what are the merits of the project of the Gentleman at 
Baltimore for throwing a stream of fire, it is not for me to 
presume to pass an opinion. ... I merely observe that, as it 
is novel, it will require experiment. ... I would beg leave 
to intimate to you that I have also conceived a project for set- 
ting ships on fire ; it would be premature to enter into details 
until I have tested the efficacy. ... If successful, I should 
propose that the Government make trial of shot-proof ves- 
sels, on my plan, for the Mediterranean service. They would 
combine, in a superior degree, the objects contemplated by 
the Gentleman with the advantage resulting from the use of 
elongated shells, which may be thrown from a Columbiad to a 
distance of perhaps nearly four miles and, at a distance of half 
a mile could be directed against even a small object with abso- 
lute certainty. . . . 

In the construction of the vessel itself various improvements 
are adopted, of which I shall at this time abstain from making 
a particular explanation. 

For the Mediterranean, what the colonel planned was a 
seventy-foot craft, capable of being carried on board a fri- 
gate. It was to be made shot-proof by thick plank, covered 


with plate iron, to mount one Columbiad, and to be "pro- 
pelled by men, by means of a spiral water-wheel in the 
stern." A steam-engine, he felt, could not be got under way 
promptly enough to provide for an emergency attack. "Ten 
or a dozen of these," he wrote, "after passing by the castle 
at Algiers, would soon demolish every ship of war anchored 
or moored" in the harbor. Moving relatively fast, they would 
be but briefly exposed to fire from the forts. He spoke of the 
"glorious termination" of the war with the greatest naval 
power in Europe as an indication of what would be ex- 
pected from the United States in the future, "when all 
eyes will be turned upon us." Should we now succeed in 
destroying the naval force of the Algerians, we should prob- 
ably settle them for ages to come. "But," he concluded, "we 
shall do more! We shall heighten the reputation and re- 
spect we have already acquired, and thus guard against 
future insult and aggression." The colonel could be de- 
pended upon for anything to help the Eagle scream. 

In the fall of this year he again covered all the shell ex- 
periments in a letter to Madison, adding the conclusions 
which he thought established. He visited Washington for 
this purpose. 

Nov 8th, 1815. 

. . . The report of the experiments ... I had the honor to 
put into the hands of your Excellency yesterday. . . . 

It may be thought that the great expense would be a serious 
objection to the use of these shells extensively. . . . Should 
they give our naval armaments an overwhelming superiority 
. . . the expense, were it tenfold greater, becomes an object 
unworthy of serious attention. . . . The destruction of a 
single line-of-battle ship would more than compensate for the 
additional cost. . . . 

It is the most earnest wish of my son that the advantage 
resulting . . . may be exclusively reserved to his beloved na- 


tive country. . . . Should, however, a war break out between 
any European powers, he might possibly be tempted by high 
reward, unless previously restricted, to communicate his secret 
to one of them. . . . 

Happily, the construction and mode of adjustment are by 
no means obvious and would probably not be understood even 
were an enemy to become possessed of an entire shell. The secret 
has been communicated only to Commodores Rodgers, Porter, 
and Decatur — even the workmen have no conception whatever. 
... I add the estimate of charges. 

This letter was soon followed by a petition to Congress, 
inspired by the colonel's learning of a bill just proposed. The 
bill would authorize the President to buy steam-engines and 
materials to equip three steam batteries for the defense of 
Chesapeake Bay and other points, as well as to "keep in 
the best state of preservation the block-ship now on the 
stocks near New Orleans." In his memorial the colonel repre- 
sented himself as in possession of a plan "calculated to em- 
brace completely the objects contemplated," with the im- 
portant additional advantage of providing "cheap, facile, 
and expeditious" transportation from Providence to Savan- 
nah. He begged that he be given a hearing in camera on 
the details, because certain parts should be kept from pub- 
lic knowledge. What he planned was a combination of iron- 
clad steam vessels, for either commercial or military use as 
occasion demanded, with the railroads always so close to his 
heart. The note he made upon his copy of this petition 
ruefully states that it was "referred to the Committee on 
Naval Affairs, where it came to naught" — a result to which 
the years would make him accustomed but never reconciled. 

As to the ships themselves, he went into more detail in a 
letter to James Pleasants, then chairman of the very commit- 
tee which was to pigeonhole his suggestions. 


In the main, with some reserve, they should be built on the 
common plan of frigates ; drawing, however, less water. The 
machinery, as well as propellers, so constructed as to be wholly 
below the surface of the water. They should be impelled, by the 
machinery alone, at least seven miles an hour. 

As it is calculated to fire shells, instead of balls, they would 
carry fewer guns, though of larger calibre. The weight of 
metal would be decreased but the powers of destruction in- 
creased tenfold. 

With your leave, I will state my objections to the frigate 
. . . already built at New York. By placing a water-wheel 
in the middle, she is . . . necessarily made [with] an ex- 
treme breadth of beam . . . separated into two vessels. To 
connect . . . sufficiently strong, these twin-vessels, a mass of 
superfluous timber becomes necessary. These, in addition to 
bulwarks for the defence of her machinery, render her so un- 
wieldy and heavy that, even with an engine pre-eminently 
powerful, she goes through the water — even when smooth — 
at a very slow gait ; . . . from her construction, she must 
be pronounced . . . unfit to encounter a common sea in the 
open ocean. . . . 

She can neither pursue nor avoid an enemy. . . . She is 
merely a floating battery with very limited powers of loco-mo- 
tion, and it is always in the power and at the option of an 
enemy — unless becalmed — either to attack or to avoid her. 
... A steam frigate, infinitely more efficient, can be built and 
completely fitted for less than half [her] cost. 

The steam frigate of which the colonel found so little of 
good to say was the Demologos, built from the designs of 
Fulton. Without doubt, the colonel was a prejudiced critic, 
but it is a fact that this craft had a tough time of it at 

As to shells, negotiations with the War and the Navy 
departments dragged on, these bureaus, though smaller, be- 
ing no less impersonal and tape-bound than those now 
familiar to us. W 7 eeks were consumed in fruitless visits to 


Washington, where Robert and James were still struggling 
when the colonel wrote James on Christmas day, 1816. 

Yours of the 20th inst. I received yesterday, and was truly 
mortified at the contents, although I had . . . anticipated 
what has taken place. The reference of the business to the 
ordnance department is an act of downright hostility. Colonel 
Bumford, as was ... to be expected, has . . . done every- 
thing in his power to defeat our purpose and prevent any con- 
tract being made. . . . 

The objections raised by Colonel Wadsworth are founded 
on ground never contemplated. . . . The conduct of the par- 
ties all around indicates ... a disposition to force Robert to 
dispose of his invention for a song. . . . 

From the complexion ... at the date of your letter . . . 
I do not apprehend ... a speedy issue. If no change has 
taken place, it is my opinion ... it would be to no purpose 
to remain at Washington any longer. . . . 

My present impressions are that . . . you return immedi- 
ately to Philadelphia where, on notice, I will meet you on any 
day you appoint. . . . We can hold a consultation with Mr 
Binney . . . and, if it should be thought necessary, I will re- 
turn with you to Washington. Nay ! If it should be deemed ex- 
pedient, we will take Mr Binney with us, if he can be prevailed 
upon. . . . We should then, I apprehend, present so formid- 
able a front as to drive the whole corps of artillery off the 
field, with the ordnance department at their head ! . . . 

It only wants a proper degree of energy, weight, and deci- 
sion, to carry this business successfully through. To produce 
an adequate impression, high ground must be taken which, 
perhaps, might not appear quite so decorous in two such young 
men. . . . Do not fail to answer this immediately. . . . Pre- 
serve this letter, as I have no copy. 

Having received from Robert a copy of Colonel Wads- 
worth's letter to the secretary of war, Colonel Stevens 
promptly forwarded his comments upon this to William H. 


Crawf urd, formerly of the War Department but by this time 
secretary of the treasury. 

Col. Wadsworth says "the elongated shells are calculated 
to obviate the principal objections against the use of shells 
on ship-board." He does not specify what objections, but I 
presume he alludes principally to the want of safety. The 
various trials . . . have placed beyond all possibility of 
doubt, the perfect safety attending their use. 

Is not this . . . quality nearly, if not quite, equally essen- 
tial in a battery against shipping? For want of this . . . and 
other insurmountable difficulties, the substitution of shell [for] 
ordinary shot has hitherto proved impractical. . . . Admit- 
ting that Col. Wadsworth is correct in his strong persuasion 
that "round shells from 24 P and 32 P would be quite sufficient 
to do irreparable mischief" yet, if they cannot be used in can- 
non in the same manner, and as a substitute for round shot 
in the same service, I doubt the justice and propriety of Col. 
Wadsworth's -firm belief, that . . . the necessity of using elon- 
gated shells would vanish as respects the land service. . . . 

If Col. Wadsworth's meaning is, to use round in place of 
elongated shells, without adopting the mode of ignition, it is 
notorious his project must fail. But, should it even be his in- 
tention to adopt this indispensable improvement, still his pro- 
ject would prove impracticable ; a certain degree of cylindrical 
form being essential. . . . 

It seems he wished that farther experiments might be made, 
which "would afford him personally great satisfaction and be 
of permanent use ... to clear up and settle some questionable 
points." What these questionable points are, is not so much 
as hinted at. . . . The experiment he is desirous of making 
has already been tried in a mode much more satisfactory than 
the one he proposes. . . . The result was that the shells 
ranged considerably farther than the round shot, with direc- 
tion nearly equally good. . . . But the ranges, he says, "ought 
to be extended to 1500 yards or a mile." To what end? If, 
in half a mile and upwards, the shells carried farther, what 
reason ... to suppose the results would be materially varied 
in a mile? 

398 john stevens: an American record 

With . . . six pds of powder and an elevation of 4 deg., 
we find the shells ranged very nearly three quarters of a mile. 
They made ricochets repeatedly from the surface of the marsh 
and some of them buried themselves at a distance of a mile 
and a half. It is presumed they will go farther, if fired over 
water. From a Columbiad, with a short shell of little more 
weight than a round shot, I have no doubt a ship may be 
struck at a distance of three miles. 

The account he gives of a ship being struck by a shell from 
a Howitzer, is a proof in point of the very important utility of 
these shells in "the land service." A ship underway and pass- 
ing a battery with a leading breeze would remain but a short 
time exposed. It would require the heaviest metal and the 
greatest possible expedition in firing, to produce the desired 
effect. For these reasons, the batteries for the defence of har- 
bours ought to be mounted principally with the heaviest can- 
non now in use. If some could be cast still larger — so much 
the better. This, it will be said, would incur a heavy expense. 
But when the object is to . . . insure defence against . . . 
ships-of-war . . . for such cities as New York, Philadelphia, 
etc. ... to suffer expense to have influence . . . would 
surely be ill-directed economy. . . . 

The following is an extract from Robins. "A mortar for the 
sea-service, charged with 30 pds of powder, has sometimes 
thrown its shell of 12% in. diameter and 23 pds weight, to 
the distance of 2 miles at 45 Deg." By an experiment . . . 
the 18th of June, 1815, at Governor's Island ... a Colum- 
biad, or 100-pounder fired a shell at a target 80 yards from 
the piece. The shell, including 13 pds of powder with which it 
was charged, weighed 190 pds. The calibre of the Columbiad 
is nine inches. . . . 

It is highly probable that a shell from a Columbiad would 
ricochet to three miles or more. The shell of the latter con- 
tained 13 pds of powder, against 9 1 / 4 pds for the mortar. 

Col. Wadsworth concluded with suggesting that "it might 
be as well to leave their merits to be fully tested by the officers 
of the Navy, before deciding upon this introduction into the 
land service. . . ." One would suppose that the Secretary of 
War was about to introduce some dangerous innovation "into 


the land service." The effect of a shell fired from the Colum- 
biad, according to Col. House's report, was "truly tremen- 
dous." From the ordeal they have undergone, it is proved that, 
from negligence or accidents, no mischievous effects are to be 
apprehended ; in the hurry and confusion of action these shells 
can be handled, and the pieces charged, with as much safety 
and expedition as round shot ; their explosion, in a given time, 
is reduced to almost a certainty ; and their range and direction 
are at least equal. To what purpose make further experiments ? 
None, that I can see, unless, as Colonel Wadsworth has sug- 
gested, "to afford him personally great satisfaction." 

Throughout the spring and summer — more talk and 
more delay. Growing impatient, as he always did when his 
plans hung fire, the colonel thought Washington might be 
hurried if he opened negotiations with some foreign power. 
As one quite unlikely to go to war with the United States, 
he chose Russia. In September he sent a long memorial to 
the czar through Count Lievin, Russian ambassador at the 
Court in St. James's, and received the count's promise to 
forward it at the first opportunity. The actual proposals 
were those which the colonel had already laid before Dasch- 
koff, Russian minister to the United States, embodying the 
suggestion that steam frigates and, if desired, the small 
propeller-driven boats be built. In the first frigate finished, 
the colonel offered to embark for Russia, there to stay until 
the czar was satisfied with the trials of her machinery and 
guns. If this service were accepted, he set a figure of $200,- 
000 upon his personal attendance, plus — in case Russia 
should go to war — a 10 per cent, commission on the value 
of all ships destroyed by his frigates. If he were "honored 
by an assurance from the hand of the Emperor himself," 
this would inspire him with such confidence that he would 
require only "a moderate compensation" until the experi- 
ments proved successful. 

400 john stevens: an American record 

To answer the anticipated question why he was not sup- 
plying frigates and shells to his own country, he remarked 
that this was due to "the indecision and procrastination 
which naturally pervades and benumbs all the movements 
of a Republican Government." Even so, he declared, he 
would not be making the offer to Russia unless there were 
"every reason to expect an uninterrupted continuance of 
the amity at present subsisting between the United States 
and herself." Then, adding a summary of all the experi- 
ments made with shells, but not revealing the secret of their 
construction, he took the liberty of flattering himself that, 
in suggesting one way in which Russia might use his ships 
and his guns, he did not "sin beyond pardon." 

"The expulsion of the Turks out of Europe," he wrote, 
"would not only redound greatly to the glory of the Russian 
Empire but be incalculably beneficial to the whole civilized 
world." Venturing to suggest how this might be accom- 
plished, he proposed building a fleet on the Black Sea. A 
few ships having "drawn out the enemy" by attacking 
Varna, the main body could then swoop down upon Con- 
stantinople, secure the Bosporus and starve out the Turk. 
Language having its way with him, he exclaimed over the 
"Turkish Empire rent in twain." 

Glorious indeed would be the spectacle ! To view this classic 
ground, once the seat of art, science, and civilization, but 
now for ages past groaning under the execrable yoke of Ma- 
homet, rising like a Phoenix from its ashes and, under the 
fostering wing of an Alexander, resuming and perhaps sur- 
passing its former splendours ! 

It was his hope that Russia might employ these means 
"not in the conquest and devastation of surrounding coun- 
tries . . . nor in establishing a vile monopoly of commerce, 



subjugating distant regions to be immolated at the shrine 
of mercantile avarice . . . but in the exercise of a benign 
and enlightened policy of friendly and mutually beneficial 
intercourse with all the nations of the earth." Further, he 
drew attention to the possibility of using his frigates against 
the "vile nest of pirates in the Mediterranean, now commit- 
ting the most shocking outrages in the Atlantic." As a cli- 
max, he touched upon the great good to Russian internal 
commerce, the great facility in handling mails, and the in- 
crease in the security of the empire, which would all result 
from the adoption of another plan that he hoped for an 
opportunity to present — steam railroads. 

All this was expecting a great deal of Russia. Three copies 
of the memoir went forward, the second through Richard 
Rush, our minister to Britain, and the third to young Rich- 
ard Stevens, the doctor, "attached to the United States 
Frigate destined to the port of St Petersburg with his Ex- 
cellency Campbell, Plenipotentiary from the United States." 
Dr. Richard was to furnish the czar with any details re- 
quired, but Alexander I never sent for him. 

Whether or not the Russian idea had its effect during the 
winter, it is at least certain that Robert made some headway 
with Washington in the following spring. But the colonel 
did not approve of making any concessions. He wrote to 
Robert : 

Feb'y 17th, 1818 
. . . James . . . tells me . . . you have offered to make a 

contract for 3200 shells, and that you expect Government to 

close. ... I wrote you my opinion . . . not to budge an 

inch from your original offer. . . . 

Since you have receded so much below it . . . you ought 

not to bind yourself ... so as to deprive yourself of reaping 

any further advantage. . . . 

Suppose the Emperor of Russia should . . . offer $200,000 

402 john stevens: an American record 

for the privilege of using your shells, would it be fair that 
Government should debar you . . . for so trifling a pittance? 
For, even supposing the worst, that the secret should be laid 
open to the world, still your native country would derive an 
immense advantage from . . . these shells in land batteries 
against shipping. Seaport towns would ... be impregnable 
... a service more valuable than the small profit on so small a 
number of shells. 

To give the Government an absolute monopoly for so slender 
a compensation would be ... a bargain miserably lop-sided. 
... I would never consent to a contract so glaringly unequal. 
. . . Although no consideration should tempt me to communi- 
cate the secret ... to Great Britain or France without the 
approbation of Government, still, should an offer be made by 
Russia, I would never suffer myself to be debarred. . . . 

Should the contract be not yet signed, I earnestly en- 
treat you to come on to Phila. Congress will not rise till May. 
... I pledge myself to make Govt, adhere to your first terms, 
or to consent to a negotiation with Russia. . . . 

In this case Robert did not agree with his father ; within 
a week the contract was signed, February 23. Its substance 
provided that Robert should deliver "to the order of Lieut- 
Col George Bomford," two thousand shells. Two hundred 
were for eighteen-pounders, twelve hundred for twenty- 
fours, and the remainder for thirty-twos. An alternative for 
eighteen-pounders, in case larger shells proved desirable, was 
to be the same number for either eight-inch howitzers or 
ten-inch mortars. A complete description of the shells and 
their preparation for firing was to be furnished by Robert, 
"enveloped and sealed under a parchment, placed securely 
in a copper box, with a good lock affixed thereto ; which box 
shall be forwarded by one conveyance, and the key by an- 
other." He bound himself not to reveal to any one "more 
than absolutely necessary" of the secret of manufacture, and 
particularly agreed not to furnish any foreign power with 


"elongated shells or any engine of war similar thereto." 
Also, it was distinctly stipulated that no member of Con- 
gress was to have any share in the manufacture or profit. 
Oddly enough, although he must consent to "any restric- 
tions imposed by the U. S.," Robert was allowed to retain 
the right, in case of war, to use the shells himself ! 

The cost of the shells to the Government varied from 
$20.90 to $26.40, with an appropriate reduction if as 
many as fifteen thousand should be ordered. The procedure 
for testing was much what it would be to-day. Six shells, 
"taken promiscuously from any one part or parcel," were 
to be filled and fired. If they failed to explode, Robert, pro- 
vided they came from the first delivery, was to be allowed 
to replace them. If from a later delivery, however, he was 
bound to refund to the United States any money he had been 

Under this contract, Robert made and delivered shells. 
Experiments continued for several years, during which the 
colonel and Edwin worked upon a way to stop Robert's 
progress in knocking down targets as fast as they were set 
up on an improvised "proving-ground." It was to Bomford 
that the colonel reported results, March 27, 1820 : 

In my plan for rendering steam vessels impenetrable to the 
fire . . . from ships of war ... I would propose to place 
one gun of large calibre nearly in the centre, pointing imme- 
diately towards the bow. . . . The bow must be always pre- 
sented to the enemy. . . . 

To protect the bow, I propose to place a platform of solid 
oak, on an inclined plane at such an angle as to give a rise 
of four or five feet in 20 inches. ... In front of the gun, 
for the width of four or five feet, the platform ... to be sus- 
pended on trunnions, so as to raise and depress the end in any 
way we wish. . . . When the gun is charged and ready to fire, 
the forward end of the screen must be raised ... so as to in- 


cline in an opposite direction ... to permit the discharge, 
when it must be immediately restored to its former position. 
... I will now give you the details of some experiments. . . . 

I placed on the ground, at about the angle mentioned, three 
pine plank ... 18 feet long, three inches thick, and ... a 
foot wide; on these were placed ten bars of iron, 2^ inches 
wide, 1/2 inch thick, 14 feet long. The target was 70 yards dis- 
tant from a 32-pound cannon . . . charged with 8 pounds of 

At the first fire, the ball struck within a few inches of the 
ends of the bars, carrying away a short piece; pierced the 
plank, and rebounded. We then fired again, depressing the 
gun but not making allowance for [its] being heated. The ball 
struck the two middle bars, about a foot from the ends and, 
after passing over them about 6 in. and bending them, it broke 
off from each about 6 or 8 inches. . . . Piercing and break- 
ing the plank, it rebounded. 

I then changed the materials and construction . . . substi- 
tuting oak of nearly 5 inches thick ... on sleepers and 14 
feet long. The gun was charged with 4 pounds powder. I was 
not present. My son, conceiving that some allowance was to 
be made for the difference of charge, again gave the piece too 
much inclination. The ball struck the two middle bars, I 1 /] in. 
from their ends and, although some part of these ends were 
broken, the ball rebounded without piercing the oaken pieces. 
Here my experiments are arrested at, to me, a very interesting 
juncture — not having any more ball. 

More experiments will be necessary and my chief object in 
troubling you ... is to procure an order on Captain Hayden 
for a small supply of 32 cannon ball. 

Up to this time the navy had spent, in collecting "steam 
engines and imperishable materials necessary for building 
and equipping three steam batteries" of the general type 
of the Demologos, $223,525. Based upon this official fig- 
ure, Colonel Stevens made an estimate of the total cost — 
including 10 per cent, for "unavoidable contingencies" — 
at $600,000, more or less. Writing to President Monroe on 


October 28, he represented this sum as excessive in view of 
what would be obtained for it. Pine boards, for example, 
ought not, in his opinion, to be regarded as "imperishable 
materials." Moreover, he argued that the proposed vessels, 
when finished, would not be mobile warships but "mere 
floating batteries which could afford auxiliary aid to land 
batteries in but three of our harbours," while each "one of 
these arks would take as long to finish as a ship of the 

My plan [said this letter to Monroe] is ... to construct 
such steam engines, of various powers, as may be adequate 
. . . placing these . . . whenever occasion may require, on 
board of such ships, tugs, schooners, and sloops as may always, 
when wanted, be readily procured. ... It would be necessary 
to have in readiness only the engines. . . . The copper, when- 
ever wanted, could be purchased and the boilers finished and 
placed on board, in a few weeks. . . . The whole immediate 
expense . . . for fifty such engines . . . would be five hundred 
thousand dollars. . . . 

The propellers, machinery, and ordnance will be completely 
protected. . . . These vessels will be propelled by machinery 
alone at . . . more than seven miles an hour . . . have it in 
their power to advance or retreat as circumstances require 
. . . and [be able to] concentrate their whole force against 
a single ship. . . . 

Suffer me to suggest . . . recommending a suspension of 
. . . expenditures for "procuring steam engines and imperish- 
able material" . . . and an appropriation of . . . say Forty 
or Fifty thousand dollars for . . . equipping completely a 
steam vessel of 150 to 300 tons. . . . Should such experiment 
. . . prove satisfactory, it would then be for Government to 
determine the propriety ... of prosecuting further the plan 

Among many similar letters, one went to John Taylor, 
speaker of the House, and another to John Randolph. The 


colonel addressed Randolph because, he said, the "fearless 
independence of [your] Congressional career" had em- 
boldened him to think Randolph might be disposed to "feel 
the temper of the House" in regard to steam frigates. It 
was evident that the plan had "excited jealousy and alarm 
among the Navy Commissioners" and this was "naturally to 
be expected." Would not Congress, however, recommend an 
experiment and — although this might be unusual — make a 
small appropriation without waiting for an executive re- 
quest for the money? Once tried, the experiment ought to 

Thomas Cobb of Georgia was another representative 
appealed to by the colonel, this for the reason that Cobb 
had just introduced a resolution calling for reduction of 
government expenditures. Here, in the colonel's view, was a 
way to accomplish this saving. Let the small vessels appro- 
priated for at the last session, to fight pirates, be fitted 
with engines, and let the result speak for itself. In this way, 
perhaps, could be rescued the colonel's former petitions and 
letters which had been, he said, "referred to the Commis- 
sioners of the Navy and, of course, committed to the Tomb 
of the Capulets." Cobb, in reply, promised that if the plan 
were "found worthy of trial" and would save money, he 
would support it. 

These letters filled the rest of the year. In the middle of 
January, Taylor sent the colonel the names of the Naval 
Affairs Committee — Barbour, Fuller, Warfield, Case, Hall, 
Dennison, and Crawford — with a copy of their report. As 
expected, this was short and merely intended to transmit 
to the House what the Naval Commission, headed by John 
Rodgers, had recommended. In those days House commit- 
tees believed that naval officers were, or should be, experts 
in their own line, whose recommendations could be accepted. 


There appears to have been little argument over Commo- 
dore Rodgers's report. 

The commodore fired at full broadside at the colonel's 
plan. Primarily, he resented the suspicion that he and his 
colleagues had not been strictly within the law in buying 
"imperishable materials" — a resentment sufficiently justified 
had the colonel ever made exactly that accusation. Next, 
Rodgers insisted that efforts had been made to get, through 
newspaper advertising, proposals and plans from those 

Few plans [ran the report] were offered; and none that the 
Commission would approve of ; among them was one from R. L. 
Stevens, a son of J. Stevens and a man whom the Board be- 
lieve to be of great mechanical talents. . . . Persons known 
to be of the first abilities in Naval Architecture and Science 
were employed to form a model . . . which should unite all 
the improvements within the knowledge of the Board, be free 
from all the defects found in the others, and as complete in 
every respect as possible . . . [This] was adopted as the 
most suitable for the Steam Batteries. . . . 

The model is entirely different from the first steam battery 
which was built at the suggestion and under the superintend- 
ence of Mr Robert Fulton. ... It was prepared by the naval 
constructor who built the steam ship plying between New York 
and New Orleans and is believed to possess all her properties 
of fleetness and ability to keep the sea. Hence it will be per- 
ceived that whatever remarks J. Stevens may have made . . . 
will not apply to the steam vessels preparing by the Commis- 
sioners. . . . The Board have reason to think they have had it 
in their power to avail themselves of every improvement that 
J. Stevens would introduce. . . . 

The Board think it would be impracticable to place engines 
on board vessels not prepared for them, at so short a period 
as he mentions ; nor could they, when scattered along the coast, 
be readily assembled. . . . With regard to their speed, it 
must greatly depend upon their form and the power of the 

408 john stevens: an American record 

engines . . . which . . . might be increased beyond that 
stated by John Stevens. If the speed cannot be [more than] 
7 miles per hour, the Board believe that . . . one steam bat- 
tery would destroy the whole fleet equipped by Jno. Stevens, 
as far as his communication made it known. 

In conclusion, the Board takes the liberty to state that R. L. 
Stevens, on his visit some weeks since, became first informed 
of his father's schemes . . . and expressed his mortification 
and regret ; assuring the Board that he had no concern in a 
project so wild. . . . The Board conceive it unnecessary to 
proceed into a further investigation. 

Reading that report, the colonel went white with rage. 
He bundled up all his pertinent letters and papers, or copies 
of them, and sent them to the editor of "Niles Register" 
with a request for publication, together with "some strictures 
on the report of the Board which I shall send on in a few 
days." The editor, perhaps terrified by the bulk, did not 
publish, but the strictures were drawn up in due course. 

