MS 132. Literal transcription – misspellings are left intact, xxx denotes illegible word, italicized items are my own comments for clarification. Please note that in some instances the letter “s” may have been replaced with the letter “f,” and the letter “e” may have been replaced with the letter “o,” as was the custom at that time – TG.
Typed Table of Contents:
Page 1. Petition of John Fitch to the New Jersey Legislature, February 27, 1786.
Page 2. Petition of John Fitch to the New Jersey Legislature, March 14, 1786.
Page 3. Affidavits of prominent men regarding John Fitch’s boat, tubes and boiler, 1788.
Page 10. Report of Committee, Pennsylvania Legislature, in favor of John Fitch, October 31, 1788.
Page 12. Petition of John Fitch to the New Jersey Legislature, November 1, 1788.
Page 14. Letter of John Fitch to the New Jersey Legislature, November 3, 1788.
Page 17. Final petition of John Fitch to the New Jersey Legislature, November 25, 1788.
Petition of JOHN FITCH to the Legislative Council and General Assembly of New Jersey, dated Trenton, February 27, 1786, stating that he “proposes to apply the force of steam engine to the use of navigation.”
Requests appointment of committee to examine his plans.
To the honourable the Legislative Counsel and General Afsembly of the State of New Jerfey-
The Petition of the Subfcriber humbly Sheweth,
That your Petitioner propofes to apply the force of Steam Engine to the ufe of Navigation (by impeling Vefsels to go through the Water with confiderable rapidity without the afsistance of Wind or Current,) and many other ufeful purpofes.
Wherefore your Petitioner humbly prays, that your honours will be pleafed to appoint a Committee to examine the propofed Plan, together with the Oppinions of several Gentlemen of iminence and Character in thefe middle States, who have favored him with their certificates refpecting it; and grant such incouragement to your Petitioner, as on the report of your Committee, his propofals may, in the Wisdom of your honours, appear to xxx (possibly “deserve”)
And your Petitioner &c.
Trenton Feb’y 27th 1786 Signed: John Fitch
Petition of JOHN FITCH to the Legislative Council and General Assembly of New Jersey, dated Trenton, March 14, 1786, stating that he has “constructed an easy method of urging boats through the water by the proper application of the force of steam.” Requests exclusive privilege of constructing boats impelled by the force of steam. This petition is endorsed by: Robt. Pearson, Jun’r; A. Hunt; Stacy Potts; Thos. Yard; Sam’l Tucker; Renssel’r Williams; John Stevens, Jrn’r; W. M. Bell; Isaac Smith; John Cox; Sam’l W. Stockton and W. C. Houston.
To the honourable the Legislative Counsel and General Afsembly of the State of New Jersey.
The Remonstrance and Petition of John Fitch
That your Petitioner having constructed an easy method of urging Boats through the Water, by the proper application of the Force of Steam, whereby the inland Navigation of thefe States is likely to be greatly promoted: the Principles whereof has been honoured with the approbation of Gentlemen of the first Characters for Philofophical knowledge in several of thefe States, who have exprefsed their defire of seeing it carried into execution by an experiment.
And as it has been the general practice of giving incouragement to new Invintions and ufeful Improvements, by allowing their first projectors the advantage of their discoveries for some reafonable time, therefore your Petitioner humbly prays,
That your honours will be pleafed to grant him the exclusive priviledge of constructing Boats impelled by the Force of Steam, and the advantages arifing from that discovery, for such length of time as to your Honours Shall seem proper.
And your Petitioner &c.
Trenton March 14th, 1786- Signed: John Fitch
We the subfcribers having examined the Principles of the Steam Boat conftructed by John Fitch, Are of oppinion, that it may be the means of improving the inland Navigation of thefe States to great Advantage and therefore, that it deferves the protection and incouragements of the Legiflature:-
Rob’t. Pearson jun’r Sam’l Tucker Ifaac Smith
A. Hunt Renfse’r Williams John Coxe
Stacy Potts Sam’l W. Stockton
Tho’s Yard John Stevens Jun’r W. C. Houfton
W. M. Bell
Certificates showing that JOHN FITCH’S STEAMBOAT, sixty feet in length, carrying upwards of thirty passengers, steamed from Philadelphia to Burlington, a distance of twenty miles, in three hours and ten minutes, on October 12, 1788; also certificates regarding tubes and boilers. Signed by fifteen prominent men of Pennsylvania.
Certified as true copies of originals, produced by John Fitch before William Cavenough, Notary Public, Philadelphia, Pa., October 27, 1788.
