NYPL RESEARCH LIBRARIES
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TRUE STORIES OF GREAT AMERICANS
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK â€¢ BOSTON â€¢ CHICAGO â€¢ DALLAS
ATLANTA â€¢ SAN FRANCISCO
MACMILLAN & CO., Limited
LONDON â€¢ BOMBAY â€¢ CALCUTTA
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.
From a miniature owned by Mrs. R. Fulton Blight.
ALICE CRARY SUTCLIFFE
GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTER OF ROBERT FULTON
AUTHOR OF "ROBERT FULTON AND THE CLERMONT"
AND "THE HOMESTEAD OF A COLONIAL DAME"
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THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
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THE NEW YORK
ASTOR, LENOX AND
R 1915 L
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1915.
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J. 8. Cushing Co. â€” Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
On board the fine passenger boat, Robert Fulton,
one of the several queen steamers of the Hudson
River Day Line, on a May morning when the
beauty of the incomparable river spread in calm
perfection before contented eyes, a great-grand-
daughter of Robert Fulton began to write, for
young readers, this story of the steamboat in-
No " Hero of America " may lay more just claim
to the title than Robert Fulton, the fearless, per-
sistent lad of Pennsylvania, v His boyh66d of stern
self-denial, his struggle for culture and advanced
education, and his constant industry place him in
"the rank and file" of ill students who may read
this book with the desire to learn nis secret of
Fulton's story reveals it. He solved problems
locked from the knowledge of man by a faithful
use of the key of hard work. Born on a lonely
farm in the country, deprived in early childhood
of his father's loving care, he earned his own
living and carved his path to fame and fortune.
Therefore his progress is typical of possible simi-
lar achievements for all young Americans who
wish to render good service to their country and
to their fellow-men.
In writing the story of a man whose work for
the world has won fame, the seeker for historic
fact must patiently piece together the threads
gathered from many sources to weave the fabric
of connected truth.
For these facts concerning Robert Fulton's life
I have searched during a period extending over
several years. In presenting this volume I desire
to acknowledge my indebtedness to the several
biographers who, during the century since his
death, have traced his eventful career: Cadwalla-
der D. Cold en (1817); J. Franklin Reigart (1856);
Thomas , W. : : Kriox (iÂ£36); Robert H. Thurston
(1891); Peytoxi F. Poller (1908); and, most valu-
able because most recent and therefore most com-
prehensive, '-H. .W, '.Dickinson in "Robert Fulton,
Engineer & Artist"' (^13). Also am I indebted
to the Historical Societies of Chicago, New York,
and Pennsylvania; the Library of Congress; the
Estate of Cornelia Livingston Crary; the Hon.
Peter T. Barlow; Messrs. Louis S. Clark, New-
bold Edgar, Charles Henry Hart, John Henry
Livingston, Robert Fulton Ludlow, Mrs. Frank
Semple, and Mrs. George Montgomery, individ-
ual owners of the inventor's original manuscripts
and letters shown at the Robert Fulton Relic
Exhibit, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of
1909, gathered jointly by the New York Histor-
ical Society and the Colonial Dames of America,
of which latter organization the writer served as
chairman of the Hudson-Fulton Committee.
From this vast mass of data is the present
modest volume built, â€” a tale retold for the boys
and girls of America, whose lives, through the
inspiration of famous men and women, may in
future years provide records of equal worth for
ALICE CRARY SUTCLIFFE.
New York City,
November 7th, 1914.