From the nature and tendency of the plan suggested, it was 
eminently calculated to excite a hostile spirit among naval 
Commanders. If, as expressly stated, it would have a tendency 
to annihilate the present system of warfare, would it be ex- 
pected that these gentlemen should feel kindly toward it? . . . 
I shall now proceed to answer ... as may be necessary. . . . 

The Board states that the model . . . adopted was pre- 
pared by the Naval Constructor who built the steam vessel 
[Robert Fulton, not Demologos] plying between New York and 
New Orleans. This ship, then, is to be considered an exemplifica- 
tion of fleetness and ability to keep the sea. . . . It is a notori- 
ous fact that, during her last voyage, she was unable to work 
her engines for some days and that, in this situation, she 
by no means proved to be a good and safe sea-vessel. . . . 
With respect to speed, great reductions are to be made on 
account of her wallowing. . . . 

But, at once to put down vain boastings ... (J. Stevens 


not being a betting man himself) a friend of his is ready to bet 
the gallant Commodore Rodgers as follows : 

1. That the Philadelphia (constructed & owned by J. 
Stevens and his sons Robert and James) shall beat 
the steamship Robert Fulton — on whose model the con- 
templated steam batteries are to be constructed — at 
the rate of 3 miles an hour. 

2. That the Philadelphia shall beat the Fulton, 2 miles 
an hour. 

3. That the former Philadelphia shall beat the Fulton at 
the rate of li/> miles an hour. 

4. That the Philadelphia shall beat the Fulton at the 
rate of one mile an hour. 

5. That the utmost speed of the Fulton does not exceed 
7 miles per hour. 

6. That the Philadelphia, is at present the fastest steam- 
boat on the waters of the U. S. 

The amount offered to be betted shall be from one to five 
hundred dollars on each bet. The money to be deposited in the 
U. S. Bank. Each party to chuse an umpire, who are to super- 
intend the measurement of given distances ; far the Fulton, 
along the shore of the North River, and for the Philadelphia 
along the shore of the Delaware. They are also to be on board 
of each vessel when the trial is made. 

The Commodore is precluded from advancing a plea that he 
is not a betting man, in excuse for declining; he having, on 
some former occasion, challenged my son Robert in a bet of 
$1,000 that, with oars in a barge, he would beat the Philadel- 
phia 600 yards in four miles. Should the bet, therefore, not be 
accepted, it will be sufficiently obvious that the above is an 
idle boast [by the Board]. 

The Robert Fulton, against which the colonel proposed to 
place these bets, had made her first coastwise trip in 1820. 
A hundred and fifty-eight feet long, with ten-foot draft, and 
twenty-four foot paddle-wheels, she had been built by Henry 


Eckford. As Jaspar Lynch supervised the construction, it 
was presumably to him, as naval constructor, that the board's 
references were made. This ship, according to Morrison, had 
a schedule of approximately four days, New York to Charles- 
ton; four days, Charleston to Havana; and three days, 
Havana to New Orleans. A very fair speed for 1820. This, 
of course, was without guns, which fact led the colonel to 
say that steam batteries upon her lines and design would 
"scarcely exceed one-half that which I shall be able to give 
steam-vessels fitted on my plan." 

The Board [he added] acknowledges that . . . my son ex- 
hibited a model, which I have reason to think was the only 
one offered. This model, with alterations for the worst, was in 
fact adopted. It was upon the plan of a single vessel instead 
of two, as in the steam battery at New York. So far, then, 
the Board have actually availed themselves of one improve- 
ment that J. Stevens would introduce. 

It is truly sickening to hear these sea-captains, whose utmost 
attainments in science extend no further than, by means of 
tables, to keep a reckoning at sea, . . . proceeding with all 
due gravity, pomp, and solemnity, to inform the Committee 
that . . . although "none of the plans could be wholly ap- 
proved of . . . persons known to be of the first abilities in 
Naval Architecture were employed to make a model." . . . 

Who are to sit in judgment . . .? Surely not sea-captains 
and shipbuilders. Unquestionably, "vain projects and visionary 
schemes" can be avoided only by the employment of an engi- 
neer previously known to be skilled in this department of 
science. The Board have admitted R. L. Stevens to be "a man 
of great mechanical talent." . . . 

With unparalleled audacity and mendacity it is stated that 
J. S. brought forward a "suggestion to suspend further ex- 
penditures on other objects of national defense." ... By a 
recurrence to . . . documents, it will be found that I sug- 
gested merely suspension ... on Steam Batteries. ... It 
was, no doubt, expected that, by thus throwing ridicule on 


the plan I suggested ... so manifest an evidence would be 
afforded of the "infirmity and imbecility of my mind" as to 
impress a character on [my] plan . . . wholly unworthy of 
attention. In this expectation, I trust . . . the Board will 
eventually find themselves woefully disappointed, and John 
Rodgers will yet rue the day in which he was induced to place 
his signature to an instrument containing insinuations so in- 
decorous and cruel, and misstatements so foul and disgraceful. 

This was the colonel at his hottest. When he had cooled 
down a little he declared that "if vessels can be made to 
navigate by steam alone, in all weathers, no ship of war 
on present construction would be able to contend with them. 
It follows that such ships would become totally useless, and 
what then, of the present Naval establishment? When I 
assign a dread of these consequences as the only possible mo- 
tive for the conduct of the Naval Commissioners in reference 
to the plan I have suggested, I would not be understood as 
impeaching such conduct. They have only acted as the ma- 
jority of mankind would have done. The magnanimity and 
disinterested patriotism of a Washington are not to be met 
with, every day." In his own enthusiasm for steam he could 
hardly make a fair allowance for the feelings of sailormen 
of the Rodgers school, taught to smell the breeze while it 
was still beyond the horizon or to crack on through a rising 
gale until their tops'ls split. Steam clouds merely stung 
their eyes and blinded them to the inevitable. For them 
to consent to building even one steam battery meant a wound 
in their pride w r hich would not heal in Bob Evans's day; 
not for a throne in Valhalla w T ould they have admitted that 
"sailor" and "engineer" could ever become practically syn- 
onymous terms. 


The colonel's earliest conceptions of an armored vessel 
called for a saucer-shaped hull, plated with iron, which he 
proposed to moor in the harbor on a swivel. With several 
propellers, he would be able rapidly to spin her and thus 
keep her guns always bearing. "A turtle," he called her, 
"whose hard shell no enemy could crack." The design was 
the one John Elder of Glasgow actually completed a good 
many years later ; in the colonel's time, it met with no favor. 
Nevertheless, as they proceeded with their gunnery experi- 
ments both he and Robert became more and more convinced 
that the other navies of the world would soon snatch the lead 
in guns away from our navy, and that heavier protection 
would be the only thing to save the American battle fleet 
of the future. Against their newest target, of stouter oak 
and faced with iron, Edwin — although he fired a bronze can- 
non at short range until it was red-hot — could make little 
impression. If the target was inclined, the shell glanced off 
harmlessly — a point that stuck fast in the minds of Robert 
and Edwin. Their father, although he shortly became much 
absorbed in railroads, did not wholly abate his appeals for a 
new navy. After making no headway in 1821, he continued 
to try for it sporadically during the next ten years. Writing 
on March 22, 1830, to Senator Mahlon Dickerson, he gave 
"a solemn warning that, should we continue to remain un- 
prepared in the event of another maritime war, woe ! betide 
us. Our first-rate line of battleships must be demolished." 



He had had, he added, the "consummate assurance" to pro- 
pose to the President that an office which might be called 
"Superintendent of Steam Boat Naval Tactics and of Rail- 
ways for Post Roads" be established, and that his son Robert 
be appointed the first incumbent. Dickerson thereupon de- 
scribed Congress as "having but very little disposition to 
create new offices," but thought "no other man in the United 
States so well calculated as Robert" to fill such a post. To 
Edward Livingston, then secretary of the navy, the colonel 
made the same suggestion in a long letter dealing with the 
failure of what he called "this heterogeneous motley crew of 
sailors" to adopt steam. Quoting what the auditor had just 
reported on the chaotic state of naval expenditure accounts, 
he urged that the secretary "make a new start" in order to 
restore regularity. Were Robert chosen for the suggested 
post, the colonel hoped he might be first appointed and then 
invited to accept. If first invited, he would probably decline ; 
if already appointed, he would not, by refusing, "reflect 
upon the President, his own mother, his brothers and sisters, 
and his father himself." Moreover, added the colonel, "when 
I aver that it is not from paternal affection I recommend 
him, I must confess that we are not now upon good terms" 
— which was quite true, since the valiant efforts of Robert 
and Edwin to keep the family property intact and upon a 
paying basis were not always approved by their father. One 
other quotation from his letters to Livingston seems of pres- 
ent interest : 

In a speech made by Mr Hayne, some two or three years 
ago, he very emphatically tells us that "the true defense of 
the country is pointed out by the finger of God." He then goes 
on to say that it is only in a Navy that we can place any con- 
fidence; but confesses that, with every exertion, we cannot 
reasonably hope to increase our naval establishment to any- 


thing like equality with several European powers. . . . But 
what is the present state of our Navy? 

The policy recommended by the President of "ceasing to 
build" is no doubt sound ; but how are we to meet any crisis 
requiring a recurrence to war? Or how are we to defend our- 
selves against wanton attacks ? . . . Should steam prove more 
efficacious than wind, as no doubt it will — and an enemy resort 
to the use of it, we [with steam] would always have it in our 
power to furnish our vessels with fuel. . . . Happily, we are 
severed by an ocean of 3,000 miles from our nearest neighbor. 
. . . Only by armed ships can we be annoyed. 

Since the colonel thus fostered the seed of his interest in 
mobile, protected men-o'-war, it is not astonishing that it 
should grow steadily in the minds of his sons. To speak here 
of its ultimate blossoming is to run well ahead of the story, 
but to be, perhaps, more coherent. The late Admiral George 
Melville declared that it was Robert Stevens who "finally 
hammered the word 'battery' into the heads of government 
officials," but in this John Cox — and more especially Edwin 
— had a considerable part. The first ironclad in history was 
always known as the Stevens Battery. 

Public interest in military preparation was again tem- 
porarily aroused in 1841 by the prospect of serious trouble 
with Britain over certain Canadian questions. Edwin, at 
Bordentown, conducted a new series of experiments, firing 
guns of various calibers against targets plated with iron of 
different thicknesses. His conclusions — of which he made no 
secret — were that the sixty-four-pound shot then in com- 
mon use could be stopped by iron about four and a half 
inches thick, and, since no such plates were then manufac- 
tured, he proposed to build them up in laminae. Some ten 
years later du Puy de Lome, constructor of Napoleon Ill's 
ironclad fleet, adopted about this average, while British 
engineers were working along the same line to the same 


decision. Immediately after Edwin's experiments, he and 
John Cox proposed that they be permitted to build an ar- 
mored vessel. Writing to the Navy Department, they ad- 
mitted that the design would largely be due to Robert; as 
he was in Europe for his health, they would like, however, 
to proceed at once with preliminary plans. Soon afterward 
the President appointed a board to determine whether Con- 
gress ought to be asked to make an appropriation for the 
proposed design. Naval members were Commodores Stewart, 
Perry, and Smith, while Colonels Totten, Talcott, and 
Thayer represented the army at the first meeting at Sandy 
Hook in the early fall of 1841. After some three months 
had been spent in test-firing, the board unanimously re- 
ported that the Stevens plates would stand up against any- 
thing then known. A bill was accordingly drawn up and on 
April 14, 1842, Congress authorized the secretary of the 
navy to make a contract, under an appropriation of two 
hundred and fifty thousand dollars (Statutes of the United 
States at Large, Ch. XIII. An Act authorizing the Con- 
struction of a Steamer for Harbor Defense). Robert repre- 
sented the Stevens family. 

In the preceding August, at the request of the joint 
board, the brothers had drawn up a letter expressing their 
views on proper naval strategy and outlining the plan by 
which they hoped to give our navy a strong international 
position. They put into a few words what has been the ob- 
ject of all naval constructors, ordnance experts, and engi- 
neers since the Civil War: 

It appears to us that steam vessels of war should possess 
the following qualifications : 

Motive power . . . out of reach of an enemy's shot ; the 
vessel herself proof against either shot or shell ; the capability, 
when required, of great speed, combined with the power of 


choosing, under all circumstances, her position with facility 
and certainty. 

We believe these can be combined in one vessel 

First, by having the engine and boiler placed below the water 
line and by using as propeller the Stevens Circular Scull, whose 
action is entirely below the surface. 

Secondly, by constructing the vessel, above the water-line, 
of such material as should be proof against shot and shell 
and placed at such angle as should best resist or turn the 
one or the other. 

Thirdly, by working the engines expansively at ordinary 
times, with boilers capable of resisting a high pressure and 
generating, by the use of a more concentrated and inflammable 
fuel, a very large quantity of steam, giving greater power 
and speed when required. 

In the construction of the vessel, we propose to sub- 
stitute iron for wood; iron being of less weight than wood 
for equal strength and capable of opposing an equal resist- 

The thickness necessary to resist balls of the largest size 
would require to be determined. . . . We suppose a thickness 
of one-half to two-thirds the diameter of the ball, and set at 
an angle of 45 deg., would be sufficient. ... It would require 
only 4V2 inches ... to resist a nine inch shell. . . . From 
experiment ... it appears that it takes wood sixteen times 
the thickness of iron to offer the same resistance. Four inches 
of iron would therefore equal five feet four of oak. . . . 
Whether this ratio would hold good, when balls of the largest 
size are used, experiments easily made will prove. We believe 
it will. 

If a submerged application [of motive power] can be used 
at sea . . . with no greater loss of power . . . than in rivers, 
there can be but little question of the propriety of adopt- 
ing the submerged propeller. A steamship [thus] completely 
protected would have an advantage. . . . Experiment ... to 
test fairly the value of a propeller at sea would, we think, 
fully repay the cost. . . . We would propose to rig the ves- 
sel to . . . depend upon her sails for ordinary cruising, with 
the exception of a small power to overcome friction of the pro- 




pellers if it should prove difficult or inadvisable to unship 
them. . . . 

We would arm her with a few guns of the largest calibre 
. . . that . . . present forges . . . are able to execute, as 
having greater strength in proportion to their weight . . . 
and throwing shot to a greater distance than any now in use. 
. . . We would load them at the breech, which would enable 
us to rifle the guns. . . . By casting a thin covering of lead 
or pewter around the shot or shell, and making it a perfect 
sphere or cylinder, it would enable us to make the diameter 
of the base the full calibre of the gun, doing away with wind- 
age and increasing the range and accuracy. . . . This cover- 
ing could be quickly and cheaply put on [to] protect the shell 
from alteration of form and enable us to use and keep in order 
a more perfect gun. . . . The remainder of the armament 
should be shot-guns of large calibre, to throw a great weight 
of metal ... at short distances. . . . 

That no two steam vessels of war, at the present day, could 
come together at a speed of, say, six or seven miles an hour, 
without sinking one or both, is . . . certain. What, then, must 
be the effect of coming into contact with a vessel (safe from 
the shock herself) at double that speed? Instant and immedi- 
ate destruction. The only question seems to be, could a vessel 
be constructed with the requisite strength and speed? We are 
sanguine that it can. . . . One would protect a harbor and 
be more than a match for a fleet ... of the usual 

Beyond repeating that this letter was written in 1841, 
comment upon it is superfluous. 

The late Dr. Henry Morton was particularly struck with 
the circumstance that led Edwin Stevens later to recom- 
mend adding an underwater ram, that weapon which had 
been known throughout all history but was not, until later, 
universally tried by the navies of the world. "One of the 
North River steamboats," said Dr. Morton, "ran into a 
crib dock built of 12-inch timbers and filled with stone. The 


bow of the boat penetrated for 15 feet, shearing through 
timbers and displacing the stone, but the boat backed out, 
uninjured." "If," argued Mr. Stevens, "a lightly built river- 
steamer could do this, what would an equally rapid steamer, 
with iron hull and prow made like the blade of an immense 
axe, accomplish against the side of an ordinary wooden or 
iron vessel?" So the ram idea was added to the design. 

A few months after John and Edwin had sent in their 
letter, Robert got back from Europe in time for the last 
target experiments. Immediately, as his brothers had counted 
upon his doing, he took the lead in the new enterprise. His 
letter to Washington, January 25, 1842, summarized the 
earlier conclusions and made some further points. 

. . . The vessel is to be constructed upon a plan entirely 
new, invented by the writer. She is to be shot and shell proof 
. . . with greater speed than any vessel of war now afloat ; 
her burden not less than 1,500 tons. [This] is not a theoreti- 
cal assumption. Trials [against iron plating] were made with 
shells of a peculiar construction, prepared by the writer. Out 
of twenty fired . . . nineteen exploded in the manner antici- 
pated. . . . No doubt whatever remains that a series of 
wrought-iron plates, riveted together . . . upon each other 
... to four and a half inches, will resist ... a 64-pound 
shot. ... At thirty yards, shells scarcely indented the iron ; 
both shot and shell were . . . broken into fragments. 

The part of such a vessel through which the guns are fired, 
might have port-holes little larger than the gun. These may 
be readily protected from canister, grape, or other shot by 
means of movable screens. . . . 

The plan of constructing and arming a vessel, in most of 
its details, has been matured for many years. Delay in bring- 
ing it forward resulted from a conviction that a period more 
favourable would arrive, and it is believed that it has now 
actually arrived. The advantage of being the first to construct 
[such] a vessel would be very great [and] must secure us for 


a long time against the vessels ... of other nations. . . . 
As a means of defense, it would be cheaper than any other. . . . 

Her ventilation would be artificial and constantly and thor- 
oughly applied. Her crew would not exceed . . . one hundred 
and fifty. She would need no rigging. With anthracite as fuel, 
she would not be rendered visible either by smoke or by sparks 
and would, therefore, attract the notice of the enemy less, either 
by night or day. . . . 

The knowledge of the existence of such a vessel would suffice 
to deter most commanders from risking an attack with a vessel 
of wood. 

By what they had actually seen, the joint board was 
convinced. Other military men and civilians looked upon a 
ship wearing plates as a monstrosity. Naval officers were 
less prepared for such a radical departure than the men of 
the White Squadron of the nineties could be prepared for 
an electrically driven Colorado. Just as the school of Rod- 
gers, long before, had hated the steam that was making of 
their noble profession a mere trade, so the sailors of the 
forties still loved the old plan of ship-action. They were out 
to snatch the weather-gauge of an enemy, and to begin to 
fight him only when their own mainmast had gone by the 
board or when his broadside muzzles lay just outside their 
own gunports. The clipper might gradually have to furl 
sail and disappear from blue water, but for these old shell- 
backs to be asked to fight from behind iron walls was noth- 
ing short of an insult. 

The "Stevens boys" had shared too many of their father's 
experiences to be afraid of going against popular preju- 
dice. With the battery, they paved the way for later im- 
provements; by talking and writing on ironclads, they 
inoculated the naval mind and stamped the word "armor" 
in red ink upon the constructor's hand-book. By their per- 
sistence, they cracked the ice of official unbelief and made 


it possible for the ingenious Ericsson, many years later, to 
push the Monitor through the cracks. 

The congressional act of 1843, providing for construc- 
tion, left years of struggle ahead of the Battery, with a 
result very different from what had been planned. Robert's 
original contract, made February 10, 1832, with Secretary 
Upshur of the navy, called for a vessel "not less than 250 
feet in length, 40 feet beam, 28 feet in depth amidships; 
shot and shell proof against the artillery in common use, and 
protected by 4^ inch armor." Her four iron boilers were 
to have 50 per cent, more heating surface than those of the 
Mississippi — then regarded as a good type of steamer — 
while her four condensing engines were to exceed those of 
the same ship in the same ratio. With her single propeller 
she was to develop 900 horsepower. In what the ship even- 
tually became, it is difficult to find a trace of these original 

Since there were no building-ways adequate to such a 
craft, Robert's first step was to dig a dry-dock at the foot 
of the Hoboken lawn. Materials were collecting and pattern- 
making was well under way, when the whole work was sud- 
denly brought to a dead stop by the refusal of Secretary 
Henshaw, Upshur's successor, to authorize any payments 
on account. It cost Robert a year of effort to get a second 
very full and minute contract which would permit him to 
proceed, and a third contract to provide for payments. He 
was hardly again under way before still another secretary 
— Bancroft this time — ordered another halt until the de- 
partment should be furnished with a detailed plan. As Robert 
had submitted his general plan in 1843 and the details in 
1844, he was furious. His work stopped, his health broke 
down, and he was again ordered to Europe, only to return 
when he heard that J. Y. Mason had become secretary and 


was willing to arrange for an extension of the time of 

All these interruptions, with the changes suggested by 
the department and sometimes by Robert himself, lasted un- 
til the fall of 1848, when it appeared that some progress 
might again be made. Leaving Edwin behind as managing 
director, Robert again crossed the Atlantic to buy mate- 
rials. His ship was hardly hull-down before still another 
secretary, Preston, refused to make the payments which 
had been agreed to by Mason. Robert, with British contracts 
for material already made, came home discouraged. Learn- 
ing that the department now held all the various contracts 
void and proposed to sell the Battery as she then stood, he 
submitted the whole matter to Congress. He summarized 
all the various interruptions and delays, and added: 

It is manifest that, without some legislative action, the con- 
tractor, proceeding to execute his contract made in good faith 
by the direction and imder the authority of Congress, is, by 
the strong arm of the Executive and, as he conceives, against 
right, to be subjected to the heaviest and most serious losses. 
He submits his case to an enlightened Congress and prays that 
such action may be had as to release the funds appropriated, 
from the erroneously alleged transfer to the surplus fund, and 
leave them subject to the refunding of his large outlay of 
money and to the full and complete execution of his 
contract. . . . 

In explanation of any seeming delay in the performance 
of this contract, it should be borne in mind that experiments 
were necessary to test the quality of materials and to im- 
prove the character of the propeller, from which the govern- 
ment derived this advantage : The frigate Princeton has availed 
of the propeller thus proved to be the superior of any other 
then in use, and with it made her voyages so successfully after- 
wards. Also, that workshops and, indeed, a small steamboat 
were required to be built for these experiments; and, in addi- 


tion, a large dry dock was required to be constructed — with 
a steam engine, punching and drilling machines, and large 
pumps which have kept the dock free from water. All this 
consumed considerable time and personal exertion, for which 
no remuneration has been made — and occasioned delay and 
many, very many thousands of dollars of expenditure of which 
no part has, up to this day, been repaid. These delays have 
been satisfactorily accounted for to the Secretary of the 
Navy before the contract was renewed. When the contractor 
was arrested in his work by Secretary Bancroft, he was liable 
for materials, principally heavy plates of iron from Pennsyl- 
vania, to about $40,000 which was subsequently paid him. He 
is now in advance about $36,000 also for heavy iron plates, 
tubes for the boilers, etc, from England — and yet the Govern- 
ment is about to sell his property to recover what they have 
previously paid. 

A volume of correspondence grew out of this situation, 
in consequence of which it was not until 1854 that the ship's 
floor timbers were actually laid. For the next year and a 
half, the work went forward briskly until it was checked, 
in 1856, by the worst possible blow — the death of Robert 

Edwin Stevens immediately assumed the whole burden. He 
quite understood the reluctance of the Navy Department to 
believe that ironclads would ever come into universal use; 
it was a reluctance still shared by the majority. Also, apart 
from the arbitrary halts called by various secretaries, he 
fully appreciated that naval developments during the past 
decade had been a logical cause for delays to experiment 
and consequent modifications of design. In his letter to 
Washington, written at the end of 1856 to announce Robert's 
death, he discussed the situation. 

. . . Vast changes have taken place, both in the size of 
vessels of war and the weight of their armament, since the 


year 1842. Paixhan guns of 64 pounds were the heaviest metal 
then used in the navy ; now, solid shot of 172 pounds are not 
infrequent. The size of the vessels themselves has correspond- 
ingly increased. 

While, therefore, the size and strength of the Battery were 
amply sufficient to resist the character of the vessels and arms 
then in use, they might prove an insufficient defense against 
the larger vessels and heavier guns which are rapidly being 
introduced into the navies of all the great Powers. These 
changes manifestly rendered necessary coresponding altera- 
tions in . . . the Battery without, however, in any respect 
changing the principles of the construction. 

It would have been a far cheaper and more satisfactory 
procedure to have finished the Battery on her original design 
and then studied her performance as a basis for improved 
construction. Most of the many years lost in experimenting 
might thus have been devoted to building a whole fleet of 
ironclads. Who can deny that such a fleet, even if it had not 
entirely prevented the Civil War by a threat of effective 
blockade, might materially have shortened it ? To have been 
the indirect means of saving countless lives and vast treas- 
ure, and thus softening the bitter aftermath, would have 
placed the Battery beside Colonel Stevens' railroads as a 
contribution to the preservation of the Union. 

As matters actually stood in 1856, Edwin invited atten- 
tion to the design of the ship as modified from the original. 
He quoted a summary previously prepared by Robert: 

Contract, 181$ 1856 

Length 250 feet 415 feet 

Beam 40 feet 48 feet 

Depth amidships 28 feet 32 feet, 4 ins. 

Protection against gun- 
fire 4^2 in- 6% ins. 

424 john stevens: an American record 

Contract, 1843 1856 

Boilers 4 10 

Engines, condensing . . 4 or more 8 

Horse-power 900 8,624 

Propellers 1 2 

Shafts 1 2 

Auxiliary engines .... 2 9 

It should be understood that some of these changes had 
been Robert's own suggestions; the point is that, but for 
various governmental delays, he could have pushed the work 
to completion in far less time than fourteen years. Up to 
the time when Edwin wrote, a total of $387,000 had been 
spent from the appropriation of half a million. In addition, 
Robert had spent, of his own money, $113,579.11, while 
Edwin, anxious to go on, had added another $60,000. In 
reporting these sums, Edwin added: 

. . . These sums include no charge whatever for the rent, 
taxes, or expenses of the contractor on keeping up land which 
has for some thirteen years, been thus used by the government. 

Anxious to get a satisfactory answer to the question 
"What shall now be done with the vessel?", Edwin gave his 
reasons for wanting to complete her. 

My confidence in her success, and my deep regard for my 
brother's fame, make me most anxious that she should be com- 
pleted. . . . Believing the invention which gives value to the 
vessel to have been exclusively my brother's and [hence] Ameri- 
can; finding that, in the recent conflicts in Europe, . . . 
these governments have not hesitated to adopt, from the ves- 
sel and the experiments which led to her construction, the 
same principles as the only sure and best method of resisting 
the heavy batteries of the present day . . . ; I earnestly hope 
it will not be abandoned. ... I am ready to give freely, in 
any way, my aid, time, experience, and skill to the work. 


Notwithstanding the progress in the British and French 
navies, the Government of the United States was still in- 
sufficiently convinced on ironclads to accept Edwin's offer. 
Not until 1861 was public interest again aroused, and even 
then this was largely incited by such papers as the "Scientific 
American" and "The New York World." Rumors went 
about to the effect that the ship so long hidden behind the 
high board fence at Hoboken would be 700 feet long and of 
seventy-foot beam — leviathan indeed. In February, the 
"World" was allowed to send a reporter through the stock- 
ade and score a "scoop" with a description. Editorially, the 
"World" said on July 26: 

Some months ago. we published the first authentic account 
of the Stevens floating battery, lying uncompleted at Hoboken, 
urging its completion and use by the government. The events 
of the last two months have added emphasis to what we then 
said. Had it been afloat and in trim, with a fit armament of 
rifled cannon, SUMTER might have been provisioned or rein- 
forced at will, without asking leave of Governor Pickens. 
Could it sail out of this harbor today, its doing at Charleston, 
at Pensacola, or even at New Orleans, might give the rebels 
something else to attend to than strengthening their defenses 
at Bull Run and Manassas against another assault. 

