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THE LIBRARY 

OF 
THE UNIVERSITY 

OF CALIFORNIA 




HOHKKT FULTON 



AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY 

EDITED BY 

JARED SPARKS 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE 

6- 
ROBERT FU LT O N 

By 
JAMES RENWICK 

Vol. \2 







HARPER 8 BROTHERS 

PUBLISHERS 
NEW YORK AND LONDON 1902 



GIFT 



$71 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 

LIFE OF DAVID RITTENHOUSE 3 

CHAPTER I 
Introduction. 3 



CHAPTER II 

His Birth and Parentage . . . 



CHAPTER III 

His Education. Early Indications of Mechan 
ical Genius. Remarkable Progress in Math 
ematical Learning .......... 16 

CHAPTER IV 

His Agricultural Occupations. Choice of a 
Profession. Entrance into Business. La 
borious Pursuit of his Trade and Scientific 
Studies. Consequent Injury to his Health. 
Becomes known as an Artist and an Astron 
omer. His Marriage ........ 23 

CHAPTER V 

Boundary Line of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and 
iii 



- - 

M ( 7?5805 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Maryland. Mason and Dixon s Line. 
Boundary of Pennsylvania and New York . 30 

CHAPTER VI 

Experiments on Expansion. Application of 
them to the Pendulum. Metallic Thermom 
eter. Experiments on the Compressibility of 
Water. Adaptation of Planetary Machines 
to Clocks. Project of an Orrery .... 38 

CHAPTER VII 

Preparations for Observing the Transit of 
Venus 46 

CHAPTER VIII 

Observation of the Transit of Venus. Cal 
culation of the Parallax of the Sun ... 54 

CHAPTER IX 

Transit of Mercury. Longitudes of Phila 
delphia and Norriton. Orrery resumed. 
Comet of 1770 62 

CHAPTER X 

His Second Orrery. Proposed Removal to 
Philadelphia. Loan-Office Bill. Gift of the 
Legislature. Change of Residence. Election 
as Secretary of the American Philosophical 
Society. Second Marriage. Proposed Pub 
lic Observatory 68 



CONTENTS 
CHAPTER XI 

PAGE 

His Election to the Legislature of Pennsylvania. 
First Committee of Public Safety. Treas 
urer of the State. Capture of Philadelphia, 
and Removal of the Treasury to Lancaster. 
Second Committee of Public Safety. Tran 
sit of Mercury and Solar Eclipses. ... 75 



CHAPTER XII 

Boundary Lines of Pennsylvania and Virginia. 
Division Line of Pennsylvania and New 
York. Demarkation of Territory reserved 
by Massachusetts within the State of New 
York 83 



CHAPTER XIII 

His Appointment as Trustee of the Loan-Office. 
Retirement from Office as State Treasurer. 
Private Observatory. Commissioner to or 
ganize a Bank of the United States. Di 
rector of the Mint of the United States. 
Resignation of that Office 9 



CHAPTER XIV 

He is elected President of the Democratic Society. 
Declining Health. Death. Character. 
Literary and Scientific Honors. Conclu 
sion . 98 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

LIFE OF ROBERT FULTON 107 



CHAPTER I 
Introduction 107 

CHAPTER II 

Birth of Fulton. He chooses the Profession 
of a Painter. His early Taste for Mechanics. 
He settles in Philadelphia. Embarks for 
England. Resides in the Family of West. 
Removes to Devonshire 115 

CHAPTER III 

His Acquaintance urith the Duke of Bridge- 
water and Earl Stanhope. His Removal 
from Devonshire, and Residence in Birming 
ham. He abandons Painting for the Pro 
fession of an Engineer. His first Idea of 
a Steamboat communicated to Stanhope. 
He makes the Acquaintance of Watt . . . 12 1 

CHAPTER IV 

His Plan of an Inclined Plane. Work on 
Inland Navigation. His Torpedo. His Re 
moval to France, and Residence there . . 127 

CHAPTER V 

His Inventions while residing in Birmingham. 
His Letters to Washington, and the Gover 
nor of Pennsylvania. His Submarine Ves- 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

sel. Experiment with it at the Mouth of 
the Seine. He aids in introducing the Pan 
orama into France 133 

CHAPTER VI 

Steam Navigation. Watt. Evans. Fitch. 
Rumsey. Miller, of Dalswinton. Syming 
ton 139 

CHAPTER VH 

Farther Attempts at Steam Navigation in the 
United States. Stevens. Livingston. 
Roosevelt. Livingston goes as Minister to 
France. Becomes acquainted with Fulton. 
Their Contract. Experiments at Plom- 
bieres. Experimental Boat on the Seine. 
Engine ordered from Watt. Its Peculiar 
ities 149 

CHAPTER VIII 

Application of Livingston to the State of New 
York for exclusive Privileges. Fulton revis 
its England. Returns to the United States. 
First Steamboat built and tried. First 
Voyage to Albany. Transactions of the 
Summer of 1807 157 

CHAPTER IX 

Steamboat rebuilt. Occupations of the Sum 
mer of 1808. Causes of Opposition to Ful 
ton s Rights. Rival Boats upon the Hud 
son 164 

vii 



CONTENTS 
CHAPTER X 

PAGE 

Fulton s Marriage. His Success speedily cloud 
ed by Opposition. Nature and Sources of 
the Opposition. Claims derived from Fitch. 
Fulton s two Patents. Simplicity of his 
Methods 171 

CHAPTER XI 

Conflicting Claims of the States of New York 
and New Jersey. Attempt to obtain a Re 
peal of the Grant from the State of New 
York. Fulton s Steam Ferryboats. Boat 
for the Navigation of the Sound. Boats 
planned by Fulton, and left unfinished at the 
Time of his Death 177 

CHAPTER XII 

Fulton s Torpedoes. His Submarine Guns. 
Steam Frigate. Submarine Vessel. He is 
called before the Legislature of New Jersey 
as a Witness. Is detained on the Hudson 
by the Ice. His Illness. Death and Char 
acter 186 

viii 



LIFE 

OF 

DAVID RITTENHOUSE 

BY 

JAMES RENWICK 



DAVID R1TTENHOUSE 



CHAPTER I. 

Introduction. 

THE annals of our country are illustrated by 
but few names of scientific eminence. It has 
been well remarked, that the energies of our 
people have been directed by circumstances to 
objects demanding not less powers of mind, than 
ihose required to master the highest subjects in 
abstract knowledge. To plan constitutions and 
enact laws for a mighty nation, placed under new 
circumstances, and to bring, by novel applications 
of science, the most distant parts of an extensive 
continent into close and frequent intercourse, are 
objects as worthy of a master-spirit, as the in 
vestigation of the most subtile mathematical 
problems, or the research of the most recondite 
physical questions. Yet, as the paucity of our 
men of science has been urged upon us as a re 
proach, it behoves us to set a due value upon 
those whom our country has produced, and who, 
while their cotemporaries have been engaged in 



, -A ME RIG AN ,B:IQGRAPHT. 



reclaim ing tj?e .wilderness, ,in bringing to light the 
hidden or dbm jant .rlcbfcs -of- our soil, in opening 
artificial, and improving natural channels of trade> 
arid in extending our commerce to the most 
distant regions of the globe, have patiently de 
voted themselves to the less lucrative pursuit of 
philosophic study. Among these the subject of 
the present memoir holds no mean place. Were 
we called upon to assign him a rank among the 
philosophers whom America has produced, we 
should place him, in point of scientific merit, as 
second to Franklin alone. If he wanted the 
originality and happy talent for discovery, pos 
sessed by that highly gifted man, he has the 
advantage of having applied himself with success 
to a more elevated department of physical science. 
Astronomy, to use the words of Davy, is the 
most ancient, as it is now the most perfect, of the 
sciences. Connected with the earliest events even 
of savage life, the phenomena of the heavenly 
bodies must have attracted the attention of the 
progenitors of our species, from the time they 
were doomed to eat their bread in the sweat of 
their brow. The waning and increase of the moon, 
and the connexion of her phases with the vary 
ing length of the natural day, have been studied 
and transmitted from father to son, among even 
the rudest tribes of hunters ; and the wildest In 
dians of our own country still note them for similar 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 5 

purposes. At no long interval after the deluge 
of Noah, the Egyptian husbandmen, who first fur 
rowed the soil, wherein to cast the seeds of the 
cereal gramma, remarked the coincidence of the 
re-appearance of Sirius in the eastern horizon, 
with the return of the vivifying waters of the in 
undation ; and from that time to the present, 
man has not forgotten the use of the heavenly 
bodies, as signs and as seasons. From the hands 
of the hunter and the husbandman, astronomy, 
still in a rude state, passed into those of a priest 
hood, which, monopolizing the traditions of its 
more obvious facts, found in them the surest sup 
port of its influence, and turned to the purposes 
of superstition, what had been preserved for 
general use. Twenty centuries have however 
elapsed since this science made its escape from 
the dark cells of the pagan temple, and took up 
its abode in the observatory of Hipparchus. 
From that time to the present, in the hands of 
the Greek, the Arab, the Tartar, and finally in 
those of the nations of modern Europe, astron 
omy has made almost annual progress, until it 
has become, not only the highest triumph of 
human genius, but the surest test of civilization 
It is only by advancing a knowledge of this 
science, that the men of future generations can 
hope to place their names by the side of those of 
a Ptolemy, a Galileo, a Kepler, a Newton, or a 



6 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

La Place ; and it may be almost predicted of a 
country in which astronomy is cultivated, that it 
is polished and enlightened; while we may as 
surely infer, that, when it is neglected, the arts of 
civilized life have either never made their appear 
ance, or are upon the decline. 

In submitting to this test the claims of our 
country to be considered as enlightened, we might 
shrink from the task of comparison, or be on the 
point of admitting her inferiority to several of the 
nations of Europe, were we not aware that we 
even now. number among our citizens a name 
inferior to none in the pursuit of celestial mechan 
ics, and may count in the generation, which has 
just descended to the tomb, the equal, in skill and 
tact of observation, of Lalande and Maskelyne 
in the person of the subject of this memoir. 

The science of astronomy, cultivated as it has 
been for so many centuries, and adorned by 
genius and talents of the highest order, has ac 
cumulated to a vast amount. It has therefore 
demanded a division of labor, in order to admit 
of its being pursued in any one direction with 
complete success. When astronomy first became 
a science, a few verses might comprise all the 
treasured learning of former observers, and could 
be easily committed to memory ; further progress 
could be insured by noting phenomena, visible 
to the naked eye, or measuring the length of the 



DAV1I RITTENHOUSE. 7 

shadow of a gnomon; calculation was hardly 
known as an aid, and instruments had not been 
Invented. At the present day, the whole life 
may be devoted to the study of physical astron 
omy alone, in which no other instrument is to 
be employed than the calculus, and no theory 
required but the simple laws to which Newton 
reduced the causes of all the celestial motions. 
Another may find sufficient occupation in calcu 
lating in numbers the formulae obtained by the 
physical astronomer, and arranging his results in 
tables, by which future phenomena may be pre 
dicted. A third may found upon these tables the 
ephemerides by which the practical astronomer 
is to be guided in his observations. The prac 
tical astronomer, on the other hand, need devote 
himself only to watch for the phenomena of the 
heavenly bodies, as they are successively pre 
sented to him in their varying motions, and thus 
furnish to the physical astronomer the practical 
test of his theories, and to calculators the numer 
ical values of the quantities involved in the for 
mulse. Observation, however, would be beyond 
measure laborious, were not its proper times 
predicted in the calculated tables, and is now of 
no account, unless performed by the most per 
fect instruments, and aided by the most accurate 
arithmetic. 

The construction of fhe instruments, which the 



8 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

practical astronomer demands, forms an elevated 
branch of the mechanic arts, and requires no 
little proficiency in the physical sciences. The 
artists, who have improved the fabrication of the 
timekeeper, and increased the accuracy of cir 
cular graduation, have been proudly ranked as 
colleagues by the most learned societies ; and 
their names will be intimately associated with 
the discoveries, for which their handiwork has 
furnished the indispensable materials. 

In considering the character of Rittenhouse, 
we shall find him uniting in himself more of 
these varied merits than any person who has lived 
since a division in the labors of astronomy be 
came necessary. If he made no attempt to 
extend the domain of celestial mechanics, he 
nevertheless mastered, under most unfavorable 
circumstances, all that Newton had taught; he 
calculated with success the difficult problem of 
the path of various comets; exhibited unsur 
passed precision and accuracy in many important 
observations ; and finally constructed the greater 
part of his instruments with his own hands. 
Other claims we might present for him, not only 
to the admiration, but to the gratitude of his 
countrymen. We shall not, however, anticipate 
what may be best gathered from the records of 
his useful and laborious life. 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 9 

CHAPTER II. 

His Birth and Parentage. 

THE family, whence Rittenhouse descended, 
was originally from that part of the Duchy of 
Guelders, which had become a province of the 
United Netherlands. This republic of confede 
rated States had, as is well known, attempted, at 
one time, to occupy one of the fairest portions 
of this continent, and had established settlements, 
scattered at distances, over a wide extent of 
country. The advantageous position of New 
York had attracted the attention of its traders 
and soldiers, and had become the site of a strong 
fortress, around which a little city had collected, 
under the name of Amsterdam. Proceeding 
hence, posts had been established, on the one 
hand, on the Connecticut River, while, on the 
other, the western shore of the Delaware was 
occupied, after a contest with the Swedes. Both 
banks of the Hudson were in full possession of 
this colony, not only by military stations, but by 
flourishing agricultural settlements. The Dutch 
province of the New Netherlands, therefore, in 
cluded, at one time, not only the ancient part of 
the present State of New York, but the whole of 



10 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

New Jersey, and Delaware, the eastern part of 
Pennsylvania, and the western part of Connec 
ticut. This wide extent they were not permitted 
to occupy without remonstrance on the part of 
the settlers of English blood. Indeed the whole 
of it fell within the chartered limits of companies 
founded by the government of England. That 
government, however, did not interfere directly 
with the progress of the Dutch, until the reign 
of the second Charles ; nor were its colonies in a 
condition to assert their claims by an appeal to 
arms. It was not, therefore, until 1662 that an 
expedition was fitted out from England, for the 
conquest of the New Netherlands. This was 
successful, and the province was ceded by the 
Dutch, at the peace of the Breda. That peace 
was but of short duration ; and the government of 
Holland, unwilling to part wholly with so valuable 
a colony, took advantage of the ensuing war to 
repossess themselves of it. It did not, however, 
long remain in their hands ; for the final cession 
of the New Netherlands to England was insisted 
upon at the peace of Westminster, in 1664, 
before two years from its recovery had elapsed. 

We have been thus particular, because it 
appears that the ancestor of Rittenhouse emi 
grated to the New Netherlands during the last- 
mentioned period, while the colony was re- 
occupied by the Dutch arms. This ancestor 



DAVID KITTEN HO USE. 11 

was the great-grandfather of the subject of this 
memoir^ and he was accompanied, or speedily 
followed, by his two sons. One of these, by 
name Nicholas, married in New York. The 
father, accompanied by this son, emigrated from 
New York to Gennantown in 1690. Here they 
established the first manufactory of paper ever 
erected in America. It w r ould appear, that this 
was an art, in which the elder Rittenhouse, or 
Rittinghousen, as the name seems to have been 
originally spelled, had been engaged in his native 
country ; and it is said that his relatives con 
tinued to pursue this business at Arnheim, in 
Guelderland, after his departure for America. 
The enterprise, however, marks a union of cap 
ital, intelligence, and enterprise, at that time rare 
in the colonies. 

Nicholas pursued the manufacture of paper af 
ter the death of his father, and brought up to it 
his youngest son Matthias, who succeeded to the 
possession of the mill, and prosecuted the busi 
ness after the decease of his parent. 

Here we find an illustration of the mode of 
inheritance originally practised among the settlers 
who derived their origin from Holland, and which 
is not wholly obliterated at the present day. 
The father of a family provided, to the best of 
his ability, for his elder sons, as they successively 
attained to man s estate. His youngest son re- 



12 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

mained with him, even if married, until his death, 
when he succeeded to the occupation of the 
original homestead. This custom appears better 
founded in natural reason than the law of primo 
geniture, and even more just than the existing 
laws which regulate the descent of property. 
By it, a prop is secured for the declining years 
of parents, in the care of an affectionate son, 
who finds not only his duty, but his own personal 
interest, in the care which he takes of the prop 
erty of his father. 

It is a remarkable fact, which we must not pas 
over, that the introduction of the manufacture of 
paper into America by the Rittenhouses, was 
about as early as the time at which it took root 
in Great Britain. 

Matthias Rittenhouse, while still resident at 
Germantown, and occupied in the manufacture 
of paper, took to \vife Elizabeth Williams, the 
daughter of a native of Wales. This marriage 
took place in 1727. Shortly afterwards, he ap 
pears to have discovered, that agriculture offered 
greater chances of providing for a growing family, 
than the manufacture in which he was engaged ; 
for we find him, in 1730, retiring from the latter 
business. With the funds derived from the sale 
of his property at Germantown, he proceeded, 
in that year, to the township of Norriton, where 
he commenced a settlement upon a small farm, 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 13 

oi which his means were sufficient to enable him 
to become the owner. His residence, however, 
does not appear to have been permanently fixed 
at Norriton, until after 1732 ; for his three elder 
children were born at Germantown. Among 
these was David, the subject of this memoir, 
who, although not the first bora, was the eldest 
child who survived the age of infancy. 

One of the former biographers of Ritten 
house has endeavoured to account for his abil 
ities, by supposing that he derived them by 
descent from the mother s side. In this he seems 
to have adopted the popular opinion, which de 
nies to persons of pure Dutch descent any claim 
to talents of the higher order. This opinion is, 
however, no more than a prejudice, which any 
inquiry into the annals of our country might 
have dissipated. It may indeed be admitted, 
that the settlers of the New Netherlands made a 
less careful and less extensive provision for the 
education of their children, than was done by 
the descendants of the Pilgrims ; and to this want 
of foresight we may fairly ascribe any difference 
in the intelligence of the several masses of 
people. But, in comparing those classes whose 
wealth gave them the power of commanding the 
higher kind of education, Holland has no rea 
son to blush for her descendants ; and the number 
of intelligent and learned individuals of Dutch 



14: AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

extraction is only small, because the populatior 
whence the} are derived is less numerous, than 
that with which it is thus invidiously compared. 
The United Netherlands were distinguished, at 
the time when the ancestors of Rittenhouse 
emigrated, for high attainments in science and 
the useful arts. The very business in which 
they had been engaged in the place of theii 
nativity, and which they so speedily resumed in 
America, may almost serve as a proof, that they 
were devoid neither of education nor ability. 
Still, talent is not hereditary in families ; and it 
often happens that we are wholly at a loss to ac 
count, by any circumstances of parentage, for the 
peculiar genius of individuals. So far from there 
being a transmission of abilities by natural de 
scent, nothing is rarer than to find successive 
generations of the same family equally distin 
guished ; and, on the other hand, it often happens 
that a single individual may shed lustre upon a 
name, which may be almost disgraced by his 
nearest relations. 

The mother of Rittenhouse is described as a 
woman of uncommonly vigorous and compre 
hensive mind, but as almost wholly defic ent in 
educacion. If, therefore, we are to seek in his 
genealogy for the cause of his distinction, it is 
rather to be found in the fact of his deriving his 
descent from two races of distant origin. The 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 15 

effect of such a mixture of races is well illus 
trated in the character of the people of Great 
Britain ; and the same cause seems to be at work 
in producing that peculiar activity of mind which 
marks our own countrymen, into whose veins 
blood derived from almost every nation of any 
intellectual eminence in the old world has been 
successively transfused. From such parents, and 
of such lineage, DAVID RITTENHOUSE derived his 
birth, which took place at Germantown, Penn 
sylvania, on the 8th of April, 1732. 



16 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 



CHAPTER III. 

His Education. Early Indications of Mechari,- 
ical Genius. Remarkable Progress in Math 
ematical Learning. 

No records or traditions remain of the manner 
in which Rittenhouse obtained the elements of 
learning. His education, however, could not have 
been neglected ; and what public instruction, in 
the imperfect form it must have borne in a 
remote district of a newly settled country, de 
nied, seems to have been supplied by the tuition 
of a maternal uncle. This near relation, although 
exercising the humble trade of a joiner, appears 
to have been gifted with a taste and capacity for 
scientific pursuits. Circumstances made him an 
inmate in the family of the elder Rittenhouse, 
and in this abode he died. His books and papers 
passed thereupon into the custody of his nephew 
David, along with his tools of trade. Among his 
books were found elementary treatises on mathe 
matics and astronomy ; and in addition he left 
numerous manuscripts, in which were contained 
models of calculation and investigation. 

The death of his uncle took place when Rit 
tenhouse had attained his twelfth year. Whethei 



DAVID R1TTENHOUSE. 17 

in continuation of former studies, or in conse 
quence of the interest excited by the treasures 
which came by this event into his possession, he 
seems from that time to have devoted his whole 
mind, and every opportunity of leisure, to the 
pursuit of the studies in which he afterwards 
became distinguished. The son of a farmer, in 
comfortable, but by no means affluent circum 
stances, it became imperative, that he should 
share in the labors of agriculture ; and this was 
the more necessary, as his father entertained a 
desire that he should pursue the occupation of a 
farmer. Even when engaged in agricultural 
labors, however, the bent of his genius was not 
to be restrained ; and it was recollected by his 
brother, that in his fourteenth year he was in the 
habit of covering the fences of the farm, and the 
implements of husbandry, with numerical figures 
and diagrams, unintelligible to his rustic asso 
ciates. 

Mere abstract investigations did not, however, 
engross his whole attention. The tool-chest of 
his uncle supplied him with the instruments for 
practice in the mechanic arts ; and he appears to 
have applied his severer studies to practical pur 
poses, at every possible opportunity. Thus it 
is recorded of him, that, as early as in his eighth 
year, he had made a model of a water-mill, and, 
at no long period after the death of his uncle, he 

xii. 2 



18 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

undertook and succeeded in the construction of 
a clock. The material of both of these early 
evidences of his ingenuity and knowledge was 
wood. But he almost immediately after the last- 
mentioned instance of successful ingenuity, under 
took the bolder task of framing a timekeeper in 
metal ; and this he also successfully accomplished. 
Among the books he inherited from his un 
cle was an English translation of the "Principia" 
of Newton. Such was the progress which he 
made in mathematical knowledge, although now 
destitute of any aid, that he was enabled to 
accomplish the perusal of this work, for the 
proper understanding of which so much acquain 
tance with geometry and algebra is necessary, 
before he had attained his nineteenth year. 
Newton, as is well known, from deference to the 
practice of the ancient philosophers, adopts in 
this work the synthetic method of demonstra 
tion, and gives no clue to the analytic process by 
which the truth of his propositions was first dis 
covered by him. Unlike the English followers 
of this distinguished philosopher, who contented 
themselves, for a time, with following implicitly 
in the path of geometric demonstration, which he 
had thus pointed out, Rittenhouse applied him 
self to search for an instrument, which might be 
applied to the purpose of similar discoveries, and 
in his researches attained the principles of the 



DAVID RITTENHOU5E. 19 

method of fluxions. So ignorant was he of the 
progress which this calculus had made, and of the 
discussions in relation to its invention and im 
provement, that he for a time considered it as a 
new discovery of his own. In this impression, 
however, he could not have long continued ; as he 
made, in his nineteenth year, an acquaintance, 
who was well qualified to set him right in this 
important point. 

In the year 1751, the Reverend Thomas Barton 
became an inhabitant of Norriton. This gentleman 
had just completed his education at Trinity Col 
lege, Dublin, and been admitted as a clergyman 
of the Episcopal Church. Passing to America 
in pursuit of preferment, which want of powerful 
connexions denied him in Europe, he became for 
a time the teacher of a school at Norriton. 
Although Mr. Barton was principally distinguished 
as a classical scholar, he was also well grounded 
in all the elementary mathematics then consid 
ered necessary in the undergraduate course of 
the institution, where he received his education 
Exiled as he must have felt himself from litera 
ry society, the discovery of a neighbor of such 
intelligence as Rittenhouse was a matter of no 
little pleasure ; nor could the latter have felt less 
joy in finding at last an associate with whom he 
could communicate on his favorite studies. The 
difference in their ages was but two years ; and, 



20 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

when we take into view the more rapid devel 
opement, both of body and mind, which is usual 
in our climate, this difference was probably in 
sensible. A strong intimacy speedily took place, 
which ripened into friendship ; and this friendship 
was farther cemented by an attachment, which 
Barton formed for the sister of Rittenhouse, 
who subsequently became his wife. This inti 
macy with Barton was attended with valuable 
consequences. Desirous to peruse his admired 
Newton in the original dress, Rittenhouse now 
applied himself to the study of the Latin lan 
guage, which he speedily mastered. He also 
appears, under the instruction of Barton, to have 
acquired the elements of Greek, although he 
never attempted to become a proficient in the 
literature of that tongue. Barton also had it in 
his power to communicate to Rittenhouse scien 
tific works of more modern date, than those to 
which his previous studies had, from circum 
stances, been confined, and treating of a greater 
variety of subjects. Setting forth from his native 
country with the intention of devoting himself 
to the profession of a teacher, the former had 
provided himself with a well-selected library, not 
only in classical literature, but also in the pure and 
mixed sciences. These were freely imparted to 
his youthful and ardent associate. 

Before two years had elapsed, the success of 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 21 

Barton as a teacher, attracted the attention of 
the government of the College of Philadelphia. 
He was in consequence called to fill a profes 
sor s chair in that institution. The collections of 
the College were therefore placed at his dispo 
sal, and he did not hesitate to use his privilege 
for the advantage of him, who had now become 
his brother-in-law. Barton had also projected 
a circulating library before he quitted Norriton. 
This project was accomplished, and Rittenhouse 
took an active part in its management. By this 
a fund was obtained for the purchase of useful 
works, which neither could have afforded to pro 
cure from his own resources. 

Barton had not long filled his chair in the 
University, when it became necessary for him to 
visit Europe. He on this occasion was commis 
sioned by Rittenhouse to purchase an additional 
supply of books. This commission he faithfully 
fulfilled. 

Such was the aid which Rittenhouse derived 
from his brother-in-law ; but this, however valua 
ble in communicating a knowledge of the exist 
ing state of science, and in opening a channel 
through another language, by which to reach the 
thoughts and learning of the master spirits, both 
of antiquity and modern times, (for Latin had not 
ceased to be the conventional language of science,) 
had no effect in determining the inclinations of 



V2 AMERICAN BIOGRAPIlF. 