Philadelphia October 18th 1788
No. 1 We whose names are hereunto subscribed do Certify that we have been in John Fitch’s Steam Boat of 60 feet in length in the River Delaware when the said Boat was propelled through the water with a Considerable degree of Velocity regularly & uniformly without any manual labour by the force of Steam, and we are Clearly of opinion that the Rivers of America may be Navigated by the means of Steam Boats and that the present Boat would be very useful on the western waters
John Ewing James Hutchinson
Rob’t Patterson T’y. Matlack (Timothy)
Andrew Ellicott Cha’s Pettit
John Smilley J. B. Smith
David Redick David Rittenhouse
No. 2 This may Certify, that on the twelfth Instant we the subscribers went in xxx John Fitch’s Steam Boat, from this City to the City of Burlington twenty miles in the space of three Hours and ten minutes there being upwards of thirty pafsengers on board, and that said Boat was propell’d thru the water intirely by the force of Steam: And from our own Observations, we are of opinion, that the Discovery which Fitch has made may be of much Services to inland Navigation.
Signed: John Cook
Philadelphia Oct 18 1788. John Ely
No. 3 On the 16th Ins’t I was on board Mr. Fitch’s Steam Boat in the River Delaware saw it perform, and I do Certify that it was Propelled by the force of Steam at the rate of at leas four miles an hour Against the Strength of Tide, and am fully Convinced that the force applied to that Boat would be Sufficient to Carry it against the most rapid Waters between the Mouth of French Creek on the Alleganey & the Mouth of Muskingum on the Ohio and that on an average it would Carry it between three & four miles an hour on any of the western waters
Signed: Jon’a Heart Capt.}
1 US Reg’t}
No. 4 This may Certify that I the Subscriber was one of the Committee appointed in March 1786 by the General Afsembly of this State on the Petition of John Fitch and Arthur Donaldson Respecting there several Schemes for the improvement of Navigation by means of Steam Engines when Mr. Donaldson produced his plan to the Committee for drawing water in at, or near the bottom and forcing it out abaft as a means of propelling a vefsel forward.-
The Committee having fully hoard the petitioners and afterward Reviewed Mr. Fitch’s model of an invention for moving a Boat by means of a Steam Engine agreed to make a report to the House in his favor
Philadelphia August 7th 1788 Signed: James Irvine
No. 5 Mr. Fitch in his Explanation of the draught to me before he presented to the Philosophical Society Mentioned that his Intontion of Conveying the Water from his forcing pump in a Tube that pafsed thro’ the fire, was that it might thereby be set a boiling before it entered in the receiver lest the Cold water. Mixing with the boiling water in the receiver should impede the Generation of the Steam
(Indorsed) John Ewing
Presented to the Society Sep’r 27 1785
No. 7 Sometime about the middle of the sixth Month 1786, I was Consulted by Henry Voight of this City, Clock & Watch maker respecting the Application of a Spiral Tube for the purpose of Generating Steam, a drawing of which he then shewed me, and requested my opinion of the utility, if applied to John Fitch’s Steam Boat I advised him not to adopt it immediately but wished him to make use of the Common boiler, till such time as the merits of this New Invention should be fully ascertained by Experiment.
Timothy Matlack (to whom this Invention was Communicated soon after my having first seen it) Accompanied me yostorday, to Examine the Tube itself and found it nearly ready to be placed in the Boat, and we are both Clearly of opinion, that it is Constructed on the same principals with these of the plan at first Exhibited to us.
At the request of said Henry Voight & John Fitch (partners in the Steam Boat) I hereby Certify that the above montioned facts are truly Stated in every respect to the best of my knowledge and belief; and I also further declare, that I hav3e neither part nor share in the said Steam Boat, nor any Interest whatsoever in the Concern
Philadelphia Jno Nancarrow
Seventh Month 15th 1788
On the 17th day of September 1788 Before me Isaac Howell Esq’r One of the Justices &c. Came John Nancarrow above named & on his solomn affirmation According to Law did declare & Say that the above Written Certificate Signed by him is true according to the best of his Knowledge & belief
Affirmed before me
No. 8 About the last of June 1786 Henry Voight of this City Clock and Watch Maker, shewed to me the draft of a Spiral Tube for Generating Steam, and device of his own, for Supplying Cylender of John Fitch’s Steam Boat. John Nancarrow of this City, an Engineer by profefsion and much accustomed to the Erecting of Steam Engines in England, was present at the time, and I then understood that he had been Consulted upon it a few days before. We both advised Mr. Voight to Exhibit the first Experiment on the Steam Boat, by means of the Common great boiler, rather than involve himself in the difficulties and delays which would probably arise in the Execution of this new mode of Generating Steam. Mr. Nancarrow and myself, have this day, Examined the Tubes, now nearly ready for the purpose aforesaid, and find that the principals on which it is Constructed are the same with those of the said plan.