Let pass the fact that our great harbors are absolutely 
defenseless against the mail-clad steamers of other nations. 
Is it not plain how effective an addition to our working-force, 
in the suppression of this rebellion, this iron-plated battery 
or another "Warrior" or "La Gloire" would be? Let the Board 
of Examiners appointed by Congress be speedy in coming to 
a conclusion and, if the Stevens affair is not the right sort, 
let them hasten to tell us what is ; and Congress will not be 
laggard in ordering it. 

The board referred to included line officers of the army 
and navy with two civilians, Professor Henry and Mr. S. 

426 john stevens: an American record 

Y. Merrick. At the request of the officers, who naturally 
had insufficient experience in engineering to criticize an 
engineer's ship, Naval Constructor Pook was later added 
to the board. The report — well worth reading to-day — 
stated that, "with certain modifications," the ship could be 
made into "an efficient steam-battery." The parts of the 
ship designed to be shell-proof were considered invulnerable, 
but Constructor Pook thought the armor should be carried 
farther down. Colonel Delafield, overlooking Edwin's ob- 
vious objection to destroying her stream lines and slowing 
her down, wanted to cut fifty feet off each end of her. One 
member held that the guns were not heavy enough ; another 
insisted that her present guns would "demolish her decks." 
Edwin built a facsimile deck and fired the guns over it with- 
out any resulting damage; but, unfortunately, only two of 
the board had accepted his invitation to witness this test, 
thus failing to appreciate how favorably her broadside, 
weighing 2200 pounds, would compare with the Warrior's 
at 1564* and La Gloire's at 1130. To the objection that the 
ship herself would not stand a seaway, Edwin replied by 
submitting certificates of her strength from Harlan & Hol- 
lingsworth and Neafie, Levy & Company, the two leading 
builders of iron ships, whose opinion was shared by other 
prominent engineers and builders. To Edwin's gratifica- 
tion, the board appreciated the ship's designed maneuver- 
ing qualities — due to eight engines capable of being oper- 
ated by only two men and yet built to give her a speed 
estimated by the board at "between seventeen and twenty" 
miles per hour. One member, however, somewhat naively 
remarked that her "great length would be fatal, if it were 
not for two propellers!" Others thought the auxiliary ma- 
chinery too complicated, suggesting that the hydraulic 
method of elevating and depressing the guns would be liable 


to break down — a good point, in view of the navy's later dif- 
ficulties with this type. 

Edwin agreed to the whole long list of suggested modifi- 
cations. To demonstrate that she was strong enough to 
carry her designed armor, he cut a section out of her side 
and loaded it with double the designed weight. Gauge tests 
showed no signs of yielding. To the objection that shooting 
away the shell-proof deck forward of and abaft the case- 
mate would mean sinking her, he replied by explaining the 
arrangements for maintaining buoyancy. The reserve coun- 
terbalanced flooding of the shell-proof deck, with a settling 
of no more than fourteen and a half inches. Some of the 
board's objections were not stated to Edwin while he was 
before them — a circumstance against which he protested 
as giving him no opportunity to correct misconceptions and 
make pertinent demonstrations. 

It was a hard blow to him when the board, with Professor 
Henry as dissenting minority, reported that it would "be 
inexpedient to finish the vessel along the line proposed." In 
a long memorial to Congress he urged that the Government, 
having invested half a million, ought not to lose it — par- 
ticularly since the ship could be finished in a few months. 
When the board's report nevertheless prevailed, he wrote to 
Senator John Hale and Congressman Charles Sedgwick, 
chairmen respectively of the Senate and the House Naval 

July 10, 1862. 
Gentlemen : 

With a view to making my propositions more clear and 
definite, and to prevent any misunderstanding, I now present 
them to the Committee and will carry into effect, on my part, 
any one of them that may be adopted by Congress during the 
present session. 

428 john stevens: an American record 

First, that the Government pay me the money advanced 
by my brother and myself for the Stevens Battery, and finish 
the vessel on such plans as they think best ; relieving me of all 

Second, I am willing to modify the first proposition as fol- 
lows: To commence auditing the accounts de novo, charging 
everything that properly belongs to the Battery and crediting 
all received on account of same, without reference to the 

Third, that the Government release to me their claim to the 
vessel, and I will finish at my own risk and expense, as a war 
vessel, within eighteen months ; with the right, in that event, 
that the government — if, in their opinion, it is a success — take 
the vessel at the amount estimated for its completion, namely 
$783,294— or I will forfeit 100,000 as the liquidated charge. 

Fourth, that the vessel be sold for the benefit of the parties 
concerned and the proceeds of the sale paid according to the 
decision of any Federal court having jurisdiction, with the 
right of either party to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Fearing that the expression in the above — "the money ad- 
vanced by my brother and myself" — may be misunderstood, 
I will state that it was intended to apply only to the accounts 
not yet audited and not to those already audited, settled, and 
paid . . . amounting to $500,000. 

Months earlier the Confederacy had gone ahead of the 
Union by producing the Merrimac, which was also called 
by her converters, the "Battery." It is by that much fortu- 
nate that the Stevens brothers remained loyal and refused to 
"sell the idea south"; had they done so, there might well 
have been no Union fleet left afloat by midsummer. As it 
was, Edwin, without waiting for government action on the 
larger craft, had built a smaller ironclad which he christened 
Naugatuck, although she sometimes appears in the official 
records as "the Stevens" or as "the Battery." The "World" 
of March 10 had printed an account of her : 


Carpenters and machinists are busily at work upon this 
vessel, which is understood to be under sailing orders. Her 
rifled gun is of 100 pounds calibre. She is not intended to be 
a model of Mr Stevens' iron battery but is designed to illustrate 
some novel ideas connected with that engine of war, viz: The 
ability to sink and rise with great rapidity ; to turn and man- 
age the vessel by means of two propellers, situated on either 
side of the stern; and to take up the recoil of the guns by 
india-rubber springs. The gun is mounted amidships, pointed 
toward the bow, and is loaded by depressing the muzzle. The 
hull of the boat is of iron, 101 feet in length, 20 feet beam, 
and about 7 feet deep. She draws about 5^ feet light and 
nine feet loaded. Her speed is eleven miles an hour. 

She is not ironclad with the exception of the bow but, in 
action, when submerged, has two feet of water between the two 
decks and presents but a small surface upon which the enemy 
can bring their guns to bear. 

The Naugatuck will be supplied with two of James' 12-pound 
howitzers, and will have a crew of about twenty-four men: A 
boatswain, gunner, carpenter; two quartermasters, fourteen 
seamen, steward, cook, and servant. Mr W. W. Shippen, agent 
for the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, will go 
in temporary command. The officers are as follows : Lieutenant 
J. Wall Wilson, of the United States service, first officer ; E. L. 
Morton, second officer; Thomas Ligle, engineer. The officers 
quarters are on deck. When in action, but one man is neces- 
sarily exposed on deck. 

In connection with the Naugatuck — and the Battery — 
Edwin took out at least two patents. One covered the use of 
gum-elastic as internal sheathing for compartments to be 
filled with water when submerging; the other was for his 
design of inclined armor, used in connection with air-com- 
partments for buoyancy, and also for "shot-proof loading- 
house, so arranged as to be employed substantially as de- 
scribed, that cannon outside of them may be loaded from 
within" — the breech-loading plan which he and John Cox 


had previously advocated. The big gun was a Parrott model, 
to be kept bearing on the enemy by the twin-screws which 
made it possible to turn the ship about in less than a min- 
ute and a half. To pump her out, after submerging, required 
eight minutes. 

Thus equipped, the Naugatuch saw considerable service, 
chiefly in and about Hampton Roads or on the James 
River, where her submerging quality was made use of by 
putting her at the head of the Union fleet in column. Tat- 
nall of the Confederate navy evinced his respect for her in 
a comment upon a proposed York River expedition, written 
from his flagship Virginia to General Johnston. 

April 30, 1862 
. . . This would oblige me to pass the forts by daylight, 
after which I should have to contend with the squadron of 
men-o-war below the forts, which is large and includes the 
Minnesota and the iron clads Monitor and Naugatuch. 

Because of her superior speed, Goldsborough frequently 
used her as a despatch vessel and occasionally to carry the 
wounded back to the base. An entry in the log of the Octo- 
rora runs "at 12, off Hampton Creek with the Naugatuch, 
the rebel fleet underway between Sewall's Point and New- 
port News," and at least once she exchanged shots with the 
Merrimac before the latter withdrew. Later, her big gun 
exploded, but this was without serious damage to her, for 
long after the war ended she was still in service as a revenue- 
cutter. That much, at least, Edwin Stevens was permitted to 
contribute to the Union cause. 

Incidentally, the Naugatuch performed one entirely per- 
sonal service. Edwin's daughter Mary had married M. Rus- 
sell Garnett, a congressman from Essex county, Virginia. 
While the war was in progress, Edwin learned that Garnett, 


then serving in the Confederate Congress, had died of 
typhoid and that his widow wished to come North. He se- 
cured the use of the Naugatuck and sent his brother-in-law, 
Captain Albert B. Dod, up the Rappahannock to get Mary. 
Garnett's mother, as a sister of the Confederate secretary 
of the treasury, was a rabid secessionist and refused to let 
Mary leave the house. At dawn, Mary, her two children, and 
a negro nurse escaped and reached the spot on the river 
bank where Captain Dod was waiting to take them off to the 
ship. On arriving at Hoboken, Mary's feeling for her hus- 
band made her protest against the flag flying over her 
father's house, but she surrendered at discretion when he 
said to her: "That flag stays where it is — whether you do 
or not!" 

When Edwin learned of a possible opportunity to pro- 
ceed with the Battery, he immediately wrote to Gideon 

Hoboken, February 24, 1863 

I see by the public press that the Government is about to 
construct several large sea-going iron-clad ships-of-war. These 
vessels, as I understand, are intended to be about the same 
length and size as the Stevens Battery; and one of them now 
under contract with Mr Webb of New York, it is said, will 
cost $4,000,000. 

I propose to relieve the Government of all risk as to the 
success of at least one of these vessels by obligating myself 
to complete the Stevens Battery and deliver her for service 
on the following terms: 

1st. That she shall be impenetrable to the most destructive 
missile fired from the most powerful gun (with its ordinary 
service charge) now used in our own or in any European naval 
service; to be tried upon her at short range — say 220 yards. 

2nd. That she shall have greater speed than any other iron- 
clad war steamer in the world. 

3rd. That she shall be more manageable and more quickly 


turned and manoeuvered than any other large armed sea-going 

4th. That she shall have an armament capable of throwing 
a broadside at least equal to that of any ship now afloat. 

5th. That she shall be delivered to the Government, complete 
and ready for service, within nine months from the time the 
order is given, for the sum of $1,500,000; but no payment 
will be required until she shall be ready for delivery. Provided, 
however, that the performance by me of these conditions is 
not to rest upon theoretical opinions but (if desired) shall be 
brought to practical tests — the test of her seagoing qualities 
to be a voyage to Charleston Bar and back to New York 

The conditions attached to this offer, if fulfilled, would make 
the ship the most powerful and efficient war steamer in the 
world, at a cost to the Government far less than that of the 
Warrior or La Gloire, or any other ship of the same size and 
quality. She could also be completed in less than half the time 
it would require to build a new ship. If she should prove a fail- 
ure, the whole loss falls upon me and not upon the Government. 

Or, I will transfer the vessel to the Government as she now 
stands — having her hull, boilers, engines and machinery nearly 
all complete — for her cost to me (say $250,000) ; provided she 
is then finished on my general plan, I estimate she would then 
cost the Government in all $1,000,000. This arrangement would 
give the Government the benefit of the $500,000 heretofore 
expended on the ship and relinquished by the action of the last 
Congress. As will be seen from the last offer, I do not propose 
to make any profit out of the Government but desire the com- 
pletion of the vessel for the national good. And, to protect 
the reputation of my brother and myself from the discredit 
of failure, I hope that she may be completed on our plans, 
that we may not be held responsible for the success of the 
plans of others. 

These offers proved no more acceptable to Washington 
than the others had been ; in consequence, the Battery never 
saw active service. After the war, Edwin pushed the work 


upon her at intervals, with some idea of selling her, through 
General McClellan as agent, to France or Russia. Not hav- 
ing done either, before his death in 1868, he left $1,000,- 
000 to finish her with the understanding that she should be 
presented to the State of New Jersey or else sold for the 
benefit of his own estate. After New Jersey, by a special 
act of Congress, was authorized to accept her, B. G. Clark, 
Fitz-John Porter, and William Shippen were appointed 
commissioners, while completion was intrusted to McClel- 
lan, with Isaac Newton as assistant. It was proposed to ap- 
ply to her all that had been learned about ironclads during 
the twenty-seven years since her first projection, such as a 
new type of engine, greater subdivision into watertight com- 
partments, and similar changes which were to insure her 
preeminence. Before all this could be accomplished, Edwin's 
million was exhausted. A friendly suit in chancery was in- 
stituted to determine whether the Battery now belonged to 
the State or to Edwin's heirs, and in consequence of this she 
was eventually broken up and sold to dealers in second-hand 

The sons of Colonel Stevens were like him in believing the 
ancient truism: "Results are what count." For this reason 
they often pursued experiments in the face of every dis- 
couragement. In the same spirit, those of them who were 
still alive were able to swing their hats when the Monitor 
fought the Merrimac to a draw; as sportsmen, they could 
do that even while they chewed the bitter bullet of might- 
have-been. Theirs was, after all, the first ironclad; repre- 
senting the theories of Colonel Stevens in 1812, the gunnery 
experiments of Edwin in 1814 and 1841, and the leadership 
in actual man-o'-war design as taken by Robert in 1842. 


In February, 1815, five days after he had secured the first 
railroad charter, Colonel Stevens learned that Fulton was 
dead. History, reporting the January weather as vile, says 
that Fulton caught a fatal cold. Since both men had been at 
Trenton for some time, the colonel cannot have missed the 
two cases which were engaging Fulton — one, with Nicholas 
Roosevelt over the latter's paddle-wheel patent of 1814<; 
the other over Ogden's avowed right to prevent New York 
boats from landing in Jersey as long as Jersey boats were 
forbidden to land in New York. Most of the accounts of 
these trials, while brief and vague, show a distinct bias in 
favor of Fulton; at least two are just as bitter on the other 
side. John De Lacy, Fulton's former agent, wrote to Roose- 
velt — who appears not to have been in Trenton — that Ful- 
ton's "brazen-faced effrontery, as if he was entitled to violate 
the law as well as private rights," would avail him nothing, 
because he was "down never to rise again, particularly if the 
report of this Committee should be agreed to by the House." 
Dr. Thornton (correspondence, October 27, 1819) sent 
George Jay a dramatic description of the moment when 
Hopkinson, on Ogden's counsel, lifted to the light the paper 
which Fulton as witness had just introduced as an original 
sketch made by himself for Lord Stanhope. The American 
watermark, explained Thornton, proved that the paper had 
not been manufactured until three years after Fulton's visit 
to Stanhope. Despite Fulton's protest that he had meant to 
call the sketch a copy, the court, continued Thornton, was 



filled with the cries of "Shame!" and "Perjury!" While the 
colonel would not have permitted himself to join in any 
such public demonstration of New Jersey's feelings, the 
steamboat interests he had at stake would certainly have 
brought him into court where he could hear the demon- 

He had no love for Fulton and no cause to regret his 
passing. Among many references to Fulton's brilliance, the 
colonel's papers show no trace of sorrow over his loss. The 
simple fact is that by Fulton's death the greatest obstacle 
to the real spread of American steamboating was removed. 
For some years the heirs and associates of the monopoly 
succeeded in holding aloft the names of Fulton and Living- 
ston — painting, indeed, a composite portrait of them as the 
sole genius of steam-engines, which has ever since hung upon 
the walls of tradition. At the time, however, it required the 
mathematical cleverness of the one and the political influ- 
ence of the other to give the portrait real life. Steamboat 
monopoly was doomed in February, 1815, and capitalists 
who had hesitated to go to the legal mat with Fulton now en- 
tered the ring in earnest. 

The season on the Delaware was a busy one. The Phoenix 
and the Philadelphia were both running, the latter, because 
of her greater speed, the natural favorite. With the other 
Stevens boys, the services of James were soon required in 
a managerial capacity, and it was from him that many of 
the colonel's letters of the period came. "Today's passage 
money," says a typical report in May, "is $178.37V2> of 
which fifty dollars is for freight on several wagon-loads of 
Spanish Dollars." On another day it was serious matter 
that the captain should be obliged to go to Princeton 
"after a man who had given the Steward a counterfeit 
note." When James was not on board it would be Captain 


Jenkins who reported: "Agreeable to your request, I have 
shipped by Capt. De Groot of the Schooner Jersey one Bbl. 
of Porter. The Schooner lays at Old Slip and the freight is 
not paid. I can buy Porter at $3 per doz. or 1 dol. and re- 
turn the bottles." When a gale tore the Phoenix from her 
moorings and threw her on a reef, the Philadelphia, after 
a struggle, dragged her off again. And the ferryboat at 
Philadelphia, over which the colonel had had such long 
negotiation, was at last "planked over" and finished by Van 
Dusen the shipwright. 

At Hoboken the colonel leased his ferry — on which horse- 
boats were still operating — to the Swartouts. Working in 
connection with their relative, Philip Hone the diarist, these 
gentlemen did not make much of a success of the service, 
and the colonel, claiming breaches of the contract, made legal 
entry and demanded surrender. This was refused and a long 
correspondence followed. The colonel wished Hone to re- 
tain the lease but insisted upon changes in the management. 
"From the present high rate of ferriage, the tedious pas- 
sage, and the disgusting accommodations," said he, "persons 
seeking pleasure will all be driven to Long Island or else- 
where to obtain their object on better and cheaper terms." 
He felt that New Yorkers visiting Hoboken merely on a 
holiday should be carried for half fare and be given a ticket 
good for "refreshment at the Hotel to the extent of one 
shilling." Similarly, "Boarders at said Hotel, by the week 
or longer," should be allowed to "commute their ferriage at 
the rate of one dollar a month." Such changes, he hoped, 
would not only popularize the ferry but also increase busi- 
ness at the old '76 House near the Hoboken landing. He 
had presented this inn to James, who had leased it to Lucas 
Van Buskerck under an arrangement providing that the 
latter should "see the ice-house filled in a proper manner" 


on condition that James erected "a new nine-pin alley" and 
kept "Roof and Wheather Boards" in repair. 

Between all those interested, an amicable and satisfactory 
plan for operating the ferry was not found until Robert 
and John Cox took over all the various leases and estab- 
lished themselves as a company. They then took a bold 
stand with those old competitors, the Paulus Hook men. 
"Provided we are left undisturbed, we are ready and willing 
that steamboats . . . shall be placed on your ferry. It is 
distinctly to be understood that we are fully determined to 
run steamboats." Not since the day of the Juliana had there 
been a Stevens steamboat on the Hudson, but the new com- 
pany was convinced that nothing else could give adequate 
service and therefore proceeded immediately with designs 
and drawings. 

Turning active management over to his sons left the 
colonel free to prepare for legal battles, several of which 
he was expecting. Congress had taken up the matter of ex- 
tending Fulton's patents for the benefit of his widow and 
children — a business in which, it appears, Aaron Ogden 
had bought a half interest. Fearing that a new law might 
make no recognition of the waters ceded to himself, by the 
agreement of 1809, the colonel entered into a supplementary 
contract with Fulton's executors reaffirming his right to use 
the patents if they were extended. This left him in better 
case to guard against the infringements other Delaware 
craft might make upon the improvements that Robert was 
almost daily introducing on that river. According to 
Rachel's letters, it was the "fine accommodations" offered 
by Robert which kept his line running when the North River 
boats, in a time of depression and lack of travel, were "los- 
ing thousands." 

It is in Rachel's letters that most of the familv news of 


this period is to be found. She wrote regularly to her son 
Richard, by this time gone for a sailor and serving on the 
Guerriere as assistant surgeon. "Your Papa," said she, 
"thanks you for the wine you sent from Gibraltar. It has 
been in New York for some time, on a vessel in the East 
River; we were unable to get it because of Yellow Fever 
raging. The people have been asked not to return to their 
houses until cold weather." Another item in her budget was 
Robert's request that Richard "tell everything that is going 
on in steam navigation in Europe." As to John Cox, she re- 
ported that he was dissatisfied with the farm he had bought 
in Annandale and was trying to sell it. She also spoke of the 
prevailing enthusiasm for canals, reawakened by Judge 
Pratt after its long sleep through the War of 1812. From 
the colonel, she had heard the prediction that the Erie would 
cost perhaps double what had been estimated, and consume 
years that might better be devoted to developing railroads. 
But Rachel never believed as fully in railroads as she did 
in steamboats. 

Not so with the colonel. He contended that land and water 
transportation must progress together, now that the "diffi- 
culties, dangers and delays during the late war" could no 
longer block them. In this vein, he urged upon President 
Madison a broad plan for the Eastern States. 

From Providence in the state of Rhode Island to Savannah, 
Georgia, a distance of more than a thousand miles, is an inland 
navigation through rivers, bays, and sounds, with interrup- 
tions at only four different portages . . . amounting . . . 
to not much more than a hundred miles : . . . 

New Brunswick to Trenton ... 25 miles . . . 

Across from the Delaware to the Chesapeake ... at a point 
between Newcastle and Reedy Island ... 12 miles. . . . 
From Norfolk to some of the waters leading into Albemarle 


Sound ... 12 to 20 miles. . . . After Swansborough . . . 
another portage to Wilmington, . . . about 40 or 50 miles. . . . 

Thus ... by means of steamboats and railroads . . . the 
whole of this journey might be performed ... in half the 
time now taken to convey the mail. ... It may be combined 
with an efficient system of defense ... by constructing the 
steamboats [so] they may at any time be converted into ships 
of war. 

Should Your Excellency be disposed to view this plan of 
which I have sketched an outline ... I feel the fullest confi- 
dence ... of being able to give satisfactory explanations. 

As Madison was himself impressed by the possibilities 
of railroads, it is evident that there must have been strong 
opposition in Washington to his taking favorable action 
upon the colonel's letter. Considerably later, after he was no 
longer President, Madison commented upon further papers 
on the subject sent him by the colonel. 

Montpelier, Nov. 17, 1818 
... I am so much a friend to every improvement which can 
cheapen transportation, that I have always been disposed to 
think favorably of the railroad as better adapted to many 
situations . . . than the turnpike or canal. ... I can only 
say that I am glad to see your skilful attention turned to this 
subject, and wish that a fair experiment might be made. . . . 
I regret that I am obliged to give so unsatisfactory an an- 
swer to your letter. I hope you will believe me not the less 
sensible of your meritorious zeal in promoting objects of public 
utility, nor less sincere in my assurances of esteem and friendly 

This was more encouragement than the colonel had from 
most of his distinguished correspondents. To John C. Cal- 
houn he had explained how the war had prevented action 
under his Jersey charter and how he now felt that govern- 


ment interest should be capable of being aroused. But Cal- 
houn helped him no more than did President Monroe, to 
whom he presented the whole railroad idea — with its spe- 
cific application to connecting the Western States with the 
coast. As the secretaries of war and treasury had been in- 
structed to report to Congress on internal improvements, 
the colonel hastened to suggest to Crawf urd of the Treasury 
that a short line of railroad from "some landing on the 
Potomac to a central part of the city of Washington" would 
bring the idea immediately before the representatives of the 
whole nation in a convincing way. Anything to get an 

All these public men found one excuse or another. As 
might be expected, no excuse was better expressed than 
Jefferson's, in his letter to the colonel : 

Monticello, Nov. 23, 1818 
Sir, age, and its consequent infirmities of body and relaxa- 
tions of mind, have obliged me to retire from all general cor- 
respondence. I am no longer equal to the labors of the writing 

There is, moreover, a term when age should know itself, 
withdraw from observation, and leave to the next generation 
the management of its own concerns. With my best wishes in 
favor of every improvement which may better the condition 
of mankind ; at my period of life, tranquility & rest from care 
are the sumrnwm bonum. 

Trusting, therefore, to your kind consideration for my ex- 
cuse, I return you the papers inclosed to me, unread and un- 
opened, with the assurances of my high respect & esteem. 

Since he was six years younger than Jefferson, the colonel 
was by no means ready to leave anything so interesting as 
railroads to the next generation ; particularly unready be- 
cause he had some evidence of the next generation's doubts. 
His son James thought "the chances very much against 


TUESDAY, March 23, 1819. 

Mr. Brcck from the committee to whom was referred on the 
llth inst. a petition from John Stevens,' on the subject of rail 
ways, made report, which was read as follows, to wit. 

That these rail way roads are scarcely yet known in America, 
but that in England they have long been, and now are, success* 
fully used, particularly upon inclined planes, in the neighborhood 
of coal mines. They consist of a tract constructed of iron, stone, 
timber, or other material, upon a level surface or inclined plane, 
or other situation, for the purpose of diminishing friction, and 
thus serving for the easy conveyance of heavy loads of any kind 
of articles. 

They have been multiplied in various parts of Great Britain, in 
short sections of one and two to five miles, and serve greatly to 
Cheapen the transportation of lime, coal and other bulky articles 
from the quarries, kilns and mines, to the canals, which intersect 
that country in almost every direction, and have been very use- 
ful both in regard to its agricultural improvements and its man- 
ufacturing interests. 

Some of these roads are formed by means of iron rails laid 
along them, upon which the materials are carried in waggons of 
from six to thirty hundred weight, and on a rail Way well con- 
structed, and laid with a declevity of 55 feet in a mile, one horse 
will readily take down waggons containing from 12 to 15 tons, 
and bring back the same waggons with 4 tons in them. 

It is even stated by English writers that a horse of the value 
of 20 pounds, or about 90 dollars, drew down the declevity of an 
iron road 5-16 of an inch at a yard, 21 waggons with coal and 
timber, weighing 35 tons} the same horse drew up the declevity 
5 tons with ease. 

Mr. Stevens has calculated the cost of a mile of rail way io 
America as follows) — 

Bar iron plates, 760S 

Brick pillars, 1^600 

Timber ways, 1)500 

Reduction of elevations, 200 

8 1 1,203 

That gentleman has gone into minute explanations of hie views 

opon this novel and interesting .subject, as may be seen by the 

accompanying diagram and papers ; and by a reference to them 

it will be seen likewise that in 3 or 4 instances rail-way roads 

Pennsylvania's early legislative action on the railroad 



^86 journal or 

have been profitably extended to a distance of 28 miles ; and may 
be adopted in this country for the transportation of bulky arti- 
cles from river to river, over ground that has not more than one 
tle*ree of elevation, or 90 feet in a mile. 

Prone as the people of America are to introduce into their 
country all useful improvements, we must soon expect to see ex- 
periments made here upon these rail ways. It would perhaps 
nave been desirable to have had even now a trial made upon a 
small scale, under the immediate authority of the government of 
Pennsylvania; but the lateness of the session forbids any such 
expectation, and the committee therefore beg leave to recommend 
the memorial of Mr. Stevens, together with the subject generally, 
to the early attention of the next Jegislature. 
Ordered, To lie on the table. 

The bill from the House of Representatives, entitled 
" An act repealing the acts, entitled, an act declaring Ander- 
son's creek in Clearfield county, and part of Le Bceuf creek in 
the county of Erie, public highways," was read the third time, 
Resolved, That it pass. 