Rittenhouse for mathematical and physical studies 
The acquaintance with Barton was therefore both 
useful and profitable, but exercised a far less 
important influence on the future life of Ritten 
house, than has been frequently ascribed to it. 

The more, indeed, we contemplate the early- 
life of Rittenhouse, the more our admiration is 
excited. With such elementary knowledge only 
as could be obtained at the school of a remote 
settlement ; under the parental discipline of a 
father, who rather discouraged than aided his 
studies, and of an illiterate, although strong- 
minded mother ; possessed of no books but those 
of an humble mechanic ; he persevered, until he 
had, step by step, mastered all the truths of math 
ematical science, and had arrived at the princi 
ples of that calculus, for the honor of whose in 
vention a Newton and a Leibnitz had contended. 
At the same time, with no tools but those of a 
country joiner, and aided by no instruction except 
from books, he had attained such skill in practical 
mechanics as to execute the delicate mechanism 
of a timekeeper. 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 23 



CHAPTER IV. 

Ris Agricultural Occupations. Choice of a 
Profession. Entrance into Business. La 
borious Pursuit of his Trade and Scientific 
Studies. Consequent Injury to his Health. 
Becomes known as an Artist and an Astron 
omer. His Marriage. 

THE father of Rittenhouse had always in 
tended that his eldest surviving son should pur 
sue the same plan of life which, on his retreat 
from his manufactory, he had chosen for him 
self. He had, on leaving Germantown, become, 
as we have already stated, a farmer, and for this 
occupation he destined our philosopher. The 
term farmer, it may be mentioned incidentally, 
bears a far different signification among us, from 
that which its derivation would seem to warrant, 
or in which it is understood in Great Britain. By 
this word we understand, not the tenant, either 
at pleasure, or on some more secure tenure, of 
a more wealthy landlord, but most frequently the 
independent cultivator of his own fields. The 
condition of a trnant is in truth extremely rare in 
all parts of the United States. 

In the avocations necessary in this mode of 



24 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHI 

life, Rittenhouse had been laboriously employed, 
from the moment his strength was sufficient to 
perform them ; and the studies and mechanical 
operations of which we have spoken, were no 
more than the pastimes of those intervals of 
leisure, which so frequently occur in agricultural 
life in the United States. When the mind of 
Rittenhouse became so far matured, as to fit? him 
for reflecting upon the plan of his future life, his 
reason led him to disapprove of that pointed out 
by his father. He had discovered in himself 
powers of higher character, than are necessary for 
the occupation of a farmer ; and, encouraged by 
his success in the construction of a complete 
timekeeper, he resolved, could his father be pre 
vailed upon to give his consent, to choose for his 
profession that of a clock-maker. This branch 
of the mechanic arts was, at that time, little 
practised in the colonies, and it does not appear 
that there were any means within his reach for 
obtaining instruction in it. His reasons finally 
satisfied his father of the propriety of this contem 
plated course. 

The choice of Rittenhouse was directed by no 
little wisdom and modesty. Had his mind been 
tinctured with vanity, it is probable that he would 
rather have sought to make those studies avail* 
able, in which he had, by this time, made no mean 
proficiency, than have undertaken an apprentice- 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 25) 

ship, for we might so style the practice of an ari ; 
in which his highest efforts, when compared even 
with the less perfect instruments of that period, 
were no more than the playthings of an ingenious, 
and perhaps precocious boy. Years of toil and 
patient labor must have appeared in perspective, 
before he could obtain a competent degree of 
skill ; and without it the reputation, by which alone 
fortune, or even competence, could be secured, 
was inaccessible. Such thoughts, however, did 
not deter Rittenhouse ; and, the consent of his 
father being finally obtained, along with funds 
to purchase a part of the necessary tools and 
instruments, he opened a shop in the year 1751. 
This was a small building erected for him on his 
father s farm ; and he speedily stocked it with 
instruments, the work of his own hands, more 
perfect than any which could at that time be 
bought in Philadelphia. 

The art of clock-making was at that time far 
from having reached the degree of perfection it 
has attained of late years, partly from the great 
extent to which the division of labor has since 
been carried in it, and partly from the valuable 
improvements which it has derived from the dis 
coveries of physical science. To improve the 
art by introducing a division in the labor, neither 
entered into the views, nor was within the means 
of Rittenhouse. Such division can only be 



26 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

carried into effect by the resources of wealth and 
capital, of which he had little. But the search 
for improvement, by the application of physical 
science, had already been entered into; and 
Rittenhouse might fairly hope, that the knowledge 
he had previously acquired might be advanta 
geously applied to the profession he had chosen. 
The compensation pendulum of Graham, which 
has of late asserted its equality, if not its supe 
riority, over all others intended to subserve the 
same purpose, had indeed been invented more 
than twenty years before. But his cotemporaries 
did not appreciate the merits of the discovery, and 
it was forgotten or neglected. Harrison and 
Leroy had not made public their inventions, and 
the field of investigation appeared to be open. 
The art of clock-making, therefore, not only 
presented a trade, interesting in itself, and capable 
jf affording a decent livelihood, but also de 
manded, in order that it should be pursued with 
success, that he should continue the study of 
those physical and experimental sciences, by the 
progress of which the instrument could alone be 
perfected. His astronomical studies had taught 
him the value of the clock in the practical part 
of that science, a value so great as to render it 
the indispensable companion of an observer ; and 
he was aware that he could not deliver his pieces 
of nicest workmanship to the purchaser, until 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 27 

their rates had been ascertained by reference to 
the motions of the heavenly bodies. He there 
fore saw in his intended trade, not only an oppor 
tunity, but a necessity, for continuing the study of 
the sciences in which he delighted. 

For the space of seven years Rittenhouse 
devoted himself most assiduously to his trade, 
and the studies he saw to be connected with it. 
The whole of the day was steadily employed in 
the former ; time for the latter was stolen from his 
hours of repose. Up to this time his constitution, 
fortified by agricultural labor, and exercise in the 
open air, had been robust and vigorous. But 
such intense and unremitting exertion was not 
without evil effect upon his health ; and this was 
probably aggravated by the contrast, which a 
wholly sedentary life presented to his former 
active pursuits. He finally was affected by a 
complaint, the prominent symptom of which was 
a continual and disagreeable sensation of heat in 
his stomach. He was, in consequence, compelled 
to abandon for a time the pursuits in which 
he had so earnestly engaged. A short period 
of relaxation sufficed to restore him, if not to 
his pristine health, at least to such a degree of it, 
as enabled him to resume his business. But 
the complaint was not wholly overcome ; it con 
tinued to afflict him from time to time throughout 



28 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

the rest of his life, and was finally the cause of 
his abandoning the exercise of his art. 

Pursuing his trade with such unwearied assi 
duity, it is not surprising that he speedily acquired 
reputation for the accuracy and perfection of his 
workmanship. This reputation was spread abroad 
by the numerous highly-finished pieces of mech 
anism which issued from his workshop, bearing 
the maker s name inscribed upon their dials. 
His neighbors too were not slow to note tht, at 
tention he paid to observations of the heaven 
ly bodies, which he extended far beyond those 
absolutely essential for the rating of his time 
keepers, and spread his fame throughout their 
limited circle as an astronomer. It was now that 
the good offices of his friend Barton were again 
exerted. Knowing well the ability of his brother- 
in-law, he watched with earnestness his almost 
daily progress in manual dexterity and scientific 
knowledge. In the more extended circle in 
which he moved, he found those who could fully 
appreciate all the skill and knowledge of Ritten- 
house. With these he brought him in contact, 
to the mutual pleasure of both parties. From 
such associations Rittenhouse derived no little 
benefit, in obtaining a channel through which his 
merits could be made more extensively known. 
Among those who may be mentioned as the ear 
ly friends of Rittenhouse, were Dr. Smith, the 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 29 

provost of the College of Philadelphia, and 
John Lukens, surveyor-general of the province. 
Their official positions rendered them the organs 
of the government, when a demand for astronomic 
knowledge arose for public purposes ; and they 
conferred no trifling public benefit, when they 
pointed out the capacity of Rittenhouse. 

While thus engaged in the pursuit of his occu 
pation, Rittenhouse long remained an inmate of 
his father s family. Here his labors were grad 
ually acquiring for him provision competent to his 
moderate desires. 

After the lapse of thirteen years from the time 
of his entering into business, his father made him 
proprietor of the paternal mansion, retiring him 
self to Worcester, where he had purchased an 
other farm. Thus having attained to indepen 
dence, he sought a wife, and, in the year 1764, 
married Eleanor Colston, the daughter of a re 
spectable farmer of the neighborhood. This mar 
riage appears to have been a happy one ; and the 
less of his consort, after several years, produced 
so great a depression in the spirits of the surviving 
husband, as to call forth the remonstrance* of his 
friends 



30 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 



CHAPTER V 

Boundary Line of Pennsylvania) Delaware, and 
Maryland. Mason and Dixon s Line. 
Boundary of Pennsylvania and New York. 

RITTENHOUSE had hardly begun to attract the 
attention of the intelligent society of Philadelphia, 
when an occasion presented itself for applying 
his peculiar talent and knowledge to use in the 
public service. The several States, of which the 
American Union was first composed, held their 
respective territories by grants frem the British 
crown. In the absence of a topographical knowl 
edge of the countries granted, it had been cus 
tomary to define the limits of the several charters 
by lines traced upon a map, and defined either 
by geographical terms, or even by more arbitra 
ry methods. In the subdivision, which in some 
cases took place, of the original grants, similar 
lines were chosen to define the manner of parti 
tion. These lines were in most cases parallels 
of latitude, or portions of a meridian, traced in 
some given degree of longitude. However easy 
it may be to delineate such lines upon a map, 
to trace them upon the ground is a business of 
no little labor, and requires no small degree both 
of astronomic and geometric skill 



DAVID RITTENHOU9E. 31 

The tenure, by which Penn and his descend 
ants held their possessions, was defined by lines 
of this character. He had in the first instance 
purchased a territory included within a circle, 
drawn around a point in the town of Newcastle, 
as a centre, with a radius of twelve miles. This 
had been subsequently extended to the south 
by drawing a meridian line tangent to this circle. 
By a farther grant he had acquired all the ter 
ritory extending westward from the Delaware be 
tween certain parallels of latitude, for the dis 
tance of five degrees of longitude. All these 
contemplated boundaries were as yet merely mat 
ters of parchment record, or geographical descrip 
tion ; but the place where the lines existed was 
in some cases wholly unknown, in others, but 
imperfectly guessed at. The part of this boun 
dary, which most early attracted the attention of 
the interested parties, was that, which separated 
the territory held by Penn as proprietor, from 
that belonging to Lord Baltimore, and particu 
larly the limits of the present States of Dela 
ware and Maryland. As early as 1735, thi . 
boundary had become the subject of a suit irx 
the British court of chancery, and after fifteen 
years of delay a decree had been awarded. By 
this decree the parties were directed to enter into 
a formal written agreement to have the lines 
traced upon the ground. This agreement, how 



32 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

ever, \vas not executed until 1760, and no joint 
action was had under it until 1769. But in the 
last-mentioned year Messrs. Mason and Dixon 
were sent out from England, as commissioners, 
for the purpose of carrying the agreement into 
effect. 

In the proceedings before the court of chan 
cery, the Penn family had been the complain 
ants. Their interests were far more deeply in 
volved in the decision, than those of the opposite 
party ; for the wise institutions of their ancestor, 
and the repugnance of the settlers under them to 
slave labor, had rendered each acre within their 
proprietary jurisdiction of much greater value than 
in the lands held by Lord Baltimore. They were 
therefore unwilling to await the slow course of 
chancery proceedings, but determined to examine 
the question for themselves ; knowing, that, when 
a boundary was defined in scientific terms, it was 
only necessary to cause it to be traced by men 
of competent attainments, and no important dif 
ference could arise in the subsequent determina 
tion by a joint action. 

The governor of the province of Pennsylvania 
was therefore directed to seek out a competent 
person, to whom this important task might be 
intrusted. The most difficult part of the boun 
dary was no doubt that defined by a circle, hav 
ing a radius of twelve miles around the town 



DAVID R1TTE NHOTJSE. 33 

of Newcastle, as a centre, and the problem was 
entirely new in practical geometry. To this the 
attention of Ritten house was first directed by 
the Proprietary government, not only as the 
part of the division line which was involved in 
the greatest uncertainty, but because it passed 
through lands at that time more accessible and 
therefore more valuable than any others in dis 
pute. The appointment to this important task 
bore date in 1763, and he was engaged in it 
for some months in the following year. It was 
performed so much to the satisfaction of his 
employers, that he was proffered, and received, 
more than the stipulated compensation. It does 
not appear, that on the subsequent arrival of the 
commissioners appointed by the British court of 
chancery, it became necessary to change the lo 
cality of any part of this line, although they 
were furnished with the best instruments which 
Europe could then produce, and one of them 
was already highly celebrated as an accomplished 
observer, while the American topographer had 
no instruments that were not the work of his 
own hands, and was as yet unknown to fame. 

The British astronomers, Messrs. Mason and 
Dixon, seem therefore to have contented them 
selves with running the meridian tangent south 
ward, and the parallel of latitude westward, 
until it intersected the meridian traced north 

xii. 3 



34 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

ward from the source of the north branch of 
the Potomac. They thus defined the boundaries 
of the present States of Maryland and Delaware 
on the one hand, and of Pennsylvania and Mary 
land on the other. This operation has become 
famous on more than one account. The tracing 
of the meridian line between two given latitudes, 
both of which required accurate astronomic deter 
mination, over a country nearly level, afforded 
an opportunity for actually measuring the itinerary 
length of the arc in question. This measure is 
still quoted as one of those whence the magnitude 
and true figure of the earth are to be deduced, 
and is the only case where the length of a degree 
of a meridian has been actually measured ; for, in 
all other instances, the determination has been 
made, by measuring a base of a few miles, and 
calculating the whole length by means of a series 
of triangles. The parallel is well known in 
American politics, as it forms the separation be 
tween the States to which the names of Middle 
and Southern are applied, and is the boundary 
between the region in which domestic slavery is 
still recognised by law, and that in which it has 
been abolished. 

The previous observations of Rittenhouse seem 
to have greatly facilitated these operations of 
Mason and Dixon ; but, as the official report is 
made by them, and could have authority only 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 35 

when so made, the connexion of our own coun 
tryman with this important question is but lit 
tle known, and rarely mentioned even among our 
selves. 

That geographical and geometric lines should 
have formed the divisions of the original prov 
inces, and thus of the States, has exercised an 
influence upon the destinies of our country, which 
is not the less evident, because it has rarely been 
noticed. In most of the disputes concerning land 
titles derived from different authorities, or con 
cerning territorial jurisdiction, it has not been 
necessary to have recourse to civil violence or 
hostile arms. The ultima ratio has been not 
the cannon or the bayonet, but the plumb-line, 
the clock, and the telescope. Even courts of 
civil authority, where such have had jurisdiction, 
have been appealed to, only to cause one or 
other party to perform his duty, or to commis 
sion the astronomic surveyors by whom the de 
termination was made. The habit has thus been 
created of referring to reason and science for the 
composition of all disputes ; and this is so firmly 
established among the people, that even the folly 
af their rulers, as was manifested in a recent 
instance, cannot bring them to refer the matter 
to the decision of arms. That this habit has 
become a part of the character of our people, 13 
in a great measure due to the confidence croat-;d 



3G AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

by th6 fidelity and accuracy with which the 
earliest operations of the sort were performed. 
From the delineation of Mason and Dixon s line 
to the present time, both State governments, al 
though this portion of their sovereignty has been 
reserved, and individuals, who have occasionally 
suffered hardship, have bowed in obedience to 
the decision of the astronomer. Rittenhouse wus 
the first American, who was employed in the 
delineation of such lines ; he was also most exten 
sively engaged in tracing them, and, with those 
formed under his instruction, actually defined near 
ly all the important division lines within the char 
tered limits of the thirteen original States. Most 
of these delicate and valuable operations were 
however performed at a later period of his life, 
and after the close of the revolutionary war. 
The account of them will therefore fall into a 
subsequent chapter of this memoir. One alone 
is connected by date with that of which we have 
just spoken. 

This was the determination of the division line 
between New York and New Jersey, and thus 
of the point whence the parallel, which divides 
the former State from Pennsylvania, was to be 
traced westward. The northern limit of New 
Jersey upon Hudson s River is the forty-first de 
gree of latitude. The point where this parallel 
intersects the shore was fixed by Rittenhouse in 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 37 

the year 1769, at the request of a board of com 
missioners deriving their authority from the legis 
latures of the provinces of New York and New 
Jersey. The northern limit of both Pennsylvania 
and New Jersey, upon the Delaware, is the forty- 
second degree of latitude ; and this parallel, con 
tinued westward, divides the former from New 
York. To determine the place where this paral 
lel intersects the Delaware, Rittenhouse received 
the appointment of commissioner from his native 
province, and was met by a gentleman named 
on the part of the province of New York. This 
appointment also included the duty of running 
the parallel westward, but nothing farther was 
done at the time (1774), than to determine the 
ooint of departure upon the Delaware. 



38 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY 



CHAPTER VI. 

Experiments on Expansion. Application of 
them to the Pendulum. Metallic Thermom 
eter. Experiments on the Compressibility of 
Water. Adaptation of Planetary Machines 
to Clocks. Project of an Orrery. 

FOR the sake of connecting with each othei 
the geodetic operations of Rittenhouse performed 
previous to the revolutionary war, we have de 
parted from the order of time. We shall now 
return, for the purpose of mentioning various 
other scientific occupations in which he was en 
gaged, between the date at which he was first 
employed upon the boundary of Maryland, and 
that at which he became a commissioner to define 
the line between the States of New York and 
Pennsylvania. 

To a person engaged in the manufacture of 
clocks, and occupied in determining their rates 
by astronomic observations, the influence of va 
riations of temperature upon the oscillations of 
pendulums becomes at once apparent. That this 
is owing to the expansion and contraction of the 
materials of which the pendulums are composed, 
under alternations of heat and cold, was well 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 39 

understood. Partial remedies, too, had been ap 
plied; but they had not yet been rendered as avail 
able as they might be, for want of a sufficient num 
ber of well-conducted experiments. If such had 
been made, they had not been recorded or pub 
lished. At the present time, we can refer to no 
observations of earlier date than those of Ritten- 
house, which are worthy of confidence, except a 
few of Muschenbroeck and of Smeaton. The lat 
ter were only made public in 1754, when we have 
reason to believe that Rittenhouse had already 
made some progress in his researches. That 
he entered into this investigation experimental 
ly and pursued it with no small success, we 
have abundant evidence. The first volume of 
the " Transactions of the American Philosophical 
Society," published in 1770, contains a paper of 
his on expansion by heat ; another paper on the 
same subject is noted by Rush as existing in their 
archives, and is probably that on the improve 
ment of timekeepers, in the fourth volume. The 
accuracy of his experiments is demonstrated by 
the various astronomic clocks, which were con 
structed by his own hands, or under his direction, 
in which original forms of compensation pendu 
lums were employed. In this respect, Ritten 
house was somewhat in advance of the appli 
cations of science in Europe. The mercurial 
pendulum, which is now admitted to be the best 



40 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

compensation for a fixed observatory, had indeed 
been invented by Graham in 1726 ; but this im 
portant discovery had been neglected and almost 
forgotten. The account of the gridiron pendu 
lum, which was the first that came into familiar 
use in Europe, was not published by Harrison 
until 1775. Rittenhouse himself, however, in a 
letter dated in 1768, refers to Harrison s time 
keepers as having been executed in 1765. If, 
then, he was aware of the discoveries of Graham 
and Harrison at the time he commenced his own 
researches, he did not content himself with a 
servile imitation, but entered into experiments on 
which to found his own practice, and struck out 
a method of compensation different from either. 

Another valuable application of a correct knowl 
edge of the relative expansions of solid bodies 
also occurred to Rittenhouse, and he carried this 
application into successful practice. In this he 
forestalled, in the career of discovery, Breguet, 
who, within the present century, has received no 
small praise for the re-invention of a forgotten 
instrument of Rittenhouse s. We refer to the 
metallic thermometer. It is in evidence, that, in 
the year 1769, the latter constructed an instru 
ment, in which, by the expansion of metals, a 
hand was made to traverse on a semicircular 
dial-plate, on which were marked the degrees 
of Fahrenheit s thermometer, and that it corre* 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 41 

sponded in its indications with the mercurial in 
strument. Here then we have his experimental 
knowledge brought to a severe practical test, and 
applied to an important purpose. 

The Florentine Academy had, by an experi 
ment, all the circumstances of which could not 
be reached, inferred the incompressibility of wa 
ter. The accuracy of this inference remained for 
a long time unquestioned. It may be doubted, 
whether the whole scientific world rejected the 
Florentine experiment until very recently, when 
the experiments of Oersted and Perkins have 
demonstrated the compiessibility of water beyond 
all cavil. The question was at least still open in 
the days of Rittenhouse, and he proceeded, in 
1767, to examine it for his own satisfaction. In 
doubting the results of the Florentine philoso 
phers, he was not however original ; the subject 
had already been examined by Canton in Eng 
land, and by Kinnersley, at that time a professor 
in the College of Philadelphia. But, as the ques 
tion was not yet admitted to be settled, merit is 
still to be attributed to one who brought the aid 
of his powers of research to the investigation of 
an important question in physical science ; an in 
vestigation which he pursued by means of his 
own contrivance, and illustrated by experiments 
of great ingenuity. 

The merits of Rittenhouse, not as a mecha^w 



42 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

only, but as a successful improver of physical 
science, now became apparent to his country 
men. His rising reputation is manifested by the 
compliment paid him in 1767 by the College 
of Philadelphia, by which the honorary degree 
of Master of Arts was conferred upon him at the 
public commencement. At a time when the dis 
tinction in points of useful knowledge, between 
those who had received the advantage of a public 
education and those who had not, was still marked, 
this act implied a higher degree of acknowledged 
merit, than would be inferred from a similar diplo 
ma at the present day. It was therefore not only 
a deserved compliment, but a passport to the 
realms of science. 

In the pursuit of his mechanical vocation, Rit- 
tenhouse had complied, as was necessary, with 
the prevailing taste. His clocks were not only 
accurate as timekeepers, and furnished with the 
apparatus for striking the hours, but they fre 
quently contained chimes, and other arrange 
ments for performing pieces of music. Among 
other embellishments, he had adapted to one 
of his timekeepers a small planetary machine, 
in which the mean motions of the bodies of 
the solar system were made to keep their proper 
rate with the time marked by the instrument 
The calculations, into which it became necessary 
for him to enter as a preparation for this toy, 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 43 

appeared as capable of application on a larger 
scale. He, in consequence, in 1767, projected 
the instrument, which, perhaps improperly, is 
known under the name of his Orrery. 

Machines, by which the apparent motions of 
^ne heavenly bodies could be represented, are of 
emote origin. Among the ancients they had even 
oeen brought to such a degree of perfection, as 
to be capable of use in the prediction of eclipses, 
and of other phenomena, with an accuracy as 
great as that of any other known method. The 
great improvements made in modern astronomy 
had rendered them useless for any such purpose ; 
and, confined to the representation of appearances 
alone, the mechanic spheres of the ancients were 
rejected as giving false notions of the structure of 
the universe. Still, planetary machines were not 
the less in request, and it was attempted to give, 
by means of them, an exhibition of the true rela 
tive motions and distances of the bodies of the 
solar system. The most celebrated machine of 
this character was constructed by Rowley for the 
head of the family of Boyle, a rvame of no little 
lustre in the annals of science. This nobleman 
bearing the title of Earl of Orrery, the instrument 
was introduced to the public under this name, 
which still continues to be applied to all those 
intended for similar purposes. By this name also 
did Rittenhouse propose to designate his projected 



AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

piece of mechanism. In his views, however, he 
was actuated by a much higher ambition than has 
ever stimulated any other person, who has at 
tempted to exhibit the mechanism of the universe 
by the aid of the workmanship of human hands. 

Abandoning all attempts to exhibit the imagi 
nary celestial sphere, a mode of representing ap 
pearances, which is no more than a projection in 
orthographic perspective upon a surface supposed 
to be infinitely distant, he retained no other por 
tion of it but the zodiac. He wisely saw the 
immense difference, which must result between 
the true geocentric places of the bodies them 
selves, and those which would be represented by 
any instrument enclosed within a skeleton sphere. 
His mimic planets were not made to revolve in 
circular orbits with uniform motion, but were 
caused to describe ellipses in conformity to the 
laws by which Kepler had completed the theory 
of Copernicus. So far from being content with 
a mere approximation to the relative motions, 
he conceived the design of regulating them to 
each other with such accuracy, that his instrument 
might be used in the place of tables for predicting 
the places and phenomena for any given epoch. 
Bold and novel as were these designs, Ritten- 
house proposed to carry them into effect, if not 
in such a manner as to supersede the use of 
astronomic tables, }et so as to give to calculators 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 45 

a valuable check upon their numerical computa 
tions. The motions of his mimic planets were 
to be so registered upon proper dials, as to give 
not the mean heliocentric places, but the true 
anomalies, defining the positions in elliptic orbits, 
both as seen from the sun and from the earth for 
twenty-five centuries before, and as many after, 
the date of its construction. If, then, we should 
ascribe, as some have done, to the orrery of Rit- 
tenhouse no higher place among physical instru 
ments than that of an ingenious philosophic toy, 
we must admit that he exhausted in its construc 
tion all the existing knowledge of astronomy, and 
applied this extensive scientific information, with 
the most consummate practical skill. 

From the time at which the orrery was pro 
jected, until it was actually completed, Ritten- 
house was exposed to many interruptions. These, 
however, are so little to be regretted, that we 
consider them as having furnished him with the 
means of establishing his future fame upon a 
basis far more sure than any such application, 
even of the highest science, and the most perfect 
mechanical dexterity. 



46 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 



CHAPTER VII. 

Preparations for Observing the Transit cf 
Venus. 