Mr. Voight repeated request of Mr. Voight and of John Fitch, I make known & Certify the facts aforesaid – “And I do declare, that I have no part or share in the said Boat.
Philadelphia July 14 1788.
On the 17th day of September 1788 Before me Isaac Howell Esq’r one of the Justices &c. Came Timothy Matlack above named and on his solemn Affirmation according to Law did declare and say, that the above written Certificate signed by him is true, according to the best of his Knowledge & belief
Affirmed before Me
William Cavenough Notary and Tabellion in and for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Lawfull Authority duly Admitted and Sworn dwelling in the City of Philadelphia in the said Commonwealth Do hereby Certify and Attest unto all whom it doth or May Concern That the aforegoing Writings from No.1. to No. 8. do Contain Just and true Copies of Original Certificates to me the said Notary bonefide, produced by John Fitch in the said Certificates Names, and that I have Carefully Compared the said Copies with their respective originals and do find them Exactly to agree with each other. And I do hereby further Certify, that the several Gentlemen Signing and Subscribing their Names to the said Certificates, now are or heretofore have been, in the ports, xxx, or employments, herein after following their respective names Viz,
John Ewing provost of the University and Vice President of the Philosophical Society-
Robert Patterson Profefsor of Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy
Andrew Ellicott Profefsor of Mathematics and Aftronomy in the Episcopal Academy
John Smilley Member of the Executive Council for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania-
David Redick (present) Vice President of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania-
James Hutchenson One of the Secretaries of the Philo’l Society
Timothy Matlack (late) Secretary to the S. Executive Council for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania –
Charles Pettit (late) Member of Congrefs from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Jonathan Bayard Smith (present) Prothonotary of the Court of Common pleas for the City & County of Philadelphia
David Rittenhouse (present) Treasurer for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Jonathan Heart Captain of the 1st U. States Reg’t
James Irvine (late) Vice President C. Wealth of Penns’a
In Testimony whereof I the said Notary have
unto set my hand and affixed my Seal of Office
Philadelphia aforesaid the Twenty seventh
of October in the year of our Lord One thousand
Seven hundred and Eighty eight.
Wm. Cavenough Notary Public
Report of the Committee of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, dated October 31, 1788, in favor of John Fitch, and refusing the request of James Rumsey to operate the steamboat in the waters of the State of Pennsylvania.
The Committee to whom was referred the petitions of James Rumsey, John Fitch and Henry Voight beg leave to Report.
That having examined the said Petitions and with great attention heard the Parties in support of their Respective claims are unanimously of opinion, that the Law which grants to John Fitch an exclusive right to all boats propelled by fire and Steam, hath not only served unto him his Heirs &c: the exclusive right to the method he had then invented, for the purpose of applying the power of Fire on Steam in order to propel Boats but also whatsoever improvements he make himself or obtain from other during the time limitted by said Law. And however improper so extensive a Law may be in its principles yet considering that upon a faith of ^the said Law. Several Citizens have spent much Labour and money for which they are not yet reimbursed; And notwithstanding the Legislature may have a right to repeal Laws which convey grants that are highly injurious to the general Welfare, yet the resuming such Legislative grants ought never to be done unlefs upon the most prefsing necefsity.
Your Committee therefore by leave to offer the following resolutions.
Viz: Resolved that the prayer of the Petition of James Rumsey be granted, excepting fo far as it respects the propelling of Boats by the force of Fire on Steam.
Resolved that the prayer of the Petition of Henry Voight cannot be granted.
The forgoing is a true copy of the original remaining on f the files of the General Afsembly Philadelphia October 31st 1788 T Shalluz AJ Clerk (assumption – name is not clear – TG.)
Petition of JOHN FITCH to the General Assembly of New Jersey dated November 1, 1788, protesting against the claims of James Rumsey.