The bill from the House of Representatives, entitled 
«• An act providing for the vacation of parts of certain state 
roads," was read third time, and 
Resolved, That it pass. 

The bill from the House of Representatives, entitled 
« An act to authorise the Governor to incorporate a company 
for making an artificial road from the borough of Northampton, in 
the county of Lehigh, to the borough of Wilkesbarre, in the coun» 
ty of Luzerne,"' was read the third time, and 
Resolved, That it pass. 

Ordered, That the clerk return said bills to the House of Re- 
presentatives, with information that Senate have passed the same, 
the former without^ and the two latter with amendments, in which 
the concurrence of that house is requested. 
On motion of Mr. Welles and Mr. Power, 
The Senate resumed the second reading and consideration of 
the bill from the House of Representatives, entitled 

« An act to prevent the fishing with seins in Penn's creek in 
Centre county, and to encrease iht penalty for fishing in the 
river Susquehanna on days prohibited by law," postponed for the 
present yesterday. 
The question on section 1- recurring, 
It was determined in the affirmative. 
Sections 2. and 3 were severally considered and agreed to. 
Section 4. Having been considered, 

On the question, 
Will Senate agree to said section ? 

The yeas and nays were required by Mr. Grosh *nd Mr. 
Davidson, and are as follow, to wit. 



any patent for a railway or steam-carriage being strong 
enough in this country to protect you" ; did not believe that 
"Robert will take any part in the execution" of the plan ; 
and considered "the rest of us not only unwilling but unable 
to assist." For some years yet the colonel must play a lone 
hand. At this moment he was delayed in playing it by fresh 
developments in the steamboat game, of which Rachel duly 
wrote to Richard. 

"Gibbons," said she, "has an elegant boat ; he runs at half 
price and says he will run for nothing, just to ruin Ogden." 
This referred to the most important of the new steamboat 
competitors — William Gibbons, a Jerseyman in residence 
but the owner of large southern plantations. His craft was 
the Bellona, with Cornelius Vanderbilt as skipper; many a 
brush she had with John R. Livingston's new boat, the 
Olive Branch. Presently, Livingston moved for an injunc- 
tion to restrain both Ogden and Gibbons from the so-called 
Xew York waters, and the motion was argued before the 
celebrated Chancellor Kent. With regard to Ogden — pre- 
sumably because of his compromise agreement with Fulton 
several years earlier — Kent declined to place any restric- 
tion. Gibbons was at first forbidden to navigate "with steam 
or fire, the waters in the Bay of Xew York or in the Hudson 
between Staten Island and Paulus Hook." Later, Kent had 
a change of heart and modified his original decree to "have 
no operation as to any waters on the westerly side of the 
middle of the Hudson River and the middle of the Bay of 
New York." This recognition of a two-state jurisdiction 
over these dividing waters set Gibbons all the more fiercely 
at Ogden's throat and encouraged Colonel Stevens to back 

For himself, the colonel had just entered suits in Phila- 
delphia for patent infringement. Since he proposed using 


Fulton's patents, under the old agreement, he found peculiar 
interest in a letter from Horace Binney, April 13, 1819: 

. . . We apprehend invincible difficulties. . . . 

The patent of 1809 to Mr Fulton appears to be confined 
to his discoveries or inventions in the construction of Boats 
to run 1 to 6 miles the hour — which inventions consist in 
ascertaining the proportions between the resistance of the boat, 
power of the engine, and extent and velocity of the wheels. 
However meritorious may be the tables and calculations which 
he gives, there are decisive objections . . .: 

1. It is not a machine that the Patentee claims to have 
invented, but tables for the construction of such a machine as 
to produce a given effect with certainty. This is not a patent- 
able discovery. 

2. These proportions, as stated by him, are not accurate 
because the specifications state, in the strongest terms, Mr 
Fulton's conviction that a Steam Boat cannot be made to go 
six miles per hour with a cargo and passengers, and pay ex- 
penses. If his calculations lead to this result, they are erroneous 
because their result is false; since all the boats on the Dela- 
ware run more than six miles per hour in still water — with the 
Bolton and Watt engine. 

3. The Boats whose proprietors we have sued are not made 
on the principles and proportions stated in the Patent. I do 
not take into consideration what is alleged on the other side 
as to the originality of these discoveries, because this is the 
defendant's case; I advert only to what meets us on the Patent 
itself and in the evidence we must produce. 

The Patent for the year 1811 is for a number of distinct 
and unconnected inventions and, without going over all of them, 
I will merely set down . . . the objections. 

1. The Patent, being for 10 or 12 distinct improvements, 
such as wheels, wheel-guards, kelsons, coupling-boxes, mode of 
combining the parts of the engine with the Propeller [side- 
wheels] etc, etc, all unconnected and independent, is bad be- 
cause it is contrary to the plain intention of . . . Congress 
not to permit distinct machines or improvements to be united 


in one Patent. A machine, however numerous its parts . . . 
may be patented ; but not two or more machines, or two distinct 
. . . parts of a machine, unless they are claimed as improve- 
ments upon [one] already invented and in use. 

2. Many things in this Patent are not patentable at all, 
therefore the Patent would be bad for claiming them. Such as : 
The position of the pilot in steering; the use of sails; steam- 
boats of a size to displace more than 50 tons of water; the 
position of the air-pump and machinery behind the cylinder. 

3. Of some things, he is clearly not the inventor nor does 
he appear to think he is ; but founds the exclusive right to 
use them on his first using them in steamboats — which is no 
reason. As : The use of coupling-boxes to throw the wheels 
out of gear; knees on the sides of the boat adjacent to the 
machinery, etc. 

Such being the difficulties ... we cannot think of putting 
the parties to additional expense (my advice to you is not to 
incur it) without this full communication. . . . You know 
that, after meeting all these difficulties, we are to encounter 
whatever testimony the defendants may bring as to the original 
invention and use of wheels or other parts of the machinery 
claimed by Mr Fulton. Of some, I have no doubt, he is the in- 
ventor; of others there is much doubt. But the impression is 
that we should never reach the point in the cause where these 
doubts became material. 

It is impossible to state the Fulton case more clearly. 
Binney's opinion had been reached after conference with the 
leading Philadelphia lawyers; it supported the colonel's 
long-held belief and convinced him of the futility of trying 
a test case on the Delaware. On the other hand, it encouraged 
him to turn back to the Hudson, to which his attention had 
just been particularly recalled by Dr. Hosack. As health 
officer, the doctor wanted the colonel's suggestions for im- 
proving city living conditions of all sorts. Seizing the oppor- 
tunity, the colonel repeated his earlier recommendation of 
steam fire-boats, with additional equipment for washing the 


city's street. If Fulton were no stronger in his patents than 
Binney said he was, the colonel, in defiance of the monopoly, 
might build such boats for New York. Their efficiency would 
be increased by favorable action upon another recommenda- 
tion to Hosack. 

... A permanent face, formed of hewn stone, instead of 
pine logs, should be given to the wharfs . . . from the Bat- 
tery along the East and North Rivers. The piers projecting 
. . . for the accommodation of shipping should be so con- 
structed as not to interrupt the free passage of the cur- 
rent. . . . This, no doubt, will prove an arduous undertak- 
ing ; but the longer it is delayed, the more will these difficulties 
be multiplied. ... A plan has occurred to me which I shall 
be ready at any moment to submit. 

This was not, with the colonel, a new idea. Almost imme- 
diately upon his return to New York after the Revolution, 
he had urged the value of permanent docks upon the corpor- 
ation of the city, while his own little dock behind No. 7 had 
been built with this in view. Turning over his old papers 
for arguments upon this point, he came upon some notes 
which led him to add another suggestion in the same letter. 

. . . Immediately connected with the above improvement 
is the formation of public sewers, which the want of descent 
from the great extent of made ground fronting the water has 
rendered absolutely necessary. 

Proper city sewerage had always been an interest of his. 
To Hosack and to Peter Augustus Jay he had written much 
upon his designs for closets, drains, and other internal 
plumbing, while association with the Manhattan Company 
had made him doubtful of its wells as dangerously exposed 
to seepage. This led him to add, in the letter just quoted, 
a hint on additional city water supply. 


... I come now to the consideration of the great and ulti- 
mate object to which every citizen ought to look forward 
anxiously, to insure health. I mean the introduction, from a 
distant source, of pure and wholesome water. . . . When this 
state is . . . engaged in forming canals ... on two different 
routes ... of nearly four hundred miles, surely no hesitation 
or boggle can arise over forming a canal of less than 20 miles 
. . . without a single lock. . . . My object is to conduct the 
waters of the Saw Mill River . . . into the city . . . This 
stream affords . . . excellent water. 

Here is the only instance of the colonel's recommending 
a canal of any sort. He suggested this one at a moment 
when most of his energy was again directed toward rail- 
roads — in Pennsylvania because New Jersey was still dis- 
appointingly apathetic. By addressing such leaders as 
Stephen Girard, he thought, much might be accomplished. 
A letter from Horace Binney shows what he had in hand. 

Dec 28, 1820 
I have received your "Hints" and "Further Hints" and it 
would give me great pleasure to promote any of your views 
in reference to this object. At present, I am not of the Council 
of the City, and the only road connecting with the Pittsburg 
Road has been paved in the usual manner with stones. Indeed, 
as there is now a stone turnpike road from Phila. to Pitts- 
burg, there would be great opposition to any Rail Road be- 
tween these points ; while probably the cost of such a compe- 
tition would be greatly exaggerated, since the routes would 
probably not be the same for any great extent. When I say 
there is a turnpike ... I am perhaps not strictly accurate, 
but . . . completion is not far distant. 

I am just out of my chamber after nearly three weeks with 

The "Hints" and "Further Hints" were pamphlets, 
drawn up and printed by the colonel for Pennsylvania's 


legislature, in which that body was besought to authorize a 
railroad between the two leading cities of the State. Why, 
asked the colonel, might not "the mode of communication 
undergo such an improvement as to admit of the products of 
the west being profitably brought to Philadelphia?" He 
ventured "to say that a long period of time must elapse 
before we can possibly see efficient canal navigation from 
the Delaware to the Ohio. Such a communication (should 
it ever be effected) would be of incalculable advantage. 
But, in the fond hope and expectation of ultimate success ; 
in grasping at a shadow; the substance would be lost. Long 
before the accomplishment of so extensive a work, the com- 
merce of Philadelphia would be diverted into other channels 
and lost irrecoverably. The present moment is critical." 
And much more to the same purpose. 

A railroad . . . will insure to the farmer a fair price for 
what he brings to market. . . . From the want of capital, 
and the great length of time navigation [on a canal] is closed, 
the farmer is compelled to sell on credit at reduced prices, and 
to purchase whatever he may need at advanced prices. . . . 
The canal is useless at the very season when most wanted — 
when the farmer has leisure to thresh out his grain and bring 
it to market. . . . 

Diverging from a centre like the rays of the sun, railroads 
will diffuse light, heat, and animation to every extremity of 
the Commonwealth. . . . There needs but a beginning and 
there will be no lack of funds. . . . Let but one mile of the 
proposed railway from Philadelphia to Pittsburg be completed 
wherever it may be deemed most expedient. . . . Let experi- 
ments be so varied and multiplied as to test, in the most satis- 
factory manner, the true merits or demerits. 

Finding Philadelphia quite as lacking in enthusiasm as 
Binney had predicted, the colonel promptly shifted the at- 
tack to Harrisburg. Answering the objection that "between 


that city and Pittsburg very great elevations occur," he 
insisted that a railroad would scale the Alleghany or any 
other mountains, provided the grade were made low enough 
to the mile. He quoted Secretary Gallatin on the "imprac- 
ticability, in the present state of science, of effecting a canal 
navigation across the mountains," and argued that New 
York, with her canals, would soon outstrip Pennsylvania 
unless the latter took advantage of her opportunities on 
land. "It is not," said he, "necessary to calculate exactly the 
rapidity with which passengers may be conveyed. It is . . . 
probable that the whole distance may be traversed in a single 
day, without . . . the slightest degree of fatigue." As for 
freight, while it "is necessary to shift the loads from the 
team to the canal and from the canal to the team, every 
article taken on a railroad may be taken from your very 
door and carried to . . . its destination without being 
touched." Given merely the right to incorporate, without 
any funds from the state treasury, he was confident that the 
cost of building would readily be underwritten by private 

Not to neglect New York, the colonel wrote to Stephen 
Van Rensselaer : 

... I applied to the Legislature . . . for . . . erecting a 
railroad between Albany and Utica. . . . This memorial was 
ordered printed by the House. . . . Considering the deep in- 
terest now prevailing in canals, it is . . . not surprising that 
no further action was bestowed on my project. . . . 

I next addressed myself to the President of the Albany and 
Schenectady Turnpike, but he — conceiving, no doubt, that a 
Rail Road would be incompatible with a turnpike, declined 
having anything to do with it. ... I will now come to the 
point. . . . 

Induced to believe you would not hesitate to take an active 
concern . . . provided no loss would be incurred ... I pro- 


pose ... in order to gain an easy ascent, that the railroad 
pass up the ravine through which the stream ... in front of 
your mansion pursues its course, and terminate on the banks 
of the Hudson in your immediate neighborhood. . . . Your 
brother informs me that you own the soil for one-half the 
distance to Schenectady. . . . The owners of the remainder 
should be . . . interested. . . . 

[Thus] the whole of the transportation could be performed 
by the [land] proprietors themselves and, in lieu of toll, the 
whole profit will be put into their hands. I have now to request 
of you not to determine too harshly respecting the feasibility 
of the thing.. . . Could I have an interview with you, [when] 
you have occasion again to visit New York, I should be ex- 
tremely happy to see you at Hoboken. 

The great capitalists were not yet to be tempted to an 
experiment — even by the prospect of a privately owned rail- 
road. It naturally followed that Federal help was no more 
probable than was suggested by Senator Ruf us King's letter 
to the colonel : 

I have had the honor to receive your letter. The subject is 
important but, at this stage of the session of Congress, when 
little has been done and much remains to be done, there seems 
to be no opportunity for the consideration of the Measures 
which you recommend. 

I feel much respect for your experience, and for those prin- 
ciples which you may have verified ; and shall be glad that you 
should have an opportunity of demonstrating their public 

Even to-day the ring of this letter is familiar; to the 
colonel it was sadly so. He never grew accustomed to being 
"let down easily," and when he threw that letter into a 
pigeonhole with the rest that said so much and meant so 
little, he was as near as he ever came to giving up the fight. 
His personal affairs were coming to a crisis; heavy obliga- 


tions were falling due, and the lots at Hoboken were not 
selling. At seventy-two he might have taken Jefferson's hint 
and shut up shop altogether but for his sons. 

Three of them particularly came to the front. Edwin 
was now obviously the business head of the family ; to him, 
by a deed of trust, his father conveyed the whole of the 
Hoboken estate. He found the money through which John 
Cox and Robert could incorporate themselves as a ferry 
company and also build what had been so long wanted, a 
new steamboat for the service. They named her Hoboken, 
and it was of her that Rachel wrote to Dr. Richard, then 
transferred to the Dolphin. 

Had you stayed one day longer, you would have seen the 
Steam Boat launched. She went off elegantly and in the eve- 
ning all the Hobokites had, as you sailors say, a fair blow-out. 
Robert was in high glee. 

It was a kind of high life below stairs. City beaux and Bergen 
girls — a farce to be seen, but it was for that night only. . . . 

Richard's sister Mary gave him added details : 

. . . The boys said the frolic would have suited you ex- 
actly, but I did not go down. In the evening, they had a dance. 
They sent for a fiddler and all the Bergen belles ; three wagon- 
loads of them. The best of the story is that Captain Kidd — 
upon the inspiration of the whiskey punch, they say — fell to 
dancing and never got home until one o'clock. After the dance 
there was a free for all battle between the ship's carpenters and 
the ditchers. The ditchers got worsted and swore revenge. For 
three nights every soul in Hoboken was in fear of their lives. 
It came to such a pass that at last the military had to be 
called out to restore order. 

Evidently an incitement to rioting ashore, the Hoboken 
also embodied revolutionary ideas afloat. Her engine, de- 


signed by Robert, was a modification of the one in "Old Sal" ; 
in line with his now regular practice of using steam ex- 
pansively, it was fitted with his newest type of "cam-board" 
cut-off. Another step ahead of rival builders was his sub- 
stituting, for the old heavy cast-iron walking-beam, the 
wrought-iron skeleton type afterward generally adopted. 
He shortened the length of the beam in proportion to the 
stroke of the engine and added a wooden "gallows frame" 
support later to be replaced by a similar type in steel. 
To simplify handling a double-ended craft in the strong 
Hudson tides, he drove long piles into the river bottom and 
combined these with fenders of oak and hickory, the whole 
forming a spring-slip. This has ever since been in use on 
the Hudson and, in 1836, it replaced, on the Brooklyn side, 
Fulton's ingenious floating docks. With such innovations 
the Hoboken made trips over the Barclay Street line "every 
hour by Saint Paul's Clock," while the older horse-boats 
kept up the service at Canal Street. Richard, cruising on the 
Dolphin, heard something of the speed of the service from 
Thomas Conover, a fellow naval officer. 

. . . The new boat is certainly the fastest if not the finest 
ferry-boat in the United States. She crosses with ease in eight 
minutes, while the foaming and majestic Hudson complains of 
the weight of human flesh and blood that clothes her spacious 
decks. . . . 

I wish you were here, old boy, to taste once more the pleas- 
ures of a Hoboken spring, & to witness the delight so fully 
portrayed by old Van Buskirk's countenance, on a Sunday 
evening, when he stands with his hands in his breeches pockets, 
rattling the day's takings. 

Conover himself knew all about spring in Hoboken, for he 
was very much in evidence there. Gold lace and blue had in- 
troduced into the villa their usual hint of romance, and the 


Stevens daughters' hearts were set fluttering when Conover 
stepped upon the veranda. All of them, that is, except 
Juliana's; her heart had been buried with a lover who had 
died before her breakneck stage journey to Philadelphia 
had brought her to his bedside. Her sisters rallied her gently, 
then openly resented her persistently wearing black. With 
Tom Conover coming to a special dinner, they insisted that 
she should make some effort in keeping with their own busy 
stitches and new ribbons. Flatly refusing, she mortified her 
sisters by appearing at the dinner-table in mourning and 
saying never a word. But she spoke to a purpose that en- 
raged her sisters — and her parents — not long afterward. 
Walking in among them one day, she quietly announced that 
she had just been married — to Tom Conover. Regardless of 
any personal feeling toward Conover himself, the colonel 
stormed over this gross irregularity. Rachel, horrified, alter- 
nated between scolding and pleading ; as a unit, her brothers 
and sisters turned their backs upon the bride. Richard, at 
sea, remained the bridegroom's only friend. 

Thus it was from Conover, as often as from the sisters, 
that Richard received long accounts of the season's gaieties 
across the Hudson ; all sorts of affairs in which Robert was 
most often the family's representative. Robert's passion for 
music — of which he was held to be a judge — led him to 
every concert, and he never missed such events as "Mrs. 
Schemerhorn's great ball in Mechanic's Hall," where the 
invited guests numbered four hundred and fifty. It was there 
that he led out that acknowledged belle, Miss Eliza 
McEvers, regarded by her father as too young to make her 
debut for the assembly but critically labeled, by her rivals, 
"already out." Again, it was Robert who preferred "the 
supreme felicity of Esther Coxe's hand for one cotillion" to 
attendance upon his mother at the performance of "The 


Coronation of King Henry V, a representation in honor of 
George IV, and very splendid with scenery costing 7000 
dollars." So, at least, said the family letters — and their 
writers must have known. Certainly Robert, light-heartedly 
wearing his heritage of looks from his mother's famous 
family, long held his place on the list of New York's eligible 
beaux. However, no society queen ever captured him. He 
was not to be lured from Madame Otto, the noted singer 
who remained for so many years the object of his most 
intense devotion. 

For some time Robert kept bachelor's hall in Barclay 
Street, and it was there that Abram Hewitt met him. Hewitt 
and his Columbia classmates were playing baseball in the 
college grounds when a long hit went the way of many 
earlier ones. The ball disappearing in a neighboring back 
yard, a search of the whole team's pockets could not produce 
the price of a new one, and Hewitt was appointed the com- 
mittee of one to ring the neighbor's front-door bell. To "a 
middle-aged woman with a benevolent face" he was explain- 
ing the situation when "a gentleman appeared in the 

"Do you want a ball — and will you be satisfied with one?" 

"Y-yes, sir." 

"Margaret, get the basket! Now, sir, here are some 
twenty-five balls. Are they all yours?" 

"I — I suppose so." 

"Well, every one has broken a window in my music-room." 

"Oh — we didn't do it on purpose — " 

"Very well. Now take them and begin again. When you've 
broken all my windows, go over to Hoboken and you'll find 
a nice field there, with plenty of room." 

No doubt, Robert referred to the field which John Cox 
was afterward to devote to the introduction of cricket into 


America and to the laying out of a diamond upon which 
many an early championship was fought to a finish. Hewitt, 
however, has left no record of having acted upon Robert's 
hint, though he did describe Robert himself, at the moment 
of their interview, as having "the most genial and lovely 
face" he had ever seen. 

Except for the colonel himself, most of the eloquence in 
a family that had very little of it was claimed by John Cox. 
"Your Papa," wrote Rachel to Richard, "has petitioned the 
legislature of New York to grant him the right to run a 
steam ferryboat. John [Cox] is now at Albany to get it." 
Perhaps this mission was the result of his long-past success 
in London ; in any case, John Cox was soon describing to his 
father the situation in Albany : 

If you can establish the fact that you navigated the Hudson 
before the law of '98, giving Robert R. Livingston the exclu- 
sive right, I think there will be no doubt of success. . . . The 
law [now] goes so far as to give Livingston and Fulton the 
exclusive right of building and constructing . . . boats and 
engines ... in the waters of the Hudson. If you can get an 
affidavit from M'Queen or any body else that he built a boat 
or engine prior to '98, it will go to prove that the legislature 
had interfered with a right vested and exercised. . . . You see 
the point? We turn their own battery of vested rights upon 
them. You need say nothing about the mode of construction. 

Petitions somewhat similar to the colonel's were pouring 
into Albany from all sides. In Fairfield county, Connecti- 
cut, "upwards of twelve hundred names of citizens of the 
first respectability" appeared upon a memorial urging that 
the grant to Fulton could never have been intended to in- 
clude the sound. New Haven protested against the monopoly, 
whereupon the Fulton Steamboat Company insisted that the 
very protestors had refused an opportunity to buy shares 


in it. Were the East River thrown open, said this company, 
such action would "mean the extinction of steamboats." 
From New Brunswick, the "Mayor, Recorder, Alderman 
and Common Council" set forth the unjust interpretation 
of New York acts so as to include their home waters, thus 
precipitating retaliation by New Jersey. "Considering," 
said New Brunswick, "that . . . the two states, as part of 
the same nation, cannot properly resort to force," the actual 
seizure of vessels by either should be suspended until the 
Supreme Court of the United States should resolve all 

Under pressure of popular opinion, New York yielded a 
little. Her legislative committee of March 16, 1822, recom- 
mended that the original grants to Fulton and Livingston 
be regarded as designed merely to give "further encourage- 
ment" to these gentlemen. Subsequent legislation, giving 
them rights of seizure over other men's craft — "as if the 
same had been tortiously and wrongfully taken out of their 
possession" — ought to be repealed, said the committee, as 
unwarrantable infringements upon the constitutional rights 
of others. A startling doctrine for New York, but long- 
awaited light through the clouds for Jerseymen like Stevens 
and Gibbons. 

The colonel was so pleased that Rachel could seize upon 
his mellow moment to win a struggle of her own. Imme- 
diately she sent off a letter to Richard: 

... It will give you pleasure to hear that your father and 
I have forgiven Juliana — though your father will not receive 
Mr Conover. John & Robert displease me very much by not 
seeing and forgiving their sister; as yet they have not spoken 
to her. I think when a parent forgives, brothers and sisters 
have no right to reject. James & his wife have been to see them 
& given them an invitation to their house. Mr C seems very 


anxious to get to sea. The Erie is fitting up but I expect it 
will be a long time before she sails. I wish he could get the 
command of a small vessel & cruise against these horrid pirati- 
cal vessels. James has another daughter. 

Upon one of Rachel's points the colonel had a word to 
say to President Monroe, although this was not written 
until the autumn. 

The depradations committed on our commerce by pyrates 
have arrived at such an intolerable extremity that it has be- 
come the indispensable duty of Government to adopt every 
possible means of protecting its citizens against the horrid 
cruelties, as well as loss of property, they now sustain in the 
prosecution of the West India trade. Under such circum- 
stances, I conceive it an imperious duty to tender my services. 

A steam boat (Hoboken) is now plying between New York 
and Hoboken, capable of moving through the water with a 
speed of more than nine miles an hour. She is 98 feet long on 
deck and 26 feet wide, with a draft of . . . only S 1 /* feet; of 
about 200 tons burthen and between 9 and 10 feet deep in the 
middle of her hold. She . . . affords comfortable accommoda- 
tion for one hundred men at least. . . . 

I am in possession of the means of giving a vessel of similar 
size and construction a speed, through the rough water of the 
ocean, nearly equal. ... As the propellers of such a vessel 
would be always under the surface . . . they would never be 
injured by a heavy sea or . . . fire from an enemy. She can 
also be rendered impervious to shot. . . . 

A vessel of the above description, carrying one long piece 
of ordnance in her bow and swivels on her sides . . . firing 
elongated shells . . . would ... in a very short time demol- 
ish every pyratical craft of whatever nature; great or small, 
whether at sea or in harbour. ... I shall detain you, sir, no 
longer than to add that I stand ready to furnish Government 
with one or more such vessels — and to request a speedy answer. 

There is no record of any answer at all from Monroe, 
but one of Conover's letters to Richard is pertinent : 


Pirates ... in the West Indies are so daring and out- 
rageous as at last to rouse the nation to a sense of duty. 
Com. Porter is appointed to command of the Squadron. His 
flag will be on Enterprise (steam boat) and ten small schooners 
for that special service in addition to what are already em- 
ployed. The Government I think, are indebted to your Father 
for this new mode of Warfare — he suggested the plan to the 
President some time ago, before Congress convened. I thought 
the plan a very feasible one; at all events, the Govt, have 
adopted it. 

Meantime, a still faster boat had been added to the Ho- 
boken lines — the Pioneer, with "ladies' cabin below deck, 
carpeted and warmed by open fireplaces." Contemporary 
notices in the newspapers describe her as crossing the river 
— "a mile and one-third in breadth at Canal Street — in 
about seven minutes going, seven-and-a half returning; a 
velocity unequaled, as yet, by any steamboat." Rachel's 
letter to Richard — addressed "care U. S. Navy, Pacific 
Ocean" — gave further details: 

Your brother has built such an expensive boat and made such 
alterations and improvements that it has taken all the cash 
they could obtain in every way. They have a fair prospect 
of realizing something very handsome but not immediately. 
. . . The turnpike road they have made from Hoboken to 
Coulter's Tavern has cost an immense sum; but they carry 
over more passengers, & quite as many carriages, as the Paulus 
Hk. boats, in consequence of the road being so very fine. The 
accommodation on board the Hobok. boat . . . takes so much 
with the women of all descriptions that they will cross here. 
In a year or two, I expect, we shall begin to make some money 
but, for some time yet, we must all be poor. I have paid your 
debt to Mrs Dorington as I could not bear to think of her 
losing the money. Your Papa couldn't pay it, so I did it from 
my private purse. 