UP to the year 1768, we have no records of 
the astronomic observations of Rittenhouse. They 
had been limited to such as were necessary for 
regulating his timekeepers, or were called for in 
tracing the boundary lines, for the determination 
of which his practical and theoretic skill had been 
resorted to. In the practice of such observations, 
and in the execution of the public trusts confided 
to him, he had gradually acquired much dexterity 
in the management of instruments, and facility in 
calculation. The year 1769 presented an oppor 
tunity, in which his practised powers of obser 
vation and computation might be applied to an 
important purpose. This year is rendered memo 
rable in the annals of astronomy, by the recur 
rence of that rare phenomenon, the transit of the 
planet Venus over the Sun s disk. 

From the time that the truth of the Coper- 
aoan system had been universally admitted, it 
was known that this planet must, at every suc 
ceeding interval of about five hundred and eighty- 
four days, be in inferior conjunction with the sun 



JDAV1D RITTENHOUSE. 47 

Whether the planet shall be exactly interposed at 
this time between the body of the sun and the 
earth, in such manner that it may be seen, by the 
aid of proper instruments, passing over the disk 
of the former, will depend upon the inclination 
of the orbit of the planet. As this inclination is 
considerable, the phenomenon of such a passage 
was inferred to be at best a rare one. Before the 
telescope was adapted as a sight to graduated 
instruments, and great public observatories were 
established at national expense, the tables which 
gave the inclination of Venus orbit were far from 
agreeing. An Englishman of the name of Hor- 
rox, however, placing reliance upon the Rudol- 
phine tables of Kepler, ventured to predict a 
transit of this planet for the year 1639. The 
result verified his prediction, and he, with a friend 
of the name of Crabtree, was fortunate enough to 
see this rare and curious phenomenon, of which 
they alone were witnesses. The improvement in 
the tables of the elements of the orbits of planets, 
made in consequence of the establishment of the 
observatories of Paris and Greenwich, enabled 
astronomers to predict with certainty transits for 
the years 1761 and 1769. No other can again 
take place until the year 1874. The phenome 
non, from its extreme rarity, is therefore one of 
the greatest interest in astronomy. Far greater 
importance had, however, been given to the 



48 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

phenomenon of the transit by the remark of Hal- 
ley, that observations of it, made either at a sin 
gle favorable position, or in remote parts of the 
earth s surface, afforded the best possible data for 
calculating the dimensions of the solar system; 
for, by means of them, the horizontal parallax, 
both of Venus and the sun, may be determined, 
and thence their distances, in terms of a semi- 
diameter of the earth, become capable of calcu 
lation in the most easy way. 

The transit of 1761 was visible in Europe, and 
in other parts of the eastern continent. Its ap 
proach was looked for with great anxiety, and im 
posing preparations were made for observing it. 
Not only were such measures taken at the great 
observatories of Europe, but observers, furnished 
with the best instruments which the existing state 
of the arts would supply, were despatched to St. 
Helena, to the Cape of Good Hope, to Tobolsk, 
to Calcutta, to Madras, and to Tranquebar. The 
governments of France, England, Russia, and Den 
mark seemed to vie with each other in zeal ; and 
no expense was spared to make the observation 
complete, by which the truth of the Copernican 
system might be brought to ocular demonstration, 
the laws of Kepler reduced to experimental proof, 
and the vast distances and dimensions of the solar 
system included in a problem, as simple in form as 
the easiest case of trigonometry. No part of the 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 49 

transit of 1761 was to be visible in the continent 
of America ; but, in the island of Newfoundland, 
the sun would be seen to rise before the emer 
gence of the planet from his disk. As this was the 
only spot in the western hemisphere, where an 
observation could be made, Professor Winthrop, 
of Harvard University, was sent to St. John s, in 
that island, furnished with the proper instruments 
by the liberal grant of the colonial Assembly of 
Massachusetts. In fine, wherever the transit was 
to be visible, and this was in every part of the 
civilized world except America, every amateur as 
tronomer, as well as those who made that science 
their profession, endeavored, to the utmost of his 
means, to take advantage of the rare occasion. 

Notwithstanding such imposing and costly prep 
arations, the transit of 1761 ended in disappoint 
ing every hope. Some of the most practised ob 
servers, particularly those stationed at the great 
fixed observatories, lost the view altogether, in con 
sequence of the weather ; a very considerable dis 
crepancy existed among the observations of others ; 
and, upon the whole, the determination of the par 
allaxes was admitted to be inconclusive. It was 
indeed remarked, that, by throwing out four of the 
observations altogether, the rest might be made to 
agree, or that the same might be done, by suppos 
ing, what occasionally happens, that each of these 

four observers had noted the wrong minute, in 
xii. 4 



f)0 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

writing this element of time in front of the second 
marked by his clock. That this was the case, 
has now been established, beyond the possibility 
of doubt ; but, to correct, in this apparently arbi 
trary manner, a large proportion of all the obser 
vations, which the state of the heavens permitted 
to be made, would hardly have been justified by 
any of the laws of probability. 

Such an unfortunate result of the transit of 
1761 served to make that of 1769 of far greater 
interest than had attached even to the former. 
The hopes of astronomers having been once frus 
trated, anxiety became mingled with expectation; 
-and this anxiety was enhanced by the considera 
tion, that but a small part of the transit of 1769 
was to be visible to any of the great observatories 
of Europe. At Stockholm, London, Paris, Lis 
bon, and Madrid, the immersion might be seen 
just before sunset, and the emersion at Peters 
burg soon after sunrise on the following morning, 
but at no other European capital. In the north 
era frozen zone, beyond the latitude of sixty- 
seven and a half degrees, the sun was not to set on 
the day of the transit ; the whole of the phenom 
enon would therefore be visible ; and at Ward- 
buys, in Lapland, where the observation would be 
included between the hours of half past nine in 
the afternoon and three in the morning, the cir 
cumstances would be the most favorable possible 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE 51 

In less high northern latitudes, near the same 
meridian, the beginning might occur before sunset, 
and the end take place after sunrise. Such a 
position was found at Cajaneburg in Sweden. 

Maskelyne, the British Astronomer Royal, see 
ing that advantages, such as were presented by the 
last-mentioned places could be secured by the 
comparison of observations made at two different 
points, one in the southern, the other in the 
northern hemisphere, induced his government to 
despatch two expeditions, the one to Hudson s 
Bay, the other to Otaheite. The latter was under 
the command of the celebrated Cook. 

The French government, at the instance of 
Lalande, sent Chappe to California ; here the im 
mersion was to take place when the sun was on 
the meridian, and, at that season, not far from the 
zenith. 

Even at Pekin, although only the last contact 
was to be visible, the European astronomers of 
the imperial observatory were aided and excited 
to the task. It may be here mentioned, that a 
great degree of jealousy, and consequent mystery, 
attended the preparations of the several govern 
ments. This appears to have arisen from the 
arrogance of Lalande, who wished to assume the 
direction of the whole, and expressed his expec 
tations that the records of the observations should 
be sent to him for calculation. The choice of 



52 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

the stations of Otaheite and Wardhuys was there 
fore carefully concealed from him, until it was 
too late for him to abandon the less favorable pos 
ition of California, for another. 

The position of Pennsylvania offered advan 
tages of another description ; the whole of the 
transit was to be visible, beginning before, and 
terminating after noon. It was thus to occur at 
hours when less disturbance was to be feared from 
fogs and vapors, than in the north of Europe ; 
while the effects of the parallax, it was hoped, if 
less than at Cajaneburg, Otaheite, or Wardhuys, 
might be sufficiently marked to admit of favorable 
results in the subsequent calculations. At all 
events, it would be a subject of mortification, that 
so important a phenomenon, visible throughout its 
whole duration to the then British colonies in 
America, should be permitted to pass unnoticed, 
except by idle curiosity ; while a successful ob 
servation, and the calculation of the important 
results, would redound to the scientific reputation 
of the whole of the provinces. 

Such reflections did not escape Rittenhouse, 
and while he felt his own capacity to perform 
the necessary operations unaided, and had pre 
pared with his own hands most of the more 
essential instruments, he showed himself unwilling 
to attempt to engross the whole honor, and mani 
fested a laudable anxiety to have the means of 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 53 

observation so far multiplied and distributed, that 
the risk of failure from unfavorable weather, or 
any other contingency, might be as much dimin 
ished as was possible. He therefore communicated 
to the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia a 
calculation of the anticipated times and pheno 
mena of the transit, as likely to be visible at 
Norriton, and called the attention of that learned 
body to the important subject. It cannot be 
doubted that the members of that Society, who 
afterwards distinguished themselves by perform 
ing a part in the observation and subsequent 
calculations, were aware of the importance of the 
occasion ; but the matter appears to have been 
first brought before them in a tangible shape by 
the communication of Rittenhouse ; and this com 
munication, showing them that they had in the 
vicinity, both many of the instruments, and an 
expert observer and calculator, seems to have 
served as a stimulus to their zeal, by exhibiting 
the possibility of attaining high honor, where the 
gratification of a laudable and enlightened curi 
osity had alone been thought of. 



54: AMERICAN BIOGRAPHT. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

Observation of the Transit of Venus. Cal 
culation of the Parallax of the Sun. 

PREVIOUS to the year 1768, Philadelphia had 
not only become the seat of a highly respectable 
seminary of learning, which has since by gradual 
expansion become a thriving university ; but had 
been chosen as the place of meeting of a scien 
tific association, which still flourishes under the 
name of the American Philosophical Society 
Although members of this association resided in 
various parts of the colonies, the intelligence of 
the citizens of Philadelphia gave them no ill- 
founded claim to the choice of their city as the 
scientific centre of the Union, and this choice has 
been justified by the share which they have taken 
in its proceedings and published memoirs. To 
this learned association the communication of Rit- 
tenhouse on the subject of the transit of 1769 was 
addressed. The American Philosophical Society 
seems to have appreciated fully the interest of 
the subject, and to have entered zealously into 
measures of cooperation. In order that prepara 
tions might be made, adequate to the importance 
of the occasion, a large committee was, on the 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. &> 

7th of December, 1768, chosen from among the 
members. Of this committee, Rittenhouse was 
one. The committee lost no time in assembling, 
in order to plan the most expedient mode of 
carrying the purposes of their appointment into 
effect. Three places of observation were imme 
diately selected. The first of these was the 
State-house Square of Philadelphia ; the second, 
Cape Henlopen, at the mouth of the Delaware ; 
the third was Norriton, the residence of Kitten- 
house. The charge of making the observations 
at Cape Henlopen was intrusted to Mr. Owen 
Biddle; Professor Ewing of the College, and 
Dr. Hugh Williamson, were appointed to the 
Philadelphia station ; while Provost Smith and 
Mr. Lukens were associated with Rittenhouse at 
Norriton. 

The proprietaries of the province, the colonial 
legislature, and the public institutions of Philadel 
phia furnished aid with great liberality to the im 
portant object. The station at Cape Henlopen was 
provided with an excellent telescope, as well as 
with timekeepers, and the instruments for rating 
them. A complete observatory was erected in 
the State-house Square, to which were assigned 
an equal altitude and a transit instrument, with a 
great zenith sector, the property of the proprie 
taries; to these, a powerful reflecting telescope, 
furnished with a micrometer, was added by the 



56 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

funds granted by the legislature. Rittenhouse 
was left to prepare and furnish his observatory 
from his own resources. He had, in the autumn 
of 1768, commenced the construction of a proper 
building, which was finished in April, 1769. In 
this he placed a transit and an equal-altitude in 
strument, with a clock, all the work of his own 
hands. He was however without an instrument 
for determining his latitude ; this was finally ob 
tained by the exertions of Provost Smith from the 
surveyor-general of New Jersey, (Lord Stirling,) 
in the form of an astronomical quadrant of two and 
a half feet. All that remained to be provided was 
a telescope of sufficient power, furnished with a 
micrometer. Two telescopes of less magnitude 
seem indeed to have been provided ; but the mi 
crometer was indispensable to a complete set of 
observations. Provost Smith had, however, sought 
at an early period for the means of supplying this 
deficiency ; he had entered into correspondence 
on the subject with Mr. Penn, the proprietary, and 
with the British Astronomer Royal. In conse 
quence of his representations, Mr. Penn purchased 
and sent out, for the use of the observatory at 
Norriton, an excellent reflecting telescope and mi 
crometer. 

The observatory at Norriton being thus at last 
completely provided, Rittenhouse applied himself 
with diligence to the necessary preparations. The 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 57 

distance from Philadelphia was sufficient to make 
it inconvenient for his colleagues on the sub-com 
mittee to render him much assistance, and they 
seem to have considered it unnecessary to attempt 
to overcome this inconvenience. Confiding in the 
attention and skill of their associate, they left 
all the preliminary observations and calculations 
wholly to him. These were executed in a man 
ner which fully justified their having intrusted 
the whole matter to their colleague, and, when 
the approach of the day of the transit called 
them to their posts, nothing was left for them to 
do, but to take their seats at the telescopes pro 
vided for them. 

The labor imposed upon Rittenhouse became 
therefore more arduous, and the responsibility 
greater, than was originally intended by the So 
ciety, or than he would probably have ventured 
to assume. Great anxiety was also mingled with 
the exhaustion produced by continual labor, both 
by day and night ; for it was within the limit of 
possibility, that, as on the former occasion (1761), 
clouds might interfere with the observation. 

The morning of the expected day, however, 
broke without a cloud, and not even a floating 
wreath of vapor appeared to interfere with the 
observations. Exhilarated by the favorable state 
of the atmosphere, and stimulated by the near 
approach of the time when he was to reap the 



58 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

fruit of his long and patient labors, excitement 
supplied the place of strength. But when the 
contact had been observed, and the planet had 
entered fairly upon the disk of the sun, his bodily 
strength was exhausted, and he sunk fainting to 
the ground, unable to bear the intense feelings 
of delight which attended the accomplishment 
of his wishes. He however speedily recovered, 
and proceeded to perform the measures of the 
distances between the centres of the two bodies, 
at proper intervals during the continuance of the 
transit. 

When the record of the observations made at 
Norriton came to be collated, not only with those 
of the other members of the committee of the 
American Philosophical Society, but with those 
made in different parts of the world, the practi 
cal skill of Rittenhouse shone forth in the most 
brilliant light ; and it would have been sufficient 
for his fame had he added no more than this 
record to the science of astronomy. But he was 
not content with having performed more than his 
full share of the observation, and executed the 
whole of the preparatory work. The planet had 
hardly completed its emergence, before he set 
himself down to the task of calculating the par 
allaxes. His calculation was among the earliest 
that were completed, and the results were forth 
with communicated to Dr. Smith, who incorpo- 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 59 

rated them in a paper of his own, which was laid 
before the Philosophical Society. This learned 
body did not hesitate in undertaking the costly 
duty of committing this paper, with some others 
on the same subject, to the press, and it thus 
happened, that the first correct determination of 
the solar parallax was derived from an American 
source. Before a transit of Venus could be ob 
served for the purpose, astronomers had no mode 
of determining the dimensions of the solar system, 
except by the parallax of Mars. The exact de 
termination of the parallax of this planet is far 
from being easy, and thus no writer before 1761 
had ventured to assign to the sun a parallax of 
less than 10". The calculations of the American 
committee did not make this parallax more than 
8".6. Some time elapsed before the record of 
the distant observations could reach Europe and 
be collated. When this was done, the calcula 
tions were made up, not by the observers them 
selves, but by Maskelyne in England, and Duse- 
jour in France. The result of these calculations 
gave 8". 88 for the solar parallax. When how 
ever all the observations, with the exception ol 
the American, are brought into the calculation, the 
mean derived from the whole has been found to 
be rather below 8". 6, than greater ; and thus the 
results of the American observations were not 



60 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

only first calculated, but gave the most accurate 
determination. 

This very accuracy of the American observa 
tions and calculations seems to have been at first 
injurious to their credit. Those who had Ion* 
been accustomed to estimate the distance between 
the sun and earth at eighty millions of miles, were 
not prepared to have that distance suddenly in 
creased to ninety-six millions. The highest de 
termination which could possibly be drawn from 
the observations was for a time preferred as most 
likely to be accurate. It hence arose, that these 
records of the skill and science, which our coun 
trymen exhibited more than sixty years since, are 
but little appreciated even among ourselves; while 
in Europe they are almost forgotten. Even the 
learned Delambre, in his account of the manner 
in which the dimensions of our system were deter 
mined, neglects to quote the papers of the Amer 
ican Philosophical Society, although he shows by 
a recalculation of all the other observations, that 
the true result is almost identical with that, which 
was set forth in those very papers. Of the honor 
to which the American Philosophical Society is 
justly entitled for its labors and exertions on this 
occasion, no small portion is due to Rittenhouse. 
His relative merits were fully appreciated in 
Europe, and he was named with the highest 
Braise in the congratulations, which flowed in from 



DAVJD RITTENHOUSE. 61 

all directions upon the Society. To Franklin, 
who, from his official station in England, became 
the organ of these communications, it was de 
clared by an accomplished judge, that no learned 
society in Europe could at the moment beast of 
a member possessing the various merits of Ritten 
house, who united, in his own person, tact as an 
observer, theoretic skill as a calculator, and prac 
tical talent as a constructor of instruments 



AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 



CHAPTER IX. 

Transit of Mercury. Longitudes of Phila* 
delphia and Norriton. Orrery resumed. 
Comet of 1770. 

THE year 1769 was marked, not only by a 
transit of Venus over the sun s disk, but also by 
one of Mercury. The latter phenomenon is, 
however, of less interest than the former, as it is 
of more frequent occurrence, and could not be 
advantageously employed in determining the di 
mensions of the solar system, in consequence of 
the much greater distance between it and the 
earth. Rittenhouie observed this phenomenon 
also, and was assisted again by Messrs. Smith and 
Lukens, together with Mr. Owen Biddle, the gen 
tleman who had observed the transit of Venus at 
Cape Henlopen. 

This observation afforded data whence to calcu 
late the difference of longitude between his obsei- 
ratory at Norriton, and the State-house Square 
it Philadelphia. This difference had indeed been 
deduced from the transit of Venus ; but, as the 
parallaxes of the sun and planet must be as 
sumed in the calculation of the longitude, and 
as the longitude again enters into the calculation 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 63 

of tne parallaxes, it was important that it should 
be obtained by an independent method. The 
observation having been made, the difference of 
longitude was deduced by Rittenhouse and his 
associates. The observations of the transit of 
Venus appeared to Maskelyne very important in 
their bearing upon a true knowledge of the dimen 
sions of the solar system; and, as the longitudes 
of Norriton and the State-house Square were 
important elements of the calculation, that distin 
guished astronomer urged the members of the 
American Philosophical Society to ascertain the 
difference between these two places, not only by 
every practicable mode then employed in astron 
omy, but also in itinerary measure. The longi 
tudes of both, from the observatory at Greenwich, 
would be of course ascertained in the employment 
of the first of these methods. These essential 
operations were in consequence undertaken, and 
performed by Provost Smith, Lukens, and Rit 
tenhouse. 

Since that period the instruments of astronomy 
have been vastly improved ; new methods, more 
easy and accurate, founded on more complete 
tables, have been introduced ; yet, for fifty years 
from the date of this operation, the longitude of 
no part of the American continent had been deter 
mined with an accuracy equal to that attained for 
these two places, by the operation we have re 
ferred to. 



184 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

The labors preceding and attending the ob 
servation of the transit of Venus diverted Kitten- 
house for a time from his mechanical pursuits 
The orrery, projected in 1767, therefore remained 
unfinished upon his hands. No sooner, however, 
was this interesting subject completed, than he re 
turned to his tools with increased zeal. Even be 
fore the orrery was finished, a contest commenced 
between the Colleges of Philadelphia and Prince 
ton, to determine which should become the pro 
prietor by purchase of this beautiful piece of mech 
anism. It would appear, that the former expected 
some favor would be shown it, either in price or 
in the terms of payment. Such favor, however, 
Rittenhouse, whose sole resources lay in his own 
labor, and who had already lost much time and ex 
pended much money in his attention to astronomic 
subjects, was not disposed to grant. It therefore 
became the property of the institution at Prince 
ton, of whose cabinet it is still the pride. 

We have already stated some of the important 
differences between this instrument and any other 
which bears the same name. These differences 
are pointed out by Rittenhouse himself in a com 
munication to Barton, in which he imparts his 
original design. 

" I did not," says he, " design a machine, which 
should give to the ignorant in astronomy a just 
view of the solar system ; but would rather aston- 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 65 

ish the skilful and curious examiner, by a most 
accurate correspondence between the situations 
and motions of our little representatives of the 
heavenly bodies, and the situations and motions 
of those bodies themselves. I would have my 
orrery really useful, by making it capable of 
Informing us truly of the astronomic phenomena 
for any particular point of time; which I do not 
find that any orrery yet made can do." 

The instrument, as constructed in entire con 
formity with these views, presents three vertical 
faces. That in front is four feet square. In the 
middle is a ball to represent the Sun, and around 
this others revolve to represent the planets. The 
latter move in elliptical orbits, having the former in 
their common focus, and at rates varying accord 
ing to the law of Kepler. The orbits of the 
several planets are properly inclined ; their nodes 
and the lines of their apsides are in just position, 
and have motions corresponding to those of the 
orbits of the planets themselves. The instrument 
being set in motion, three indices are caused to 
move, which point out, on graduated circles, the 
year, the month, and the day. The first of these 
extends to a period of five thousand years. In 
order to determine the heliocentric place of any 
one of the planets for any day within this period, 
the instrument is caused to revolve until this epoch 
is marked by the three indices ; a small telescope 

xii. 5 



66 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

is then placed upon the body of the mimic Sun, 
and, being directed to the representative of the 
planet, the position of the latter may be read on 
a graduated circle representing the zodiac. This 
zodiac is not fixed, but has a motion correspond 
ing with the precession of the equinoxes. The 
geocentric place is determined by affixing the 
same telescope to the earth, and is read off upon 
a circle, whose centre is the movable place of 
the earth in the instrument. 

The two lateral faces of the orrery have the 
same height with the principal one, and about 
hdlf the breadth. Upon one of them are repre 
sented the motions of Jupiter and his satellites, 
and of Saturn, his ring, and satellites. On the 
other the phenomena of the Moon s motion are 
exhibited, her phases, the exact time and duration 
of her eclipses, the appearances of solar eclipses 
for any given position of the earth, the Moon s 
longitude and latitude, the motions of her apogee 
and nodes. In addition, it exhibits the apparent 
motion of the Sun in declination, and the equation 
of time. 

Were it not that the instrument actually exists 
to attest that all this has been successfully exe 
cuted, it might have been believed that such 
varied, numerous, and complicated motions were 
incapable of being represented by mechanism. 

The calculation of the longitudes of Norriton 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 67 

and Philadelphia was communicated to the Amer 
lean Philosophical Society in August, 1770, by 
Provost Smith. A few days earlier than the 
date of this communication, Rittenhouse laid be 
fore that association a series of observations on a 
comet, which was visible in June and July of that 
year. To the observations were appended cal 
culations of the elements of its motion and of the 
figure of its orbit. In this paper he not only sus 
tained the reputation he had acquired as a skilful 
observer, but showed himself capable of perform 
ing the most laborious and difficult computations 
of physical astronomy. The amount of labor, 
manual, bodily, and mental, which were thus 
crowded into less than three years of the life of 
Rittenhouse, was prodigious. Other men may 
have indeed accomplished as much and more, by 
directing t heir energies steadily to a single pursuit. 
But it is probable that there is no other instance 
on record of such a variety of occupation having 
been successfully executed by a single person 
within so small a space of time 



AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 



CHAPTER X. 

His Second Orrery. Proposed Removal to Phil 
adelphia. Loan-Office Bill. Gift of the 
Legislature. Change of Residence. Elec 
tion as Secretary of the American Philosophical 
Society. Second Marriage. Proposed Pub 
lic Observatory. 

THE cession of the orrery to Princeton College 
caused, at first, no little dissatisfaction in Phila 
delphia. But this event, coupled with the praises 
that were daily pouring in from Europe, redound 
ed in the end to the advantage of Rittenhouse, 
and exhibited to the inhabitants of Pennsylvania 
ihe high value of the talents and acquirements 
of their distinguished fellow-citizen. The loss of 
he orrery was found to be of little moment, so 
!ong as they could command the knowledge and 
manual dexterity by which it had been executed ; 
and Rittenhouse at once tendered to supply it, 
by making for the College of Philadelphia an 
exact duplicate of the original instrument. Al 
though he offered to do this at a price incon 
ceivably cheap, the funds of that institution were 
not yet adequate to the purchase. In this emer 
gency, Provost Smith undertook to furnish what 



DAVID 1UTTENHOUSE. 69 

was necessary, by delivering a course of public 
.ectures on astronomy, the profits of which were 
10 be applied to the purpose. This undertaking 
was successful, the necessary funds were raised, 
and a duplicate of the orrery of Princeton was 
placed among the apparatus of the College ol 
Philadelphia. 

A just appreciation of the merits of Ritten- 
house led the citizens of Philadelphia about this 
time (1770) to desire to withdraw him from his 
retirement at Norriton, and fix his residence among 
themselves. This could only be properly done 
by supplying him with means by which the differ 
ence in the cost of supporting his family, upon a 
well-stocked and fertile farm, and in a city, might, 
be compensated. Simple in his habits, and eco 
nomical in his expenditure, the products of his 
paternal estate sufficed in a great degree for his 
wants, and he was enabled to afford his beautiful 
timekeepers at prices which gave them an exten 
sive sale. Had he been compelled to manufacture 
them in the more expensive position of Philadel 
phia, this might not have been the case. At this 
moment, however, an office presented itself, which 
demanded a residence at the seat of government, 
and, calling for high integrity and much intelli 
gence, could be performed with little labor ; the 
emoluments would be sufficient to justify Hit 
tenhouse in changing his abode. This post was 



70 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

that of one of the commissioners of the loan 
office, a bill for the regulation of which was pend 
ing before the legislature of the province at theL 
session of 1770. The commissioners were to be 
three in number ; and, on the motion to place the 
name of Rittenhouse in one of the blanks left 
for the insertion of the names, the whole Assem 
bly rose to vote in the affirmative. A point of 
etiquette was however in dispute between the 
Assembly and the Governor, in consequence of 
which it appeared probable that the bill would 
receive his veto. It was therefore permitted by 
the Assembly to sleep among their unfinished 
business. Yet the legislature, willing to com 
pensate him for the disappointment which he 
might sustain, and anxious to testify their sense 
of his merits, voted him at their next session a 
free gift of 300 currency, and in addition appro 
priated 400 to defray the cost of a third orrery 
of double the dimensions of the two former ones. 
This gift, which is perhaps without either prece 
dent or imitation in the legislative annals of the 
country, is glorious to the body which granted it, 
and honorable to the party which received it. It 
is expressed in the resolution to be " a testimony 
of the high sense which this House entertains 
of his mathematical genius and mechanical abili 
ties." 