To the Honorable the Afsembly of the State of New Jersey The Petition of John Fitch of the City of Philadelphia humbly sheweth-
That your Petitioner in consequence of the countenance and support granted him by the honorable the Legislature of N Jersey as well as four other of the middle States has with unremmited diligence and prodigious expence brought his Steam Boat to a very considerable degree of perfection, and is still pursuing his plan in full confidence of reaping the reward of his labors under the sanction of the laws he hath obtained – That your petitioner heard with great concern that a Petition had been presented to your last honorable House by or on behalf of a certain James Rumsey with a view of obtaining a law to deprive him of his just & legal rights granted him by your honorable Predecefsors- and that your Petitioner the moment he heard of this design hastened to Trenton, but did not arrive time enough before the House broke up yet he had the happinefs to find that nothing was done to the prejudice of your Petitioner – That fince that time a fimilar attempt was made on behalf of the faid James Rumsay in the Afsembly of Pennsylvania, who by Committee gave a long and patient hearing to both Parties, and they by Report determined in the most folemn manner in favor of your Petitioner, which report he begs leave to hand in herewith- that receiving intelligence of the of the renewed intentions of the friends of the faid James Rumsay to repeat an application to your honorable House, your Petitioner presents himself before you praying that you will be pleased to do nothing to invalidate the laws heretofore solemnly made in his favor, but that your Petitioner may be heard at the Bar of your honorable House by Council in defence of his rights, as well in support of his Steam Boat, as in support of his claims to the emolument & use of boiling water in a Pipe or Tube the more effectually to create Steam – a mode he devised and laid before the Philosophical Society previous to any pretensions over suggested by James Rumsay, which your Petitioner is ready to prove – That the New Congrefs being vested by the Constitution with Powers of granting exclusive rights for inventions, your petitioner flattered himself that instead of repeating his claims before the individual Houses of Afsembly he should only have been called on by the faid James Rumsay to support his sevveral claims before that Body whereby much expence of time and money might be saved to the Public & themselves – but if your honorable body should think proper to go into the businesfs your petitioner humbly prays that he may be allowed time and opportunity to defend his just Claims and Rights and your petitioner as in duty bound will every pray-
Trenton Nov. 1st 1788 John Fitch
Letter of JOHN FITCH to the Legislature of New Jersey, dated November 3, 1788, in support of his petition of November 1, 1788, relative to his steamboat and pipe boiler.
States that his plan for a pipe boiler was laid before Congress in August 1785, and recorded in the Philosophical Society the following month. Intimates that James Rumsey obtained his ideas through improper methods.
To the Honourable Legislature of the State of New Jerfey, now fitting at Princeton Nov’r 3d 1788
The fubscriber Humbly begs leave to Subjxxx the following reafons to his Petition in fupport of his just claims to his Steam boat, and pipe boiler: and doubts not but your indulgence will fave a great expence in trouble in having the subject reprefented by Council Which reafons are as follows Viz
1st The Law is pofitive and clear, and no explanation nor alteration can take place in Afsembly, to the prejudice of the Subfcriber.
2d That a patent stands on ground very different from a Law: the one being open to all men; but the other to be obtained only, after deliberation and public confent.
3d The fpecification fo warmly contended for apply to the power imployed to produce the effect, and not to any indifferent intermediate agents fuch as xxx Water, or Iron – but if for argument sake, this was even admited, the part now urged was fully fpecifyed in the contest with the fubscriber and Author Donallfon, before the Afsembly of Pennsylvania as per their minutes and Genr’s Irvine Certifycate
4th That the Law of nations xxx (looks like vattel) 36 and 200.
The Law of England 21th James 5th Conftitution of New Jerfey and the fpecial Law in question, are all clearly in his favour.
5th That having expended his Money and the money of Others in full confidence of public faith their Houfes and their farms are not now firmly fecured to them, than the property conveyed by this Law.
6th That any limitation or reftriction to the Law not warranted by the Law itfelf, would be a violation of the conftitution, which directs all controverfies about property to be decided in courts of Justice.- a contrary procedure would introduce a most alarming precident.
7th That all Days Ways and modes of invention made public before the Pafsing of ^the Law are open to common use, unlefs fpecial prior grants fhould interfere.
8th That the invention now contended for of pufhing water from the Stern, was publifhed 50 years ago by Monf’r Bernoulli (Bernoulli’s principle – physics) a cellebrated genius in France and re-publifhed with improvements by Dod’n Franklin before the pafsing of the Law, that no fuggestion of ignorance of fuch publications fhall avail a fubfequent pretender.
9th That even if the arguments used in favour of James Rumfey contained any real weight they are produced at a wrong hour the Law is pafsed, and it is too late- he made no Objections in Virginia or else Where.
10th That with refpect to the Boiler, it was the original thought of the subfcriber, and the fimilarity thereof, is no where to be found in the Books.