Juliana has a sweet little baby boy that I have named 

"hoboken" and "pioneer" 459 

Frances Stevens Conover. In all my pleasures, some drawback 
— your brothers Robert & John will not notice Conover, his 
wife, or child. They have never spoken to Juliana since her 
marriage. James & Edwin are very friendly & kind to her. 
Papa ... at my entreaty, is polite to him. I never invite 
Conover when Robert is at home. 

Papa is well ; at present in Harrisburg, Pa. He wants to 
build a R.R. from Pittsburg to Harrisburg. I tell him if he 
gets the act he will never get a subscriber, but he expects 
to make a fortune by it. 

Catherine Sophia, youngest daughter of the house, was 
no more optimistic than her mother over "Papa's scheme he 
calls railroads, which is to make us all heiresses." But she 
threw a little more light for Richard upon the popularity 
of the Pioneer by explaining that the boat carried "two large 
looking glasses." Hers, too, was the account of the usual 
celebration by the workmen over the launching and of the 
hard fate of a gentleman recently connected with her 
brothers in ferry management. 

Poor Commodore [John] De Peyster will not forget the ball 
in a hurry, for they tore half his coat off because he could not 
comply with their commands and dance a jig for the amusement 
of the company. I cant help laughing at the idea of his jigging, 
in spite of his unlucky coat. 

Harriet, Hetty, & I intend sallying forth ... as soon as 
we can get rigged out in a proper manner, to go to Trenton. 
I expect to have a very pleasant jaunt, & in fact it could not 
prove otherwise, were it not for that pert [Juliana]. She is 
worse to have in the house than a disease, as you frequently 
used to tell your tormenting sister. 

I forgot to tell you that they called the new steamboat 
Corinthia, after some new publication . . . under the title of 
Corinthian Tom (an appellation for a dandy, I believe). Har- 
riet expects company here to tea & has lost the keys to the 
sideboard (in which place is deposited all the fruits of her 


morning labours) & is making such a searching and huzzaing 
about them that she has driven every idea from my brain but 
that of the keys — and the company's hard fate who will be 
obliged to dispense with the delightful relishes she had in re- 
serve and eat plain bread and butter. 

Robert is in Washington. John, so busy with balls and din- 
ners he hardly finds time to come over and see us [from his 
house in the city]. 

In a moment snatched from his trips to Harrisburg and 
Philadelphia, the colonel read a communication from Charles 
King, secretary to the committee of the Greek fund in New 
York — an organization inspired by the same struggle for 
Greek independence that fired the soul of Lord Byron. 
Answering King, the colonel offered to build, for $25,000, 
a vessel like the one he had offered Monroe. Again he speci- 
fied that screw-propellers be used, and dwelt upon the ad- 
vantage of thus protecting the machinery under water. 
"Impenetrable to shot; possessing a speed unequalled by 
anything afloat," he concluded, "such a vessel could set any 
assailant at defiance. Having ft in her power to take the 
position best suited to her purpose, she could not fail to 
demolish the entire Turkish navy — or compel every ship to 
quit the sea." Perhaps the reason for not building this ship 
lay in the committee's failure to raise funds; perhaps it 
rested upon a lack of appreciation of the future of steam 
and armor ; or perhaps the colonel himself lost interest after 
he had completed, with Robert, James, and Edwin, financial 
arrangements to build another steamboat on the Delaware. 
This craft had split-buckets on the paddle-wheels, a design 
of Robert's, as were other features described in "The Phila- 
delphia Freeman's Journal": 

The TRENTON is constructed upon an entirely new mode. 
Her boilers rest upon the guards projecting over the water 


from each side. This leaves the deck entirely unobstructed and 
forms what may be called a promenade deck. The space usu- 
ally occupied by the boilers is converted into convenient and 
handsome dressing rooms. Should any accident occur, to the 
boilers, the water would be thrown directly into the river and 
not in the least endanger the passengers. And, what is more 
important, the annoying degree of heat in the dining cabins 
is not felt. She was built at Hoboken, and it may be fearlessly 
asserted the improvements in the arrangement and disposition 
of the machinery, are far greater than any made since the 
first introduction of these boats into our waters. 

In detail, the Trenton was 229 feet long, by twenty-three 
feet beam and eight feet in depth. With a thirty-eight-inch 
cylinder and a seven-foot stroke, her power and speed repre- 
sented another advance for Robert, and led Scott Russell, 
with other engineers who lived a little after him, to acknowl- 
edge him as the greatest among the leaders in both hull and 
machine design. It was in the Trenton, as the queen of his 
Delaware fleet, that Robert experimented with anthracite 
coal, which he had already successfully burned in a cupola 
furnace ashore. He first ran her as one of the Union Line, 
later shifting her to the Hudson — after the great day of 
American steamboating had dawned. 


It was a great day, in February, 1824, when Daniel Webster 
and Attorney-General Wirt, for Gibbons, met Thomas Addis 
Emmet and T. J. Oakley, for Ogden. Already Gibbons and 
Ogden had fought through all the lower courts; one to 
break, the other to save, the Hudson monopoly. Innumerable 
witnesses had been cajoled or badgered by countless lawyers; 
reams of testimony had been taken, revised, and perhaps 
struck out of the record. Charges of perjury had been freely 
brought and as vigorously denied ; occasionally the point of 
bloodshed had been almost reached. Now, at last, the legal 
giants had it in hand; with John Marshall on the bench it 
would definitely be settled whether Gibbons, Stevens, or any 
other man might run steamboats on the Hudson — or whether 
the Livingston-Fulton contingent could still keep the river in 
a private pocket. No small part of the fame of John Marshall 
as the soundest interpreter of the Federal Constitution rests 
upon his Steamboat Case. Within a few months past the pre- 
cedents he then established have been invoked in connection 
with the proposed bridge across the Hudson at 170th Street. 
In his decision he flatly contradicted Kent — and Chan- 
cellor Livingston — in the contention that the powers of the 
central Government, as representing a grant by sovereign- 
ties or States, must be strictly construed. "The Constitu- 
tion," said he, "contains an enumeration of powers expressly 
granted by the people to their government, and there is not 
a word in it which lends any countenance to the idea that 
these powers should be strictly interpreted." The men who 



had framed the Constitution "must be understood to have 
used words in their natural sense and to have intended what 
they said." If, from the imperfections of mere language, any 
doubt arose, then "the known purpose of the instrument 
should control the construction put upon the phraseology." 
The grant made by the several States to the Federal Gov- 
ernment does not, as Marshall read it, "convey power which 
might be beneficial to the grantor if retained by himself . . . 
but is an investment of power, for the general advantage, in 
the hands of agents selected for the purpose ; which power 
can never be exercised by the people themselves but must 
be placed in the hands of agents or remain dormant." 
Having stated these broad principles, Marshall proceeded 
to explain their application to the case in point. 

"Commerce," said he, "undoubtedly is traffic. But it is 
something more — it is intercourse. The power of Congress 
over commerce is complete in itself, exercisable to its utmost 
extent, without limitations other than are prescribed by the 
Constitution itself. If the sovereignty of Congress is plenary 
as to these objects, the power over commerce with other 
nations and among the several states is vested in Congress 
as absolutely as in a single government." Such power could 
not be confined by any mere question of state lines but must 
act everywhere. "It may, of consequence, pass the jurisdic- 
tional line of New York and act upon the very waters to 
which the prohibition now under consideration applies!" 

Marshall said much more than this, and said it clearly. 
He admitted that States might enact many kinds of laws 
incidentally affecting commerce — quarantine laws, police 
laws, bridge laws, and so on. None of this was relevant, be- 
cause all such state legislation was by virtue of the State's 
power of internal police, not by virtue of any concurrent 
authority, with Congress, over commerce either domestic or 


foreign. Any state enactment, he pointed out, must there- 
fore give way to the supremacy conferred by the Constitu- 
tion upon acts of Congress. Where Kent, among others, had 
contended that Gibbons merely had the right to operate 
coastwise, Marshall drew no distinction between "up and 
down" and "across," but, in this respect, included the Hud- 
son in the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, at last, the knot was cut — 
leaving Ogden ruined by years of litigation and Gibbons so 
crippled that he was willing to merge his interests with the 
Union Line. 

Marshall's decision proves that the license as a practising 
lawyer, issued to John Stevens fifty years before, was fully 
deserved. What the Chief Justice handed down formed a 
close parallel to what the colonel had written to Livingston 
and Fulton in 1809; indeed, the very language used by 
Marshall is so close to the colonel's that, rather than a 
paraphrase, it is the thing itself. All the figures so labor- 
iously set up by Livingston — the fiddler who interrupted the 
Stevens children, the cart with wide wheels, and the vender 
of patent medicines — were so battered by Marshall that they 
revealed the clockwork and wires that gave them motion. 
They were no longer fit for anything but the junk-heap. 

With the Hudson at last wide open to steamboating, the 
colonel became more and more inclined to leave this great ac- 
tivity to the sons he had trained for it. Robert immediately 
began plans for building more Delaware boats in order to 
have some to spare for New York. James formed a new line 
of stages, to run during the winter, between steamboat sea- 
sons, and furnish one day transportation from Hoboken to 
Philadelphia — an enterprise in which Gibbons became a 
partner. With Edwin and John Cox serving as advisers 
and managers, the ferries were making money. A great 
dream of the colonel's had come true, and he turned to 



harder work upon the realization of another. The latest of 
his earnest pleas for railroads had not long been issued. 

The wealth and prosperity of a nation may be said to de- 
pend, almost entirely, upon the facility and cheapness with 
which transportation is effected internally. . . . 

From the vast extent ... of the United States, and the 
relative geographical position of the States individually, the 
necessity ... of ready intercourse becomes . . . politically, 
of immense importance. A supposed want of identity of inter- 
est between Eastern and Southern States was the pretext for 
. . . the convention at Hartford. . . . Should measures for 
. . . establishing intimate communication between the Atlantic 
and the Western States be long neglected, the consequences 
may prove fatal to the Union. . . . 

The Grand [Erie] Canal would . . . divert a large portion 
of the commerce of the Lakes to the Atlantic . . . through 
. . . New York. But whether or not ... it will ultimately 
prove "for the benefit and happiness of posterity" is at pres- 
ent extremely problematical. It behooves the General Govern- 
ment to resort to more direct, speedy, and less expensive 
means. . . 

Would it be sound policy to acquiesce ... in giving a still 
greater preponderancy to the present commercial supremacy 
of this great and growing state [New York] ? Niles Register, 
for August 15, 1818, says "Ten years after the canal is fin- 
ished . . . New York will rival London. . . ." There is no 
calculating to what lengths the inordinate ambition of some 
discontented chief [in another State] might hereafter be car- 
ried. . . . "Let us," it may be said, "become independent, 
[with] . . . the immense business collected in our ports ap- 
propriated solely to our own use. Let us no longer be chained 
to the car of a sister state who has contrived to assume entire 
control over the Government." The following extract from 
. . . the Columbian, by a writer who signs himself "Cato," 
gives intimations of the spirit now actuating certain partizans : 
"De Witt Clinton, a man who is doing more for the benefit 
and prosperity of posterity than all the statesmen of Virginia 
together" ! 


I trust these intriguers will be disappointed in their darling 
project of elevating their idol into the Presidential chair by 
means of the Grand Canal. Long before . . . New York could 
accomplish so gigantic an enterprise [as its canals] the Gov- 
ernment could carry railroads into every section of the Union 
and thus . . . eclipse the premature, if not abortive, efforts 
of this aspiring state or, rather, faction. . . . 

Are the mouths of the Mississippi and the Hudson to remain 
forever the only outlets . . . for the Western states ? I answer 
—NO! . . . 

The length of the Grand Canal will be at least 350 miles. 
The turnpike from Washington [D. C] to Wheeling on the 
Ohio is only 270 miles ; it is presumed that a railroad would 
not exceed 300. At Albany we are 160 miles from New York, 
whereas merchant ships come ... up to Washington. Mer- 
chandise can be transported from Washington to Wheeling 
without being shifted from one vehicle to another. From New 
York to Wheeling, by . . . the canal, it would be necessary 
to shift four times, and transport more than 1000 miles. . . . 
Were a railroad between . . . the Ohio and the Potomac to 
be carried into effect, it would become the greatest thorough- 
fare in the known world. . . . Any calculation respecting the 
extent of the intercourse . . . must fall infinitely short of 
what must really take place. . . . 

The newspapers inform us that 3000 men, 500 pairs of 
horses, and 200 yoke of oxen are . . . employed in excavating 
the Canal. . . . The quantity of earth removed will be ten 
times greater . . . than for a railroad. . . . Besides, we are 
left at . . . liberty in choice of ground ; we can also, at pleas- 
ure, ascend or descend, whereas a canal must be limited. Water 
can only be conducted downhill. . . . Should it be desired to 
pursue a direct course ... in the ascent of the mountains, 
it would merely be necessary to employ an additional power, 
which could be dismissed when the railroad resumes its usual 
course. . . . Taking all these circumstances into considera- 
tion, it may truly be said that the fostering aid of govern- 
ment towards . . . bringing into use an improvement of such 
vast promise, would redound more to its credit than all the 


victories and all the conquests of all the heroes that ever 

In trying to drive a wedge through the Alleghanies from 
Washington, he was not neglecting to pound away at the 
one already entered from Philadelphia and Harrisburg. 
One appeal for influential help went to Stephen Girard, 
because "to a gentleman who has patriotically embarked so 
large a capital towards perfecting the line of communica- 
tion between the Schuylkill and the Susquehanna, by means 
of a canal, I need not say how much it will redound to his 
profit, as well as to his honour, to continue — by means of 
a railroad — the line from the Susquehanna to the Ohio." 
In making similar appeals to other Philadelphians, the 
colonel distributed his remaining copies of the documents of 
1812 and then reprinted a part of them for mailing. "And 
I spent the greater part of last winter at Harrisburg," he 
wrote. "With the greatest difficulty and opposition, I got 
a bill through for forming a company to erect a railroad 
from Philadelphia to Columbia on the Susquehanna!" 
Triumph, he thought, was his at last. 

The date of this act was March 21, 1823. "On the 
memorial and representation of John Stevens," an iron rail- 
road was authorized. A board, including John Connelly, 
Michael Baker, Horace Binney, Stephen Girard, Samuel 
Humphries, all of Philadelphia, with Emnor Bradley of 
Chester county, Amos Ellmaker of Lancaster city, and John 
Baker and William Wright of Columbia, constituted "The 
President, Directors, and Company of the Pennsylvania 
Railroad Company." These men were empowered to erect 
the road, "under the superintendence and direction of John 
Stevens," in such a way that its elevation should never ex- 
ceed two degrees above "the plane of the horizon." The 


freight rates established were seven cents a mile on each 
westbound ton, three and a half cents on each eastbound 
ton and, for small articles weighing less than one ton, more 
in proportion up to 20 per cent. Six thousand shares, at one 
hundred dollars, were to be subscribed, but there was a 
stipulation that, when the road had been completed, its 
actual cost should constitute the capital of the company. 
This was intended to provide for additional subscription if 
the estimates were exceeded or — presumably — to provide for 
returning to original subscribers any balance remaining 
after construction. As patentee of railroads, the colonel was 
to be given any profits in excess of 12 per cent. 

In consolidating the hard-won position he lost no time. 
On Monday, July 14, 1823, says his journal, "I left New 
York in company with Mr. C. Loos, in the steamboat 
Bellona" and on the fifteenth, "went down on S. B. Phila. 
to Philadelphia." There he "procured an instrument for tak- 
ing the angles of elevation and depression" and set out to 
survey the line himself, not in complete detail but with the 
idea of choosing the least hilly and most desirable route. 
On his way through West Chester to Carpenter's Tavern, 
he turned aside to call upon Emnor Bradley, "to inform 
him there would be a Directors' meeting at Phila. on 29th 
July." Bradley must have been a skeptic, for the journal 
adds : "He finally expressed his willingness to attend, if alive 
and well" — no doubt the only condition upon which the 
colonel would consent to leave. "Much rain in the night and 
morning," runs the next entry, "but went on eighteen miles 
to Henderson's Tavern at the entrance of the gap. One of 
the most hilly roads I have ever traveled ; so much so that I 
have abandoned all idea of carrying the railroad . . . any- 
where on the south side of the ridge . . . till it gets below 
West Chester." Pushing on, he wrote: "Left Strasburg 


July 20th on horseback . . . and proceeded toward the 
Blue Rock on the Susquehanna. After fording Conestoga 
Creek, we encountered another precipitous ascent" — and so 
on all the way to Columbia. Next day he started back to 
Strasburg by way of Lancaster. Sometimes afoot, sometimes 
in a gig, but most often where he preferred to be — on horse- 
back — he made his way back to Philadelphia with a good 
working knowledge of the country and a conviction that 
building the railroad would present no insuperable difficul- 
ties. He said as much to Richard. 

... I have explored the route and find it not merely prac- 
ticable but [this] at a very moderate expense. ... It may, 
throughout its course, be easily reduced to less than one de- 
gree ... in elevation and depression. . . . When the Sus- 
quehanna has been rendered navigable — a plan of mine for this 
is now before the legislature — this railroad will become the 
greatest thoroughfare in the United States — perhaps in the 
world. . . . You will find the question, who will be our next 
President, agitated with much warmth. The candidates are 
numerous, but I believe ... a certain great personage in New 
York ... at present behind the curtain . . . will ultimately 
be successful. 

As he went about the city, describing his plans and labor- 
ing to stir up enthusiasm, he soon discovered that, more 
than anything else, it was the great length of his proposed 
road that staggered prospective subscribers. To encourage 
them, he drew up still another circular letter. 

It is now generally admitted that a rail road is not a mere 
visionary project but . . . actually practicable. An erroneous 
idea has, however, prevailed among its opponents that it is 
only applicable to short distances and that . . . the contem- 
plated extension . . . to . . . seventy-three miles ... is 
ridiculous. . . . 


Let us suppose that a section ... be constructed in the 
immediate vicinity of the city, one mile in extent, in which 
elevations of two degrees actually occur. . . . Should it be 
practicable on such section ... to cause loaded carriages to 
move forward and backward . . . would it not be fairly pre- 
sumable that the effect would be precisely the same were a 
. . . road . . . extended ever so far? 

An appeal is made to the enlightened patriotism and enter- 
prising spirit of the good citizens of Philadelphia to step for- 
ward and, by an advance of five dollars, each, place the . . . 
improvement beyond all possibility of doubt. . . . Nothing 
more is asked than to engage to pay 5 Dollars . . . and each 
subscriber may pay the balance or not . . . [after] an oppor- 
tunity of seeing part of the road actually built. 

While his circulars went the rounds, private letters were 
sent to Mayor Wharton and many another influential Phila- 
delphian. But — seventy-three miles! What we should now 
dismiss as the job of a mere section-gang appeared, a hun- 
dred years ago, positively transcontinental. Small minds were 
paralyzed and even great ones only half grasped the idea. 
In the enormous correspondence of Girard, for instance, 
there is hardly half a line to indicate any active interest he 
may have taken in railroading. To Girard and to the other 
directors the colonel pointed out that, since the act had not 
passed until the last day of the session, after much discus- 
sion, it could not be said to have "taken the members by 
surprise"; the directors had been chosen with deliberation 
and, by meeting to organize the company, they had in turn 
assumed a serious responsibility. It was theirs to show the 
world that America — although, alas ! she had not, as he had 
planned, been first in the field — could still keep pace with the 
progress Britain had made in railroads. A Liverpool-Man- 
chester road was in contemplation ; would they not, with all 
speed, proceed on the Philadelphia-Columbia line? Should 


the charter be "suffered to become extinct from neglect on 
their part, either individually or collectively, to perform the 
light duties required of them, most assuredly they would be 
answerable to the public." In every possible way he urged 
them to promote, advertise, and buUd the road — only to find 
that none of them had much conception. This being true of 
directors, little was to be expected of lesser men, most of 
whom were very much of the opinion that Gibbons, at this 
time, expressed to the colonel: 

. . . The plan you suggest [is] practicable, but the bene- 
ficial results to the individuals engaged in it are extremely 
doubtful ; it being of that character to permit every one to use 
it with you — and, many times, to your injury. Situated as 
we are, it would not be politic, by means of our ingenuity and 
Capital, to furnish the means of success to our opponents. 

The difficult navigation of the Delaware now protects us 
from opposition to Trenton. The bad roads between Trenton 
and Brunswick operate to keep our opponents in check. We 
use the road in common with them & recommend our Line by 
the manner in which we overcome the obstacles that present 
themselves. If you remove them for your opponent by means of 
your exertion, you yield an important advantage. 

Gibbons was speaking more particularly of a railroad 
across New Jersey, but Pennsylvanians were inclined to be 
just as skeptical of personal profit, and so forced the colonel 
to every sort of argument. To the general public he appealed 
on the grounds of civic pride, while to hesitant speculators 
he declared "there is money in railroads." Where his man 
appeared to have a scientific turn of mind, he pointed out 
how "the cheapness of transportation will reduce the price 
of coal, enabling us to substitute steam in place of every 
other power and apply it to every practical purpose." Of 
the "immense advantage of this," said he, "we cannot at 


present form any adequate idea." As occasion very often 
demanded, he produced and explained his railway patent 
of June 8, 1824. 

This patent shows how his theory of construction had de- 
veloped through the years. He proposed to build foundation 
pillars of brick or stone, eighteen inches square and sunk 
two feet into the ground, leaving one foot above it. Upon 
these he placed blocks of wood, "firmly fixed thereto by bolts 
nearly in the form of the capital T inverted, passing through 
them into the stone or brick work." Next he laid longitudinal 
sleepers, consisting of two-by-twelve planks on edge, "in 
such a manner as to be three or four inches asunder at 
bottom and approaching each other so as to meet at the 
top," and secured to the block by "cheeks spiked on each 
side." Chiefly to prevent warping, but also to provide a 
broader base, wedges — "exactly fitted to the angular space 
between the planks" — were to be inserted at short intervals 
and also spiked. In the cradle formed by the upper edges 
of the sleepers a "cap-piece" of hard wood, three or four 
inches wide by an inch thick, was laid and to this was 
spiked the rail proper — a bar of wrought iron, three inches 
wide and half an inch thick. To run upon such rails, his 
carriage-wheels were to be fitted with "tires of cast iron" 
swung in a lathe to make them cylindrical and shod w r ith 
two-inch flanges to prevent "the periphery from running 
off" the tracks. The gage of the road was four feet six inches. 

All this effort was not without some result. If the direc- 
tors originally chosen for the Pennsylvania Railroad did 
no more than had New Jersey's first commissioners, still 
there were others in Philadelphia who caught a measure of 
the colonel's enthusiasm. Forty-eight of these formed them- 
selves into the Society for Internal Improvements, with the 
avowed object of studying railroads as compared with canals. 

Tracks with rails on wooden posts, and stone pillars proposed by 
John Stevens, 1812. 


r °j£ 






Among the members were William Ferrand, Gerard Ralston, 
Richard Peters, Jr., and others. It was to Peters that the 
colonel, on being invited to join the society, first wrote: 

Hoboken, Dec. 28th, 1824 
... I will explain my meaning when I signified that my 
subscription to your society would be conditional. 

You already know that last March a year ago an Act 
passed your legislature to incorporate a railroad. Unfortu- 
nately, a majority of the gentlemen named as directors proved 
so lukewarm in the business that they neglected to perform 
certain duties required of them. ... In consequence, no choice 
of directors on the second Tuesday in December took 
place. . . . 

I enclose a supplementary Act for appointing a new set of 
directors [who] have all expressed their willingness to serve. 
Whenever said supplement becomes a law, I hereby promise to 
pay instantly, into the treasury of your Society, $100. Should 
the object of the charter be carried into effect, out of any 
surplus after paying the dividend of three per cent quarterly, 
I agree to pay into said treasury $100. Lastly, on an assurance 
from the Society that it is disposed to exert its influence in 
procuring the passage of the Act, I promise to explain to 
you the method by which I expect to remove . . . the diffi- 
culties which appear so formidable. 

The society did cooperate. In the following spring it sent 
William Strickland to England specifically to investigate 
railroads, and read with interest his subsequent report rec- 
ommending them for rolling country, while canals were 
retained for levels. This sympathetic attitude toward his 
plans made the colonel an active member of the society and 
resulted in his urging Gerard Ralston — now its correspond- 
ing secretary — to be "in constant attendance at the session 
of the legislature at Harrisburg." In return, the colonel 
proposed to secure for Ralston an executive position when 


the road should be finished. "There can be no question," he 
declared, "that, should it be completed, it will soon be not 
only extended to Pittsburg but ramified in all directions." 
By this he definitely meant to include his New Jersey sec- 
tion, long authorized but never begun. "The citizens of 
New York," said he, "are more deeply interested than, at 
first blush, they may be aware of. The improvement, once 
introduced, will unquestionably be extended across New 
Jersey to the City of New York." Given half a chance, he 
would then and there have forged the chain now represented 
by the Pennsylvania main line between New York and 
Pittsburgh. And that he had no idea of stopping there is 
shown by another letter to De Witt Clinton, giving all the 
old arguments and a few fresh ones : 

Rail Roads are . . . most particularly adapted to the con- 
veyance of passengers. ... As respects the application of 
power, a Steam Carriage has infinitely the advantage of a 
Steam Boat. The one operates in a dense medium; the other 
passes through a medium 900 times more rare. . . . 

The object I wish to accomplish is to take passengers from 
New York to Albany. Do not be startled at the novelty of the 
idea. All that is required is a level road and the due applica- 
tion of power. . . . The shores of the Hudson afford a theatre 
for the display of the one, as complete as may be desired ; 
I feel the utmost confidence in being able to effect the 
latter. . . . 

It may be objected that the expense of erecting a railroad 
150 miles long will prove too enormously great; that the re- 
ceipts would not, after deducting expenses, pay legal interest 
on the capital invested. ... A rail road executed on my plan 
would cost only $5,000 per mile. . . . 

Although I failed, some dozen years ago, to convince you 
that rail-roads with steam carriages were preferable to canal 
navigation, in the present instance I trust I shall be more 
fortunate and that you will unhesitatingly give a decided 


preference to Steam Carriages — especially for the conveyance 
of passengers. 

Clinton's prompt reply showed that the colonel had asked 
what was still rather too much for the governor to grasp: 

Albany, 24 January. 

I have just received your interesting letter relative to steam 
carriages . . . and am fully impressed with the importance of 
the project. . . . 

You say that the application of steam power for effecting 
this object has not yet been accomplished; but I have no doubt 
but that you are aware that it is about to be tried in England. 
I enclose a piece cut out of a late London paper, to that effect. 
If this experiment succeeds in that country, I presume it will 
soon be transferred to us and that there will then be no great 
difficulty in realising your views. 

Until your plan can be tested by actual experiment, on a 
small scale at least, I think it will be almost impracticable to 
procure an adequate investment of capital on the magnificent 
scale you have contemplated. 

It is an odd fact that the governor has for years been a 
part of the tradition of the New York Central, and actually 
had a particular train called by his name. As yet it does 
not appear that the man who planted the whole idea of rail- 
roads in Clinton's mind has been similarly honored by a 
"John Stevens Special." 

Clinton's letter could not blot out the colonel's vision of 
a railroad along the Hudson. Lest the expense of a "double 
line" should seem "too magnificent" and frighten capital, 
he at first advocated only a single track, with the same 
"turnouts" he had proposed in 1812 and with schedules care- 
fully made to prevent interference between "suites of car- 
riages." He did not propose to produce, at once, a Twentieth 
Century Limited ; he did expect to demonstrate that "more 


than four miles an hour" was entirely practicable. And it 
had suddenly come upon him that his years were passing. 