Rittenhouse had, before the date of this vote. 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 71 

namely, in the autumn of 1770, become a resi 
dent in the city of Philadelphia. This change 
of abode was speedily followed by a distress 
ing event, the loss of his wife. The affliction 
consequent on this bereavement appears to have 
interfered for a time with the activity of his 
scientific and mechanical pursuits, and to have 
caused him to meditate an expedition to Europe, 
which he was advised by his friends to undertake 
as a means of relief. It is, nevertheless, happily 
ordained that time mitigates the most severe dis 
pensations of this character, and the mind of Rit- 
tenhouse speedily resumed its tone. 

In 1771, the American Philosophical Society, 
whose meetings his change of abode enabled him 
to attend regularly, elected him one of their 
secretaries. The palmy days of that association 
were however at an end ; the disputes between 
the colonies and the mother country were rapidly 
approaching a crisis, and the minds of men were 
diverted from all pursuits, except those essential 
to subsistence, by the all-absorbing discussions of 
politics. From the time of the publication of the 
first volume of the Transactions of this Society > 
until the second was put to press, fifteen years 
elapsed, and an interval of ten years exists be 
tween the date of the latest communication of Rit- 
tenhouse in the former, and of his earliest in the 
latter. He did not however wholly neglect his 



72 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

scientific studies, for in 1771 we find him to have 
been engaged with Kinnersley in experiments on 
the electric properties of the gymnotus ; but the 
four years which succeeded his removal to Phila 
delphia seem to have engaged him in few other 
pursuits than the labors of his business, with the 
exception of some public tasks, a part of which 
have already been referred to. The completion 
even of these was prevented by the threatening 
aspect of public affairs, and they did not occupy 
much of his time. The only other duty, which 
was assigned him, was that of a commissioner for 
rendering the Schuylkill navigable, and this was 
also reduced to little importance by the state of 
public feeling. 

During this interval, Rittenhouse recovered 
from affliction caused by the death of his first 
wife, and again married. The object of his sec 
ond choice was Miss Hannah Jacobs of Phila 
delphia. 

The year 1775 opened with a project intended 
to bring the abilities of Rittenhouse more effec 
tually into the service of science. The Phi 
losophical Society addressed the colonial legis 
lature of Pennsylvania, praying it to establish a 
public observatory, and commit it to the care 
of Rittenhouse. Had the circumstances of the 
times permitted this project to be carried into 
effect, it would have enabled him to occupy a 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 3 

great space in the history of astronomy. He 
had already shown himself the equal, in point of 
learning and skill as an observer, to any practi 
cal astronomer then living ; nothing was wanting 
to make him rank with the Flamsteads, the Hal- 
leys, and the Maskelynes, but that he should 
be permitted to devote his whole mind to this 
pursuit, and be furnished with those instruments 
and accommodations, for which no private fortune 
will suffice. Other men might have been found 
as well, nay, better qualified for the political pur 
suits and public offices in which it became his fate 
to spend the rest of his life ; but America has 
never yet produced any individual who has mani 
fested so great a capacity for extending the do 
main of practical astronomy. To arrange the 
details of a disorganized and depreciating cur 
rency, to collect and disburse a scanty and ill-paid 
revenue, were thereafter to be the pursuits of 
our philosopher ; and he was to expend upon the 
estimates and returns of the tax-gatherer those 
powers of mind which were capable of grasping, 
and that mechanical skill which sufficed to imitate, 
the vast mechanism of the universe. 

From the time at which Rittenhouse removed 
to Philadelphia, the minds of men had been un 
dergoing a preparation for the parts they were to 
take in the ensuing contest. The inhabitants of 
th* colonies had hitherto been remarkable for 



74 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

their loyalty, and, in the earlier remonstrances 
they presented, had appealed to a paternal sove 
reign from the acts of a tyrannical legislature in 
which they were not represented. As the crisis 
approached, the unanimity with which such re 
monstrances had been made no longer continued. 
Some, finding that the acts of the Parliament were 
guided and directed by the pleasure of the mon 
arch, unwillingly acquiesced in his sovereign will. 
Others, more bold, finding redress was not to be ob 
tained by peaceable means, sought it in resistance. 
Among the latter was Rittenhouse, who, in de 
fiance of the influence of beloved relatives, en 
rolled himself at an early date on what became 
the popular side. From this period to his death, 
his time was principally spent in a series of public 
duties, some of which had reference to his favorite 
scientific pursuits ; but others, and those the most 
engrossing, were wholly repugnant. If he did oc 
casionally revert to his original profession, and 
the studies in which he had acquired reputation 
it was at distant intervals, and rather as the recre 
ation of leisure from other pursuits, than as the 
absorbing occupation of his mind. 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 75 



CHAPTER XI 

His Election to the Legislature of Pennsylvania 
First Committee of Public Safety. Treas 
urer of the State. Capture of Philadelphia, 
and Removal of the Treasury to Lancaster.* 
Second Committee of Public Safety. Tran 
sit of Mercury and Solar Eclipses. 

THE residence of Rittenhouse in the city of 
Philadelphia, for four continuous years previous 
to the commencement of hostilities between the 
colonies and the mother country, had made him 
familiarly known to his townsmen. Although he 
did not take any active part in the public meet 
ings and deliberative assemblies, by whose dis 
cussions the friends of the people were prepared 
for a resort to arms, his sentiments were not con 
cealed ; and the reputation he had acquired point 
ed him out as one to whom the conduct of public 
affairs might safely be committed in a moment of 
emergency. His known worth and ability speedi 
ly led to his being called to occupy a prominent 
position. It is a truth which all experience 
seems to confirm, that, if in time of profound 
peace the management of republics is apt to fall 
into the hands of such as seek office only for 



76 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

their own private advantage ; in the hour of wa* 
and of danger, it is most usually intrusted to those 
who are most capable of directing the councils 
and leading the armies of the nation. Our own 
revolution is an obvious instance, which may Le 
cited in support of this proposition. 

Franklin had been elected a member of the 
Provincial Assembly of Pennsylvania for the year 
1775. From this station he was speedily called 
to the General Congress. Rittenhouse was imme 
diately chosen to fill the vacant seat. To be 
installed as the successor of such a man was nc 
small proof of the confidence reposed in him 
This confidence he justified by the useful, if not 
prominent part, which he took in the deliberations 
of the body of which he thus became a member, 
at this eventful and important period. 

The ancient government being speedily dis 
solved by the commencement of hostilities, Rit 
tenhouse was chosen a member of the convention 
called for the purpose of framing a constitution ; 
and when, by an ordinance of that convention, 
the provisional government was intrusted for a 
time to a Committee of Public Safety, composed 
of twenty-four members, Rittenhouse was includ 
ed in that number. On the promulgation of the 
constitution, and the election of the officers and 
functionaries, who were to execute it, the power? 
of this committee ceased ; but the public duties 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 77 

of Rittenhouse did not terminate with the expha- 
tion of this important trust. The constitution 
had provided for the appointment of a State 
treasurer by the vote of the lower House of the 
legislature, and he was unanimously elected to 
this responsible and laborious office on the 14th 
of January, 1776. The appointment was for no 
more than a single year; but Rittenhouse con 
tinued to be annually reelected, until he declined 
any longer to hold the office. 

Philadelphia, which had been threatened by 
the British forces from Jersey at the close of the 
year 1776, was made the object of a powerful 
expedition, which proceeded up the Chesapeake, 
in the summer of 1777. The utmost efforts of 
the forces of the confederation did not suffice for 
the protection of the city, and it fell into the hands 
of the enemy in the month of September. In 
anticipation of the possibility of this event, the pub 
lic offices were removed in haste to the borough 
of Lancaster, at which place the legislature was 
speedily convened. This body, considering the 
emergency of the case, and the necessity of 
prompt and energetic measures, not only to resist 
the invading enemy, but to repress the disaffected, 
determined to constitute again a Committee of 
Public Safety, to which powers the most abso 
lute and extraordinary were given. It was author 
ized to proceed summarily, and even to inflict 



78 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

capital punishment upon all persons " inimical to 
the common cause of liberty and the United 
States of America." This committee was com 
posed of twelve members, of whom Rittenhouse 
was one. It is to be recorded to the honor of 
this committee, that, during a time of the most 
highly exasperated feeling against those who were 
considered as Tories, no exercise of these extraor 
dinary powers appears to have occurred, and that 
no individual, however obnoxious, appears to have 
sustained injury, either in person or property. 
The duties of Rittenhouse as a member of the 
Committee of Public Safety, and still more as 
presiding over a treasury of the most scanty re 
sources, and liable to the most urgent demands, 
were arduous in the extreme. The pressure of 
these duties was aggravated by a separation from 
his family, and anxiety for their safety. On the 
approach of the enemy to Philadelphia, he had 
sent them to Norriton ; the duties of removing 
the treasury from that city prevented him from 
joining them and making them the partners of 
his further flight. Even to visit them from Lan 
caster would have been attended with danger ; for, 
although Norriton was without the British lines, 
it was not sufficiently distant to place it beyond 
the reach of flying parties of the enemy, and a 
member of the Committee of Public Safety would 
have been no mean prize. On the other hand, 



RITTENHOUSE. 79 

a woman and children could not venture to trav- 
eise a country exposed to the partisans of both 
armies 

This painful separation continued for nine 
months, and the evacuation of Philadelphia was, 
in consequence, not less a subject of rejoicing to 
Rittenhouse as a patriot, than as a husband and a 
father. 

During this period, too, he was exposed to anx 
lety from another cause. He had built his fame 
as a mechanic, and perhaps as an astronomer, 
upon his orrery. That at Princeton was reported 
to have been destroyed, and apprehensions seem 
to have been entertained, that the duplicate at 
Philadelphia might have suffered from the wan 
tonness of a licentious soldiery. It was not until 
his return that this anxiety was removed. It 
was then found that the British commanders had 
respected this work of art, and had taken effectual 
measures for its safety. This liberal act redounds 
highly to the honor of Sir William Howe ; and it is 
still more to his credit, that, after appreciating as 
he fully did the beauty and value of the instru 
ment, the idea of treating it as a prize of war seems 
never to have occurred to him. Had he been 
governed by the principle, which has more recently 
directed the commanders of European armies, the 
orreries of Princeton and Philadelphia might at 
this time have decorated the halls of Oxford and 



80 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

Cambridge, for both were at different times at his 
disposal. 

Although the anxieties of Rittenhouse in re 
spect to his wife and children were of short du 
ration, the war was not without painful influence 
upon his domestic relations. His brother-in-law, 
the Reverend Mr. Barton, whom we have seen as 
the early friend, and the assistant of the studies, 
of Rittenhouse, was naturally led to take an oppo 
site side in the dissensions of the times. A native 
of Great Britain, and a clergyman of the estab 
lished church, it is not to be wondered at, if he saw 
the cause of quarrel in a very different light from 
that in which it was viewed by his relative. Al 
though neither his sacred profession nor his pru 
dence permitted him to take any active part in 
the struggle, he felt a scruple of conscience, which 
prevented him from taking an oath of allegiance. 
He, in consequence, could not escape becoming 
obnoxious to the new government. It appears, 
that he was subjected to inconvenience, and per 
haps put under restraint ; at any rate it became 
necessary for him to leave Pennsylvania, and he 
was compelled to make interest for permission to 
retire to New York, then in the possession of the 
British forces. Painful as this separation must 
have been, it did not put an end to the personal 
friendship of the two relatives, who seem to have 
each appreciated the pureness of the other s mo- 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 81 

tives. The children of Barton, who were of an 
age to form opinions of their own, did not partake 
of their father s political sentiments ; their protec 
tion, therefore, devolved upon Rittenhouse. He 
was also the means of procuring for Barton vari 
ous indulgences required by his position as an 
exile, from the Supreme Executive Council of the 
State; and these, with other good offices, were 
continued, until they were rendered unnecessary 
by the death of Barton, which took place in New 
York in 1780. 

The astronomical pursuits of Rittenhouse were 
not wholly abandoned, even during this period of 
labor, anxiety, and danger. He found time to 
observe a second transit of Mercury, which took 
place on the 2d of November, 1776, and an 
eclipse of the sun, on the 7th of January, 1777. 
In the first of these, he was associated with his 
friends Smith and Lukens, and in the second with 
the former of these two gentlemen. On the 24th 
of June, 1778, the same three observers, with 
Mr. Owen Biddle, wer~ engaged in the observa 
tion of an eclipse of un, and this within a 
week of the evacuation of Philadelphia by the 
British troops. In these observations, however, it 
appears by the record, that the laborious prelimi 
naries were now performed by the other parties, 
and there is no trace of any calculation having 

been founded upon them. The relation of the 
xii. 6 



82 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

parties had in fact become the reverse of what n 
had been at the transit of Venus ; thus showing 
how completely his other pursuits had diverted 
Rittenhouse from the cultivation of astronomy, 
although they had not been able to conquer his 
taste for that interesting science. 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 



CHAPTER XII. 

Boundary Lines of Pennsylvania and Virginia. 
Division Line of Pennsylvania and New 
York. Demarcation of Territory reserved 
by Massachusetts within the State of New 
York. 

THE pressure of a public enemy, and the ob 
vious necessity of union in opposing him, were 
not sufficient to prevent internal disputes in re 
spect to territorial jurisdiction, and property in 
land derived from conflicting authorities. The 
very rejection of allegiance to a common sove 
reign, by removing any authority paramount to 
that of the State governments, seemed to aggra 
vate the controversies ; and it was even to be 
feared, that, in addition to acts of individual vio 
lence, States of the confederation might be ar 
rayed against each other in open hostilities. 

Among the disputes, which thus assumed a 
threatening aspect, was that between the States 
of Pennsylvania and Virginia. The line of Ma 
son and Dixon had not been extended by them 
beyond the western limits of Maryland ; and here 
another parallel became the chartered boundary 
in a directioo from eas* to west while the western* 



84 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

limit of the grant to Penn was a line parallel to 
the windings of the Delaware, and was even more 
vague than an unexplored parallel. A wide space 
of country was thus covered by two conflicting 
claims, and settlers, holding titles under both, had 
entered upon the disputed territory. It so hap 
pens that within this very space are included some 
of the most fertile lands in the Union ; and thus 
the pioneers of cultivation, leaping at once over 
the wide extent of rugged cliffs and narrow valleys 
of the Appalachian group of mountains, had en 
tered upon this inviting district at a comparatively 
early period. Those, who held titles from the 
proprietaries of Pennsylvania, seem to have been 
the first to attempt to subdue this part of the wil 
derness ; but they were speedily followed by those, 
who claimed under the land warrants of Virginia. 
As no common jurisdiction was acknowledged by 
the two parties, ejectments were attempted, and 
possessions were maintained by force. 

In order to bring these disputes to an amicable 
settlement, commissioners were mutually appoint 
ed by the two States in 1779. Rittenhouse was 
named first on the Pennsylvania commission, and 
with him were associated Professor Ewing and 
Mr. Bryan. On the part of Virginia were nomi 
nated the Reverend Dr. Madison and Professor 
Andrews. The commissioners, after a short ses 
sion, agreed that the boundary between the two 



DAVID KITTEN HOUSE. 85 

States should thenceforth be, an extension of Ma 
son and Dixon s line due west to the distance of 
five degrees of longitude from the river Delaware, 
and, from the termination of this line, a meridian 
drawn northward to the Ohio. 

The uncertainty in which the determination of 
i degree of longitude is necessarily involved, par 
ticularly in the absence of any astronomical inves 
tigation, was however such, that great doubt ex 
isted, even after the conclusion of this convention, 
as to the place where the appointed limit existed ; 
and thus, although the space was narrowed, the 
disputes and acts of aggression were not the less 
violent. Such was the warmth with which the 
contest was carried on, that a civil war was appre 
hended, and Congress conceived it necessary to 
interpose its paternal advice, in order to avert 
the calamity. 

The joint commission was however still con 
inued ; and, it being understood that it was to 
proceed, with as little delay as possible, to deter 
mine the limits by astronomical observation, and to 
trace them upon the ground, the knowledge that 
strict and impartial justice would thus be finally 
obtained had an irresistible influence in averting 
the threatening evil. The discussion was not, 
however, finally adjusted until after the close of 
hostilities with Great Britain. Up to the final 
settlement, Rittenhouse was retained, by succes 



86 AM ERIC AN BIOGRAPHY. 

sive appointments, in his office of commissioner 
In this capacity, he not only directed and partly 
executed the observations necessary to trace the 
parallel, to determine the difference of longi 
tude, and mark out the meridian ; but was com 
pelled to enter into a variety of other questions. 
That the adjustment was at last made in an ami 
cable manner, is in no small degree to be ascribed 
to his moderation, firmness, and acknowledged su 
perionty in astronomical knowledge. 

In this, and in all other subsequent operations 
of this sort in which Rittenhouse was engaged, 
either under the authority of his own State or 
that of others, he was constantly first named in 
die commissions, of which he in consequence be 
came the chief. It was fortunate that the high 
public and political stations which he occupied 
entitled him at once to this preeminence, while 
his admitted excellence as an observer gave him 
on all occasions the undisputed direction of the 
methods calculated to produce the most authen 
tic results. It is to this that we must ascribe, 
in no small degree, the ease and certainty with 
which many of our internal territorial disputes 
were settled, and the fact that no appea) has 
ever been made from the decisions of any com 
mission of which he formed a part. A differ 
ent policy has governed Great Britain and the 
United States in the adjustment of the boundary 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 87 

between their respective territories ; and thus it 
has happened, that points, which might have been 
settled by two intelligeat astronomers in the course 
of a few hours, and lines whose actual delineation 
on the ground would have occupied but a few 
months, have been involved by the ingenuity of 
professional advocates in a mist of their own crea 
tion, and have from year to year appeared more 
and more remote from any satisfactory conclusion. 

The settlement of the boundaries of Pennsyl 
vania and Virginia was the most important of all 
the commissions on which Rittenhouse served. 
The line was completed in 1784. The other 
operations of the sort, in which he was engaged, 
were, the division line between the States of 
New York and Pennsylvania, defined by the 
forty-third parallel of latitude, in the astronomi 
cal determination of which he spent the summer 
of 1786; and the demarkation of a territory the 
right of soil in which the State of Massachusetts 
had accepted, in lieu of a contested claim both to 
the land and the jurisdiction of a large part of the 
State of New York. 

The last-mentioned duty was assigned him by 
(he Congress of the confederation. This body 
had found it necessary to interfere in order to 
prevent the dangerous consequences, which at 
one time appeared likely to flow from the dispute. 

The original grant from the crown of England 



88 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

under which the State of Massachusetts claimed, 
was limited only by the Pacific Ocean. The oc 
cupation of both banks of the Hudson river by 
a colony from Holland, and the conquest of this 
co ony, had vested the settled parts of New York 
in the crown, by a right derived from conquest. 
At the close of the revolutionary war, the State 
of Massachusetts claimed, that this right could 
only be extended to the actual settlements, and 
that the whole of the territory west of them re 
verted to the holders of the prior grant. After 
much discussion, this State finally agreed to re 
nounce all claim to the sovereignty, and to accept 
in lieu the property of a territory divided from 
the rest of the State of New York by a meridian 
line drawn northward from a point in the northern 
boundary of Pennsylvania, distant eighty-two miles 
from the Delaware river. Out of this, however, 
were to be left certain townships and other res 
ervations. 

The determinations necessary to set off this 
territory were made by Rittenhouse, and were 
the last operations of the kind in which he was 
engaged. They occupied him during a great part 
of the year 1787. 

We have already adverted to the influence, 
which the fact, that many of the territorial di 
visions of the United States were geographical 
lines, capable of being determined by astronomical 



DAVID KITTEN HO USE. 89 

methods, calling neither for legal discussion, noi 
admitting of a just resort to arms, had upon the 
early destinies of our confederated republic. Wo 
can now see the important bearing, which the pos 
session of an astronomer, of such acknowledgec 1 
talent as Rittenhouse, had in the pacific adjust 
ment of these questions. This was the more 
important, as every commission, on which he 
served, began and terminated its labors before 
the confederation had derived strength from the 
adoption of a federal constitution, capable of ena 
bling it to restrain those States, which might have 
thought it expedient to support their pretensions 
by arms. 



90 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY- 



CHAPTER XIIL 

His Appointment as Trustee of the Loan-Office 

Retirement from Office as State Treasurer. 

Private Observatory. Commissioner to 
organize a Bank of the United States. 
Director of the Mint of the United States 

Resignation of that Office. 

DURING the performance of his duties as com 
missioner for running and determining astronomi 
cally the several boundary lines of which we have 
spoken, Rittenhouse continued to exercise the 
functions of treasurer of the State. In the year 
1780, the office of trustee of the loan-office was 
also conferred upon him. To the former of these 
trusts he declined a reelection in the year 1789, 
after having held it by unanimous annual elections 
for thirteen years. The causes, which he assigns 
in his letter of resignation, are ill health and the 
inadequacy of the emoluments to the labor and 
responsibility he incurred in the performance of 
the duties. During the time in which he held the 
office of treasurer, it was in truth one of difficulty 
and danger, and he was compelled to conduct it 
throughout in the face of a continually depreciat 
ing currency, which finally ceased to have any ex 



DAVID RITTENHOXJSE. 91 

changeable value. During a part of the time his 
emoluments, which were received in the form of 
a commission, did not admit of his employing a 
clerk, and he was indebted to the aid of his wife 
for the performance of such of his duties as re 
quired an amanuensis. 

In addition to the duties of his office of treas 
urer, and his temporary appointments as commis 
sioner of boundaries, he was placed by the legis 
lature of Pennsylvania on several boards formed 
for the purpose of projecting internal improve 
ments ; and he received appointments of a similar 
character after he had left the treasury. The 
circumstances of the times were, however, little 
favorable to the execution of such contemplated 
works ; and even the plans which became a matter 
of discussion were contracted, in consequence of 
the general poverty of the community. The 
time had not arrived when the gigantic mind of 
Clinton saw, in well-chosen plans of internal 
communication, the sure means of defraying their 
cost, and when the success of the New York 
canals demonstrated that a debt, incurred for such 
purposes,, could never be more than a temporary 
burden. 

His trust in the loan-office terminated in 1790 
by a law, which merged that establishment in the 
general treasury of the State, from which he had 
retired, as we have stated, during the previous 



92 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY 

year. He had, as has been mentioned before, 
been named in a bill introduced into the legisla 
ture of the province, at an early period of his life 
for a similar trust ; but this bill did not then be 
come a law, nor was a loan-office reestablished 
until after the declaration of independence. The 
object of such offices was to supply the deficiency 
of a circulating medium, by granting loans to the 
owners of real estate, upon the security of their 
property, in paper money. 

These bills of credit were not payable on de 
mand, but redeemable by the payment of instal 
ments upon the loans, and by the appropriation 
of the annual interest. Founded thus upon a 
security not readily accessible, it was a nice 
question, requiring the utmost skill and prudence 
to adjust, what amount might be safely thrown 
into circulation, without a risk of depreciation in 
the currency itself. Such depreciation did take 
place in many of the provinces ; and it is to the 
varying rate of this depreciation, that we are to 
ascribe the original difference in the value of 
currencies bearing the same denominations in all 
the different provinces. In after times a specie 
currency circulated along with the bills of credit ; 
and thus, while the paper might vary in value, no 
further change took place in the legal tender. 
The loan-office system not only required caution 
in the legislature to prevent its depreciation, but 



DAVID R1TTENHOUSE. 93 

a great degree of knowledge, firmness, and mod 
eration in its trustees ; as to them was committed 
the task of judging of the securities offered for 
the loans, of calling in the several instalments, 
and collecting the interest; while, on the other 
hand, they were required, in the exercise of sound 
discretion, to give extensions of time, when neces 
sary to prevent the ruin of the mortgager, or the 
unnecessary sacrifice of his property. 

Under the administration of Rittenhouse, the 
State of Pennsylvania issued a large amount of 
bills of credit, in addition to those already in cir 
culation ; but, such was the prudence with which 
the loans were made, and such the indulgent firm 
ness with which the payments were enforced, that 
no loss accrued to the State, nor was there any 
failure in their regular redemption. In fact, when 
the loan-office system was put an end to by a 
clause in the constitution of the United States, 
that of Pennsylvania may probably be cited as 
that, which had been best administered, and had, 
without any loss to the holders, been productive 
of the greatest benefit to the community. This 
example, however favorable in its results, is not 
to be quoted as justifying a mode of creating a 
currency, which is so liable to abuse. 

It appears as if Rittenhouse, in retiring from the 
office of treasurer, had determined to resume, with 
more regularity and attention than he had at any 



94 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

period of his life been able to derote to it, the 
study of his favorite science of astronomy. For 
this purpose he had erected an observatory on the 
lot in Philadelphia, on which he also built a house 
for his own residence. Various circumstances and 
engagements, however, prevented his entering in 
to any connected series of observations, nor was 
he ever able to carry his intention fully into 
effect. In truth, no sooner had he detached 
himself from the public business of the State of 
Pennsylvania, than he was called into the service 
of the general government. 

Although he did not enter into such a regu 
lar course of observations as may be neces 
sary to extend the bounds of science, he not 
withstanding noted every phenomenon of interest 
which presented itself. Of these observations, 
some of the records have been published. These 
are, the transit of Mercury in 1789, two lunar 
eclipses in 1789 and 1790, and the two solar 
eclipses of the 8th of November, 1 790, and the 3d 
of April, 1791. These observations are referred 
to by Lalande, in his great work on astronomy, 
and he quotes the private observatory of Ritten- 
house, as the only one on the continent of America 
where any observations of value had been made. 

The first appointment, which he held under the 
federal constitution, was that of commissioner for 
receiving subscriptions to the Bank of the United 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 95 

States ; and, when the law establishing a national 
mint was passed, he had the high honor to be 
named by Washington as its first director. In 
this capacity he found himself engaged in a most 
arduous task. Not only were the machinery and 
other fixtures to be constructed, in a country where 
the little of mechanical skill which had once ex 
isted had expired under the pressure of a long 
and devastating war ; but the very persons, who 
were to be intrusted with the most important 
parts of the process, were to be formed under 
his auspices. 