11th That the fcheme of the fubfcriber was to convey water into the Pipe, and then convey the faid pipe into the body and through the hoteft part of the fire, in order to boil the water before it went into the great receiver. This is explained and Certified by the papers in the poffefsion of the Philofophical Society of Philadelphia.-
12th That this Pipe inftead of being a trifling object (as contended by the Counsel of Mr. Rumfey) before the Committee of the Afsembly of Pennfylvania, is the only Pipe and pafses all the water confumed by the Engine, which in the prefent fmall machine confumes about 30 Gallons in an hour.-
13th That the originality of the Idea of boiling water in a Pipe is recorded in the Philosophical Society September 1785 a body recognized by Law as capable of receiving Such Depofits, and that the faid Idea of Pipe boiling cannot be confined to any fpecific dimenfions: otherwife every fresh foot of Pipe, added to an Engine would require a frefh Law.-
14th That the fubfcriber carries his Plans and drawings to the Afsembly of Virginia, every where expofing his fcheme, - And from this first drawing either by direct or indirect means (by circuitous information) James Rumfey may have) got the idea of the Boiler he now claims. The Plagarifm is certainly retortable with equal force to any charges against your Petitioner.-
15th That James Rumfey in his Pamphlet, and by the acknowledgment of his Council before the Committee ^of Pennsylvania does not pretend to any Idea of a Pipe Boiler longer ago than the winter of 1785/6 Whereas a Drawing and defcription of the Pipe boiler of the Subfcriber was not only laid before Congrefs in Augusft 1785, but a drawing and defcription was lodged with the Philofophical Society in Sept’r 1785.
Should this be the opinion of the Legiflature: the Petition of James Rumfey will be laid afide.—
November 3, 1788 John Fitch
The final petition of JOHN FITCH to the Legislative Council and General Assembly of New Jersey, dated Princeton, November 25, 1788, claiming the pipe boiler as his original invention and protesting against the false pretensions of James Rumsey.
To the honourable legislative Council & General Afsembly of the State of New Jersey, the petition of John Fitch humbly sheweth-
That the legislature of this State did by a law pafsed in in the month of March 1786, vest in your petitioner the exclusive right of constructing &c steam boats within the State, granting him at the same time full power to apply any machinery on board his boat, which he might deem proper, provided the boat was propelled by the force of fire or steam. That your petioner has learned with grief & surprise that a bill is now lying before your honorable house to vest in James Rumsey an exclusive right to a pipe-boiler, a machine that your petitioner has long used in his boat & which is efsentially necefsary to the completion of that design for which your law was made in his favour –
Your petitioner humbly conceives that vesting such right in James Rumsey is an interference with private property already conveyed by law & will produce such a clashing of laws as is impolitic in a well regulated state. Your petitioner has authentic documents to prove that he was in pofsefsion of the secret of a pipe boiler as early as the year 1785 before your law in his favour was enacted & that in September of that year he laid a drawing of it before the philosophical society in Philadelphia. After this period he communicated his principles to a friend & acquaintance of the said Rumsey from whom he has reason to believe Mr. Rumsey adopted the idea. Mr. Rumsey’s claim to the idea is many months posterior to this date. And as your petitioner had previously thereto communicated his views to the public without any reward, he conceives that he is entitled to the law he had obtained as his only emolument, & that the bill depending before your body if enacted into a law would be an unjust & cruel invasion of his indubitable right. The law on your table in his favour forbids forbids any machine being made on the same principles with those of his description of boilers, which is giving the improvement either of Mr. Rumsey or Voight the preference of an original invention, as said description will undoubtedly include the original invention itself, which is invariably on the same principles, a precedent of this kind your petitioner conceives was never known, for the improver to take the preference of the original inventor. Therefore if Mr. Rumsey or any other person even propose an improvement in the structure of the machine your law will preclude the legislature from framing a posterior law to advance this improvement to the rank & confer on it the emoluments of the original invention.
Your petitioner begs leave to remind this honourable body, moreover, that, as the encouragement of invention & genius, & securing the property (word not confirmed) & benefits of them to the owner seems to e referred by the new constitution, to the Congrefs of the United States, it is probable this dispute between Mr. Rumsey & him will be ultimately decided before that body –
He therefore prays that, if it seem good to your honourable body it may now be referred to that tribunal, & no law xxx pafsed at your present sefsion. But should this legislature resolve at present to take up the bill, your petitioner humbly prays that he may be indulged with a hearing xxx council, before your honourable body in support of his rights- And your petitioner as in duty bound shall every pray-
Princeton November 25th 1788 John Fitch