An Old-time Fourth of July i
Robert Fulton's Boyhood I0
Painting Portraits and Miniatures ... 20
The Gift of a Farm .29
Studying Art in England 37
From Art to Invention 4-8
Achievements in Paris 62
Building the First Submarine 73
Building the First Steamboat .... 84
In Holland and England 100
Experiments with a Submarine . . . .107
Some Early Steamboats 121
Building the Clermont 130
First Voyage of the Clermont . . . .138
Steamboats and Submarines 155
Ferry-boats and River-boats . . . .172
Fulton's Home and Fulton's Honors . . .183
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Robert Fulton Frontispiece
Robert Fulton's Birthplace ..... 8
The Building formerly occupied by Caleb John-
son's School 34
The Washwoman ; Fulton's earliest known
The Fulton Medal 134
The Wife and Two of the Children of Robert
A child of Lancaster, upon this land
Here was he born by Conowingo's shade ;
Along these banks our youthful Fulton strayed
Dreaming of Art. Then Science touched his hand,
Leading him onward, when, beneath her wand,
Wonders appeared that never more shall fade :
He triumphed o'er the Winds and swiftly made
The giant, Steam, subservient to command.
How soft the sunlight lies upon the lea
Around his home, where boyhood days were sped !
These checkered shadows on the fading grass
Symbol his fortunes, as they fleeting pass :
"He did mankind a service," â€” could there be
A tribute more ennobling to the dead !
An Old-time Fourth of July
American Independence was young in 1778,
â€” only two years old. The patriotism awakened
by the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was active as
this second anniversary of our nation's birth ap-
proached, and sturdy Pennsylvanians, glad of our
country's freedom from English rule, planned a
Fourth of July celebration.
In Lancaster, less than seventy miles from Phila-
delphia, the wise men of the town council foresaw
waste and tumult if the young patriots carried out
the programme they had arranged. Upon the first
day of July the Council discussed the matter and
passed this resolution, which they publicly posted :
"The Excessive Heat of the Weather, the Present Scarcity
of Candles, and Other Considerations, Induce the Council to
Recommend to the Inhabitants to Forbear Illuminating the
City on Saturday Evening Next, July 4th.
" By Order,
"Timothy Matlack, Secretary."
2 ROBERT FULTON
We can imagine the disappointment of the Lan-
caster boys when they read this notice. Angry
groups around the sign-board evinced their dis-
pleasure, and some of the bolder ones declared
that they would light their candles anyway!
But one conscientious thirteen-year-old boy
tried to think of some other method to show
patriotism. As the town council forbade the use
of candles, he would not disobey their law ; perhaps
he could prepare a more novel celebration in honor
of the holiday.
He had some candles which he had saved for
the event ; now they were of no use. He therefore
took them to a brush-maker who kept powder
and shot for sale, and offered to trade them for
gunpowder. The brush-maker, surprised that
the boy would part with his candles when they
were so scarce, asked his reason. The lad re-
"Our rulers have asked the people not to
illuminate their windows and streets. All good
citizens should obey law, so I have decided
instead to light the heavens with sky-rockets."
The dealer, although amused, was glad to get
the candles and promptly gave gunpowder in ex-
change. Then the boy went to another store,
where he bought several large sheets of cardboard.
AN OLD-TIME FOURTH OF JULY 3
The clerk was about to roll the sheets for easy
handling, but his customer protested :
"I wish to carry them as they are."
The curiosity of this man also was aroused.
He remembered that the lad was said to be
"always trying to invent something." As he
handed them over he asked :
"What are you going to do with them?"
Eagerly the boy answered: "We are forbidden
to light our windows with candles. I'm going to
shoot my candles through the air."
Tut! Tut!" exclaimed the man, laughingly.
That's an impossibility."
No, sir," the boy responded, with a flash of
enthusiasm. "There is nothing impossible."
This is a true story, told by an old-time
Lancaster historian. The thirteen-year-old boy
was Robert Fulton, who became the inventor of
It is good to carry the story further in imagina-
tion. That group of boys who gathered in the town
during the twilight of Independence Day, 1778, saw
a few spluttering rockets shoot skyward from the
hand of a lad determined to carry the good news
of freedom to a higher horizon than that of the
home windows of Lancaster. A flash ! A whirr !
and the light arose, zigzagged its message through
4 ROBERT FULTON
the darkness, like fiery handwriting in the sky, and
then died away. But the fine courage and courtesy
of the boy who would not disobey a local law,
although he felt a national appeal to patriotic
jubilee, â€” these tokens of character have not
faded. They prophesied the boy's success in life.