With such difficulties in his way, it is sufficient 
for the reputation of Rittenhouse to say, that the 
mint of his construction continued to be adequate, 
without any radical change, to all the wants of 
*he country, until a very recent period. It would 
be unfair to institute a comparison between it and 
the establishments of the same description, which 
have been erected or remodelled within the pres 
ent century. But, if we judge it in reference to 
the state of the art as it existed in 1792, the 
mint of the United States might rank before any 
other in the perfection of its workmanship, and 
the accuracy of its processes. The beautiful 
coinage which will perpetuate the name of the 
Emperor Napoleon as surely as his victories, and 
the splendid specimens of art which appeared 
when the bank of England resumed specie pay- 



96 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY 

ments, had not yet been struck, nor had Bolton 
applied the engine of his partner to improve and 
facilitate the processes of the mint. 

The duties thus imposed on Rittenhouse were 
performed with his accustomed industry and en 
ergy. Even after the organization was complete, 
and every part in full operation, he pursued all 
the processes, and superintended all the details 
with unremitting assiduity. So long as his health 
permitted, he was daily at his post, although per 
sonal attendance was no longer absolutely neces 
sary ; and, when prevented from paying his ac 
customed visit, he organized a system of written 
reports, by which every part of the work was 
fully exhibited to him. 

Such close and unremitting attention were un 
favorable to his health. The organic disease, 
which had been induced in his youth by exces 
sive attention to his mechanical and scientific pur 
suits, but which had been resisted by a constitu 
tion, naturally vigorous and strengthened by agri 
cultural labors, began at length to gain upon him. 
He in consequence resolved to retire from this 
laborious office, and resigned the direction of the 
mint in June, 1795, after having organized and 
brought it into successful operation. 

It appears more than probable, that, considering 
the depressed state of the arts in the United 
States at this period, had not Rittenhouse pre 



DAVID KIT TEN HOUSE. 97 

sented himself, possessing the united talents of a 
skilful mechanic, and a learned natural philoso 
pher, the nation must have been compelled to 
resort to Europe for a person qualified to erect 
and set in motion this important institution 



98 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 



CHAPTER XIV. 

He is elected President of the Democratic Society 

Declining Health. Death. Character. 

Literary and Scientific Honors. Con 
clusion. 

RITTENHOUSE lived long enough to witness the 
commencement of the long struggle, which divided 
the people of the United States into two opposing 
political parties. This contest began during the 
administration of Washington, and terminated only 
with the war against Great Britain. Of these 
two parties, the one was accused of cherishing 
aristocratic sentiments; the other claimed to be 
exclusively the friends of popular rights. It would 
be a needless revival of animosities, which have 
long since been buried, to examine into the truth 
of this accusation, or the justice of such an exclu 
sive claim. Suffice it to say, that the latter of the 
two parties sought to increase its strength by the 
organization of associations under the name of 
Democratic Societies, throughout the Union. 

Rittenhouse was too important a personage, 
both in character and station, to escape being 
involved in this discussion, at least in name. The 
Democratic Society of Philadelphia, as soon as it 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 99 

was formed, elected him its president. In the 
embittered contest which followed, these societies 
were accused, by their opponents, of the design 
of subverting all government, and of desiring to 
imitate the worst excesses of the French Jacobins, 
thus retorting the accusation of an attempt to 
establish an aristocracy, and even of favoring a 
monarchy. 

Rittenhouse did not escape being included in 
the accusation, with the additional charge of en 
tering into opposition to an administration, under 
which he held a situation of trust and emolument. 
The best defence which has been made for him 
is limited to the statement, that his office of presi 
dent was merely nominal ; that he rarely attended 
the meetings of the Society, and that the state of 
his health prevented him from being aware of its 
tendency. To do away such excuse, he has been 
charged with having permitted himself to be made 
the tool of designing politicians. At the present 
day, no such defence is necessary ; the principles, 
which the Democratic Society was formed to pro 
mulgate, have become the acknowledged rules of 
both the general and State governments ; and, if 
Rittenhouse be liable to any reproach, it may be 
couched in terms derived from his own trade ; Irs 
timepiece only went a little faster than those of his 
neighbors. So much of the accusation, as relates 
to his having arrayed himself in opposition to the 



100 AMERICAN B1OGHAPHY. 

administration of Washington, is answered by the 
fact, that his resignation of office under it was ac 
cepted with extreme reluctance. 

It is however due to historical truth to state, 
that Rittenhouse did not take any active part in the 
operations of this Society, although he often ap 
peared before the public as their presiding officer. 
He in fact continued to decline in health from the 
time of his resignation of the office of director 
of the mint, which he survived little more than 
a year. Rittenhouse had not only been warned 
by his infirmities to retire from public life, but was 
aware of the gradual decay of his constitution. 
He was sensible of the close approach of death, 
and prepared to meet it with philosophic firmness 
and Christian resignation. Although he had never 
united himself to any of the various sects which 
abound in our country, his early education had 
imbued him with reverence for the Christian doc 
trine, and his subsequent studies had impressed 
on his mind a conviction of the existence of a 
Deity. Although accused by his enemies of infi 
delity, he was far from being such, and sought, 
on the approach of his mortal disease, the con 
solations of religion, while his mind retained all 
its wonted vigor. His death took place on the 
26th of June, 1796, in the sixty-fifth year of his 
age. 

The person of Rittenhouse is described as tall 



DAVID RiTTENHOUSE. 101 

and slenderj his temper as placid and good hu 
mored, although capable of strong excitement. 
In the capacity of a husband and a father he 
was exemplary, and his social virtues insured him 
general esteem. 

It is not necessary that we should state that he 
was industrious and energetic in the pursuit of his 
mechanical business, in his scientific studies, and 
in the execution of the various public trusts he 
was called to fulfil. The sketch we have given 
of the principal events of his life is a sufficient 
evidence of these points of his character. 

His published works are principally contained in 
the " Transactions of tfiw Aineiucun Philosophical 
Society," in which they occupy a prominent part. 
They consist chiefly , of the :-:ecord$ ;aJaa\ palcwla- 
tions of the astronomical observations which we 
have particularized, and of papers on other sub 
jects in physical science. We have also an 
oration on astronomy, delivered by him before 
the same learned body in 1775, and several short 
pieces relating to subjects of temporary interest. 

Although denied in youth the advantages of 
a collegiate education, his reputation earned for 
him honorary degrees, not only from the Univer 
sity of Pennsylvania, but from other literary insti 
tutions in the United States. Of the University 
of Pennsylvania he was long a useful and active 
trustee, and held for a time the appointment of 



102 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

professor of astronomy. He was also chosen an 
honorary member of the only learned association, 
other than the American Philosophical Society, 
which had been formed in the United States pre 
vious to his decease. Of the American Philo 
sophical Society, he was in succession an active 
and distinguished member, secretary, vice presi 
dent, and president. In the last office he suc 
ceeded Franklin, and was followed by Jefferson. 
More than one foreign society of the highest 
reputation solicited the honor of enrolling him 
as an associate ; and towards the close of his life 
he received the highest mark of distinction, which 
the scientific world a .that - time acknowledged, in 
being chosen a foreign member of the Royal 
Society of %London^ . /, . ," 

In order that the value of this compliment may 
be fully appreciated, it may be necessary to ex 
plain, that, as the Royal Society derives no direct 
endowment from the government, it is principally 
supported by the pecuniary contributions of its 
fellows. Among them we therefore find not only 
names of distinction in science, and of those who 
take an active part in its transactions, but of those 
who are qualified only by birth, station, or fortune, 
united to a desire to promote the interests of 
learning. For the same reason, this Society does 
not refuse to enroll among its ordinary fellows, 
foreigners of fair scientific reputation, who, like 



DAVID RITTENHOUSE. 103 

the subjects of Great Britain, are required to 
contribute to its funds. In this capacity, a con 
siderable number of Americans have been chosen 
fellows. To be permitted to use this title, and 
have at the same time the privilege of increasing 
the funds by which the publications of the society 
are effected, is no small honor ; as such, it a 
eagerly sought, and highly valued. But 5 when 
the Royal Society chooses to elect a foreign mem 
ber, this choice imports, that it has sought to con 
fer honor upon itself by placing on its list, without 
receiving any pecuniary equivalent, a name already 
distinguished, and likely to be celebrated in the 
history of science. Such was the reputation of 
the Royal Society at the time this honor was con 
ferred upon Rittenhouse, that it was the proudest 
distinction which a man of science could attain, 
and would have been the fit reward of a life spent 
in the pursuit of physical learning. 

We have thus traced the subject of our memoir 
from his birth in an obscure part of a newly 
reclaimed wilderness, under circumstances which 
denied him many of the usual advantages of edu 
cation, until, by the force of industry, talents, and 
genius, he had reached the acme of scientific hon 
or. Our task is therefore concluded, and will have 
been successfully performed, if it shall only recall 
to his countrymen the memory of a name, which 
engrossing pursuits of a very different character 



104 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

from those in which its celebrity was acquired, 
have caused them in some measure to forget, or 
to regard with no due reverence ; and if we shal. 
have been able to assert for him the right of pri 
ority in scientific discoveries and researches, of 
which others have reaped the honors. 



LIFE 

OF 

ROBERT FULTON 

BY 

JAMES RENWICK 



ROBERT FULTON. 

CHAPTER I. 

Introduction. 

THE gratitude of mankind has not failed to 
record with honor the names of those, who have 
been the inventors of useful improvements in the 
arts. However quiet and unassuming they may 
have been in their lives ; however strong the in 
fluence of prejudice, or interested opposition, in 
robbing them of all direct benefit from their dis 
coveries ; posterity has never failed to reverse 
the judgment of their contemporaries, and award 
the deserved, although perhaps tardy, meed of 
praise. 

In the early history of our race we find, that 
such acknowledgments for important discoveries 
did not stop short of the attribution of divine 
honors to the shades of the illustrious benefac 
tors, who had advanced the progress of civiliza 
tion, or increased the comforts and the conven 



108 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

lences of social life. Although veiled by the 
mist of unnumbered ages, and shrouded in the 
obscurities of fabulous narration; the reccrdr of 
authentic history disclose to us the time, when 
the inventors of letters and the plough were re 
vered as divinities ; and such honors did not 
cease to be rendered, until the influence of re 
vealed religion put an end to all idolatrous wor 
ship among civilized nations. If there can ever 
be an excuse, in the absence of the divine light, 
by which alone the path of true piety can be 
directed, for ascribing to the creature honors due 
to the Creator alone, that idolatry is the least 
worthy of blame, which canonizes those who have 
proved themselves benefactors of our race. 

In remote times, when the means of improving 
the faculties of the mind, which are now familiar 
to us, w r ere wanting, to invent was the attribute of 
superior and lofty genius alone. As society made 
progress, and the means of education were ex 
tended, minds of a more ordinary character might 
be made to grasp some particular subject, to 
detect the deficiences of existing processes, and 
study the means of improving them. Hence 
even inventions acknowledged to be original, and 
attended with the most happy consequences, no 
longer raise the -oithor to such preeminence among 
his fellny men, or entitle him to so large a por- 
ion of T osthumous renown. 



ROBERT FULTON. 109 

At the present day, the stock of mechanical 
and practical knowledge, handed down by tradi 
tion, or preserved by means of the press, has 
become so enormous, that the most brilliant dis 
covery in the useful arts bears but a small pro 
portion to the whole extent of human knowledge. 
In remote times, the aids, which modern inventors 
derive from the records of the reasonings, the 
combinations, and even the abortive attempts of 
others, were wholly wanting ; and, if no one of the 
inventions of antiquity, when taken by itself, can 
rank in apparent importance with some of modern 
date, the former were in many instances far more 
conspicuous as steps in the progress of human im 
provement. In many cases, too, they must have 
produced an almost magical effect upon the com 
forts, the happiness, and even on the means of 
sustaining the lives, of men at the time. 

While the rights of property, even of a mate 
rial character, were imperfectly understood, and 
those of an immaterial nature unknown, he, who 
by his inventions had made himself a benefactor 
of his species, sought no other reward than pub 
lic consideration and popular applause. Thus it 
may, and no doubt did, often happen, that the 
early improvers of the arts derived not only 
present reputation, but power and influence from 
their discoveries, as surely as they became enti 
tled to the gratitude of posterity. The wants 



110 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

which grow upon man at each step towards high 
civilization, were not yet made manifest ; and it 
was neither necessary to keep processes in the 
arts secret, lest others should anticipate the due 
reward of their discovery, nor to seek the pro 
tection of laws for the security of an exclusive 
use to the inventor. Those who reaped the 
benefit of a new art, or enjoyed the advantages 
of an important discovery, were not called upon 
to pay in money for the use of them ; and thus 
reaped all these benefits and advantages, without 
being compelled to furnish an equivalent. Hon 
or, praise, and posthumous fame are of no cost 
to those who award them, and are, therefore, 
willingly allowed ; while pecuniary compensation 
is often dispensed with a niggard hand, and the 
demand of it creates anger, or arouses oppo 
sition. 

In the dawn of civilization, inventions were 
usually unexpected, and, although often calcu 
lated to supply the most pressing wants, excited 
surprise, because the wants themselves had not 
been perceived. At the present day, discoveries 
often appear as the almost inevitable result of 
previous improvements. Several projectors are 
ofttimes in pursuit of the same object, and this, 
one which the admitted wants of society point 
out as important to be attained ; and he, who 
6nally achieves success, is exposed to the envy, 



ROBERT FULTON. Ill 

the competition, and the detraction of his less 
fortunate rivals. Inventions often derive their 
highest merit from their peculiar adaptation to 
the circumstances of the times ; the very meth 
od, which comes at a given instant into imme 
diate and successful operation, may have floated 
in the minds of earlier inquirers, or even have 
assumed the form of a working model ; and yet, 
for the want of some collateral improvement, or 
through the absence of public demand, may have 
fallen into neglect, and been wholly forgotten. 
But, no sooner has the successful step in inven 
tion been taken, and at a fitting time, than all 
forgotten, neglected, or abortive attempts at the 
same great end, are raked from the oblivion to 
which they had been consigned, and blazoned 
to the world as the types or originals of the 
improvement. 

In addition to the annoyance and opposition, 
which may thus arise from rivals and detractors, 
inventors are subjected to inconvenience from the 
policy of the legislative provisions by which it 
is attempted to secure their due reward. !a 
most countries, this is made to assume the odi 
ous form of a monopoly ; and the public filing 
is thus speedily enlisted in opposition t/> the 
chartered or patented privileges. An expensive 
lawsuit, determined resistance, >s cunning eva 
sion, is often the sole reward, vwtr wJy.ch tHc 



112 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

important inventions are attended during the life 
time of their authors. 

The highest degree of merit is to be awarded, 
in the present age, to those, who, aware of the 
wants of a community, or of the world at large, 
set to themselves as a task, the discovery of the 
means of supplying these wants. In such pur 
suits, great learning and research must be united 
to high mechanical skill. All the attempts which 
have been previously made to attain the same ob 
ject must be carefully studied ; the causes of their 
failure inquired into ; and whatever may exist in 
them of good and applicable, separated and re- 
combined. Such inquiries often demand the 
united exertion of high ingenuity and profound 
science ; yet those, who pursue them, taking for 
the foundation of their researches the discoveries 
and ineffectual attempts of others, often appear 
to be wholly wanting in ingenuity. 

When, however, we examine to whom we are 
actually indebted for the practical benefits we 
enjoy, no possible comparison can exist between 
the merits of those who have thrown out the 
original, crude, and, in their hands, impractica 
ble ideas, and those who, by a happy union of 
mechanical skill and scientific knowledge, have 
brought the plans to a successful application. 
Yet to this most valuable class of improvers of 
the arts it is difficult, if not impossible, to as- 



ROBERT FULTON. 113 

sign, by legal enactment, any adequate remuner 
ation. There are few instances in which they 
have not been deprived of their just meed of 
recompense; if they have attempted to secure it 
by patent. The shades, which separate the in 
complete and abortive attempt from the finished 
and successful invention, are often almost insen 
sible, and admit of no technical specification. A 
remedy has at last been found for this defect. 
The calling of the civil engineer has taken its 
just station, in point of honor and emolument, 
among the learned professions ; and it has be 
come almost disreputable for its members to at 
tempt to appropriate their mental riches by pa 
tent rights. They in return reap no inadequate 
reward in the direct emoluments to which their 
advice and services are now considered as en 
titling them. 

In the days of the subject of our memoir, this 
profession was hardly known by name among us ; 
its value was not understood by the community ; 
ai d the proper means of rewarding it unknown. 
It was, therefore, his misfortune, that he sought, 
although ineffectually, to secure by exclusive 
legislative grants, and the monopoly held out by 
the patent laws, that reward which in a more 
happy state of things would have been attained 
in a more efficient and less obnoxious manner. 

If we consider Fulton as an inventor, it may 

xii. 8 



114 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

be difficult to say, in what exact particular his 
merits consist. As the blow of the mallet, by 
which the mighty mass of a ship of the line is 
caused to start upon its ways, in the act of 
launching, is undistinguishable among the numer 
ous strokes by which that mass is gradually 
raised, so the minute particulars, in which his 
labors differ from former abortive attempts, may 
almost escape research. But, if we contemplate 
him in the light of a civil engineer, confidently 
building a finished and solid structure upon the 
incomplete foundation left by others, we must 
rank him among the first of his age, and place 
him, in the extent of his usefulness to mankind 
cs second to Watt alone. 



ROBERT FULTON. 115 



CHAPTER II. 

Birth of Fulton. He chooses the Profession 
of a Painter. His early Taste for Me 
chanics. He settles in Philadelphia. Em- 
barJcs for England. Resides in the Family 
of West. Removes to Devonshire. 

ROBERT FULTON was born at Little Britain, 
in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the year 
1765. His parents were respectable, although 
far from affluent ; his father a native of Ireland, 
his mother descended from an Irish family. 
From his name it appears probable, that his 
more remote ancestors were of Scottish origin, 
which is in some degree confirmed by their pro 
fession of the Presbyterian faith. Fulton him 
self attached no importance to circumstances of 
birth, and took pride in being the maker of 
his own fortune the probable founder of a 
family. Indeed, except so far as an elementary 
education is concerned, he was under little ob 
ligation to his progenitors ; being left without 
patrimony at the death of his father, which 
occurred when he was but three years old. 

Aware that he was to trust entirely to his 
own exertions, even for the means of subsist- 



116 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

ence, he cultivated from an early age a taste 
for drawing, in the hope of qualifying himself 
for the profession of a painter. To these ex 
ertions he was probably stimulated by the repu 
tation and honors acquired by West, who, with 
advantages of education and connexion little su 
perior to his own, had raised himself to the 
first rank, not only among the painters of Eng 
land, but of the civilized world. 

From a familiar acquaintance with his per 
formances as an artist, at a later date, when he 
applied to the easel merely as a relaxation, it 
may be stated, that there is little doubt, that, 
had he devoted himself to the profession of 
painting, he must have become highly distin 
guished as a professor of that art. 

Painting, although chosen by him as a pro 
fession, had less charms for him than the pur 
suits of practical mechanics ; and it is recorded 
of him, that, while yet a mere child, he spent 
hours, usually devoted at that age to play, in 
the workshops of the mechanics of Lancaster. 

At the early age of seventeen he proceeded 
to Philadelphia, for the purpose of practising as 
a painter of portraits and landscapes, and was so 
successful, as not merely to support himself, but 
to lay up a small amount of money. His first 
savings were devoted to the comfort of his wid 
owed mother ; and, before he reached the age 



ROBERT FULTON. 117 

of twenty-one, he had, by the joint aid of strict 
economy and persevering labor, acquired suf 
ficient funds to purchase a small farm in Wash 
ington County, Pennsylvania. 

The journey to that region, for the purpose 
of establishing his mother upon this purchase, 
opened new views to him for the occupation of 
his future life. His patrons in Philadelphia had 
been among the humbler classes ; and, although 
he must have sighed for an opportunity of vis 
iting those regions in which alone good models 
of taste, and specimens of excellence in paint 
ing, were then to be found, yet, friendless and 
alone, he could hardly have hoped that such 
aspirations would be realized. 

On his return, however, from Washington 
County, in the unrestrained intercourse of a 
watering-place, he found acquaintances, who were 
both able to appreciate his promise as an artist, 
and to facilitate his plans of improving himself 
as a painter. By these he was advised to pro 
ceed immediately to England, and throw him 
self upon the protection of West ; and the 
means of favorable introduction to that distin 
guished artist were tendered and supplied. It 
is to be recorded to the honor of West, that 
he was the zealous and efficient promoter of 
the interests of all his countrymen, who desired 
to study the art in which he himself excelled. 



118 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

To Fulton even more than usual liberality wa3 
vouchsafed ; he was at once invited to berome 
an inmate of the house of the great artist, and 
remained his guest and pupil for several years. 

The wealth and taste of the British nobility 
have gradually accumulated in that island many 
of the finest specimens of the pictorial art. Al 
though many of these are now assembled in 
collections at their residences in the metropolis, 
a still greater number are distributed through the 
numerous and magnificent baronial residences, 
with which the agricultural regions of England 
abound. At the period of which we speak, the 
formation of collections in London had hardly 
been thought of; and he who wished to profit 
by the treasures which the superiority of Brit 
ish wealth had drawn from the continent, or 
which munificent patronage had commanded from 
the artists themselves, was compelled to peram 
bulate the kingdom. 

In order to avail himself of these scattered 
riches, Fulton, on leaving the family of West, 
procured introductions to the stewards and agents 
to whom the care of their estates and collec 
tions are committed by the nobility, and com 
menced a tour. We find him, in consequence, 
a short time after he left London, at Exeter, 
in the County of Devon. He was for a time 
domiciliated, as we have been informed at Pow- 



ROBERT FULTON. 119 

derham Castle, the chief seat of the Courte- 
nays. This family draws its proud lineage from 
the Merovingian kings, the emperors of Con 
stantinople, and the Plantagenets. In wedding 
an heiress of the family, a Capet assumed the 
name as more distinguished than his own; and 
the pretensions of the English branch to the 
throne of that kingdom, roused the vengeful 
jealousy of the Tudors. The fatal consequences 
of such lofty claims had confined the amoition 
of the succeeding possessors of Powderham to 
the cultivation of the arts, and the castle be 
came filled with masterpieces. 

Fulton seems to have entitled himself to the 
patronage of the possessor of the title. He at 
any rate was for a time an inmate of this mag 
nificent baronial residence, and was occupied in 
copying the pictures it contains. Affecting on 
their own domains a state little less than that 
of royalty, the barons of Powderham left the 
entertainment of guests undistinguished by rank 
to their steward, himself a gentleman by con 
nexion and education. It is, therefore, no de 
rogation to Fulton, however repugnant it may 
be to our notions of equality, that, in enjoying 
the advantages which this rich collection afford 
ed him as an artist, he was the associate, not 
of the lord of the mansion, but of one whom 
we may consider as his upper servant. Envy 
has not failed to point at this period of Ful- 



120 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

ton s life as a matter of reproach, and to treai 
tJm as having been at this time the companion 
of menials, if not actually so himself. 

Whatever may have been the nature of Ful 
ton s obligations to this noble family, he did 
not hesitate to express his gratitude for them , 
and, in the height of his subsequent reputation, 
he had an opportunity of repaying them. The 
heir of the title and the fortunes of the Cour- 
tenays became a refugee in our land, under 
circumstances of disgrace and humiliation, even 
more terrible than those which led to the as 
sumption of the mournful motto of his race.* 
Suspected and accused of an infamous crime, 
his birth and title, which have in many other 
instances served as passports even for vice and 
frivolity to American hospitality, did not avail 
him, and every door was closed against him 
except that of Fulton. The feelings of Fulton 
were probably those, which lead the benevolen 
to minister to the comforts, and to soothe the 
mental anguish of the last hours of the con 
demned criminal ; but, in the instance we allude 
to, it required not only the existence of such 
feelings, but a high degree of courage, to ex 
ercise them, in the face of a popular impres 
sion, which, whether well or ill founded, was 
universally entertained. 

* Ubi lapsus, quid feci ? 



ROJBEKT FULTON. 121 



CHAPTER III. 

His Acquaintance with the Duke of Bridge 
water and Earl Stanhope. His Removal 
from Devonshire, and Residence in Birming 
ham. He abandons Painting for the Pro 
fession of an Engineer. His jirst Idea of 
a Steamboat communicated to Stanhope. - 
He makes the Acquaintance of Watt. 

FULTON remained for two years in the neigh 
borhood of Exeter, where his intelligence and 
ability obtained for him many useful and inter 
esting acquaintances. Among these, the most 
important were the Duke of Bridgewater and Earl 
Stanhope. The first of these noblemen fills a 
large space in the history of the internal improve 
ments of Great Britain ; and he was in fact the 
father of the vast system of inland navigation, 
which has spread its ramifications over every ac 
cessible part of that island. Born to the inher 
itance of an extensive estate, abounding in min 
eral wealth, he was, notwithstanding, compara 
tively poor, because that estate was unimproved ; 
and his mines were useless, because inaccessible. 

At that moment, no better mode of supplying 
the growing town of Manchester with ^oal had 



122 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

been introduced, than to convey it in sacks upon 
pack-horses. The Duke of Bridgewater was not 
slow to perceive the vast advantages which might 
be derived from the introduction of a better and 
cheaper mode of carriage. English writers have 
not hesitated to ascribe the plans of canal navi 
gation, which he adopted and carried into suc- 
cessfid operation, to the unassisted native genius 
of his engineer, Brindley. Yet it cannot be 
believed that the Duke was wholly ignorant of 
the celebrated canal of Languedoc, in which the 
structure of canals and all their accessory works 
had attained, in the hands of Riquet, the pro 
jector, and by the improvements of Vauban, a 
degree of perfection, which has hardly been sur 
passed even at the present day. It is not within 
the limits of our subject to inquire, whence the 
ideas, which directed the Duke s operations, were 
derived. Suffice it to say, that, after a series of 
appalling difficulties, after having been brought 
to the verge of ruin, and after having narrowly 
escaped being confined as a lunatic, he succeeded 
in his enterprise. 