"It is really surprising," wrote Rachel to Richard, "that 
Your Papa at his age should be so very active ; as much so 
as ten years ago. He enjoys good health and his faculties 
don't seem in the least impaired." It was quite true, but he 
could not deny the inexorable calendar that made him 
seventy-six. He could wait no longer for time. 

Within [he announced] one month after the specific number 
of shares have been subscribed, J. S. engages to erect a rail- 
way at Hoboken of sufficient extent to test the merits, on which 
will be placed a number of carriages to be propelled by steam, 
moving alternately forwards and backwards, with a celerity 
far exceeding that of carriages on the . . . turnpikes. 

In after years, John Cox always declared that his father 
had built his first steam carriage in 1795, abandoning it for 
the moment because it proved "cumbersome." Be that as it 
may, he began to good purpose in 1825, by laying out a 
circular track on the lower lawn at Hoboken, scene of so 
many experiments. Since the model of the steam carriage 
he erected is still in the Smithsonian, it seems proper to 
quote its official description as given by Mr. Carl Mitman, 
the distinguished curator of mechanical technology : 

The locomotive consists of a four-wheel platform truck upon 
which is mounted a vertical tubular boiler inclosed in a circular 
sheet-iron casing terminating in a conical hood that holds the 
furnace-door, and upon the hood rests the smoke-stack. The 
furnace and its grate are circular and are placed inside of the 
circle formed by the boiler tubes and thus are inclosed by 
them. The grate rests on the projecting ledge of the lower 
part of the boiler. A single horizontal cylinder with valve chest 
on top is situated alongside the boiler and transmits its power 
to a crank shaft on which is mounted a gear wheel. This gear 


engages a second and larger gear vertically beneath it, which 
in turn meshes into a rack rail situated midway between the 
rails and about on a level with them. Four vertical posts ex- 
tending downward from the floor of the truck near each corner 
and terminating in rollers in contact with the inner surface of 
the rails, guide the truck on the track. 

On February 28, 1825, the colonel made a private 

In the afternoon of last Saturday week, I made some experi- 
ments for propelling a carriage on railways but did not suc- 
ceed to my satisfaction owing to the great friction of the 
wheels against the sides. On the following Monday I sent the 
carriage down to Van Velsen's shop and directed him to insert 
rollers into each end of two bars ; one to be placed in front 
of the fore-wheels and the other behind the hind wheels, extend- 
ing beyond their track on each side, so as to roll against the 
upright pieces placed on the outer sides of the ways [tracks]. 
This improvement, as far as I know, is original. 

In the model this addition is not shown. Unfortunately, 
too, in the effort to give detail, the photographs are a little 
confusing in that they show the tubular boiler outside its 
casing. Otherwise, the colonel's correspondence substantiates 
the model as representing his effort to make good his own 
words: "Rail Roads have nowhere yet been made, on this 
side the Atlantic. Let the experiment be fairly tried." Be- 
lieving firmly in "ocular demonstration," he showed his 
steam carriage to every guest at the villa — not as a toy but 
as a sample of what he proposed using on his Pennsylvania 
Railroad. Gentlemen must cram their beavers a bit tighter 
on their heads ; ladies must gather their wide skirts about 
them and clutch the handles of their tiny parasols. At the 
appalling speed of six miles an hour, one and all must try 
the first American steam railroad. 


Next season, the "Commercial Advertiser" described "the 
circle at the Hoboken Hotel": 

The curve of this article is very rank, much more so than 
can be possibly required in pursuing the route of a road. This 
great deviation from a straight line gives rise to an enormous 
friction, the greater part of which, however, Mr S. has con- 
trived to obviate. 

His engine and carriage weigh less than a ton, whereas 
those now in use in England weigh from eight to ten tons. 
His original intention was to give the carriage a motion of 
sixteen to twenty miles an hour, but he has deemed it more 
prudent to move, in the first instances, with a moderate veloc- 
ity, and has accordingly altered the gearing, which renders 
it impracticable to move fast. 

Richard, from Paris, had sent home a detailed description 
of the Montagnes Russes — the aerial railways so called be- 
cause they were first introduced in St. Petersburg and 

I have endeavored to collect all the information in my power. 
. . . There are two gardens that have them ; the Tivoli, hand- 
somest and most fashionable, and the Grande Chaumiere. 
But the most elegant was at Beaujou — just demolished. . . . 
The elevation of this was about 80 feet. ... I recollect riding 
down it — the velocity was tremendous. . . . The carriages 
were made to hold two persons ; they resemble our sleighs in 
their shape. . . . 

The most curious and, it seems to me, most expensive part 
... is the machinery to draw up the carriage. An iron chain 
extends from the bottom to the upper platform on which you 
start. It runs on small wheels . . . [with] an axis for two 
horses about 9 or 10 feet asunder. . . . There is not the least 
danger, I think ... if well made . . . and cannot imagine 
how an accident can happen. . . . 

There's a band of stuffed leather . . . which goes across 
the person's breast when he is seated. . . . 


The best place at Hoboken would be on our hill. . . . 
Wherever it is erected, there ought to be an establishment for 
refreshments. If Pa would consent to rent our house, you might 
have ... a sort of Vauxhall Garden, for which you might fix 
a price of entry. I don't know how they would take with our 
folks ; they are great favorites here. . . . Perhaps it was the 
novelty of the motion and perhaps on this account as much as 
the rapidity of motion, it has been recommended by physicians 
to invalids and convalescents. . . . There is something ex- 
tremely pleasurable in rapid motion — hence Johnson said the 
greatest sensual enjoyment he knew was the rapid whirl of a 
stage-coach. . . . 

At the Grande Chaumiere they have hobby-horses placed on 
wheels, which have a good effect in descending. ... At the 
bottom is a pile of sand which stops the carriages immediately. 
... I could not obtain all the information on account of the 
surliness of the proprietors. I was about to measure a pavillion 
with a string, when the proprietor came at me in a furious 
rage; we had a high quarrel to the amusement of the 
spectators. . . . 

No doubt it would succeed at Hoboken. It would be very 
pleasant to sit on the green and watch the cars descend. I 
think Rob might let his house in connection with it. . . . 
Should you put up one, it strikes me you better subscribe to 
every paper in the city, or else some crabbed editor might . . . 
write you down. 

Partly to inspect these "mountains" and partly because 
Richard had been very ill, the colonel was planning a flying 
trip to Paris. Since his friends Ralston and Peters, with 
other members of their society, were pushing the railroad 
bills at Harrisburg, and since personal affairs were more 
tranquil, the moment seemed propitious. Mary Stevens had 
some months before been happily married to another naval 
officer, Joshua R. Sands, and was expecting to go with him 
to duty at Portsmouth. Edwin, although he had moved to 
Philadelphia to manage that end of the line of transporta- 


tion, could be relied upon to come back and meet any emer- 
gency. But Rachel's letter to Richard explains why this 
plan fell through. 

. . . Your Papa has given up all idea of going to France, 
and . . . you may therefore make your arrangements to come 
home as soon as you please. ... I wrote you the distressing 
intelligence of your dear sister Mary's death, the sixth of last 
month, leaving a lovely boy two weeks old. Mr Sands is now 
here, the very picture of woe. 

Writing to Ralston, the colonel gave Mary's death as a 
reason for temporarily suspending his own activities, but at 
the same time urged no slackening of the effort to get the 
supplementary act through the legislature. He was glad 
that advance reports from Strickland had induced the gov- 
ernor to recommend "weighing the relative merits of rail- 
ways and canals," and was convinced the publication of the 
full report would bring conviction to all concerned. He 
proposed shortly to resume "making a model of a plan for 
ascending and descending inclined planes without recur- 
rence to stationary engines," and continued: 

Should even my projected improvements all come to nothing 
(Do not construe this as the language of despair — far from 
it!) enough has already been done in England to place this 
grand improvement beyond all possibility of failure. The estab- 
lishment of railroads will form an entirely new Era in Political 
Economy. ... I entreat you to be up and doing! 

In reply, Ralston deplored the attitude of Pennsylvania's 
newly appointed Canal Commissioners, whom he described 
as opposed to all discussion of railways on the ground that 
this "would distract public attention and so defeat all species 
of improvement." However, said he, "now is the time to push 
this affair; if the present winter passes without action, in- 

482 john stevens: an American record 

numerable difficulties will arise." Since the colonel had left 
the nomination of new directors largely to Ralston and his 
associates, they had chosen, "in place of Messrs. Girard, 
Connelly, and Carey, Gen'l Thomas Cadwalder, Mr. C. I. 
Ingersoll, and Wm. Mcllvaine." 

William Lehman of the Pennsylvania legislature wrote 
that he had held "conversations with other members" and, 
in consequence of these, thought it would be "impossible to 
have anything done this session, because we shall probably 
adjourn early in April." Lehman was mistaken. The bill did 
pass, on April 27, 1826. To make its effect broader, it re- 
tained all the objects of the first bill, but repealed the special 
concessions to John Stevens ; a change approved by him as 
likely to interest more men. Strickland and Major Wilson 
were engaged to check the survey from Philadelphia to 
Columbia by the colonel and to make exact estimates of cost. 
It would be two years before the legislature would find pub- 
lic opinion so altered as to force an appropriation of 
$2,000,000 — the first known state contribution to railroad 
building. April, 1828, would mark the beginning of the new 
survey, which, by July, would reach "the farm of Colonel 
Baker, 20 miles from Columbia" and on the line of actual 
construction in 1829. 

Since the original purpose of reaching Pittsburgh, pro- 
posed by the colonel, was not abandoned but finally accom- 
plished, and since, through all subsequent acts and charters, 
the name he suggested — Pennsylvania Railroad — was re- 
tained, there need scarcely be any question as to the oldest 
commercial railroad in America. This one dates from March 
31, 1823, or — if its New Jersey portion, as seems proper, 
be included — from February 6, 1815. By way of interest- 
ing comparison, Mr. Samuel Hardin Church has fixed the 
birthdays of other roads. The Mohawk & Hudson, April 17, 


1826; Baltimore & Ohio, February 28, 1827; South Caro- 
lina Canal & Railroad, December 27, 1827; part of the 
present Lackawanna, January 28, 1828, and so on. In the 
kind of country they cross, in their length, and in the char- 
acter of their service these roads differ greatly ; but they 
and all others have one significant feature in common. They 
grew out of the efforts of one man with his conception of 
"ramifications in all directions." Taking New York's first 
road as a single example, we find Stephen Van Rensselaer, 
in February, 1826, submitting a petition for a line from 
Albany to Schenectady. It had taken him some time to digest 
the colonel's earlier letters, but he immediately received an- 
other, congratulating him upon his action and urging an 
extension to New York. A few days later the colonel again 
wrote to Clinton, citing what had been accomplished at 
Hutton, England, repeating his earlier arguments, and mak- 
ing the additional suggestion of "four lines; two for the 
conveyance of passengers and two for the transport of 
goods." Thus, when Clinton made to the legislature those 
recommendations which eventually resulted in the Mohawk 
& Hudson, he had — or could have had — in his pocket the 
colonel's latest effort to overcome his (Clinton's) earlier 
coolness to the great vision. 

In that vision John Stevens never faltered. To beat down 
opposition he spoke and wrote volumes, piling the Ossa of 
fast passenger service upon the Pelion of markets for the 
farmer, and supporting the whole by "legal interest on the 
capital." If he left anything unsaid on paper he presented 
this in a picture — his little "ocular demonstration" at 


On Saturday afternoon, a large number of gentlemen assem- 
bled, by particular invitation of the proprietors, on board the 
new steamboat Burlington and, between 5 and 6 o'clock, a short 
excursion down the river was commenced. 

We have already referred to the accommodations of this 
truly elegant boat ; it is proper to add that the whole extent 
of her deck presents a beautiful promenade, her cabins are 
high in the ceiling and richly furnished, and we were especially 
gratified with the quantity of room allowed to the ladies' cabin, 
as well as the richness and comforts of its furniture and 

About half past 6 o'clock, the company were invited down 
into the after-cabin, to partake of the provisions of a table 
which the hospitable proprietors had caused to be furnished 
with great taste and extreme liberality. After the more sub- 
stantial matters had been discussed, the resort to the wine was 
made, with the following toast offered by Richard Peters, jr, 
Esq and received with great cordiality : 

"John Stevens, Esq, of Hoboken; Philadelphia owes to him 
and to the science and liberality of his family, the best appli- 
cation of steam." 

Mr Stevens subsequently gave the following: 

"The citizens of Philadelphia; those who have tasted their 
hospitality can never forget it." 

In the enjoyment of the provisions of the table, or conver- 
sation upon deck, the company was conveyed to the Red Bank, 
thence up the river, beyond the city and, returning, were in 
due season landed at Chestnut Street wharf, highly gratified 
with their excursion and wishing complete success to the "Bur- 
lington" and her enterprising proprietors. 

A New York newspaper, quoting these paragraphs from 
one of its Philadelphia contemporaries s said : "We may add 



to this testimonial to the enterprise of Mr. Stevens and his 
family, that New York also owes to them the most successful 
application of steam." The colonel had never had a greater 
public tribute, but he insisted that most of the progress of 
the last few years was due to "the boys." After adding the 
Fairy Queen to the Hoboken ferries and thus, in 1825, 
making an end to the clumsy horse-boats, they had bought 
most of their father's stock on the Delaware. Allied with 
the New Brunswick operators, they had "a connected and 
entire line of Steam Boats and Stages, to and from, and 
between, the cities of New York and Philadelphia." The 
running of that line was described by Captain Basil Hall, 
R.N., in "Travels in North America, 1827": 

The beautiful and commodious steamboats go as far as they 
can up the Raritan River. The passengers then disembark, to 
be carried in stages across a neck of land until they reach 
the Delaware; thence speedily transported down the stream 
to the goodly city of Philadelphia. 

In spite of the doctrines of liberty, there are really many dis- 
tinctions in rank on these boats. Steerage passengers leave 
the quarterdeck free to ladies or to those who pay more for 
the honour and glory of the principal accommodations. When 
the vessel stops, a dozen or two stage-coaches and carriages 
dash down to the wharf. Each carries ten passengers. Inde- 
scribable confusion would result, except for the system fol- 
lowed: The captain goes about among the passengers and 
picks out those whom he thinks should journey together. Then 
he gives them the number of a certain coach, and their bag- 
gage is marked with the same number. By thus sorting out the 
sheep from the goats, peace is preserved. 

Thus the boys were, in a sense, their father's competitors. 
While he was working for a network of railroads, they 
continued to improve the coach service. None but the best 
horses — and the fastest — would suit them, for at heart they 

48G john stevens: an American record 

were all racing men. They were always submitting petitions 
for legislation authorizing Jersey racing, and their sisters' 
letters are full of such bits as "Eclipse, to the astonishment 
and dismay of the Southerners, not only beat but distanced 
Lady Lightfoot. James was delighted because he won $16, 
but Edwin was blue — he lost 8." "Eclipse" was the horse 
who afterward beat that other great one from the South, 
"Henry," by a nose, in a grand match for $20,000. This 
race was the outcome of heavy private betting at a banquet 
of sportsmen before the meet at the Union Course, Long 
Island. One account says that "so certain were the Messrs. 
Stevens of victory that, after their purses were exhausted, 
they took their watches from their pockets and diamond 
breast-pins from the bosoms, and bet them on the result." 
Certainly the sectional feeling ran so high that it could 
only be cooled by allowing John Cox and some of the 
Livingstons to buy the winner for $10,000 and the loser 
for $3,000. Editorials ran the race over again, offered 
"Eclipse against the world," and applauded the public- 
spirited citizens who had decided to let "the two finest 
horses in this and probably any other country" stand at 
stud in the Hoboken stables. At a moderate cost, the farmers 
would have this wonderful opportunity to improve their 
stock ; all honor to the men who made this possible. Hurrah 
for "Eclipse," who ran "at the rate of over 14 yards a 
second." And Rachel often wrote in the same strain to 

The old set continue their daily visits to the Green & amuse 
themselves with talking and looking at their racehorses — 
Hosack, Walter Van Dunscom, & Stephen, all as happy as 

There has been great racing last week, on Long Island. The 
favorite, Count Piper, owned by Walter, your brother John, 


& Dr Hosack, won the grand match with ease, beating the 
southern horse Vanity. So sure were the southerners of win- 
ning that they bet two or three to one against Piper. 

The colonel fully sympathized. Many of his letters were 
written to support his sons' arguments for changing the 
racing laws, and his membership in the Agricultural Society 
of Bergen county was mainly due to his interest in improv- 
ing the breed of horses used in the coaches. Speed was his 
hobby; he looked for it in man, beast, or machine, and 
kept records of the performances of all three which were 
the primer prototypes of John Cox's celebrated racing- and 

Robert could afford to carry his share of the racing- 
stable, for he was by now the most prosperous of the 
brothers. He had built a cupola furnace at Hoboken and so 
added to the shops there that he was able to do other men's 
work as well as his own. Moreover, his inventions and im- 
provements had made of him a consulting engineer, to whom 
other men, for criticism and suggestion, submitted their 
plans. William Burke's letter is typical: 

I took the liberty of calling upon you, as a stranger, for 
. . . your opinion upon a mechanical idea, . . . with the feel- 
ing that the opinion of the man who has done more than any 
other in bringing Steam propulsion to its present state of 
perfection, would be decisive. ... I was unwilling to hazard 
expense; but, as you felt too delicate to examine my project 
until it was caveated, I determined to remove that obstacle 
for the sake of the opinion. 

Thus Robert could find most of the money for the New 
Philadelphia, designed expressly for the Hudson service. 
On August 24, 1826, she beat all previous records by mak- 
ing the Albany run in twelve hours twenty-three minutes — 


a performance not beaten for the next six years. In general 
very like the Trenton, her trials were so satisfactory as to 
warrant advertising her two days after they were completed. 

The low-pressure steamboat "New Philadelphia" will com- 
mence her regular trips on Tuesday the 29th. She will leave 
the dock, foot of Courtlandt Street, formerly occupied by the 
North River Company, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Satur- 
days ; and Albany on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She 
will land and receive passengers at the usual landings. 

From the strength of the boat and the construction of her 
machinery, there is little or no jar in any part. Her cabins 
are light, airy, and spacious, elegantly fitted up with mahog- 
any, maple, and marble. Her dining room is 44 x 22 and 
decorated with a variety of paintings. 

It is expected from the trip lately made that her passages, 
from a difference in wind and tides, may vary from 10 to 
14 hours; so that, at this season of the year, passengers may 
calculate on being landed at Albany before dark! 

As usual with him, Robert had hardly finished the New 
Philadelphia before he began to improve her by installing 
his balanced poppet-valves which made it possible for one 
man to operate her engines. Upon her, too, he made many 
experiments in fitting false bows to give her finer lines. 
The story goes that Bell & Brown, the shipbuilders, refused 
to do this work for him, on the ground that she would look 
ridiculous and make men speak derisively of "Bell's Nose." 
At Hoboken, therefore, Robert himself did the work — an 
addition built up from the keel to about two feet above the 
water and carried well aft, then decked over and calked. 
It gave her an easier "entrance" and so added to her speed. 
As Scott Russell puts it, "the old plough was little better 
than a clod-crusher and the old ship little better than a 
water-bruiser. Then came an improvement in ploughs ; they 
were drawn out in front to a thin, fine, edge; they were 


carefully smoothed into wedges — not straight, but with a 
fine, hollow curve that first parted the earth, then raised it 
obliquely and gently laid it on one side; a revolution in 
agriculture." This was the theory that Robert applied afloat, 
to find himself soon followed by other naval constructors. 
Indeed, Russell's figure is particularly well chosen, for the 
reason that one of the less-known devices properly to be 
credited to the Stevens brothers — though to them little 
more than a by-product — was the Stevens improved plow. 
In the main, this appears to have been due to Edwin, who 
occasionally looked up from the family funds and affairs 
to visualize an invention by way of mental relaxation. On 
another occasion, having noted the slowness with which New 
York city's refuse was handled, he took time enough from 
his ordinary business to design a body with removable sides 
for what was afterward commonly used as the "two-horse 
dump wagon." 

Professor Renwick measured the revolutions of the New 
Philadelphia's wheels at twenty-five and a one half a minute, 
with a piston velocity of 405 feet in the same time. This was 
slightly faster than in Robert's next craft, the North 
America, equipped with a pair of beam-engines. But the new 
vessel was lighter and built on lines evolved from the last 
experiments. She made as much as fifteen miles an hour on 
the Hudson, this "phenomenal" speed resulting from the 
use of forced draft. Here again Edwin had a hand in de- 
signing what has since been commonly adopted as the "closed 
fire-room" system, that one in which the air, under pres- 
sure from the blowers, can escape in only one way — through 
the boiler ash-pit and the fire on the grate. Still another 
feature of the North America was the first introduction of 
the stiffening trusses and timbers which her lightness and 
speed made necessary to prevent bending or "hogging." 


This appears to have been entirely Robert's plan, promptly 
adopted by later builders. 

These two were the first in a long succession of Stevens 
craft on the Hudson. They recaptured for the colonel his 
long-lost "playground" and connected him at last with his 
cherished goal — the Overslaugh at Albany. They had to 
make speed, because open competition and the passing years 
brought a host of rivals like "Uncle Daniel" Drew, Isaac 
Newton, and the other owners and skippers to fight that 
picturesque, no-quarter battle for the dock-to-dock record 
and the cream of the business. 

The colonel watched the early skirmishes from ashore. He 
was absorbed in his railroad experiments and thrilled by the 
sound, here and there throughout the country, of inspired 
shovels. On the other hand, he was disappointed over the 
slowness of Hoboken's development, particularly because 
some of his family displayed an astonishing and unfor- 
tunate lack of faith in Edwin as trustee for the whole estate. 
As one way out, he proposed to sell the whole waterfront 
to the corporation of New York, arguing that "the advan- 
tages derivable from such a purchase, as a pecuniary specu- 
lation," were incalculable. Moreover, he said, even these 
would be small beside "the vast importance of such a place 
of general resort for citizens, as well as strangers, for health 
and recreation. So easily accessible, and where in a few 
minutes the dust, noise, and bad smells of the city may be 
exchanged for the pure air, delightful shades, and com- 
pletely rural scenery — with walks along the margin of the 
Hudson to the extent of a mile." As was his way, he tried to 
make his prospectus cover every point. 

. . . To obviate all objections arising from the present in- 
ability of the corporation to advance the capital requisite for 
the purchase . . . and improvements, two gentlemen of un- 


doubted credit [David Hosack and John Jacob Astor] to 
their immortal honor, offer to step forward and make such 
arrangements as will completely relieve the corporation from 
all difficulties ... on that score. . . . And the present pro- 
prietor will superintend, gratis, all operations for carrying 
. . . improvements into effect. . . . 

For affording accommodation and refreshment, and ade- 
quate protection against sudden showers, pavilions should be 
erected ... in eligible sites. . . . These should be . . . un- 
der immediate control . . . and the occupants restricted from 
selling . . . intoxicating liquors. . . . Every effort should be 
resorted to, to make these [pavilions] the most finished speci- 
mens of architecture and elegance. . . . For the attainment 
of this . . . emulation should be excited by conferring ade- 
quate premiums on such plans offered as may be most ap- 
proved ... by competent judges. . . . Let this not be con- 
demned as . . . unnecessary extravagance. . . . Nothing could 
have a more powerful tendency to civilize the . . . mass of 
society — to polish and refine the manners — than the mixed in- 
tercourse ... in such promiscuous assemblages of the rich 
and poor, in situations where art and nature are made to 
contribute so largely to . . . every scene. ... As aiding and 
promoting such beneficial results, the Board of Aldermen 
would have frequent occasion of holding meetings in some one 
of these pavilions. 

He thought the existing ferry charge exorbitant. To 
cross the ferry twice a day cost the commuter of 1824 no 
less than $91.25 a year, without any luggage. It was plain, 
said the colonel, that this "would never answer for those 
who depend upon doing business daily in New York," and 
he suggested cutting this cost to $10 a year. Such a low 
rate, however, would be possible only if building on a large 
scale were undertaken — as he proposed it, two thousand 
small houses costing $800 to build and renting for $75 a 
year. This he thought "all that was wanting to give Hoboken 
a decided preference." The basis of his idea for raising the 


building fund was the sending of Edwin to Europe to nego- 
tiate a loan on the estate. 

Development on this broad plan did not come during the 
colonel's lifetime; but his object, and the progress he made 
toward it, are well expressed in an extract from the Fanny 
Kemble [Butler] diary for 1832: 

It is now two years since I visited Hoboken for the first 
time — it is more beautiful than ever. The good taste of the 
proprietor has made it one of the most picturesque and delight- 
ful places imaginable; it wants but a good carriage-drive 
along the water's edge — for which the ground lies very fa- 
vorably — to make it as perfect a public promenade as any 
European city can boast, with the advantage of such a river, 
for its principal object, as none of them possess. 

I think the European traveller, in order to form a just 
estimate both of the evils and advantages deriving from the 
institutions of this country, should spend one day on the 
streets of New York and the next in the walks of Hoboken. 
If in the one, the toil, the care, the labour of mind and body 
— the outward and visible signs of the debasing pursuit of 
wealth — are marked in melancholy characters upon every man 
he meets, and bear witness to the great curse of the country, 
in the other, the crowds of happy, cheerful, enjoying beings 
of that order which, in the old world, are condemned to cease- 
less and unrequited labour, will testify to the blessings that 
counter-balance that curse. I never was so forcibly struck 
with the prosperity and happiness of the lower orders of so- 
ciety as yesterday, returning from Hoboken. 

We rode, like very impudent persons, up to the house on the 
height. The house itself is too unsheltered for comfort either 
in summer or in winter ; but the view from its site is beautiful, 
and we had it in perfection. 

Very little of Hoboken to-day can be recognized in that 
description. However, it has become the great steamship and 
railroad terminus that the colonel hoped to make it — and 


from his hilltop the view is still there. His descendants, too, 
have made an effort to realize this one of his many dreams. 
Following the plan of his proposed incorporation, they 
pooled much of their ultimate inheritance into a land and 
improvement company, with Robert and Edwin at the head 
of it. Through succeeding generations, in a life now nearly 
as long as the colonel's own, it has been possible for this 
company to play a leading part in underwriting schools, 
churches, and playgrounds, besides many forms of public 
service ; an accomplishment which would doubtless have con- 
soled the colonel for the blotting-out, by commercialism, of 
his green lawns and tall shade trees. 

Another attempt of his to popularize Hoboken as a resort 
appears in a New York paper : 

It will be seen by our advertising columns that a medal to the 
value of $50 will be awarded as a premium for the best Ora- 
tion, to be delivered at the approaching anniversary of our 
Independence, on the beautiful lawn in front of the Hotel at 
Hoboken. If local scenery has any effect in elevating the mind 
and inspiring generous sentiments, we know of no place bet- 
ter calculated to draw forth bursts of eloquence than the 
rural retreat at Hoboken, commanding a view of one of the 
noblest rivers and bays in the world, covered with the foreign 
and inland commerce of the young Republic — with a proud 
city lifting its hundred spires on one hand, and the variegated 
charms of nature on the other. 

Nor is the Jersey shore, looking downward to Staten Island 
and upward to the ruined fortresses on the banks of the Hud- 
son, wanting in Revolutionary associations. If a citizen can 
ramble on a bright afternoon, along the banks of the "Noble 
North," through the shades of Hoboken, without feeling elo- 
quent, poetical, and patriotic, let him be assured that he is 
unfit to enter the list of competitors for the Medal. The 
successful candidate may be certain of attracting a numerous 
audience, not to be wedged within the walls of a church, but 
seated upon the green turf in the great Temple of Nature. 