He foretold it in his words, " Nothing is impossible.' '
Robert Fulton's father was one of three brothers,
David, John, and Robert. They were of Scotch
origin, and came to America from Kilkenny, Ireland,
about 1730. Robert, the youngest, settled in
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where in 1759 he married
Miss Mary Smith, daughter of Joseph Smith of
Oxford Township, and bought for their first home
a brick dwelling on the northeast corner of Penn
Square, in the center of the town. In this house
they lived until 1764. They took an active interest
in local affairs, for Robert Fulton belonged to
every organization then formed ; to be sure, there
were only three, for the town was small. He was
secretary of the Union Fire Company, a charter
member of the Juliana Library, and a founder of
the Presbyterian Church.
It is pleasant to think of the young couple set-
tling their new home on Penn Square (where not
many years before the Indians had a colony), near
a spring of clear water under a giant hickory tree.
AN OLD-TIME FOURTH OF JULY 5
It was on this very spot that the chieftains of
"Hickory Tribe," as they termed themselves, met
to confer with William Penn, the wise and kindly
Governor Thomas Pownall visited Lancaster
in 1754 and wrote that it was " a pretty and con-
siderable town, increasing fast and growing rich."
So we can be certain that when Robert Fulton's
parents established a home of their own on Penn
Square, they felt they had a bright future before
Two little daughters, Elizabeth and Isabella,
were born to Mr. and Mrs. Fulton while they lived
in this house and were among the first children to
be christened in the new church. Mr. Fulton had
a strong voice and was chosen to "lead the psalm' 3
in the old Court House, where services were held
until the church could be built. He sang the
opening words of each division of the psalm and the
congregation joined in unison for the later words.
In 1763 Mr. Fulton signed the charter for the
town library, the third to be established in the
American colonies. Thomas and William Penn,
Esquires of the Province, drafted the papers and
named the library "Juliana" after Thomas Penn's
wife. He was a son of the famous old William
Penn, who had conferred with the Hickory Indians,
6 ROBERT FULTON
and for whom the state of Pennsylvania had been
The new church, the Juliana Library, and the
Union Fire Company, together with his business,
kept Robert Fulton well occupied, but they yielded
friendly comradeship and varied interests. In 1 765
Mr. Fulton sold his Lancaster home and moved his
family to a farm of more than three hundred acres
on Conowingo Creek, in Little Britain Township,
which he had purchased the preceding November.
It lay sixty-five miles from Philadelphia, but not
many from Lancaster, so they were not far from
their friends, though they had to give up active
work in the town.
The plastered stone farm-house to which the
Fulton family moved is still standing by the coun-
try cross-roads. A wide sloping roof shelters the
two-story building and overhangs a porch at the
eastern end. There the ground slopes to the valley
where the Conowingo Creek, a picturesque stream,
flows on its quiet way to join the Susquehanna
River. It is a place of great beauty and may well
have proved attractive to early settlers. The low-
ceiled parlors remain as they were during Mr. and
Mrs. Fulton's occupancy, and the upper bedrooms
show broad window sills of great age. The fire-
place of the old-time kitchen also is unchanged, the
AN OLD-TIME FOURTH OF JULY 7
sturdy crane swinging in the sooty shadows where
Mrs. Fulton hung her kettle to boil, in those distant
days of pioneer life. Joseph Swift, of Philadelphia,
wrote in after years that his grandmother "well
remembered in her youth the preparations which a
visit to Aunt Fulton required in the way of baking,
boiling and roasting, and in getting ready the camp
equipage which the journey through the wilderness
required. It was only less formidable than a
journey across the Atlantic."
It was in this quiet farm-house l that Robert
Fulton, the inventor, was born on the 14th day of
November, 1765. He was the first son and there
was great rejoicing at his birth. During the cold
winter days he slept by the open fireside while his
mother attended to her household tasks and cared
for the little daughters, â€” Peggy and Belle, as
they were called, â€” who toddled about the baby
brother's cradle. When the springtime threw its
mantle of green over the fresh country-side, Robert
laughed and grew strong in the clear country air.