At the moment that Fulton made his acquaint 
ance, the Duke was in the full enjoyment of the 
vast wealth, which his success had created, a 
wealth at that time unexampled in annual amount, 
even in Great Britain ; and of the high reputa 
tion, which, so often denied to talent and genius, 



ROBERT FULTON. 123 

while struggling with difficulties, is liberally as 
cribed to successful projectors. His canals be 
came the models for similar enterprises, and 
himself, from his rapid accumulation of capital, 
the largest proprietor of many new navigation 
companies. It appears to have been at the in 
stance of this distinguished man, that Fulton 
abandoned painting as a profession, and entered 
into that of a civil engineer. We at any rate 
next find him residing in Birmingham, and en 
gaged in the construction of the canals then 
making in that vicinity, by which that great toy 
shop was brought into communication with the 
ports of London, Liverpool, and Bristol. Ful 
ton s name does not, however, figure upon the 
list of the principal engineers engaged in these 
important works ; and he, no doubt, filled no 
more than a subordinate station, as might, in 
deed, have been anticipated, from his inexperi 
ence and youth. 

With Earl Stanhope, Fulton s intercourse was 
still more intimate, and probably of an earlier 
date This nobleman was endowed by nature 
with high mechanical talent, which nad been 
improved by an education very different from 
the mere classical routine to which the youth 
of the higher classes in Great Britain are "oually 
confined. Had he been impelled by th stimu 
lus of necessity, there is little doubt, that he 



124 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

mignt have become distinguished as a successful 
inventor. As it was, he exhibited practical skill 
as a canal engineer ; but here his reputation faded 
before the prior claims of the Duke of Bridge- 
water ; while his inventions remained incomplete, 
and few of them have been carried into effect. 

Among other projects, this peer entertained 
vhe hope of being able to apply the steam en 
gine to navigation, by the aid of a peculiar ap 
paratus, modelled after the foot of an aquatic 
fowl. On communicating this plan to Fulton, 
the latter saw reason to doubt its feasibility ; and, 
m consequence, addressed a letter to his Lord 
ship, in which the very views were suggested, 
that were afterwards successful upon the Hud 
son. This letter was written in 1793, immedi 
ately before the removal of Fulton from Devon 
shire to Birmingham. The justice of Fulton s 
objections to the plans of Earl Stanhope was 
afterwards demonstrated in an ineffectual experi 
ment made by the latter in the London docks. It 
is to be regretted, that this experiment had not 
been made before he received the communica 
tion of Fulton. His Lordship might then have 
received it with the same feelings, which Chancel 
lor Livingston afterwards exhibited, when marked 
failure had attended his own plans. In this 
event, the important invention of a successful 
steamboat might have been given to the world 



ROBERT FbLTON. 125 

ten years earlier than its actual introduction 
Although prejudiced in favor of his own inven 
tion, Earl Stanhope did not fail to appreciate 
the ingenuity of Fulton, and became his warm 
friend on a subsequent occasion, when his influ 
ence with the British ministry enabled him to 
aid Fulton s views. 

Fulton s residence in Birmingham brought him 
into communication with Watt, who had just 
succeeded in giving to his steam engine that 
perfect form, which fits it for universal applica 
tion as a prime mover. That Fulton became 
intimately acquainted, not only with Watt him 
self, but with the structure of his engine, we 
learn from two facts in his subsequent life ; for 
we find him entering into a confidential corre 
spondence with that great improver of the appli 
cation of steam, and actually superintending the 
construction of an engine, in a place where no 
aid was to be obtained. 

To have become favorably known to such men 
as Bridgewater, Stanhope, and Watt, and to have 
received the patronage of the first of them, is 
no small proof of the talent and acquirements 
of Fulton at an early age. Those, who know 
the artificial structure of British society, under 
stand the nice distinctions by which the several 
degrees of rank are separated from each other; 
and, although it is no doubt true, that those 



126 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

who are possessed of the highest rank are not 
deterred from associating with any persons in 
whom they may take an interest, by the fear of 
losing caste, which has so powerful an influ 
ence upon those whose position in society is 
not firmly established, still the higher circles 
are fenced in by artificial barriers, which, in the 
case of an unfriended and humble foreigner, can 
be forced only by obvious merit. When, there 
fore, the detractors of Fulton s fame venture to 
characterize his productions as wanting in orig 
inality, " either of natter or manner," we may 
confidently appeal to *his part of his early his- 
<ory for the refutation of their aspersions 



EGBERT FULTON 127 



CHAPTER IV. 

His Plan of an Inclined Plane. Work on 
Inland Navigation. His Torpedo. Hii 
Removal to France, and Residence there. 

THE residence of Fulton in Birmingham is 
distinguished from the other parts of his early- 
history by a number of patented inventions and 
several published works. The more level parts 
of Great Britain had now been rendered acces 
sible by canals, and some projects were enter 
tained for penetrating by the mode of artificial 
navigation into the mountainous regions. 

In the primitive form of canals, of which a 
specimen still exists in the great canal of China, 
two methods of passing from one level to an 
other had been practised, the sluice and the 
inclined plane. An addition, probably growing 
out of an accidental circumstance, had converted 
the former into a lock; but the inclined plane 
had remained without improvement. It is, how 
ever, obvious, that, could it be rendered self-act 
ing, as the lock is, it was susceptible of far more 
extended application. The lock is necessarily 
limited to small changes of level, while the in- 
clined plane will adapt itself to every possible 



128 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

variation in the surface of the ground. If, then, 
locks be taken as the basis of a plan of inland 
navigation, it will necessarily be confined to 
countries of little elevation ; while one based 
upon the inclined plane may overcome consid 
erable elevations. 

Impressed with the advantages which would 
attend the introduction of the inclined plane in 
inland navigation, Fulton applied his fertile inge 
nuity to plan one. For this he took out a patent, 
in the year 1793, and in 1796 embodied it with 
other projects of a similar nature in a work 
on Inland Navigation. At the time when he 
wrote, the engineers of England were engaged 
in reducing their canals to the smallest practicable 
dimensions ; for it had been ascertained, that, the 
capacity for business of the large canals far ex 
ceeded any trade, which had yet made its ap 
pearance upon them. The object of Fulton s 
work appears to have been to show, that canals, 
of dimensions below the smallest which had yet 
Deen proposed, were capable of being success 
fully applied, and that such canals were not 
necessarily limited to countries of small differ 
ences of level. Considered in reference to this 
object, the work is a masterly one; but, if we 
test it by inquiring, whether canals of such small 
dimensions are adapted to general purposes, we 
shall find, that his argument rests upon an ra- 



ROBERT FULTON. 129 

sufficient foundation. This work is, therefore, to 
be q acted as exhibiting a high degree of origi 
nality, ingenuity, and talent, but as inapplicable 
JG any useful purpose. 

The war of the French revolution had broken 
out a short time before Fulton s removal to 
Birmingham. In him, as a native of a republican 
country, and deriving his earliest impressions 
from the events of the struggle between Amer 
ica and the mother country, there is little doubt 
that the cause of the French democracy must 
have excited a powerful sympathy. Such sym 
pathy was felt not only by a majority of the 
American people, but by a large portion of the 
population of Great Britain. The crimes and 
excesses, with which that revolution was stained, 
speedily excited the indignation of Britons ; and 
Pitt was enabled to apply that indignant feeling 
to the support of the war in which the two 
rival nations were speedily engaged. 

It is probable that a similar revulsion of feel 
ing took place in the breast of Fulton. But, 
in the year 1796, the excesses of the French 
revolution had ceased ; while, at the same mo 
ment, a system of aggression and insolent ex 
ertion of her power upon the ocean, had been 
manifested by Great Britain. By this system, 
the United States were the greatest sufferers. 
Our flag afforded but little protection for prop- 

xii. 9 



AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

erty, and none for personal liberty, against the 
license of British naval commanders. Fulton 
shared deeply in the resentment which this con 
duct excited in every American breast; a re 
sentment which finally led to the war of 1812. 
The power of Great Britain resting to so great 
an extent upon her naval supremacy, the thoughts 
of Fulton were turned to the discovery of a 
method, by which the boasted skill of her seamen 
might be set at nought, and her numerous ves 
sels rendered inefficient in maintaining her mari 
time superiority. Fulton was old enough to 
have heard of the abortive attempt of Bushnell 
upon the British fleet in the harbor of Phila 
delphia ; and, although this had failed, from being 
planned upon erroneous principles, enough of 
alarm had been excited, and such a degree of 
confusion caused, as to encourage him to attempt 
to improve upon it. It was obvious, that no en 
couragement was to be hoped from the govern 
ment of Great Britain towards experiments upon 
a mode of warfare whose success would destroy 
her principal arm ; nor could Fulton with any 
propriety have asked aid from it. It was oth 
erwise with France. The insolence, with which 
she also invaded the rights of neutrals, had not 
yet been clearly manifested ; and Fulton, with 
many others, saw in her Directory the cham 
pions of the Iberty of the seas. As such, he 



ROBERT FULTON. 131 

felt justified in offering the fruits of his ingenu 
ity to that government. Abandoning, therefore, 
his pursuits as a civil engineer, he proceeded to 
Paris, for the purpose of completing the detail 
of his plan, and of seeking assistance to bring it 
to the test of experiment. 

To his instrument for destroying vessels of 
war, he gave the name of the Torpedo. It con 
sisted of an oval copper case, charged with gun 
powder. To this he proposed to attach a lock, 
regulated by clock-work, which, after any re 
quired time, might cause the lock to spring, and 
thus communicate fire to the charge. 

It would be painful to follow Fulton through 
that period of life in which he appeared under 
the character of a projector, soliciting the patron 
age, first of the government of France, and sub 
sequently, when he had been dismissed with 
contumely by Napoleon, from that of England, 
Without venturing to give an opinion on the in 
fluence that his Torpedo might have had upon 
warfare, it may be safely stated, that, in the hands 
of bold and determined men, it might be applied 
in a position where it would certainly act, and in 
acting insure the destruction of the stoutest ves 
sel. As he himself well argues, " its use is 
attended with risks as great, but not exceeding 
those to which the crew of a fire-ship are ex 
posed ; and there are innumerable instances \\here 



132 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

these dangers have been boldly confronted." His 
plan has the advantage over the fire-ship of 
oeing less expensive ; but, like that, is attended 
with such uncertainty, that it cannot be surely 
relied upon, and thus cannot be trusted to as 
the only means of offence. 

His subsequent attempts to bring the Torpedo 
into use, during the war with Great Britain, and 
for the defence of his native country, although 
entertained with greater courtesy, were equally 
fruitless ; and, in the opposition of our own naval 
officers, he met with obstacles as great, as had 
stood in his way in the bureaux of France, and 
the public offices in England. It must, there 
fore, be admitted, that we cannot cite this inven 
tion as one which has been brought into suc 
cessful action. Still, if the fears of an enemy 
may be received in proof of the value of the 
Torpedo, it would be easy to cite the sleepless 
nights and anxious days of many British com 
manders, who felt, that the vicinity of Fulton s 
operations was attended with dangers which could 
only be prevented by unremitting diligence and 
attention. 



ROBERT FULTON 133 



CHAPTER V. 

His Inventions while residing in Birmingham. 
His Letters to Washington, and the Gover 
nor of Pennsylvania. His Submarine Ves 
sel. Experiment with it at the Mouth of 
the Seine. He aids in introducing the Pan 
orama into France. 

BEFORE we proceed to the history of the 
more important of the subjects, which attracted 
the attention of Fulton, and of which his resi 
dence in France was the epoch, we have to 
mention some other fruits of his ingenuity. While 
residing in Birmingham, he took out patents for 
a mill for sawing marble ; a method of spinning 
flax and making ropes ; and of excavators for 
digging canals. If none of these was introduced 
into extensive use at the time, and if the latter 
object still remains a desideratum in practical 
mechanics, the two former at least served as 
steps in the career of improvement, and have 
beer guides and landmarks to subsequent inven* 
tors. These patents bear date in 1794. 

Anxious that his views in respect to small 
canals might be productive of benefit to his na- 
live country, a copy of his work on Inland Navi 



134 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

gation was transmitted to General Washington, 
who still held the reins of the government of 
ihe United States. This was accompanied by a 
letter, explanatory of the advantages by which 
the introduction of his system into America might 
be attended. With the work itself was pub 
lished a letter to the Governor of Pennsylvania, 
in which the same views were enforced, and a 
comparison drawn between the relative advan 
tages of canals and turnpike roads. 

Although the letter to Washington was honored 
with a reply, in which the merit of Fulton s in 
ventions was admitted, no action followed ; for the 
general government was at that time confined by 
the necessity of economy to a system of non 
interference with local improvements ; and it is 
useless to speculate upon what might have been 
done by so enlightened an administration, had 
it possessed the overflowing treasury, which the 
churlish policy of one of his successors locked 
up from public use. The letter to the Gover 
nor of Pennsylvania produced even less effect 
That State adhered pertinaciously to its plan of 
turnpike roads ; a plan, which, if it did create a 
better mode of communication than had before 
been enjoyed, was not less expensive than canals 
on Fulton s plan would have been, and far less 
oeneficial. 

Pennsylvania, after a lapse of more than forty 



ROBERT FULTON. 135 

years, has at last seen the mistake which was 
then committed, and is now engaged in the cre 
ation of a system of internal improvement adapt 
ed to the great increase which has taken place 
ID its wealth in the interim. But, by this very 
change, the whole of the capital invested in turn 
pike roads will be at once rendered unproduc 
tive ; while, had small canals formed the orig 
inal scheme, their gradual enlargement to meet 
the growing wants of the community might have 
been defrayed out of the income, and the whole 
capital preserved. It is not probable, indeed, that 
Fulton s own inventions, or canals of so small 
a size as he proposed, would have effected the 
desired object. They in fact could have been 
useful only in a few limited cases ; but that the 
investment of the funds, which were expended 
upon turnpikes, in canal navigation, would have 
been more conducive to the prosperity of the 
country, is a fact, which will not now be ques 
tioned. Fulton, also, during his residence in Bir 
mingham, wrote several tracts on subjects of a gen 
eral political nature ; but, as these do not appear 
to have been published, or, if published, to have 
attracted no more than an ephemeral notice, it 
is unnecessary that we should cite them by name. 
In such occupations the time of Fulton was 
spent until he determined to proceed to France, 
for the purpose of laying his system of Torpedo 



136 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

warfare before the government of that country. 
The investigations, into which he entered for the 
purpose of completing this system, led him to 
undertake the construction of a vessel, which 
might be capable of moving either at or beneath 
the surface of the water. So far as the power 
of easily rising to the surface, and descending 
at pleasure to any required depth, is a valuable 
object, this attempt was attended with complete 
success. But the difficulty of governing a sub 
marine vessel, and of giving to it such velocity 
as will enable it to move rapidly from place to 
place, or ever? .o stem a rapid current, is insu 
perable by the aid of any prime mover which 
has hitherto been applied. This difficulty is of 
the same character as that which opposes the 
management of balloons ; and, if any mode of 
directing the one should be discovered, the power, 
which will be efficient in the one case, will prob 
ably be applicable to the other. 

In a boat of this construction, the passage over 
the wide and stormy estuary of the Seine was 
safely and easily accomplished, and Fulton with 
his assistants remained several hours under water. 
In this position they were supplied with a suf 
ficient quantity of wholesome air, not only for 
their own respiration, but for lights also. But 
the actual passage may be said to have been 
performed wholly on the surface of the water 



ROBERT FULTON 137 

for the progress, after the whole vessel was im 
mersed, was so slow as to have no material effect 
upon the passage. This experiment, then,, con 
firmed the truth of the received opinionj that 
a body wholly immersed in a single fluid can 
not carry the machinery necessary for its own 
propulsion, and that the valuable properties of 
ships are due to the circumstances of their posi 
tion, partly supported upon one fluid, and having 
the greater part of their bulk buoyed up into a 
fluid of a different character, and less density. 
In this position they are easily guided, and the 
prime movers act with great energy in their 
propulsion. 

The account, which Fulton occasionally gave 
his friends of his experiments at the mouth of 
the Seine, was full of thrilling interest. Those, 
who, in calm weather and in a land-locked har 
bour, have descended for the first time in a com 
mon diving-bell, have not failed to experience 
the sensations of sublimity which such an enter 
prise is calculated to awaken. But in this, as 
sured of a supply of air by a perfect and effi 
cient machinery, supported by strong chains, and 
confident in the watchful attention of an active 
crew, trained to obey a set of preconcerted sig 
nals, the danger is trifling, or rather can hardly 
be said to exist. How far such sensations must 
have been increased, may be imagined, when it 



138 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

is considered, that, in the experiment of Fulton, 
all the means of safety, and even of insuring 
respiration, were shut up with him in a narrow 
space, and that any failure in the action cf his 
machinery would have been followed by speedy 
suffocation, or by the loss of the power of ever 
again revisiting the light of day. 

Fulton, on leaving England for the continent, 
carried with him some of the improvements in 
the arts which had appeared in that country after 
all commercial intercourse with France had ceased. 
A short time before, a wealthy American had 
become the purchaser of a part of the national 
domain, consisting of a large piece of ground 
in a central position in the city of Paris. Upon 
this he was in the act of erecting a number of 
shops, arranged along the sides of covered pas 
sages. In addition, at the suggestion, it is believ 
ed, of Fulton, two lofty circular buildings were 
constructed for the exhibition of Panoramas. 
These still exist and are applied to their original 
purpose. It has also been stated, that, in the first 
exhibitions with which they were opened, much 
of the attraction was due to the good taste and 
graphic skill of the subject of our memoir 



ROBERT FULTON. 



CHAPTER VI. 

Steam Navigation. Watt. Evans. Fitch.. 
Rumsey. Miller, of Dalswinton. Sym* 
ington. 

THE art with which Fulton s name is insep 
arably connected, as the principal agent in its 
creation, is that of navigation by steam. That 
this subject had attracted his attention at an early 
period, we have already seen ; it now remains 
for us to inquire in what state he found it, and 
to what extent he carried it.* 

* In the first volume of Navarrete s Coleccion de los 
Viages y Descubrimientos, &c., published at Madrid, 
in 1825, there is a remarkable statement, in which the 
invention of the steamboat is ascribed to a Spaniard, 
three hundred years ago. The particulars were derived 
from the public archives at Simancas. The following 
is a translation of a part of this statement 

"Blasco de Garay, a sea captain, exhibited to the 
emperor and king, Charles the Fifth, in the year 1543, 
an engine by which ships and vessels of the larger 
size could be propelled, even in a calm, without the 
aid of oars or sails. Notwithstanding the opposition, 
which this project encountered, the emperor resolved, 
that an experiment should be made, as in fact it was 
with success, in the harbor of Barcelona, on the 17th 
of June, 1543. 

"Garay never publicly exposed the construction of 



140 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

Until Watt had completed the structure of 
the double-acting condensing engine, the appli 
cation of steam to any but the single object of 
pumping water, had been almost impracticable. 
ft was not enough, in order to render it appli 
cable to general purposes, that the condensation 
of the water should take place in a separate 
vessel, and that steam should itself be used, in 
stead of atmospheric pressure, as the moving 
power ; but it was also necessary, that the steam 

his engine; but it was observed at the time of the 
experiment, that it consisted of a large caldron or ves 
sel of boiling water, and a movable wheel attached 
to each side of the ship. The experiment was made 
on a ship of two hundred tons, arrived from Colibre 
to discharge a cargo of wheat at Barcelona; it was 
called the Trinity, and the captain s name was Peter 
de Scarza. 

" By order of Charles the Fifth, and the prince, Philip 
the Second, Ms son, there were present at the time, 
Henry de Toiedo, the governor Peter Cardona, the 
treasurer Ravage, the vice-chancellor Francis Gralla, 
and many other persons of rank, both Castilians and 
Catalonians; and, among others, several sea captains 
witnessed the operation, some in the vessel, and others 
on the shore. The emperor and prince, arid others 
with them, applauded the engine, and especially the 
expertness with which the ship could be tacked. The 
treasurer, Ravage, an enemy to the project, said it 
would move two leagues in three hours. It was very 
complicated and expensive, and exposed to the constant 
danger of bursting the boiler. The other commission- 



ROBE11T FULTON. 141 

should act as well during the ascent, as during 
the descent, of the piston. Before the method 
of paddle wheels could be successfully intro 
duced, it was in addition necessary, that a ready 
and convenient mode of changing the motion of 
the piston, into one continuous and rotary, should 
be discovered. All these improvements upon 
the original form of the steam engine are due 
to Watt, and he did not complete their perfect 
combination before the year 1786. 

Evans, who, in this country, saw the possi- 

ers affirmed that the vessel could be tacked twice as 
quick as a galley, served by the common method, and 
that, at its slowest rate, it would move a league in 
an hour. The exhibition being finished, Garay took 
from the ship his engine, and, having deposited the 
wood work in the arsenal of Barcelona, kept the rest 
himself. 

"Notwithstanding the difficulties and opposition thrown 
in the way by Ravage, the invention was approved ; and, 
if the expedition, in which Charles the Fifth was then 
engaged, had not failed, it would undoubtedly have 
been favored by him. As it was, he raised Garay to 
a higher station, gave him a sum of money (200,000 
maravedies) as a present, ordered all the expenses of 
the experiment to be paid out of the general treasury, 
and conferred upon him other rewards. 

"Such are the facts collected from the origiaul reg 
isters, preserved in the royal archives at SiwMncas, 
among the public papers of Catalonia, and th**ie of 
the secretary of war for the year 1543." See 
American Review, Vol. XXIII. p. 488. 



142 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

bility of constructing a double-acting engine, even 
oefore Watt, and had made a model of his ma 
chine, did not succeed in obtaining funds to make 
an experiment upon a large scale before 1801. 
We conceive, therefore, that all those who pro 
jected the application of steam to vessels be 
fore 1786, may be excluded, without ceremony, 
from the list of those entitled to compete with 
Fulton for the honors of invention. No one, 
indeed, could have seen the powerful action of 
a pumping engine, without being convinced, that 
the energy, which was applied so successfully to 
that single purpose, might be made applicable 
to many others ; but those, who entertained a 
belief, that the original atmospheric engine, or 
even the single-acting engine of Watt, could be 
applied to propel boats by paddle wheels, showed 
a total ignorance of mechanical principles. This 
is more particularly the case with all those 
whose projects bore the strongest resemblance 
to the plan, which Fulton afterwards carried suc 
cessfully into effect. Those, who approached 
most nearly to the attainment of success, were 
they, who were farthest removed from the plan 
of Fulton. His application was founded on the 
properties of Watt s double-acting engine, and 
could not have been used at all, until that in 
strument of universal application had received 
the last finish of its inventor. 



ROBERT FULTON. 143 

In this list of failures, from proposing to do 
what the instrument they employed was inca 
pable of performing, we do not hesitate to in 
clude Savary, Papin, Jonathan Hulls, Perier, the 
Marquis de JoufTroy, and all the other names 
of earlier date than 1786, whom the jealousy of 
the French and English nations have drawn from 
oblivion, for the purpose of contesting the pri 
ority of Fulton s claims. The only competitor, 
whom they might have brought forward, with 
some shadow of plausibility, is Watt himself. 
No sooner had that illustrious inventor completed 
his double-acting engine, than he saw, at a 
glance, the vast field of its application. Navi 
gation and locomotion were not omitted ; but, 
living in an inland town, and in a country pos 
sessing no rivers of importance, his views were 
limited to canals alone. In this direction, he 
saw an immediate objection to the u?e of any 
apparatus, of which so powerful an agent as his 
engine should be the mover; for it was clear, 
that the injury, which would be done to the 
banks of the canal, would prevent the possibil 
ity of its introduction. Watt, therefore, after 
having conceived the idea of a steamboat, laid 
it aside, as unlikely to be of any practical value. 

The idea of applying steam to navigation was 
not confined to Europe. Numerous Americans 
entertained hopes of attaining the same object; 



144 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY, 

but, before 1786, with the same want of any rea- 
sonaole hopes of success. Their fruitless projects 
were, however, rebuked by Franklin ; who, rea 
soning upon the capabilities of the engine in its 
original form, did not hesitate to declare all their 
schemes impracticable ; and the correctness of 
his judgment is at present unquestionable. 

Among those, who, before the completion of 
Watt s invention, attempted the structure of steam 
boats, must be named with praise Fitch and Rum 
sey. They, unlike those whose names have 
been cited, were well aware of the real diffi 
culties, which they were to overcome ; and both 
were the authors of plans, which, if the engine 
had been incapable of farther improvement, might 
have had a partial and limited success. Fitch s 
trial was made in 1783, and Rumsey s in 1787. 
The latter date is subsequent to Watt s double- 
acting engine ; but, as the project consisted mere 
ly in pumping in water, to be afterwards forced 
out at the stern, the single-acting engine was 
probably employed. Evans, whose engine might 
have answered the purpose, was employed in 
the daily business of a mill-wright ; and, although 
he might, at any time, have driven these com 
petitors from the field, took no steps to apply 
his dormant invention. 

Fitch, who had watched the graceful and rapid 
way of the Indian pirogue, saw in the oscillating 



ROBERT FULTON. 145 

motion of the old pumping engine the means of 
impelling paddles, in a manner similar to that 
given them by the human arm. This idea is 
extremely ingenious, and was applied in a sim 
ple and beautiful manner ; but the engine was 
yet too feeble and cumbrous to yield an ade 
quate force ; and, when it received its great im 
provement from Watt, a more efficient mode of 
propulsion became practicable, and must have 
superseded Fitch s paddles, had they even come 
into general use.* 

* Fitch had sanguine expectations of success ; and 
it appears by the following extract from a letter to Dr. 
Franklin, dated October 12th, 1785, that he anticipated 
some of the important advantages of steam navigation, 
which have since been realized. He says, in wriung 
to Dr. Franklin ; 

"The subscriber begs leave to trouble you with 
something further on the subject of a steamboat. His 
sanguine opinion in favor of its answering the pur 
pose, to his utmost wishes, emboldens him to presume 
this letter will not give offence. And, if his opinion 
carries him to excess, he doubts not but your Excel 
lency will make proper allowance. 

"It is a matter, in his opinion, of the first magni 
tude, not only to the United States, but to every mari 
time power in the world ; and he is full in the beliefj 
that it will answer for sea voyages, as well as for in 
land navigation, in particular for packets, where there 
may be a great number of passengers. He is also of 
opinion, that fuel for a short voyage would not exceed 
the weight of water for a long one, and it would pro 
xn. 10 



146 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

In the latter stages of Fitch s investigations, 
he became aware of the value of Watt s double- 
acting engine, and refers to it as a valuable ad 
dition to his means of success ; but it does not 
appear to have occurred to him, that, with this 

duce a constant supply of fresh water. He also be 
lieves, that the boat would make head against the most 
violent tempests, and thereby escape the danger of a 
lee shore ; and that the same force may be applied to 
a pump, to free a leaky ship of her water. What 
emboldens him to be thus presuming, as to the good 
effects of the machine, is, the almost omnipotent force 
by which it is actuated, and the very simple, easy, and 
natural way by which the screws or paddles are turned 
to answer the purpose of oars." 