The medal in question was awarded to a young New York 
lawyer named Jackson, whose flow of oratory so pleased the 
colonel that he later engaged Jackson as counsel and thus 
started him upon a very successful future in railroading. 

Turning back to his plans for steam carriages, the colonel 
submitted these to Professor Renwick at Columbia Univer- 
sity. Renwick found them "philosophical, primary and ele- 
mentary, working to such advantage as to leave little doubt" 
of their practical use. He was particularly struck by the 
application of the principle of using "a less portion of the 
moving power for a given effort than any other steam 
engine yet seen." Admitting that much depended upon "the 
skill with which they were brought into actual service," he 
declared that assurance of this was to be found in the "great 
mechanical skill and ingenuity" of the designer. As to the 
colonel's additional plan of using a similar device to pull 
canal boats through locks "partially clogged with ice," 
Renwick, not having "had leisure to enquire fully," could 
only say that it appeared "extremely plausible." 

Encouraged by Renwick's faith, the colonel proceeded 
to study Richard's long descriptions of the Montagnes 
Russes. The feature that particularly impressed him was 
this: "The good citizens of Petersburgh take great delight 
in descending from the summits of these artificial mountains 
of ice with incredible velocity; but, like the boys formerly 
on Flattenbarrack Hill, they are under the necessity of 
spending much time and labor to haul their sleds up again." 
He and Robert put their heads together and on the last day 
of 1828 issued an advertisement: 


An exhibition will take place respecting these Ways on the 
green near the Mansion House of Mr Stevens, tomorrow, of a 


nature entirely new. A carriage will be impelled through the 
Air, instead of on the Ground, with a rapidity far exceeding 
any Land Carriage. 

The "Aerial Ways" were iron rods, stretching for about 
four hundred feet between "a firm erection" ten feet high 
and another one forty feet high, "in the manner of a wire 
bridge." Over these, a carriage on four wheels ran back 
and fourth. "As an amusement," said the "Advertiser," "it 
will be seen that the rapidity of motion may be regulated 
. . . according to the timidity or fearlessness of those who 
ride" — but the colonel had another view of its possibilities. 
He explained them to Nathaniel Carter, editor of the 

Hoboken, January 25, 1829 

You remained so short a time on the ground last evening that 
I doubt whether you obtained a clear idea in what manner 
the motion was given to the carriage, sufficient, after striking 
against the springs, to return it ... to the place it started 
from. This is effected by means of a weight which gives the 
carriage an impulse at starting. Two men at a windlass raise 
the weight by the time the carriage returns, so as to keep up 
. . . constant motion. 

The velocity depends on the velocity a heavy body will ac- 
quire in falling — say, 32 feet. The weight ... in falling 16 
feet acquires a velocity of 32 feet per second; in ... 16 
more ... its velocity will be increased to 64 feet. [This] 
gives 3840 feet per minute . . . equal to 43.63 miles per hour. 
With such an astonishing velocity, the mail could be carried 
from, New York to Philadelphia in about two hours. But . . . 
as the motion neither begins nor ends with such velocity . . . 
we will reduce to 30 miles, which would enable us to convey 
the mail between the two cities in three hours. 

As always, the practical possibilities were the attraction 
for the colonel. In this case, anything to get faster mail 


service; in every case, however trivial or even absurd an 
invention, he stoutly maintained that it might lead to some 
useful application of power. Thus, in a long discussion of 
the "Aerial Ways," he suggested how a road might be built 
over Bergen Hill and thence to Philadelphia. The obvious 
slowing down of the carriage after each "coast" might be 
met by building artificial elevations, up which it could be 
drawn by suitable stationary engines at various points along 
the line. He explained how, by raising greater weights to 
greater heights and letting them fall, his Hoboken carriage 
was "made to jump back and forth a length of more than 
700 feet." Might not something similar be applied in prac- 
tice? Friction and air-resistance must, of course, be over- 
come ; but might not a carriage, with "very little extraneous 
aid," be given a vibratory motion like a pendulum? If 
merely raising a weight four or five feet, once in eight days, 
would make a pendulum — on a scale of six-inch vibrations 
— travel more than sixteen miles in a day, might not some 
application of this principle keep the carriages going ? Also, 
in view of Count Rumford's demonstration of the extraor- 
dinary strength of properly made hemp cables, why not 
use this, and suspend the carriage instead of supporting it 
on rails ? On this point he was emphatic : 

It may be said that travelling at so great an elevation 
through the air would be attended with great danger. To be 
precipitated from a height of 200 feet would undeniably be 
followed by fractures and dislocations ; in some instances, by 
death itself. But . . . what are the risks ... in travelling in 
a four-horse stage? We place our lives at the mercy of five 
animals . . . anyone of which, by unruly conduct, may be the 
means of overturning the carriage. 

As the colonel suggested, carriages crossing rivers and 
deep gorges on cables are nothing unusual to-day. Scenic 


railways or roller-coasters have spread all over the coun- 
try from Hoboken. Hence, while nothing came of the colo- 
nel's letter to Senator Mahlon Dickerson, suggesting con- 
gressional interest and the detailing of men from the corps 
of engineers to investigate the idea, the fact remains that 
both entertainment and practical value have resulted from 
these earliest American Montagnes Russes. Moreover, they 
bore the germ of another idea which the colonel presently 
submitted to the corporation of New York : 

Two Rail ways, commencing at the Battery fence . . . 
should there be elevated about ten or twelve feet above the 
pavement, so as to admit carriages of every description to pass 
freely . . . under said rails. . . . The Railway then to be 
carried on each side of Washington or Greenwich Street, sup- 
ported on pillars of stone, iron, or wood, placed near the curb- 
stones ; extending to some point above the . . . State Prison, 
. . . and rising gradually from the horizontal to a height of 
25 or thirty feet. Thence to proceed at right angles, or . . . 
nearly [so] to the commencement of a Bridge across the Hud- 
son River, . . . still rising [toward] the shore at Hoboken 
[where] the elevation will be between 30 & 100 feet. The Rail- 
ways are then to proceed in a direct line over Bergen Hill 
to the termination of the canal west of the little Falls of the 

In addition to carrying "passengers, goods, marketing, 
etc," the colonel held that his elevated railroad and bridge 
combination would provide — as he was always hoping to 
provide — an adequate water supply for the city. Further- 
more, said he, here would be the means "of obtaining a never 
failing supply, not only to the whole city, but to the state 
as well, of a fuel of superior quality. . . . What is called 
the Schuylkill coal could be brought into New York mar- 
kets ... at one-third of what it now costs." Never content 
with the mere killing of two birds, the colonel must have 


three or four in return for each stone. "After giving due 
weight," he declared, "to all these circumstances, a bridge 
across the Hudson, cost what it may, will not be liable to 
any serious objection. Nay! a million dollars should present 
no serious obstacle to completion!" For use on such a rail- 
road as he proposed, he brought forward a new design for 
steam carriages: 

... I find the almost universal practice of applying the 
Steam Engine to the purpose of propelling carriages ... is 
by means of the adhesion of the periphery of the wheels to 
the metal plates the ways are composed of. . . . To preserve 
the power of traction, and at the same time . . . lessen fric- 
tion, I purpose constructing carriage-wheels of 8 feet diam- 
eter, the tire -to be 4 in. wide and one inch thick. Altho' the 
power of traction will be thus increased, the weight on the axes 
will continue nearly the same. To give due strength to these 
wheels, the spokes are purposed to be dished on each side 

The axis to be cranked, attached to each end of a lever beam ; 
connecting rods will be moved by the piston-rods and thus 
give motion to the beam, the cranks on each side [being] 
moved by rods connected . . . with the lever beam and thus 
superseding the necessity of cog-wheels, &c, to give motion to 
the carriage wheels. ... I think it will be found better to 
place the cylinders horizontally, with piston rods passing 
through stuffing boxes at each end of the cylinder ; these rods 
to be connected after the usual manner with the cranks. 

This offers an interesting comparison with modern loco- 
motives. For climbing steep grades, the colonel thought it 
might still be necessary to use a cog under the carriage, 
to mesh into a rack between the rails ; this rack to be fitted 
with springs underneath, to insure the teeth "falling into 
each other at the moment of contact" — a slight modification 
of the rack used on the Hoboken track. 


Many a Jerseyman had ridden in the colonel's demon- 
strator, and many another had been in the habit of traveling 
to Philadelphia by the Union Line, when the connection 
between the two forms of transportation was made startlingly 
apparent to every one by the triumph of the Stephensons' 
"Rocket" in 1829. Skeptics, denying that they had ever 
doubted, began to fade away, leaving room for enthu- 
siasts. The plea for better roads, made so long before by 
Mr. J. Stevens and endlessly repeated through a century 
by his descendants, suddenly found a host of listeners. In 
other States, railroads were already begun, either upon 
the colonel's plan or upon similar ones, and at least one 
British locomotive had actually been imported. If rail- 
roads were, indeed, the coming thing, why not build a 
railroad in New Jersey under John Stevens's charter? Or, 
cried the new-born fanatics, why not get charters of our 

Petitions came crowding to the table of the legislature, 
only to meet a similar flood of canal petitions. Many of the 
unsuccessful competitors of the Union Line found, in this 
ancient grudge, an excuse for following the canal leaders be- 
cause the embattled colonel stood at the head of the rail- 
road men. Lobbying became so sharp and bitter that the 
question whether canals or railroads would win in Jersey 
had reached a virtual deadlock on a certain night when 
Robert and John Cox decided to spend an hour or two at 
the play. In the foyer of the old Park Theater, New York, 
they came upon Commodore Robert F. Stockton, a leader of 
the canal party. Whatever play was being presented on that 
January evening, it must have been utterly forgotten for 
the debate that immediately began. Out of that discussion 
came unexpected compromise, and on February 4, 1830, two 
charters were granted by New Jersey — one to the Delaware 


& Raritan Canal Company, the other to the Camden & Am- 
boy Railroad and Transportation Company. 

The railroad men met and organized at Camden on April 
12. Robert was elected president and chief engineer ; Edwin, 
treasurer ; and Jeremiah Sloan, secretary. While active man- 
agement was thus laid upon the two brothers, they were not 
to be without the help of their father, who was as keen 
as ever and had, in that very week, written to President 
Jackson and taken "the liberty of saying a few words on 
the subject of railways and steam-carriages" : 

Hoboken, Ap. 7, 1830 
... As I have in my former letter observed, time and space 
will be annihilated. . . . Our external commerce, from vari- 
ous causes, is ati present ... in a somewhat languishing 
state; but railways would soon revive our wonted vigorous 
exertions. . . . The vast extent of our territory embraces 
. . . every variety of soil and climate ; of what is usually 
called the "rough materials" of fabrics we possess an abun- 
dance. We want . . . only a facility of transportation to 
make our internal communications supply . . . any interrup- 
tion of foreign intercourse. . . . By this means of communi- 
cation, I should not be surprised should we be able soon to 
procure abundant supplies of oranges, pine-apples, limes, etc, 
in one-third the time it now takes, by sea. . . . How trans- 
cendantly meritorious will that Administration prove, by whose 
efforts . . . are accomplished improvements that will bestow 
blessings on future generations to the end of time. 

Without waiting for any possible help from Jackson, 
Edwin plunged into Jersey politics and finance. Since there 
were no clear laws upon methods of obtaining franchises or 
of buying rights of way through private property, these 
matters would occupy his attention for years. But he found 
time to organize a staff, securing Major John Wilson and 
Lieutenant William Cook to make a survey, with Isaac 

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Dripps as the road's future master mechanic. Far from be- 
ing as "unwilling" to help his father as his brother James 
had once predicted, Edwin was very soon whole-heartedly 
absorbed in railroads. 

Construction naturally fell to Robert's share. He thought 
an all-iron rail preferable to both the wooden ones and the 
plated stone "riggers" which had been tried on one or two 
short American lines. When he met his fellow-directors in 
October, he persuaded them to let him go to Europe and 
buy any iron rails he chose, with any other desirable mate- 
rial. On the fifteenth of the month, aboard the Hibernia, he 
sailed with a penknife in his pocket. Picking up a billet 
of wood left on deck by some careless foremast-hand, he be- 
gan whittling to pass away the long hours of the voyage. 
Naturally enough, his fingers turned to the design that just 
then most interested him — rails. When he had cut a section 
of the popular British rail — the Birkinshaw — he realized 
that this would require a special "chair," a costly thing in an 
America where iron was dear and metal-workers scarce. 
Looking for something better, he produced, in his final 
section from that billet, the world's first T-rail — standard 
for the United States ever since. 

On landing, he wrote to a number of English ironmasters, 
inclosing a sketch and asking for bids; either because of 
their disapproval or from some other reason, he got none. 
He had, however, a friend in Mr. Guest (afterward Sir 
John), the owner of large iron-works in Dowlais, Wales, 
and with him soon went posting off in a coach. The Dowlais 
workmen were not afraid of a new idea, but they were in 
some doubt whether their rolling-mills would stand the strain 
of realizing it. When Robert had deposited "a handsome 
sum" to guarantee any damage, Mr. Guest gave the word to 
go ahead. The mills did break down a number of times, and 

502 john stevens: an American record 

the first specimens, as Robert described them in his letters 
home, came out "twisted and as crooked as snakes," until 
some one hit upon the right method of straightening them 
while still hot. Unfortunately, although this Welsh firm is 
still alive and thriving as Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds, and al- 
though its officers were good enough to conduct an exhaus- 
tive search of the archives, no original account of this strug- 
gle has been found. But of the result there is no doubt, for 
in May of 1831 the Cliarlemagne brought back to Phila- 
delphia the first shipment — 550 rails. They ran to sixteen 
feet in length, three and a half inches high, two and an 
eighth wide on the head and three and a half at the base. 
They were originally designed to weigh thirty-six pounds 
to the yard, but this was almost immediately raised to about 
forty-two and has since been much further increased. But 
for this and a small change in the curve of the fillets, any 
one might walk out upon the nearest railroad and — given a 
sufficiently good hacksaw — cut himself a section of Robert's 
T-rail. Those that he actually laid were long afterward de- 
scribed as "still in use and of such superior quality that, 
after they are worn out, the company's mechanics prefer 
them to new iron in making repairs." The type has some- 
times been called the Vignolles rail, but the cause of this 
misnomer is readily explained by a letter written to Robert 
by Francis B. Ogden, then American consul in Liverpool: 

July 16, 1831 
. . . Vignolles has laid down his road in that way, the rails 
remarkably well executed on your pattern, like the piece I 
sent out to you but much lighter, and [he] is very much 
pleased with it and says it is decidedly the best rail in use. 

Not long after Robert had sailed for England, Edwin 
reported, in one of the few letters of his still in existence, 
the progress being made at home : 


Nov. 30, 1830 

I hope, ere this, you are safely landed. We are all well at 
home and things go on as usual. The Philadelphia continues to 
beat the Ohio from 30 to 45 minutes and does pretty well. The 
morning Boats, not so well and the Union Line not so well 
as it has done. The opposition to N. Brunswick is not yet on 
nor do I believe it will come on this fall or winter. 

There was no Race at the Union barn ; Colden was not 
able to put up the purses. The Poughkeepsie Club had a second 
meeting and the horses from the Island all went up. [Your] 
Black Maria took the first day easily, beating Leopold, Par- 
ker's Horse, and 3 or 4 others. The second day was taken by 
one of Parker's Horses (Corporal Trim, I believe) beating 
your mare and 3 others. Alfred says the mare would have had 
a good chance for the money if she had not run away with the 
Boy and busted herself out with May Day. 

Cook has not yet compleated the Survey but expects to, in 
10 days. We have commenced with the deep cut. ... I shall 
put two gangs on the North side and one on the South side 
of the Hill ; also one at the Hill this side of Brown's Tavern. 
A small gang is at work at Camden. I am in hopes, in a month's 
time, to have most of the line from Amboy to Bord[entown] 
let out to the lowest bidder. The lowest offer for Blocks of 
stone — 18 in. square, 10 to 13 deep — at this end is 441/2 
cts ; at the other end 34 cts. Granate rail 12 in. square, not 
less than 5 feet long, 37 cts per foot, drilled ready to put the 
iron on. 

I have allowed, for transportation, one team to take one 
ton ten miles a day for $1.50 or 15 cts per mile. The aver- 
age distance 3 1/3 miles equal 50 cts per ton. After the road 
was laid 6 2/3 miles it would be cheaper or as cheap as the 
railway could be used. 

In looking over the report of the Liverpool and Man- 
chester Road I find that an engine is estimated to draw 30 
tons 15 miles an hour on a level and 7 tons up an inclined 
plane of 1 to 100 at the same speed. Or, 45 tons on the level 
and 12 tons up the plane at 10 miles per hour. The adhesion of 
the wheels of a 4l/o ton engine being sufficient to draw 45 tons 
on a level, with slipping; up an inclined plane of 35 feet in a 


mile the same engine will take 16% tons without slipping. Now, 
if we could increase the friction on the inclined planes by mak- 
ing the iron . . . rail broader and softer, perhaps we could 
take up as much on the inclined plane of 52 feet at a slower 
speed, without the wheels slipping, as we could do up the 35- 
foot planes with the common rails. The slipping of the wheels 
is going to be a serious difficulty. ... I think it will be best 
to take down all . . . hills, except the first, to 35 per mile. 

If you ship any iron, ship in the name of the Company, [or] 
you may lose the benefit of the discriminating duty. 

We have had another fight with the legislature. The Dela- 
ware & Raritan Canal Co has applyed for an extension of their 
charter, with the priviledge of putting a Rail Road on its 
banks. Their bill — as also the Sea Serpents' — is engrossed but 
I think neither stands any chance of passing. We offered $20,- 
000 a year and 20 cts per passenger, or 1/5 part of our divi- 
dends to the state, provided they would not authorize any other 
road ; or, if they did, the Tax was to raise. We will, at the next 
session, try to get the state to take the 1/4 part of the stock. 

E. A. S. 

Robert, in England, had soon established very friendly 
relations with the Stephensons. He was present when their 
new locomotive, the "Planet," was given its first public 
trial in December, 1830. As a result of this trial and of 
conversations with Robert Stephenson, he ordered a similar 
engine shipped, as soon as possible, to America. For two 
men whose names were so curiously similar, and whose ideals 
were so nearly identical, the making of a binding agree- 
ment was merely a matter of jotting down a few notes on a 
half sheet of paper. 

Mr Stevens' Engine 

Liverpool Railway Office Dec. 6th, 1830 

Jones's Wheels if not found objectionable and 4 ft. 6 in. 
in diameter and wholly wrought iron. 

The Boiler 2 ft 6 in. in diameter and 6 ft long. The fire 


box a vertical cylinder of as great a diameter as convenient. 
The Plate in the smoke box to be as light as practicable. The 
cylinders 9 inches diameter and 20 inch stroke, not more than 
3/8 thick. The passages to 6 x 1 1/8. The exhausting port to 
be larger and to have a chamber close to the cylinder with a 
large pipe to free the piston from any pressure — say, 4 in. in 
diameter. The piston rods to be partly steeled and 1 3/8 diam- 
eter. The back covers to the cylinders to be of boiler plate. 

The joints in the working gear to have straps and keys, and 
the pin of the eye to be forged in. The guides to be of steel 
instead of pullies. The cranked axles to be 3 1/4 inches. The 
brasses to have more bearing sideways. The Boiler to be kept 
as low as possible. 

The depth of the fire box to be 3 feet. The top of fire box 
to be braced up to the dome. The boiler to be scant 1/4 inch 
thick but the vertical part to be a full 1/4 inch. The chimney 
to be a good size. 

Four wheels to be alike and coupled on the outside. The 
side rods to be open work if it be found adviseable. 

The cylinders placed to work underneath the angle next the 
cylinder, the same as the large Engine for Inclined Plane. 
The tubes to be made of iron as thin as possible. This engine 
to be completed and delivered in time for the March Packet, 

R. Stephenson 
Robt. L. Stevens. 

N. B. The crease of the wheels to be 1 1/2 in. deep. The Rails 
are 5 feet from centre to centre and 2 1/4 in. broad. Inside 
breadth 4 ft 9 3/4 in. To work expansively at 1/2 stroke. 

The whole document reads for what it doubtless was — a 
practically stenographic report of the criticisms exchanged 
by the two Roberts as they stood beside the "Planet" after 
her trial. As a contract, it proved entirely satisfactory ; be- 
fore many months had passed, Isaac Dripps, the Borden- 
town mechanic, would be puzzling his head over the assem- 
bling of Engine Number One for the Camden & Amboy 


Railroad — the "John Bull" locomotive, by Stephenson & 
Company. Her first official run would be on November 12, 
1831, with a Bordentown whisky-barrel for her tank and 
her water-piping made from leather supplied by a local 

Without doubt, the arrival of the "John Bull" at Phila- 
delphia warmed the colonel's heart. In celebration, he held 
a midsummer fete-champetre at Hoboken which has fortu- 
nately been described in Philip Hone's diary. Two hundred 
gentlemen assembled to be taken across the river in the 
Chief Justice Marshall and landed near a spot upon the 
hillside inclosed in flags and spread with tables. The colla- 
tion included that popular delicacy of the day, turtle soup, 
with other "refreshments which the taste and liberality of 
the entertainers taught us to expect." Later, the party was 
augmented by the New York and New Jersey boat clubs, 
"in the white jackets and trousers, round chip hats, and 
checked shirts" which formed their prescribed uniform. 
"John Stevens," added Mr. Hone, "presided at the feast 
with spirits as abundant and sparkling as his champagne. 
The beautiful groves echoed with merriment and good hu- 
mour, toasts, songs, and laughter." To see what was at last 
being accomplished in American railroading brightened the 
colonel's eye and made him, at eighty-two, easily the life 
of the party. 

Before Robert could make any test of the new locomotive, 
he must build his track. At the outset he used his father's 
stone-block plan as worked out by Edwin, and laid IQQl 1 /^ 
feet of his new rail near Bordentown. This was enough to 
demonstrate both track and locomotive to the Jersey legis- 
lature, who were invited to climb into two specially built 
cars of the general appearance of three carriage bodies 
joined together. Legend insists that the lawmakers found 


this a most perilous business, but finally gathered enough 
courage to ride a short distance. No sooner had they 
emptied the face-to-face seats, however, than their places 
were rapidly filled by the friends of Robert and Edwin, 
the first woman passenger being Princess Caroline Murat, 
exiled niece of the Emperor Napoleon. Among the many who 
rode that day, none was more interested and excited than 
Robert's devoted shadow Francis, the young son of James. 
Already absorbed in engineering studies, Francis was to 
become his uncle's chief assistant and later a considerable 
inventor on his own account. It was of his improved steam 
cut-off that Robert, to whom he had hesitatingly offered 
it as "something that might be a step forward," exclaimed : 
"Not might be, Francis. Is!" Among his own papers Francis 
left some record of the early experiments made to determine 
whether the English locomotive would serve its American 

On those first tests it became evident that the "John 
Bull," with only four wheels, would be apt to run off the 
track as she rounded the curves. Robert therefore devised 
the earliest form of "pilot," an oak frame eight feet by 
four, pinned together at the corners. Two twenty-six-inch 
wheels were fitted in boxes under one end, while the other 
was secured to the main axles, extended for the purpose. 
This was the contrivance which eventually came to be known 
as the "cowcatcher"; substantially, it was not changed for 
years after Robert designed it. He did, however, make sev- 
eral changes in the "John Bull" herself, which helped her 
to remain in constant service for more than thirty years and 
finally brought her, after exhibition at the Chicago World's 
Fair, to her present place in the Smithsonian Institution. 
As she now stands, she is the oldest complete locomotive in 
America, offering, in her present appearance, an interesting 


comparison with her original design as already described. 
In the early eighteen-thirties a Philadelphia instrument- 
maker named Matthias Baldwin took her for his first model. 
From her he built "Old Ironsides," first product of the now 
well-known Baldwin works, and later developed "E. J. 
Miller," a combination of several designs and long the proto- 
type of American standard locomotives. Meantime, as the 
years passed, the Stevens brothers modified the type of car- 
riage, eventually producing the original American vesti- 
buled train. 

Robert was exceedingly anxious to push the track all the 
way to Amboy before winter stopped his work, but Sing Sing 
could not supply him with stone blocks fast enough to make 
this possible. In despair, he resorted to logs laid across 
the line, with broken rock rammed solidly home around them. 
When the T-rail had been laid upon these logs, and when 
the train moved gingerly forward, he made the startling 
and gratifying discovery that he had an equally serviceable 
and far more comfortable road-bed — the one, in fact, to 
which the whole country has now long since become accus- 
tomed. It was "easy to see that, with very little attention, 
the exact line of direction and perfect parallelism of the 
ways" could be more readily preserved, while "a frame, 
properly braced, connecting the two ways [rails] together," 
meant that "their true relative position required only wedg- 
ing." The "spikes, six inches long, with hooked heads," 
which Robert had already devised for the old clumsy con- 
struction, served equally well for the new "ties" — just as 
they have served ever since. Similarly, Robert's "iron- 
tongue" over the rail- joints still persists as the "fish-bar," 
although the rivets he used have since been replaced by bolts 
and nuts. Oddly enough, he never took out any patents for 
these inventions. The fact seems to be that he was usually 


too busy over a new idea to make out an application to safe- 
guard an old one. However, the record is clear enough. Just 
as the labyrinth of threads on a railroad-map of the United 
States leads inevitably to John Stevens, so the miles of actual 
steel are Robert's imperishable monument. 


His personal disbelief in betting did not in the least affect 
the colonel's great interest in every sort of sport. He held 
athletics to be an important part of a normal education ; 
in his opinion, a man trained to operate a steamboat ought 
to be equally capable of taking the helm of a sloop or of 
going ashore and handling a fowling-piece with proper 
credit. Speed in a foot-race was to him an indication that 
the runner ought to forge ahead in life. When he was 
seventy-five, he could still throw a good leg across a horse's 
back, and he would have been ashamed of any son who did 
not show the same spirit. 

All of them did show it — more especially John Cox. It 
was he, for instance, who bet Sam Gouverneur that he could 
produce a man able to run ten miles in an hour. He of- 
fered $1000 as a purse and promised to add another three 
hundred if there should be several competitors and only one 
to finish within the time. This brought out nine men, to run 
on a Long Island course crowded with as many spectators 
as a Derby day. For three miles the whole nine were within 
six minutes of one another ; the half-way mark was reached 
by five men in less than half an hour. Then the strain told, 
and one by one they fell out until only three finished the 
full distance. Henry Stannard, a tall, thin, twenty-four- 
year-old native of Killingworth, Connecticut, was the winner 
in the time of fifty-nine minutes and forty-eight seconds. 
He must have timed himself carefully to have something in 
reserve, for when the crowd had cheered him to the echo he 



climbed upon a box, made a speech, flung himself upon a 
horse, and galloped around the course before he called it a 

John Cox's friends were such men as Charles King, Cor- 
nelius Low, General Fleming, and Philip Hone. Hone tells 
in his diary how these four went by sleigh to John Cox's 
Long Island home and found Commodore Ridgeley, Mr. 
Botts, and John King already assembled with their host and 
his brother Robert. "A capital dinner," says Hone, "with 
fine wines and good fires." When they started back to town, 
early in the evening, King was driving through the storm 
at the unlucky moment when they were upset into a snow- 
bank. Digging themselves out and patching the broken 
sleigh together, they made their way back along the narrow 
road. Fresh fires and unopened wine awaited them; they 
made a comfortable night of it ; and even the gallant Ridge- 
ley's touch of gout next day did not prevent a repetition 
of the gathering before the week was out. John Cox, by 
marrying Maria Livingston — not of the chancellor's imme- 
diate family, but of the Lower Manor branch — had become 
well provided with the means of entertaining in town, too, 
as Hone again tells us: 

... A splendid dinner at John Cox Stevens'. The Palais 
Bourbon in Paris, Buckingham Palace in London, and Sans 
Souci in Berlin, are little grander than this residence of a 
simple citizen of our republican city; a steamboat builder and 
proprietor, but a mighty good fellow and a most hospitable' 
host, as all who know him will testify. 

Twenty ladies and gentlemen beside our host and hostess 
were seated, a few minutes before seven o'clock, at a round 
table of sufficient capacity to accommodate them all pleas- 
antly and conveniently. The ornaments were magnificent and 
in excellent taste; the dinner consisted of all the delicacies of 
a French cuisine. The honours of the feast were performed 


with the utmost good breeding and unobtrusive hospitality and 
the company, judging by the constantly spirited conversation 
which prevailed, exceedingly well pleased with their entertain- 
ment. The party consisted of Mr & Mrs James G. King, Mrs 
Clinton, Mr & Mrs Will. S. Miller, Mrs Ledyard, Mr & Mrs 
Mortimer Livingston, Mrs Douglas Cruger, Mr & Mrs Henry 
A. Coit, Mr John A. King, Mr & Mrs James Murray, Mr 
Anson Livingston, President Moore, Mr Edwin Stevens, Mr & 
Mrs Will. Kemble, & Phil. Hone. 

It has already been noticed how John Cox as a boy was 
more interested in sailing craft than in steamboats. Taking 
to heart a remark of his father's that the family hillside 
and the Hudson together made a natural amphitheater for 
races, he was always promoting something of the sort. He 
built and sailed the Wave, the Onkahie, and half a dozen 
other craft, each a little faster than the preceding one. 
Most important of them all was the twenty-five ton schooner 
Gimcrack, for it was in her cabin that he assembled eight 
other yachtsmen at five o'clock in the afternoon of the mem- 
orable thirtieth of July, 1844. It was high time, he told his 
guests, that a definite organization was made for the tak- 
ing of regular summer cruises together, the offering of 
prizes in different classes of craft, and so on. All the guests 
were enthusiastic; over a glass of wine they promptly re- 
solved themselves into the charter members of the New York 
Yacht Club. At Windhorst's Coffee House, in Park Row, 
they held their first official meeting as a club, but before the 
next season John Cox had built them a small club-house 
near the water's edge at Castle Point. He was duly elected 
their first commodore, an office he held until 1854 ; and it is 
again Hone who writes of the first regatta : 

... A gay, saucy-looking squadron — the schooner yachts 
off the Battery under Commodore Stevens, who flies a broad 

«, r .tt,t»'> 


a . ^^^^t^, . » 



pennant and makes signals like a man-o-war's man. With a 
company of fair ones and many parties, they were preparing 
to make a squadron-run to Newport — where their arrival may 
be counted upon to create a sensation and relieve the monot- 
ony of a tolerably dull place of sojournment. ... (!) 

One day when the commodore was out on the river a small 
craft slipped past him, rounded-to merrily, and came back. 
A youth was at her tiller, and the straggling letters across 
her stern caught the commodore's eye. "What boat is that?" 
he hailed. "The 'John C. Stevens' !" came the answ r er — and 
then and there the Stevens-Steers combination was born. 
Two years before, George Steers, at sixteen, had won the 
commodore's prize with the Martin Van Beuren of his own 
building; with his new craft, he beat the Unexpected, the 
Sylph, and the Johnny-on-the-Green. The list of the yachts 
he afterward designed — most of them of the "cod's-head-and- 
mackerel-tail" type — is a long and impressive one, but pres- 
ently he broke away from convention and brought out the 
Mary Taylor, with straight raking keel, longer, easier bow, 
and clean afterbody. According to Scott Russell, he devel- 
oped this new model with the commodore's encouragement 
and with helpful hints from Robert Stevens, the great mas- 
ter of stream-lines. Then he went on to bigger things. There 
were several men in the great syndicate of 1850 — Vice-Com- 
modore Wilkes, Colonel James Hamilton, Finlay Beekman, 
George Schuyler, and, of course, Edwin Stevens. But John 
Cox, at the head of the syndicate, repeatedly said that "to 
Mr George Steers alone were due the model and construc- 
tion of the yacht America." Some confusion upon this point 
may have arisen from the fact that the grand old schooner 
was first tried against the big Stevens sloop Maria, designed 
by Robert Stevens and the best of her class. In the actual 
races the Maria was the faster of the two, but, as John Cox 


hastened to point out, the America had a sea- voyage ahead 
of her, while the Maria, with her huge spread of canvas and 
her ninety-five foot boom, was meant for inland waters. He 
had no doubts about the America. 

Messrs. Thompson, Stephens, and Swan have written the 
splendid story of the winning of the Squadron Cup, much of 
it the words" of John Cox. With Edwin, he joined the 
America when she reached Havre after her Atlantic cross- 
ing and started for England. When a thick fog that forced 
them to anchor a few miles from Cowes had lifted, the swift 
British cutter Lavroch came out "to show the Yankee the 
way to port." John Cox himself described what followed: 

. . . The wind had increased to a five or six knot breeze 
and, after waiting until we were ashamed to wait longer, we 
let her go about two hundred yards ahead and then started 
in her wake. I have seen and been engaged in many exciting 
trials at sea and on shore. I made the match of Eclipse against 
Sir Henry, and had heavy sums, both for myself and for my 
friends, depending upon the result. I saw Eclipse lose the first 
heat and four-fifths of the second, without feeling one-hun- 
dredth part of the responsibility, and without suffering one- 
hundredth part of the fear and dread I felt at the thought 
of being beaten by the LavrocJc. . . . 

During the first five minutes, not a sound was heard save, 
perhaps, the beating of our anxious hearts or the slight ripple 
of the water upon our sword-like stern. The captain was 
crouched down upon the floor of the cockpit, his seemingly 
unconscious hand upon the tiller, his stern, unaltering gaze 
upon the vessel ahead. The men were motionless as statues, 
their eager eyes fastened upon the Lavroch with a fixedness 
and intensity that seemed almost unnatural. The pencil of an 
artist might, perhaps, convey the expression, but no words 
can describe it. It could not, and did not, last long. We 
worked quickly and surely to windward of her wake. The 
crisis was past — and some dozen of deep-drawn sighs proved 
that the agony was over. 


In all the eventful days that followed, no moment was 
more dramatic than this one. With her sea-stores still 
aboard, the America was loaded down and far from racing 
trim; for her it was a stiff test. Yet John Cox had to 
see that first brush won — no matter what men might say 
of the indiscretion of thus making it harder to get races 
afterward. "Take on anything, any time, anywhere," was 
the commodore's motto, as he intimated in what he soon wrote 
to the Royal Yacht Club : 

... I now propose to run the America against any cutter, 
schooner, or vessel of any other rig . . . relinquishing any 
advantage which your rule admits is due to a schooner from a 
cutter . . . ; the distance to be not less than twenty nor over 
seventy miles. . . . 

Although it would be most agreeable to me that this race 
should be for a cup of limited value yet, if it is preferred, I 
am willing to stake upon the issue any sum not to exceed ten 
thousand guineas. 

"Things have come to a pretty pass," said "The London 
Times," "when a New Yorker challenges all England in 
Cowes Roads and all England hesitates about accepting that 
challenge. The most singular unanimity of opinion prevails 
that the Yankee is able to outsail all creation — with the ex- 
ception, at least, of another Yankee, the Maria." And the 
"Times," at first, appeared to be wholly right, since no one 
came forward. Presently, however, that great engineer and 
sportsman, Robert Stephenson, decided that he could stand 
the situation no longer. It mattered nothing to him that his 
Titania was practically beaten before she started, or that 
she actually finished nearly an hour astern; he won what 
he went out to win — a response from other British yachts- 
men to the America' 's sweeping challenge. 

The rest of the story is familiar enough. Seven schooners 


and eight cutters — Beatrice, Gypsy Queen, and Brilliant; 
Freak, Arrow, Bacchante among them — assembled to put 
the Yankee in her place over a course described as "round 
the Isle of Wight." From Queen Victoria to 'Arry and 'Ar- 
riet, all England was there to see it properly done. And 
what the America's place proved to be has come down to 
us in the legend of the queen's quartermaster, snapping his 
spyglass together and disgustedly muttering "America first 
— no second!" The book already mentioned tells the whole 
fine tale, including the queen's personal visit — a royal com- 
pliment, by the way, which so overwhelmed Edwin Stevens 
with shyness that he plunged below and left it to John 
Cox to represent the family in doing the honors. 

When the Marquis of Anglesey, grizzled old leader of 
Wellington's cavalry at Waterloo, leaned far over the stern 
in what he pretended was an attempt to see the Stevens 
screw-propeller which must be there, it was John Cox who 
snatched the old sportsman's wooden leg and pulled him 
back. Indeed, it was John Cox here, there, and everywhere, 
from one banquet or celebration to another. So different were 
his impressions from those gathered forty years before, 
when he was a friendless stranger in London, that he could 
not put into words all he brought home. No being cheated 
by hackney cabmen and coffee-house tapsters on that sec- 
ond visit. He could not set foot ashore without finding a 
coach and six at his disposal, nor show his face in Picca- 
dilly without being hailed by the nearest newsboy or muf- 
finman. Meeting the British sportsman, he forgot the shop- 
keeper, and for the rest of his life never ceased to urge 
Anglo-American friendship by repeating his own words at 
the New York banquet in his honor : "Long may the bonds 
of kindred affection and interest, that bind us together at 
present, remain unbroken!" 


Edwin, for all his shyness before royal visitors, was not 
far behind John Cox. He was vice-commodore of the yacht 
club for some years and its commodore in 1867, with only 
a little less yachting enthusiasm than that of his two 
brothers. As a sea-going sportsman, he comes out in Abram 
Hewitt's account of an Atlantic crossing the two made 
together : 

The "Great Eastern" for want of funds had but a scanty 
supply of bituminous coal, which was supplemented by a stock 
of anthracite which not a stoker on board had ever used or 
even seen. The captain, Sir James Anderson, came to us and 
asked what he should do. So Mr Stevens and I, old as he was 
and young as I then was, crawled down through many devious 
passages until we reached the boiler-room and there found a 
very discouraged lot of people trying to burn anthracite in 
the same manner as bituminous. Of course, the fire went out. 
He and I — and mostly he — spent nearly two days in the boiler- 
room, teaching the stokers, which we succeeded in doing and 
were finally landed at Brest. This is a simple illustration of the 
character of this remarkable man. 

Ashore, he showed the same spirit, no matter what the 
occasion for it. In connection with managing the Camden 
& Amboy, he had made a home at Bordentown for his first 
wife, Mary Barton Picton, and it was there that Caroline 
Murat, daughter of the first woman to risk her life on a 
railroad train, learned enough of him to include him in her 

Mr Edwin Stevens, the great railway contractor in the 
days when railways were in their infancy, had a pretty place 
not far from the river. He had no children but a sweet wife 
— so gentle and loving she endeared herself to all around, rich 
and poor. Mr Stevens' peach orchards, which extended for 
miles around, were renowned and his great pride was to show 


The summer of which I am writing, 1846, was a glorious 
one, the nights surpassing the days in loveliness. We begged 
for an open-air ball in honor of Prince Joseph. Mr Stevens, 
whose hospitality was unlimited, was always ready to add to 
our pleasures and amusements. He decided to give a Peach 

He had the orchards brilliantly illuminated, garlands of 
lanterns hung from tree to tree, lighting up the beautiful fruit 
with which the branches were laden. At the nearest end of the 
orchards, two immense tents spread their wings, one with par- 
quet floor prepared for dancing, the other with tables for 
supper — where every luxury abounded, from canvas-back, 
terrapins, and blue-points, to pineapples, jellies and ices. We 
danced till the sun was high up in the skies, throwing a mellow 
light over all things. Long was the Peach Dance remembered 
and talked of! I was Queen of the fete. It was my first big 
dance in the first year of my 'teens. . . . 

I must skip 1847, a dull, weary, uninteresting year of wait- 
ing and longing and hoping for the future. One thing I may 
relate. In the summer of this year I was allowed to pay a 
visit to Mr Stevens at his villa in Hoboken, near Brooklyn. 
His wife was dead. Some cousins, the Conovers, were staying 
with him. Two of the Conover girls were my dearest, I might 
say, my only, friends. 

In the ordinary life of Hoboken, too, Edwin was a sports- 
man. It was he who annually gave the school children of the 
town a strawberry festival at Castle Point, and who saw 
that the poorest in the town received their share of winter 
coal. Men who worked for him declared that he carried 
into his business day the theory of the square deal and the 
sporting chance, practising "loyalty down" and winning 
"loyalty up" in return. At home he was always called upon 
to settle the differences which naturally arose in so large a 
family — often, it must be admitted, over trifles. Joshua 
Sands and Thomas Conover doubtless had about them a 
quarterdeck manner which made them no great favorites 


with their brothers-in-law, while any disagreements among 
the men naturally made the Stevens girls take one side or 
the other. The one unbreakable combination was Robert and 
Edwin, often backed up by John Cox but with other sup- 
port scattering. A typical example of points at issue is 
found in a letter which Colonel Stevens himself, as pater- 
familias, wrote to Joshua Sands : 

August 22d, 1834 
... I would wish, for the short time I still have to remain 
in this world . . . uniformly to preserve peace and harmony 
among the various branches of my family. . . . But I con- 
ceit I have observed a coolness . . . subsisting between my 
two unmarried daughters and yourself and wife. . . . 

They have imbibed prejudices of the most unfounded nature 
which, I am apprehensive, will not soon be effectually eradi- 
cated. ... I earnestly implore you and your dear little wife 
to put up with any improprieties . . . which they . . . may 
manifest towards you. . . . Their education has not been such 
as I could have wished; their exclusion from general society 
has rendered them . . . disregardful of the etiquette required 
of all of us, and I fear they will become, ultimately, cross old 
maids. . . . 

On the subject of the horse and carriage, I made you the 
following proposition: That they should be considered as the 
property of the family and their use divided in the following 
manner. Viz: On every other day, Edward shall come up with 
the horse and carriage at 9 o'clock A. M. in order, in the 
first place, to shave me and, in the next place, to take me 
wherever I may wish to go. The Horse, & Carriage, & driver, 
to be at your service all the rest of the time. The expense of 
keeping them to be divided two-thirds to me and one-third to 
you. To the above, in every particular, I expect you to say 
"Probatum est." 

The colonel was not entirely fair to his two youngest 
daughters. Esther and Catherine had more than the share 
of sporting blood expected from their sex a century ago. 


When New York had become, for them, a prospect spoiled 
by the building of residences and warehouses "all the way 
up to Canal Street," they moved to Princeton. There, an 
epidemic of burglaries impelled them to buy revolvers, with 
which they practised so faithfully that they were able, nine 
times out of ten, to split an apple at fifteen paces. If they 
were cross old maids, they at least earned the right to be 

Rachel, of equable temper and generally beloved, was a 
restraining influence and quite sufficiently the grande dame 
to prevent the hardiest of her many children from foment- 
ing an actual quarrel in her presence. Her housekeeping 
once regulated for the day, she spent most of her later 
leisure in a favorite small rocking-chair within easy reach 
of the bell-cord. Admittedly, she had too many negro serv- 
ants — slaves or the children of slaves — and these she treated 
with overindulgence. Wanting something, she pulled the bell ; 
getting no answer, she resumed her embroidery needle for a 
few moments, then rang again and again, until some one 
in the prescribed gray with blue trimmings found it to his 
or her convenience to wait upon the Lady of the House. 
Most often it would be Peter who came to her at last — 
Peter Lee, whose grandmother, Nancy, had been a slave of 
the Alexanders, and who devoted himself to five generations 
of the family; Peter, who professed to be such an ardent 
Democrat, yet revelled in the names and lineage of all that 
"quality" for which he had so amazing a memory. That his 
was no head for figures is shown by the family story of his 
attempt to buy a watch with the twelve dollars given him 
by one of the children. Finding, in the shop he visited, 
nothing but a ten-dollar watch, he bargained fervently for 
an hour and triumphantly bought it for twelve. To the end 
of his life, at ninety-eight, he could give a circumstantial, 


vivid account of the arrival in port of Henry Hudson, three 
hundred years before, and he died in the belief that the great 
explorer had discovered the river for the express purpose 
of giving it to the Stevens family. 

Colonel Stevens, although he began to fail physically in 
his last years of life, never abated his mental activity. 
With his two great objects — steamboats and steam railroads 
— become the accepted commonplaces of daily American life 
and the vertebrae of the nation's agricultural backbone, he 
turned more and more to abstract study. He wrote, for ex- 
ample, a whole volume on the subject of metaphysics. 

A considerable part of this work had been done much 
earlier, at a time when the colonel thought he might find for 
his book a market good enough to net a thousand dollars 
which he could then donate to the fund in aid of "the suf- 
fering Greeks in their struggle for independence." He had 
then hoped to have the benefit of a criticism from Richard, 
whose knowledge of life ought to be broadened by his travels 
in the navy and his opportunities of meeting the leading 
foreign philosophers. But Richard's death occurred in 1828, 
before all of the chapters, or essays, had been completed. 
Such as were finished — and about twenty of them are in ex- 
istence^ — discussed such subjects as "First Principles," 
"Perception a voluntary act; how distinguished from Sen- 
sation," "Substance, Essence, Matter," "Moral Discrimi- 
nations," and so on. Rather than a definite system of 
metaphysics, they present the colonel's attempt to expose the 
fallacies in earlier books and thus "evolve the truth as far as 
possible." Pythagoras and Plato ; Hume, Locke, and Berke- 
ley; Newton, Descartes, Leibnitz, and Malthus — these and 
a dozen others were quoted, often with the purpose of 
presenting quotations in pairs, to show how some particu- 
lar authority flatly contradicted himself. In his preface the 


colonel suggested that these "extracts will form a pretty- 
accurate compendium of the opinions and leading principles 
of the authors quoted, and may therefore be of some use 
to those whose occupations in life do not admit of a more 
elaborate investigation of this abstruse subject." Moreover, 
he added, "the quotations, without any comments, clearly 
demonstrate how unsatisfactory and inconsistent are many 
of the statements advanced by metaphysical writers." He 
felt that should he fail in adding anything to human knowl- 
edge of the subject, he would at least "have the consolation 
of failing in an enterprise that has baffled the most illus- 
trious." The generally critical tone of his writings may be 
illustrated by one example : 

It is very certain that there exist in nature a cohesive and 
a repellent principle. The component parts of bodies are held 
together by the one and separated by the other. Newton has 
called these powers attraction and repulsion. 

Now, if it has been found that these powers operate univer- 
sally upon all existing bodies and if, also, they are sufficient 
of themselves to account for all the varieties we find in bodies 
in respect of hardness and softness, penetrability and impene- 
trability, it is certainly unphilosophical to assume — arbi- 
trarily and without proof — another principle: To say that 
the primary parts of matter must consist of solid atoms, be- 
cause we cannot conceive how properties can subsist without 
substance, is certainly taking great liberties with nature. 
The fact is, the hardness and what is vulgarly called the 
solidity of bodies in no instance depend upon atomic hardness 
and solidity; for in that case all bodies would of necessity 
be hard and solid. 

Of what are the substrata of the various powers and ener- 
gies of nature we are totally ignorant, but that such powers 
and energies exist we plainly perceive by their operations. I 
further contend that if such a matter as Newton has described 
really did exist, it would be impossible for us to acquire any 
knowledge of it, from its very nature. It is now the universally 


received opinion that all our knowledge of things existing with- 
out us is derived from impressions made upon the senses. Now 
I would ask in what manner can the internal texture of an 
atom — which is hard, solid, and impenetrable — operate upon 
our sense. It is manifest [that] its hardness, solidity, and im- 
penetrability can never be open to us, as it would then be 
no longer hard, solid, and impenetrable. 

We may, indeed, infer that because the cohesion of the parts 
of a body resist any force we can exert to cause them to sepa- 
rate, therefore that body is hard, solid, and impenetrable — 
but how justly this inference is made, let experience deter- 
mine. The truth is, it is now clearly ascertained that hardness 
or softness, solidity or fluidity, depend altogether upon tem- 
perature ; that, by an increase or diminution of heat, all bodies 
may be made to assume a solid, fluid, aeriform or gaseous form. 
Until, therefore, we have a better evidence of its existence 
than merely the resistance of what we vulgarly call hard 
bodies, we shall take the liberty of dismissing this solid, 
massy, impenetrable being as wholly unnecessary. Perpetually 
hanging as a dead weight upon us, it has so embarrassed 
philosophers that, in their speculations respecting Matter 
and Spirit, it has drawn them unavoidably into the greatest 

Among so many authorities, there was scarcely any phase 
of the science which he did not include. Discussing impres- 
sions received through the sense of sight, he said: "I shall 
quietly remain convinced that the curious and truly won- 
derful apparatus I call my eye is indispensably necessary for 
the production of vision ; and, if necessary, I have every 
reason for presuming that the picture thus delineated on the 
retina is actually formed on the percipient being I call 
myself •" When he had turned to a consideration of space, 
he reminded his reader that "Des Cartes was so enamored 
of a plenum that he declared nature abhorred a vacuum," 
and yet Newton "was compelled to require empty space, void 
of any resisting medium, in order that heavenly bodies might 

524 john stevens: an American record 

not be impeded in their courses." Again, discussing "meta- 
physicians of the Cartesian School on their own ground," 
he said "they tell us matter is inert ; incapable alike of mo- 
tion, thought, or design. Now, we find in the works of nature 
the most incontestable evidences of motion, thought, and 
design. What then are we to infer? Evidently that the 
Power of the Great Architect pervades the whole system! 
This conclusion, however sceptics may cavil, will ever be 
held by sound minds as incontestable." Quite frequently he 
thus wove together his philosophy and his religion; being, 
in the latter, what is generally understood by the term 
"low" church and disinclined to accept either mere cere- 
monialism or dogma. And that he discussed points of this 
sort with his children is shown by a letter of Juliana's, 
with which she sent him "an interesting and learned work 
for anyone who believes in the eternity of the soul." Al- 
though she was "aware that our opinions differ widely" on 
the matter, Juliana hoped that her father would "agree with 
the author, Mr Home." 

As an omnivorous reader of the philosophers, the colonel 
was presently moved to write an essay on "Political (Econ- 
omy, a science of very recent origin." While he declared him- 
self reluctant to commit his thought to paper, he was, he 
said, led to do it by reading what the editor of the "Ameri- 
can Review" had written in discussing the works of Alex- 
ander Hamilton. At the outset of his essay the colonel quoted 
the particular passage from the "Review" which had aroused 

"It is universally conceded," says this editor, "that the cul- 
ture of the soil is, of all the modes in which capital and in- 
dustry can be employed, the most advantageous ; that it puts 
in motion the greatest quantity of productive labor and that, 
in proportion to the quantity which it employs, it adds a 


much greater value to the annual produce of the capital and 
labor of a country — to the real wealth and revenue of its 

With this as a starting point, the colonel proceeded to ex- 
pound his own exactly opposite opinion — that "exclusive 
devotion to agriculture is by no means the true policy of 
this country." He held it to be obvious that such a course 
would result either in limiting our population or in increas- 
ing it at the expense of revenue. That either would be a 
serious evil appeared clear to him from the circumstances 
which "constitute the wealth and strength of a nation : Popu- 
lation and surplus revenue." Unless manufactures and the 
mechanical arts were developed in America, he saw no hope 
of her attaining any world position of real importance. 
"That manufactures," said he, "have not been introduced 
at an earlier period along the Atlantic section of these 
States is by no means because it is to their best interest to 
remain occupied exclusively in the pursuits of agriculture, 
but from the peculiarity of their local situation." Now, 
however, the tide of emigration to the West indicated that 
the demand for agricultural labor on the seaboard was satis- 
fied. Coast land was dear, and not very fertile; hence the 
Atlantic States might better employ their spare population 
in manufacturing. Such a course would not only tend to 
improve methods of cultivating in the West but also result 
in a "home trade" which, he maintained, would be more 
advantageous than foreign trade, in that the cost of trans- 
portation was reduced. Moreover, the exportation of the 
manufactured article rather than the raw material would 
bring about "a saving of expense in the reduced volume 
of the article, in comparison with its value" and also "a 
profit to the manufacturer after paying the expense of his 
maintenance." Finally, he insisted that "the power of a na- 


tion, relative to its population, depends upon its surplus 

An important tenet of the colonel's civic faith was general 
education. "Good Morals and good Government in a Re- 
public," said he, "are only attainable and maintainable by 
knowledge and information pervading the whole mass of 
Society." When he was a little over eighty, he seriously 
considered standing as a candidate from Bergen for the 
state legislature, upon a platform purely educational. As 
the foundation of his system, he accepted the public school. 

. . . Let each Township throughout the State make choice 
of some central and convenient spot or spots for the erection 
of proper buildings for school-houses. . . . Let the legal 
voters in each Township at their Town Meetings make choice 
of a Man or, if necessary, Men duly qualified as a teacher 
or teachers. But how are these teachers to be adequately re- 
munerated for their services? 

I answer — from the Railroad Fund. Let a Company or Com- 
panies be incorporated upon the plan of the South Amboy and 
Camden Company, for forming railroads everywhere through- 
out the State. The fund by these means produceable would be 
amply and abundantly adequate for effecting the object in 
view. Whenever the avails of the fund became adequate (which, 
no doubt, they would very soon do) an eligible site must be 
determined upon by the Legislature for the erection of a suit- 
able University, where professors in every art and science are 
to be employed to give a finished education to the students. 
And, in order to excite a laudable spirit of emulation, scholars 
of the schools in the several Townships throughout the State 
shall annually elect one of said students, not under the age of 
14 years, who — if found to be properly qualified — shall be 
entitled to enter the Freshman Class and to remain at said 
University for four years. 

So much for schools supported by the public. Privately, 
it was the colonel's hope that some of his estate might be 


devoted to founding and sustaining an "academy" for 
teaching fundamental subjects and the elements of science. 
Because of the complications in which his property had be- 
come involved through a myriad of steamboat and railroad 
projects, he had no money to leave for such a purpose; he 
could do no more than bequeath the idea to Edwin. For 
thirty years Edwin, working to put the estate upon its feet, 
kept the purpose before him, particularly after he in- 
herited much of Robert's personal fortune. On April 15, 
1867, the eve of his sailing on the Great Eastern as already 
described by Abram Hewitt, he made a will setting aside a 
block of land, a building fund of $150,000, and an endow- 
ment of $500,000. As trustee for these, he named his widow, 
Martha Bayard Stevens, descended — by curious coincidence 
— from those very Bayards who had once owned the whole 
broad stretch of Hoboken. To help her achieve his purpose, 
Edwin appointed her brother, Samuel B. Dod, and his own 
associate of many years in the land and improvement com- 
pany, W. W. Shippen, as fellow-trustees. The specific duty 
of the three was to establish an "institution for the benefit, 
tuition, and advancement in learning of the youth residing, 
from time to time hereafter, in the State of New Jersey." 
Upon them he laid the work of thus making another of his 
father's dreams come true, and it was they who decided that 
the course of study should be technical, thus eventually 
creating the first American degree of mechanical engineer. 
On the third Wednesday of September, 1871, Stevens 
Institute of