Rittenhouse, after seeing repeated experiments, en 
tertained a favorable opinion of Fitch s machine, as 
is proved by the following certificate to that effect, 
given more than two years after the above letter was 
written. 

"Philadelphia, 12 December, 1787. 

"These may certify, that the subscriber has fre 
quently seen Mr. Fitch s steamboat, which, with great 
labor and perseverance, he has at length completed ; 
and has likewise been on board when the boat was 
worked against both wind and tide, with a very con 
siderable degree of velocity, by the force of steam 
smly. Mr. Fitch s merit, in constructing a good steam 
engine, and applying it to so useful a purpose, will, 
no doubt, meet with the encouragement he so justly 
deserves from the generosity of his countrymen, espe 
cially those who wish to promote every improvement 
of the useful arts in America. 

"DAVID RITTENHOUSE." 



ROBERT FULTON. 147 

improved power, methods of far greater efficiency, 
than those to which he had been limited before 
this invention was completed, had now become 
practicable. 

When the properties of Watt s double-acting 
engine became known to the public, an imme 
diate attempt was made to apply it to navigation. 
This was done by Miller, of Dalswinton, who 
employed Symington as his engineer. Miller 
seems to have been the real author ; for, as early 
as 1787, he published his belief, that boats might 
be piopelled by employing a steam engine to 
turn paddle wheels. It was not until 1791, that 
Symington completed a model for him, of a size 
sufficient for a satisfactory experiment. If we 
may credit the evidence, which has since been 
adduced, the experiment was as successful as the 
first attempts of Fulton ; but it did not give to 
the inventor that degree of confidence, which was 
necessary to induce him to embark his fortune 
in the enterprise. The experiment of Miller was, 
therefore, ranked by the public among unsuc 
cessful enterprises, and was rather calculated to 
deter from imitation, than to encourage others to 
pursue the same path. 

Symington, at a subsequent period, resumed 
the plans of Miller, and, by the aid of funds fur 
nished by Lord Dundas, put a boat in motion 
on the Forth and Clyde canal in 1801. 

There can be little doubt that Symington was 



148 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

a mechanic of great practical skill, and consid 
erable ingenuity ; but he can have no claim ta 
be considered as an original inventor; for he was, 
in the first instance, no more than the workman, 
who carried into effect the ideas of Miller, and 
his second boat was a mere copy of the first. 
It is with pain, too, that we are compelled to 
notice a most disingenuous attempt, on his part, 
to defraud the memory of Fulton of its due 
honor. 

In a narrative which he drew up, after Ful 
ton s death, he states, that, while his first boat 
was in existence, probably in 1802, he received 
a visit from Fulton, and, at his request, put the 
boat in motion. Now it appears to be estab 
lished, beyond alJ question, that Fulton was not 
in Great Britain between 1796 and 1804, when 
he returned to that country on the invitation of 
Mr. Pitt, who held out hopes that his torpedoes 
would be experimented upon by that govern 
ment. At all events, we know, that Fulton 
could not have made the copious notes, which 
Symington says he took, and we have reason to 
believe, that he had never seen the boat of that 
artist ; for the author of this memoir, long after 
the successful enterprise of Fulton, actually fur 
nished him, for the purpose of reference, with a 
work containing a draft of Symington s boat, 
of which he could have had no need, had the 
assertions of the latter been true. 



ROBERT FULTON. 149 



CHAPTER VIL 

Farther Attempts at Steam Navigation in the 
United States. Stevens. Livingston 
Roosevelt. Livingston goes as Minister to 
France. Becomes acquainted with Fulton. 
TJieir Contract. Experiments at Plom- 
bieres. Experimental Boat on the Seine. 
Engine ordered from Watt. Its Peculiar 
ities. 

THE experiments of Fitch and Rumsey in the 
United States, although generally considered as 
unsuccessful, did not deter others from similai 
attempts. The great rivers and arms of the sea, 
which intersect the Atlantic coast, and still more, 
the innumerable navigable arms of the Father 
of Waters, appeared to call upon the ingenious 
machinist to contrive means for their more con 
venient navigation. 

The improvement of the engine by Watt was 
now familiarly known ; and it was evident, that it 
possessed sufficient powers for the purpose. The 
only difficulty which existed, was in the mode of 
applying it. The first person who entered into 
the inquiry was John Stevens, of Hoboken, who 
commenced his researches in 1791. In these he 



150 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

was steadily engaged for nine years, when he 
became the associate of Chancellor Livingston 
and Nicholas Roosevelt. Among the persons 
in ployed by this association was Brunei, who 
has since become distinguished in Europe, as 
the inventor of the block machinery used in 
the British navy yards, and as the engineer of 
the tunnel beneath the Thames. 

Even with the aid of such talent, the efforts 
of this association were unsuccessful, as we now 
know, from no error in principle, but from defects 
in the boat to which k was applied. The ap 
pointment of Livingston as ambassador to France 
broke up this joint effort ; and, like all pre 
vious schemes, it was considered as abortive, and 
contributed to throw discredit upon all undertak 
ings of the kind. A grant of exclusive privileges 
on the waters of the State of New York was 
made to this association without any difficulty, 
it being believed that the scheme was little short 
of madness. 

Livingston, on his arrival in France, found Ful 
ton domiciliated with Joel Barlow. The cor 
formity in their pursuits led to intimacy, and Ful 
ton speedily communicated to Livingston the 
scheme, which he had laid before Earl Stanhope 
in 1793. Livingston was so well pleased with 
it, that he at once offered to provide the funds 
necessary for an experiment, and to enter into 



ROBERT FULTON 



151 



ft contract for Fulton s aid in introducing the 
method into the United States, provided the 
experiment were successful. 

Fulton had, in his early discussion with Lord 
Stanhope, repudiated the idea of an apparatus 
acting on the principle of the foot of an aquatic 
bird, and had proposed paddle wheels in its stead. 
On resuming his inquiries, after his arrangements 
with Livingston, it occurred to him to compose 
wheels with a set of paddles revolving upon an 
endless chain, extending from the stem to the 
stern of the boat. It is probable, that the appar 
ent want of success, which had attended the ex 
periments of Symington, led him to doubt the 
correctness of his own original views. 

That such doubt should be entirely removed, 
he had recourse to a series of experiments upon 
a small scale. These were performed at Plom- 
bieres, a French watering place, where he spent 
the summer of 1802. In these experiments, the 
superiority of the paddle wheel over every other 
method of propulsion, that had yet been proposed, 
was fully established. His original impressions 
being thus confirmed, he proceeded, late in the 
year 1803, to construct a working model of his 
intended boat, which model was deposited with 
a commission of French savans He at the 
same time commenced building a vessel sixty-six 
feet in length and eight feet in width. To this 



152 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

an engine was adapted ; and the experiment made 
with it was so satisfactory, as to leave little doubt 
of final success. 

Measures were therefore immediately taken, 
preparatory to constructing a steamboat on a 
large scale in the United States. For this pur 
pose, as the workshops of neither France nor 
America could at that time furnish an engine of 
good quality, it became necessary to resort to 
England for the purpose. Fulton had already 
experienced the difficulty of being compelled to 
employ artists unacquainted with the subject. It 
is indeed more than probable, that, had he not, 
during his residence in Birmingham, made him 
self familiar, not only with the general features, 
but with the most minute details of the engine 
of Watt, the experiment on the Seine could not 
have been made. In this experiment, and in the 
previous investigations, it became obvious, that the 
engine of Watt required important modifications 
in order to adapt it to navigation. These modi 
fications had been planned by Fulton ; but it now 
became important, that they should be more fully 
tested. An engine was therefore ordered from 
Watt and Bolton, without any specification of the 
object to which it was to be applied ; and its form 
was directed to be varied from their usual models, 
in conformity to sketches furnished by Fulton 
As this engine was in fact the type of many ot 



ROBERT FULTON. lf,3 

those used in the steam navigation of both Europe 
and America, it may not be uninteresting to in 
quire into its original form. 

The cylinder having the usual proportions, the 
capacity of the condenser was increased, from 
one eighth of that of the cylinder, to one half, 
By this fourfold increase of capacity, the neces 
sity of a cold water cistern was done away with. 
The water of injection was supplied by a pipe 
intended to be passed through the bottom of the 
boat. Instead of the parallel motion of Watt, 
the piston rod had a cross head, and worked in 
guides. From the cross head was suspended, 
Dy connecting rods, two lever beams, whose cen 
ires were no more elevated above the floor tim 
bers of the vessel than was sufficient for their 
Tree oscillation. As these would lie in an unfa- 
/orable position to work the wheels, the beam 
pvas made nearly in the form of an inverted JL ; 
and, from the upper end of the stem, a con 
necting rod proceeded to a crank formed upon 
the axle of each wheel. This connecting rod 
lay, while passing the centre, in a horizontal po 
sition. On the same axle with the cranks were 
toothed wheels, which gave motion to pinions, 
and to the axles of these pinions was adjusted 
a heavy fly wheel. Provision was made for 
throwing either wheel out of gear, and it was 
even proposed to cause the two wheels to revolve 



154: AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

at pleasure in opposite directions. These two 
adjustments were intended to aid in turning the 
vessel. 

In his subsequent experience, Fulton soon dis 
covered that this engine was unnecessarily com 
plicated ; he therefore suppressed the working 
beam in his next vessel, making the connecting 
rods apply themselves to the cranks of the wheels 
without any intervening machinery. The possi 
bility of backing either wheel, while the other 
continued its motion was thus dispensed with ; but 
the fly wheel, and the gear for driving it, were 
retained. A small lever was used to supply that 
office of the working beam, which consists in giv 
ing motion to the bucket of the air pump. This 
last construction, with the omission of the fly 
wheel, is still the most usual form of boat engines 
in the United States ; but the proportions of the 
cylinder have been changed, and the length of 
stroke much ; increased. By the latter change, 
the crank is made to act much more favorably 
in giving motion to the wheel. 

Among the workmen sent out from Soho for 
the purpose of putting up the engine purchased 
from Watt and Bolton, was one of the name ol 
Bell. This person, after performing his task, 
returned to Europe. The success of Fulton 3 
experiment being known, Bell was employed to 
build a steamboat This he did not do until 



ROBERT FULTON. 155 

the year 1812, lour years after FiJton s boats 
had been in active operation upon the Hudson. 

The vessel built by Bell, it may be stated from 
actual inspection, is obviously a copy of that of 
Fulton. The engines subsequently constructed 
in England have, with little variation, followed 
the original model. The lever beam is still plac 
ed near the keelson of the vessels, but is usually 
suspended by a parallel motion ; the wheels are 
moved by cranks attached to the beam by con 
necting rods, which in passing the centre are 
vertical. But, while the American engineers have 
sought to obtain a more favorable position for 
the impelled point of the crank, by increasing 
the stroke of the piston, the English have worked 
for an advantage of another description, namely, 
that of greater stability, in the opposite practice 
of diminishing the height of the cylinder, until 
it may work wholly beneath the deck. 

The advantage gained in the latter way is at 
best problematical ; for it by no means follows, 
that a vessel is rendered safer by every increase 
of stability ; and, as a suppression of a part at 
least of the masts and sails, increases the stabil 
ity also, it appears more than probable, that ves 
sels, whose lading is thus purposely lowered^ 
must labor much more in heavy seas, than those 
in which the centre of gravity is higher. By 
lessening the stroke of the piston, the action of 



156 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

the crank is rendered unfavorable ; and it is no 
doubt owing to this structure of the engine, that, 
with equal power, and more accurate workman 
ship in the engine, the steamboats of Great Britain 
"all far short of the speed attained by those oi 
Vmerica. 



ROBERT FULTON. 157 



CHAPTER VIII. 

Application of Livingston to the State of New 
York for exclusive Privileges. Fulton re/vis* 
its England. Returns to the United States. 
First Steamboat built and tried. First 
Voyage to Jllbany. Transactions of the 
Summer of 1807. 

THE order for an engine, intended to propel 
a vessel of large size, was transmitted to Watt 
and Bolton in 1803. Much about the same 
time, Chancellor Livingston, having full confi 
dence in the success of the enterprise, caused 
an application to be made to the legislature of 
New York, for an exclusive privilege of navigat 
ing the waters of that State by steam, that granted 
on a former occasion having expired. 

This was granted with little opposition. In 
deed, those who might have been inclined to ob 
ject, saw so much of the impracticable and even 
of the ridiculous in the project, that they con 
ceived the application unworthy of serious debate 
The condition attached to the grant was, that a 
vessel should be propelled by steam at the rate 
of four miles an hour, within a prescribed space 
of time. This reliance upon the reserved rights 



158 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

of the States proved a fruitful source of vexation 
to Livingston and Fulton, embittered the close 
of the life of the latter, and reduced his family 
to penury. It can hardly be doubted, that, had 
an expectation been entertained, that the grant 
of a State was ineffectual, and that the jurisdic 
tion was vested in the general government, a 
similar grant might have been obtained from Con 
gress. The influence of Livingston with the 
administration was deservedly high, and that ad 
ministration was supported by a powerful majori 
ty; nor would it have been consistent with the 
principles of the opposition to vote against any 
act of liberality to the introducer of a valuable 
application of science. Livingston, however, con 
fiding in his skill as a lawyer, preferred the appli 
cation to the State, and was thus, by his own act. 
restricted to a limited field. 

Before the engine ordered from Watt and Bol- 
ton was completed, Fulton visited England. Dis 
gusted by the delays and want of consideration 
exhibited by the French government, he had 
listened to an overture from that of England. 
This was made to him at the instance of Earl 
Stanhope, who urged upon the administration the 
dangers to be apprehended by the navy of Great 
Britain, in case the invention of Fulton fell into 
the possession of France. After a long negotia 
tion, protracted by the difficulty of communicating 



ROBERT FULTON. 159 

on such a subject between two hostile countries, 
he at last revisited England. Here, for a time, 
he was flattered with hopes of being employed 
for the purpose of using his invention. Experi 
ments were made with such success, as to induce 
a serious effort to destroy the flotilla lying in the 
harbor of Boulogne by means of torpedoes. 
This effort, however, did not produce much ef 
fect ; and finally, when the British government 
demanded a pledge that the invention should be 
communicated to no other nation, Fulton, whose 
views had always been directed to the application 
of these new military engines to the service of his 
native country, refused to comply with the de 
mand. 

In these experiments, Earl Stanhope took a 
strong interest, which was shared by his daughter. 
Lady Hester ; whose talents and singularity have 
since excited so much attention, and who now 
almost reigns as a queen among the tribes of the 
Libanus. 

Although the visit of Fulton to England was 
ineffectual, so far as his project of torpedoes was 
concerned, it gave him the opportunity of visiting 
Birmingham, and directing, in person, the con 
struction of the engine ordered from Watt and Bol- 
ton. It could only have been at this time, if ever, 
that he saw the boat of Symington ; but a view 
of it could have produced no effect upon his own 



160 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

plans, which had been matured in France, and 
carried, so far as the engine was concerned, to 
such an extent as to admit of no alteration. 

The engine was at last completed, and reached 
New York in 1806. Fulton, who returned to 
his native country about the same period, imme 
diately undertook the construction of a boat in 
which to place it. In the ordering of this engine, 
and in planning the boat, Fulton exhibited plainly, 
how far his scientific researches and practical ex 
periments had placed him before all his competi 
tors. He had evidently ascertained, what each 
successive year s experience proves more fully, the 
great advantages possessed by large steamboats over 
those of smaller size ; and thus, while all previous 
attempts were made in small vessels, he alone re 
solved to make his final experiment in one of 
great dimensions. That a vessel, intended to be 
propelled by steam, ought to have very different 
proportions, and lines of a character wholly dis 
tinct from those of vessels intended to be navi 
gated by sails, was evident to him. No other 
theory, however, of the resistance of fluids was 
admitted at the time, than that of Bossut, and 
there were no published experiments except those 
of the British Society of Arts. Judged in refer 
ence to these, the model chosen by Fulton was 
faultless, although it will not stand the test of an 
examination founded upon a better theory and 
more accurate experiments. 



ROBERT FULTON. 161 

The vessel was finished and fitted with hei 
machinery in August, 1807. An experimental 
excursion was forthwith made, at which a num 
ber of gentlemen of science and intelligence were 
present. Many of these were either skeptical, or 
absolute unbelievers. But a few minutes served 
to convert the whole party, and satisfy the most 
obstinate doubters, that the long-desired object 
was at last accomplished. Only a few weeks 
before, the cost of constructing and finishing the 
vessel threatening to exceed the funds with which 
he had been provided by Livingston, he had 
attempted to obtain a supply by the sale of one 
third of the exclusive right granted by the State 
of New York. No person was found possessed of 
the faith requisite to induce him to embark in the 
project. Those, who had rejected this opportu 
nity of investment, were now the witnesses of the 
completion of the scheme, which they had con 
sidered as an inadequate security for the desired 
funds. 

Within a few days from the time of the first 
experiment with the steamboat, a voyage was 
undertaken in it to Albany. This city, situated 
at the natural head of the navigation of the Hud 
son, is distant, by the line of the channel of the 
river, rather less than one hundred and fty miles 
from New York. By the old post road, the dis 
tance is one hundred and sixty miles, at which 

XII. 11 



162 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

that by water is usually estimated. Although 
the greater part of the channel of the Hudson is 
both deep and wide, yet, for about fourteen miles 
below Albany, this character is not preserved, 
and the stream, confined within comparatively 
small limits, is obstructed by bars of sand ; or 
spreads itself over shallows. In a few remarka 
ble instances, the sloops, which then exclusively 
navigated the Hudson, had effected a passage in 
about sixteen hours, but a whole week was not 
unfrequently employed in this voyage, and the 
average time of passage was not less than four 
entire days. In Fulton s first attempt to navi 
gate this stream, the passage to Albany was per 
formed in thirty-two hours, and the return in 
thirty. 

Up to this time, although the exclusive grant 
had been sought and obtained from the State of 
New York, it does not appear, that either he or 
his associate had been fully aware of the vast 
opening which the navigation of the Hudson pre 
sented for the use of steam. They looked to 
the rapid Mississippi and its branches, as the 
place where their triumph was to be achieved ; 
and the original boat, modelled for shallow waters, 
was announced as intended for the navigation of 
that river. But, even in the very first attempt, 
numbers, called by business or pleasure to the 
northern or western parts of the State of New 
York, crowded into the yet untried vessel, and, 



ROBERT FULTON. 163 

when the success of the attempt was beyond 
question, no little anxiety was manifested, that 
the steamboat should be established as a regular 
packet between New York and Albany. 

With these indications of public feeling, Ful 
ton imriediately complied, and regular voyages 
were made at stated times until the end of the 
season. These voyages were not, however, un 
attended with inconvenience. The boat, design 
ed for a mere experiment, was incommodious, 
and many of the minor arrangements by which 
facility of working, and safety from accident to 
the machinery, were to be insured, were yet want 
ing. Fulton continued a close and attentive ob 
server of the performance of the vessel ; every 
difficulty, as it manifested itself, was met and re 
moved by the most masterly as well as simple 
contrivances. Some of these were at once adopt 
ed, while others remained to be applied while 
the boat should be laid up for the winter. He 
thus gradually formed in his mind the idea of a 
complete and perfect vessel ; and, in his plan, no 
one part, which has since been found to be essen 
tial to ease of manoeuvre or security, was omitted. 
But the eyes of the whole community were now 
fixed upon the steamboat ; and, as all, of compe 
tent mechanical knowledge, were as alive to the 
defects of the original vessel as Fulton himself, 
his right to priority of invention of various im 
portant accessories has been disputed. 



164 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 



CHAPTER IX. 

Steamboat rebuilt. Occupations of the Sum 
mer of 1808. Causes of Opposition to Ful> 
ton s Rights. Rival Boats upon the Hud 
son. 

THE winter of 1807 - 8, was occupied in 
remodelling and rebuilding the vessel, to which 
the name of the Clermont was now given. The 
guards and housings for the wheels, which had 
been but temporary structures, applied as their 
value was pointed out by experience, became 
solid and essential parts of the boat. For ? 
rudder of the ordinary form, one of surface much 
more extended in its horizontal dimensions wae 
substituted. This, instead of being moved by 3 
tiller, was acted upon by ropes applied to it. 
extremity, and these ropes were adapted to a 
steering wheel, which was raised aloft towards 
the bow of the vessel. 

It had been shown by the numbers, who were 
transported during the first summer, that, at the 
same price for passage, many were willing to 
undergo all the inconveniences of the original 
rude accommodations, in preference to encoun 
tering the delays and uncertainty to which the 



ROBERT FULTON. 165 

passage in sloops was exposed. Fulton did not 
however take advantage of his monopoly, but, 
with the most liberal spirit, provided such accom 
modations for passengers, as, in convenience and 
even splendor, had not before been approached 
in vessels intended for the transportation of trav 
ellers. This was, on his part, an exercise of 
almost improvident liberality. By his contract 
with Chancellor Livingston, the latter undertook 
to defray the whole cost of the engine and vessel, 
until the experiment should result in success ; but, 
from that hour, each was to furnish an equal 
share of all subsequent investments. Fulton had 
no patrimonial fortune, and what little he had 
saved from the product of his ingenuity was now 
exhausted. But the success of the experiment 
had inspired the banks and capitalists with confi 
dence, and he now found no difficulty in obtaining, 
in the way of loan, all that was needed. Still, 
however, a debt was thus contracted, which the 
continued demands made upon him for new in 
vestments never permitted him to discharge. 
The Clermont, thus converted into a floating 
palace, gay with ornamental painting, gilding, 
and polished woods, commenced her course of 
passages for the second year in the month of 
April, 

The first voyage of this year was of the most 
discouraging character. Chancellor Livingston, 



166 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

who had, by his own experiments, approached 
as near to success as any other person, who, be 
fore Fulton, had endeavoured to navigate by 
steam, and who had furnished all the capital 
necessary for the experiment, had plans and pro 
jects of his own. These he urged into execu- 
tion in spite of the opposition of Fulton. The 
boiler furnished by Watt and Bolton, was not 
adapted to the object. Copied from those used 
on the land, it required that its fireplace and 
flues should be constructed of masonry. These 
added so much weight to the apparatus, that the 
rebuilt boat would hardly have floated had they 
been retained. In order to replace this boiler, 
Livingston had planned a compound structure of 
wood and copper, which he insisted should be 
tried. 

It is only necessary for us to say, that this 
Doiler proved a complete failure. Steam began 
to issue from its joints a few hours after the 
Clermont left New York. It then became im 
possible to keep up a proper degree of tension, 
and the passage was thus prolonged to forty-eight 
hours. These defects increased after leaving 
Albany on the return, and the boiler finally gave 
way altogether within a few miles of New York. 
The time of the downward passage was thus 
extended to fifty-six hours. Fulton was, how 
ever, thus relieved from all further interference ; 



ROBERT FULTON. 167 

this fruitless experiment was decisive as to his 
superiority over his colleague in mechanical skill. 
He therefore immediately planned and directed 
the execution of a new boiler, which answered 
the purpose perfectly ; and, although there are 
many reasons why boilers of a totally different 
form, and of subsequent invention, should be pre 
ferred, it is for its many good properties exten 
sively used, with little alteration, up to the pres 
ent day. But a few weeks sufficed to build and 
set this boiler, and in the month of June the 
regular passages of the Chrmont were renewed. 
In observing the hour appointed for departure, 
both from New York and Albany, Fulton de 
termined to insist upon the utmost regularity. It 
required no little perseverance and resolution to 
carry this system of punctuality into effect. Per 
sons, accustomed to be waited for by packet boats 
and stages, assented with great reluctance to what 
they conceived to be a useless adherence to pre 
cision of time. The benefits of this punctuality 
were speedily perceptible ; the whole system of 
internal communication of the State of New York 
was soon regulated by the hours of arrival and 
departure of Fulton s steamboats ; and the same 
system of precision was copied in all other steam 
boat lines. The certainty of conveyance at stated 
times being thus secured, the number of travellers 
was instantly augmented ; and, before the end of 



168 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

the second summer, the boat became far too small 
for the passengers, who crowded to avail them 
selves of this novel, punctual, and unprecedently 
rapid method of transport. 

Such success, however, was not without its 
alloy. The citizens of Albany and the River 
towns saw, as they thought, in the steamboat, 
the means of enticing their customers from their 
ancient marts, to the more extensive market of 
the chief city ; the skippers of the river mourned 
the inevitable loss of a valuable part of their 
business ; and innumerable projectors beheld with 
envy the successful enterprise of Fulton. 

Among the latter class was one, who, misled 
by false notions of mechanical principles, fancied 
that in the mere oscillations of a pendulum lay 
a power sufficient for any purpose whatever. 
Availing himself of a well constructed model, 
he exhibited to the inhabitants of Albany a pen 
dulum, which continued its motions for a con 
siderable time, without requiring any new impulse, 
and at the same time propelled a pair of wheels. 
These wheels, however, did not work in water. 
Those persons, who felt themselves aggrieved by 
the introduction of steamboats, quickly embraced 
this project, prompted by an enmity to Fulton; 
and determined, if they could not defeat his 
object, at least to share in the profits of its 
success. 



ROBERT FULTON. 169 

It soon appeared from preliminary experiments, 
made in a sloop purchased for the purpose, that 
a steam engine would be required to give motion 
to the pendulum ; and it was observed, that the 
water wheels, when in connexion with the pen 
dulum, had a very irregular motion. A fly wheel 
was therefore added, and the pendulum was now 
found to be a useless incumbrance. Enlightened 
by these experiments, the association proceeded 
to build two boats ; and these were exact copies, 
not only of the hull and all the accessories of the 
Clermont, but the engine turned out to be iden 
tical in form and structure with one, which Fulton 
was at the very time engaged in fitting to his 
second boat, The Car of Neptune. 

The pretence of bringing into use a new de 
scription of prime mover was of course necessa 
rily abandoned, and the owners of the new steam 
boats determined boldly to test the constitutionality 
of the exclusive grant to Fulton. Fulton and 
Livingston, in consequence, applied to the Court 
of Chancery of the State of New York for an 
injunction, which was refused. On an appeal to 
the Court of Errors this decision of the chancellor 
was reversed, but the whole of the profits which 
might have been derived from the business of the 
year, were prevented from accruing to Livingston 
and Fulton, who, compelled to contend in price 
with an opposition supported by popular feeling 



J70 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

in Albany, were losers rather than gainers by the 
operations of the season. 

As no appeal was taken from this last decision, 
the waters of the State of New York remained in 
the exclusive possession of Fulton and his partner, 
until the death of the former. This exclusive 
possession was not, however, attended with all 
the advantages, that might have been anticipated. 
The immense increase of travel, which the facili 
ties of communication created, rendered it imper 
ative upon the holders of the monopoly to provide 
new facilities by the construction of new vessels. 
The cost of these could not be defrayed out of 
the profits. Hence new and heavy debts were 
necessarily contracted by Fulton, while Living 
ston, possessed of an ample fortune, required no 
pecuniary aid, beyond what he was able to meet 
from his own resources. 



ROBERT FULTON. 171 



CHAPTER X. 

Fulton s Marriage. His Success speedily cloud 
ed by Opposition. Nature and Sources of 
the Opposition. Claims derived from Fitch. 
Fulton s two Patents. Simplicity of his 
Methods. 

THE success of Fulton s first experiment, was 
speedily followed by his marriage. On his ar 
rival in the United States, his connexion in busi 
ness with Chancellor Livingston brought him in 
contact with the relatives and friends of that 
gentleman. Of this circle Miss Harriet Living 
ston, the niece of the Chancellor, was, at that 
time, the ornament. Preeminent in beauty, grace, 
and accomplishments, she speedily attracted the 
ardent admiration of Fulton ; and this was re 
turned by an estimate of his talent and genius, 
amounting almost to enthusiasm. 

The epoch of their nuptials, the spring of 1808, 
was that of Fulton s greatest glory. Every thing, 
in fact, appeared to concur in enhancing the ad 
vantages of his position. Leaving out of view 
all questions of romance, his bride was such as 
the most impartial judgment would have select 
ed ; young, lovely, highly educated, intelligent. 



172 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

possessed of what, in those days, was accounted 
wealth. His long labors in adapting the steam- 
engine to the purposes of navigation, had been 
followed by complete success ; and that very 
success had opened to him, through the exclu 
sive grant of the navigation of the Hudson, the 
prospect of vast riches. Esteemed and honored, 
even by those who had been most incredulous 
while his scheme was in embryo, he felt him 
self placed on the highest step of the social 
scale. Nothing, in short, seemed wanting to 
complete the blessings of his lot. 

We have seen, in a former chapter, how 
speedily his apparently well-grounded hopes of 
immediate profit from his invention, were frus 
trated by the opposition steamboats construct 
ed in Albany, and how slow was his legal 
remedy for the damage he thus incurred. This 
opposition was, as we have stated, supported by 
those who anticipated injury from his success. 
When it was clearly to be seen, that any such 
anticipation was groundless, and that Albany, so 
far from being injured, was to be largely ben 
efited by the steam navigation of the Hudson, 
other causes of discontent and opposition speed 
ily arose ; and, however important were the ser 
vices conferred upon travellers, and the commu 
nity in general, by the introduction of steamboats. 



ROBERT FULTON. 173 

those of Fulton and Livingston speedily ceased 
tc enjoy popularity. 

In the early part of the enterprise, before its 
rapidity and certainty had actually created a 
traffic beyond the capacity of the vessels to ac 
commodate, nothing could be imagined more 
agreeable than a summer passage to Albany in 
the steamboats. Gliding along, at a steady, 
but by no means rapid rate, the passenger had 
leisure to dwell upon the beauties of a scenery 
almost unrivalled in beauty, and to view it in all 
its aspects and under every variety of light. 
The time had not yet arrived when prudence 
would require a separation of one s self from all 
unknown persons ; for the very fact of being a 
steamboat passenger, was, for a time, almost a 
guaranty of respectability. A society, therefore, 
existed on board, of the most easy and polished 
character. Rudeness and vulgarity, if accident 
ally present, were controlled by a preponderating 
force of good manners and refinement. 

Such happy influences, however, continued 
but a few months, and the steamboats were 
speedily crowded by persons of every descrip 
tion, in such numbers as to defy all attempts on 
the part of the owners to render them comfort 
able. Most of the additions to the number, 
were of that class, who, from calculation, found 
that the saving of time in the steamboat was 



174: AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

more than equivalent to its additional cost. These 
nice calculators also speedily found, that the cost 
of the provisions they consumed, and of the fuel 
which conveyed them, was far less than the sum 
they paid ; and, leaving out of account the vast 
cost and labor expended on the preliminary ex 
periments, they not only grumbled at the incon 
veniences arising from their own unexpected 
numbers, but complained of the extortions of 
which they conceived themselves the victims. 

Of such impressions, each passenger became 
in his turn the vehicle ; and those, to whom the 
steamboats were known only by name, were 
speedily aware of all their discomforts. The 
crowded sleeping-rooms, the decks strewed with 
couches, the confined and offensive air, meals 
scrambled for, food ravenously swallowed, were 
all laid to the charge of the exclusive privileges 
of the owners. These feelings it was attempted 
to counteract by the most liberal, nay, profuse, 
expenditure ; but this liberality produced no other 
good effect than to enrich the stewards and pur 
veyors ; in the hands of some of whom, the 
wealth gained in his service, was made the most 
efficient means of depriving his family of the 
rights Fulton bequeathed them. Thus, while with 
the intelligent, the educated, and the high-minded, 
the name of Fulton was regarded with esteem and 
reverence, it became hateful to the ignorant and 



ROBERT FULTON. 175 

selfish, of whom, even in our more enlightened 
times, the majority is made up. 

It is, however, to be admitted, that the op 
position to Fulton s monopoly was not wholly 
confined to persons of the latter description. In 
the legal disputes which arose out of the at 
tempts to set aside the exclusive privileges 
granted to Fulton, and in the debates which 
arose in the legislatures of several of the States, 
there were men enlisted on the side of the op 
position, who were not mere professional advo 
cates, but had the firmest reliance upon the 
justice of the cause they espoused. They be 
lieved, conscientiously, that Fulton had arrogated 
to himself the merit of discoveries, which had 
been made by others. To these pure and dis 
interested gentlemen we must allow the praise 
of proper and patriotic motives. 

The most formidable opposition which was 
made to the privileges of Fulton, was founded 
upon the discoveries of Fitch. We have seen, 
that he had constructed a boat, which made 
some passages between Trenton and Philadel 
phia ; but the method, which he used, was that 
of paddles, which are far inferior to the paddle- 
wheel. Of the inferiority of the method of pad 
dles, had any doubt remained, positive evidence 
was afforded in the progress of this dispute ; for, 
in order to bring the question to the test of a 



176 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

legal decision, a boat propelled by them was 
brought into the waters of the State of New 
York. The result of the experiment was so 
decisive, that, when the parties engaged in the 
enterprise had succeeded in their designs, they 
made no attempt to propel their boats by any 
other method than that of wheels. 

Fulton, assailed in his exclusive privileges de 
rived from State grants, took, for his further 
protection, a patent from the general govern 
ment. This is dated in 1809, and was followed 
by another, for improvements upon it, in 1811. 
It now appeared, that the very circumstance in 
which the greatest merit of his method consists, 
was to be the obstacle to his maintaining an 
exclusive privilege. Discarding all complexity, 
he had limited himself to the simple means of 
adapting paddle-wheels to the axle of the crank 
of Watt s engine; and, under the patent laws, 
it seems hardly possible that such a simple, 
yet effectual method, could be guarded by a 
specification. As has been the case with many 
other important discoveries, the most ignorant 
conceived that they might themselves have dis 
covered it ; and those acquainted with the his 
tory of the attempts at navigation by steam 
were compelled to wonder, that it had been left 
for Fulton to bring into successful operation. 



ROBERT FULTON. 177 



CHAPTER XL 

Conflicting Claims of the States of New Tor/e 
and New Jersey. Attempt to obtain a Re 
peal of the Grant from the State of New 
York. Fulton s Steam Ferryboats. Boat 
for the Navigation of the Sound. Boats 
planned by Fulton, and left unfinished at the 
Time of his Death. 

IN considering the history of the remaining 
years of Fulton s life, it is impossible not to be 
struck with the obvious fact, that he had made 
a false step in forming a partnership with Liv 
ingston, and in looking to exclusive legislative 
grants for his remuneration. Had he acted simply 
as Livingston s engineer, and kept aloof from all 
more intimate connexion, he would have been 
consulted, as a matter of course, by all those who 
embarked in the enterprise of extending steam 
navigation. 

From such professional service, fortune and 
popularity could not fail to have followed. But 
becoming, as he did, the partner in a monopoly, 
every new extension of the method he had 
brought into successful use, and every improve 
ment made in it, was hostile to his interests, and 

xii. 12 



178 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

those, who, under other circumstances, would 
have been his firmest supporters became his 
opponents and enemies. 

The State of New York, at the time when 
its grant to Fulton and Livingston was in force, 
claimed jurisdiction over the whole of the waters 
lying between its own shores and those of New 
Jersey. The latter State resisted this claim ; but, 
in the intercourse by ferries between the two 
States, the influence of individual interests had 
prevented any inconvenience arising from the con 
flicting jurisdictions. 

It is probable, that, had Fulton himself been 
the sole proprietor of the grant from the State 
of New York, a spirit of compromise with the 
citizens of New Jersey would have governed him. 
But the partnership, instead of treating on fair 
terms with the parties holding ferry rights in that 
State, transferred the whole of the rights they 
held under the State of New York to a near 
relation of Chancellor Livingston. The boat 
constructed under this grant, on commencing its 
passages, came into immediate competition with 
the ferry owners in New Jersey, and left them 
no option except between the total abandonment 
of their property in the ferries and a competition 
by means of steamboats. 

For this latter object, grants made to Fitch 
by the State of New Jersey, which, although 



ROBERT FULTON. 179 

nevei acted upon, were still in force, were resorted 
to. Not content with an opposition upon the 
debatable waters, the parties engaged in this at 
tempt resolved to try the validity of the grant to 
Livingston within the acknowledged jurisdiction 
of the State of New York. With this view an 
application was made in the winter of 1808-9 
for a repeal of the law. This application, being 
referred to a committee of the Legislature, was 
favorably received, and a bill for the repeal was 
reported. Fulton and Livingston, however, hav 
ing obtained permission to be heard by counsel 
at the bar of the House of Assembly, succeeded 
in preventing this bill from becoming a law. 

The action of the State of New Jersey was ef 
fectual in causing the steamboat, constructed by 
virtue of the grant from Fulton and Livingston, 
to suspend her passages ; and, in retaliation, her 
proprietors, in opposition, as is believed, to the 
wishes of Fulton, brought the law of the State 
of New York to bear upon a ferryboat belonging 
to John Stevens, of Hoboken, which was in con 
sequence prevented from plying. 

It thus happened, that the persons, who were 
entitled to all the merit of introducing steaixi suc 
cessfully into the service of navigation, were the 
greatest sufferers by the contest. Fulton lost the 
income for which he had stipulated out of tiie 
profits of the steamboats plying to New Jersey ; 



18Q AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

while Stevens, who had constructed and set IE 
motion a steamboat of unobjectionable construe 
tion, within a few weeks after Fulton s successful 
experiment, was prevented from using it. 

We may here pause to remark, on what smal 
circumstances the claim to original invention may 
rest. Stevens had now been engaged for seven 
teen years in attempts to apply the steam engine 
to the purposes of navigation, and was on the 
very eve of success, when forestalled by Fulton, 
while the latter was entitled to his right of priority 
by no more than a few weeks. It is, however, 
to be remarked, that the engine, with which Ful 
ton s successful experiment was made, had been 
planned and constructed several years before ; and 
it appears probable, that the exertions of Stevens, 
and of his son, who had now come forward as 
his father s engineer, were stimulated by the 
knowledge of Fulton s confidence in a successfu. 
issue of his experiments. If, however, it were 
necessary for us to decide to whom, of all the 
rivals of Fulton, any share of the honors of suc 
cess were due, there could be no hesitation in 
awarding them to Stevens. 

This controversy with the State of New Jer 
sey, which embarrassed, and often interrupted 
wholly, the communication by steam between 
Philadelphia and New York, was not adjusted 
during the life of Fulton, and may indeed be 



HO BERT FULTON. 181 

to have continued Until the grant of the State of 
New York was finally decided to be unconstitu- 
jonal by the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Although thus harassed by litigation, Fulton 
did not permit his mind to be wholly diverted 
from mechanical pursuits. The insular position 
of the City of New York, however favorable to 
commerce, both domestic and inland, subjected 
it to great difficulty in its communications with 
the adjacent country, and diminished materially 
the value of the lands situated on the opposite 
shores of its rivers and bay. From the magni 
tude of these masses of water, row-boats were an 
unsafe mode of communication, which, if attempt 
ed by them, was subject to continual interruptions ; 
and large sail-boats, although more safe, were, in 
consequence of the rapidity of the tides and the 
irregularity of the winds, liable to great uncer 
tainty in their passage. That these difficulties 
might be overcome by steam was now obvious, 
and Fulton tasked himself to contrive the most 
appropriate means of applying that mover to the 
object. 

It appeared necessary that the vessels should 
be so constructed, that carriages might be driven 
into them without difficulty. He was in conse 
quence led to adopt the plan of twin boats, having 
the paddle-wheels between them, and connected 
by a deck, sufficiently strong to bear the feet of 



182 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

horses and the weight of loaded carriages. It is 
probable, that he now, for the first time, availed 
himself of the experiment of Symington, whose 
boat was of similar structure ; and it was at this 
period, that he consulted the work which contains 
a drawing of that vessel. The assistance he de 
rived from an inspection of this draft was how 
ever but small ; for there is not the slightest 
resemblance in the arrangement and distribution 
of the two inventions, with the exception of both 
being twin boats, and both moved by a single 
paddle-wheel set in motion by a steam engine 
Fulton had found no difficulty in the navigation 
of rivers, in the direction of their length, by a 
single boat with wheels on each side ; but the 
circumstances of the case were far different, when 
a movable road, bearing both foot passengers 
and carriages, was to be employed to cross a 
stream. So far as the theory then received of 
the resistance of fluids could be a guide, the form 
selected by Fulton was a good one ; but it is now 
determined, by observations upon the ferryboats 
constructed by him and others, that twin boats 
are retarded by a resistance of a more powerful 
character than single ones. 

This increase of resistance, to an amount far 
greater than is pointed out by theory, appears to 
be due to a wedge of water which lies between the 
two conjoined boats, and which must be removed 



ROBERT FULTON. 183 

as the vessel advances. Of this Fulton could 
not have been aware, as no observations or ex 
periments existed by which it could have been 
determined. With this exception, the ferryboat 
of Fulton is to be classed with the very few 
machines, which come perfect, on the first trial, 
from the hands of the inventor; and, with the 
substitution of a single hull for the twin boat, 
it has in its arrangement and distribution under 
gone little or no change. 

Steam ferryboats were first established upon 
the ferry between New York and Brooklyn, and 
a short time afterwards, between the former city 
and Paulus Hook. The latter were completed 
shortly after the breaking out of the war between 
Great Britain and the United States. An imme 
diate opportunity was afforded to prove the impor 
tance of the invention. It became necessary to 
transport a troop of flying artillery, with its battery 
of guns and other carriages. The whole were 
conveyed across this ferry, whose breadth is about 
a mile, in less than an hour, by a single boat, 
although comprising upwards of a hundred mount 
ed men, and more than twenty carriages, each 
drawn by four horses. 

A difficulty existed, on account of the ebb and 
flow of the tide, in making his ferryboats answer 
the purpose of a movable road, into and from 
which carriages might be driven without delay 



184 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

or danger. This was obviated, in a simple and 
ingenious way, by means of a floating bridge : 
and the danger to the wharves and the vessel 
itself arising from the shock attending their con 
tact, was prevented by an apparatus governed by 
a floating counterpoise. These exhibited much 
skill in practical mechanics, and knowledge of the 
laws of hydrostatics. The latter part of his inven 
tion has, however, been rendered useless by the 
dexterity, which the ferrymen have attained in the 
management of the boats, but was at first of the 
utmost importance to prevent injury, not only to 
the machines themselves, but to the passengers. 
The steamboats on the Hudson River were 
increased in number, before the death of Fulton, 
to five. A sixth was built under his direction 
for the navigation of the Sound ; and, this water 
being rendered unsafe by the presence of an 
enemy s squadron, the boat plied for a time upon 
the Hudson. In the construction of this boat, he 
had, in his own opinion, exhausted the power of 
steam in navigation, having given it a speed of 
nine miles an hour ; and it is a remarkable fact, 
which manifests his acquaintance with theory and 
skill in calculation, that he in all cases predicted, 
with almost absolute accuracy, the velocity of the 
vessels he caused to be constructed. The engi 
neers of Great Britain came long after to a sim 
ilar conclusion in respect to the maximum of 
speed 



ROBERT FULTON. 185 

It is now, however, well known, that with a 
proper construction of prows, the resistance to 
vessels moving at higher velocities than nine miles 
an hour, increases in a much less ratio than had 
been inferred from experiments made upon wedge- 
shaped bodies ; and that the velocity of the pis 
tons of steam engines may be conveniently in 
creased beyond the limit fixed by the practice 
of Watt. 

For these important discoveries, the world is 
indebted principally to Robert L. Stevens. That 
Fulton must have reached them in the course of 
his own practice can hardly be doubted, had his 
valuable life been spared to watch the perform 
ances of the vessels he was engaged in building 
at the time of his premature death. These 
were, a large boat, intended for the navigation of 
the Hudson, to which the name of his partner, 
Chancellor Livingston, was given, and one planned 
for the navigation of the ocean. The latter was 
constructed with the intention of making a pas 
sage to St. Petersburg!) ; but this scheme was 
interrupted by his death, which took place at the 
moment he was about to add to his glory, as the 
first constructor of a successful steamboat, that 
of being the first navigator of the ocean by this 
new and mighty agent. 



186 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY 



CHAPTER XII. 

Ifalton s Torpedoes. His Submarine Guns. 
Steam Frigate. Submarine Vessel. He is 
called before the Legislature of New Jersey 
as a Witness. /5 detained on the Hudson 
by the Ice. His Illness. Death and Char- 
acter. 

THE prime of Fulton s life had been spent 
in ineffectual attempts to introduce a novel mode 
of warfare. In these efforts, he was encouraged 
by the hope, that, were its efficacy once estab 
lished, his native country would be safe from 
the aggressions of European powers. The war 
of 1812 promised an opportunity of applying his 
carefully matured schemes to tke purpose for 
which they were originally intended, and of 
realizing his long-cherished hopes. He had, 
almost immediately after his return to the United 
States, instituted a set of experiments with his 
torpedo ; these were successful in destroying a 
vessel anchored in the bay of New York. The 
attention of the general government being thus 
awakened, he had received instructions to per 
form another set of experiments, in which he 
was to receive the aid of officers of the navy 



ROBERT FULTON. 187 

or, rather, was to attempt the application of 
his torpedoes to a vessel, which they were to 
defend, 

It is no dishonor to Fulton, that, in the course 
of these experiments, he was foiled. The of 
ficers of the navy, fully aware of the manner 
of his approach, took such measures as pre 
vented all access to the vessel to be attacked. 
It is, however, obvious, that the very necessity 
of taking such precautions as they found indis 
pensable, was a proof of the greatness of the 
danger; and it was evident, that, had they not 
had weeks for preparation, and all the means, 
both in men and material, furnished by a large 
navy yard at their disposal, some one or other of 
the means proposed by Fulton must have been 
successful. 

In spite, then, of the advantage which the 
highest degree of naval skill, and the command 
of means, that could not be within the reach of 
an enemy s vessel upon our shores, gained over 
Fulton s embryo scheme, we must conclude, that 
it would have been a powerful and efficient 
means of annoyance against an enemy anchoring 
in our waters. It was viewed in this light by 
the government, not as a substitute for the or 
dinary modes of warfare, but as a useful and 
powerful addition to the means of harbor defence 

When, therefore, the entrances of our harbors 



188 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY 

were blockaded, Fulton s talents were called into 
the service of the government ; but, as his en 
terprises were conducted with the most profound 
secrecy, little was said of them at the time. It 
is now, however, well known, that, although no 
actual injury was done to the British fleet, yet 
the motions of the squadron in Long Island 
Sound, were paralyzed, although commanded by 
the favorite captain of Nelson, and its crews 
Kept in a state of continual alarm, by a fear 
of the invention of Fulton. 

It is not to be wondered, that his motions 
were watched by spies, and regularly reported 
to the British commander ; who, on one occa 
sion, landed a strong party, which invested the 
house at which Fulton had intended to sleep. 
By a lucky accident, he was prevented reach 
ing his intended quarters, or he would certainly 
have been made prisoner. 

In the course of his experiments upon the 
mode of attaching the Torpedo, he had planned 
an instrument, by which a cable was to be cut. 
This consisted of an arrow, projected beneath 
the surface of the water, by a small piece of 
ordnance. A trial of this instrument showed 
the practicability of firing artillery beneath the 
surface of the water, and doing execution with 
it, at moderate distances. Upon this observa 
tion, he founded a method of arming vessels 



ROBERT FULTON. 189 

with submarine guns ; by the use of which, they 
would, in close action, have acquired a vast 
superiority over those armed in the usual man 
ner. 

His attention was next directed to the con 
struction of a vessel of war, to be propelled by 
steam ; and he succeeded in producing perhaps 
the most formidable engine of naval war, which 
has ever been planned. Viewed in the light of 
a floating battery, intended solely for the defence 
of harbors, this vessel left little to be desired ; 
but he had no intention of fitting it for the 
general purposes of navigation ; and hence we 
have no right, in estimating its value, in com 
parison with that of subsequent constructions of 
the same sort, to take its fitness for any other 
object into account. 

When death arrested the career of Fulton, 
he was busily engaged in constructing an im 
proved form of the submarine vessel, which he 
had used in France. Aware, by experience, 
of the difficulty of moving a vessel when wholly 
submerged, he limited his views, in this case, 
to bringing the deck to a level with the surface 
of the water. This deck was to be rendered 
ball-proof. In this position, a large wheel, in 
tended as the propelling apparatus, would have 
worked partly in air and partly in water. Such 
were the obvious features of the plan; but, of 



190 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY 

many accessory parts, the idea was confined to 
his own breast ; and thus, upon his demise, no 
person was to be found able or willing to un 
dertake the completion of the unfinished inven 
tion. The object of this vessel was to furnish 
a safe and convenient mode of using his torpe 
does and submarine guns. 

The energies of Fulton s mind were arrested 
by death, in the midst of these active and in 
teresting pursuits. The controversy, in which 
the parties holding under him were engaged 
with the owners of the monopoly granted by the 
State of New Jersey, had never been closed. 
A favorable opportunity seemed to present itself 
for obtaining a repeal of the law of that State, 
which was seized by the former party. Fulton, 
having no direct interest in the question, was a 
competent witness, and was summoned, as such, 
to attend the legislature of New Jersey, in Jan 
uary, 1815. On his return, the Hudson River 
was found to be filled with floating ice, which 
put a stop to the usual means of passage. Ful 
ton, anxious to rejoin his family, attempted the 
passage in an open row-boat and was thus ex 
posed for several hours to the inclemency of the 
weather. The consequence was a severe attack 
of illness. 

Before he had wholly recovered, his anxiety 
in relation to the steam frigate and his subma 



ROBERT FULTON. 191 

nne vessel was such as to induce him, in defi 
ance of the suggestions of prudence, to visit the 
Navy Yard at Brooklyn, and expose himself for 
some hours upon the decks of the former. The 
result of this imprudence was a relapse of such 
violence, that his constitution, enfeebled by con 
stant labors and anxieties, was unable to resist it. 
His death took place on the 24th of February, 
1815. 

Rarely has it happened, that the natural death 
of any citizen excited so general mourning as 
that of Fulton. Cut off in the very height of 
his usefulness, and in the zenith of his reputa 
tion, his countrymen felt it as a loss almost 
irreparable. 

Fulton was in person considerably above the 
middle height ; his countenance bore marks of 
intelligence and talent. Natural refinement, and 
long intercourse with the most polished societies 
both of Europe and America, had given him 
grace and elegance of manners. His great suc 
cess, and the belief that his invention had se 
cured the certainty of great wealth, however 
unfounded this belief was proved to be after his 
death, never, for a moment, rendered him arro 
gant or assuming. Fond of society, he was the 
soul of the intelligent circle in which he moved, 
and of which his hospitable mansion was the 
centre. The fine arts, once his chosen profes 



192 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY. 

sion, were his recreation and delight in aftei 
life ; and he not only practised them himself, but 
bountifully encouraged the efforts of others. 

Our memoir has exhibited the extent of his 
mechanical knowledge and ingenuity ; and, in the 
midst of the most prolific creations of American 
industry, the services rendered by Fulton are at 
length admitted to be superior to those of any 
other inventor, with the sole exception of Whit 
ney. This rank is now awarded him, not only 
by the tardy justice of his own countrymen, but 
by the almost universal suffrage of the whole 
civilized world, the bonds of whose union are 
daily drawn closer and closer, by an invention 
which, however long sought and nearly attained 
by others, was at last introduced into use by his 
talent and perseverance. 

In forming this estimate of his services, it is 
not necessary that we should undervalue the ef 
forts of those, who preceded him in the attempt 
to apply steam to navigation. It is very prob 
able, indeed, that, had it not been for the ex 
periments of Fitch, Fulton might never have 
applied his attention to steam navigation. But 
it is not less certain, that, had he not been suc 
cessful, the merits of Fitch would have been 
forgotten, and unknown to the present genera 
tion. It may even be questioned, whether the 
public would have believed in the success of 



ROBERT FULTON. 193 

Stevens, and afforded him the encouragement 
necessary to carry on his enterprise, had not 
conviction been forced upon it, by the more 
brilliant and conspicuous experiment of Fulton. 
Compared with these two names, the superiority 
of reputation, which the future historian will not 
fail to ascribe to Fulton, may be as much due 
to good fortune as to actual merit ; but, with 
this exception, he has no competitor for the 
glory of having introduced one of the most use 
ful applications of mechanics, with which the 
c vilized world has yet been favored. 

xn. 13 

THE END