Possibly farming did not pay, for during the
succeeding year Mr. and Mrs. Fulton mortgaged the
property to Joseph Swift and two others, arranging
1 In 1909, a bronze tablet, commemorative of Fulton's birth,
presented by the Lancaster County Historical Society, was un-
veiled at the entrance door, by the writer.
8 ROBERT FULTON
payments to be made during five years. When
Robert Fulton finally moved his family back to
Lancaster, Joseph Swift came to live in the house,
now pleasantly shaded by a tall button-wood tree.
This tree is said to have grown from a riding-whip
which Joseph Swift's daughter, Esther, stuck into
the ground one day as she dismounted from her
Although the Fulton family lived but a short
time upon these farm lands, it gave a sufficient
reason for a change of name in the township, for
when Little Britain was resurveyed in 1844 the
section containing the farm was entitled " Fulton
Township," in honor of the baby boy who first
saw the light under that sloping roof, on the bleak
November day in 1765.
In selecting land near Conowingo Creek, the
elder Robert Fulton realized â€” as his son came to
realize in later years â€” the importance of water-
courses and turnpike advantages. He continued
upon the farm till 1771, when it was advertised
for sale as "the place where Robert Fulton lives."
But he died early in the autumn of 1774, and his
widow, with scanty means, took up the task of
rearing their five children, for a daughter, Mary, and
a second son, Abraham Smith Fulton, had been
born since 1765.
THE NEW YORK
AN OLD-TIME FOURTH OF JULY o
Robert Fulton, the older son, was then nine
years old, a bright, active boy, eager for all sorts of
fun. An uncle, his father's brother, took him to his
home for a time, but Robert was unhappy away
from his mother and returned to her. He early
learned to carve his fortune from the hard rock of
Robert Fulton's Boyhood
So many anecdotes have been told about Robert
Fulton's boyhood that they will fill a whole chapter.
It is an inspiration to boys and girls, who dream of
fame through splendid future action, to realize
that a hero usually begins life by a normal childhood,
striving to do well the trivial tasks. Daily duties
well done form character, and only character creates
Robert Fulton studied at home, under his
parents' teaching, until he was eight years old.
By this time the family had returned to Lancaster,
and Robert was considered old enough to attend
the school kept by one Caleb Johnson, a Quaker.
He had learned to read and write and was eager
for school. We can fancy the scene of his entrance
to the class-room, his dark eyes bright with excite-
ment, his curls brushed to parted order, as he en-
countered for the first time the austere school-
master, an impressive personage in that day. He
was guarded on either side by his fond elder sisters,
ROBERT FULTON'S BOYHOOD n
Peggy and Belle, but their care could not protect
him later from the tutoring birch, when Caleb
Johnson discovered, as he thought, that Robert
was "a dull boy." The younger sister, Mary, â€”
or Polly, as she was called, â€” and the baby brother,
Abraham, were at home eager to hear Robert's
description of school life.
But after all, Robert seems not to have cared
very greatly for his books. His delight lay in
visiting the machine-shops of the town, where he
spent all his spare time in trying to make things he
needed or wanted. One day he explained his
late arrival at school by saying that he had been at
Nicholas Miller's shop making a lead-pencil â€” "the
best I ever had," he declared. He had pounded
out the lead and fitted it so neatly into a wooden
case that Caleb Johnson admitted it was indeed an
excellent pencil. Within a few days, â€” so eager
are children to follow a leader, â€” all the boys had
made for themselves, with more or less success,
pencils like Robert's.
Sometimes his plans for making things so filled
his thoughts that he dreamed over his books and
was unprepared for recitation ; then Caleb Johnson,
after the stern fashion of those days, called him to
the desk and bade him hold forth his hand for a
whipping by the ferule. Once, when the teacher
12 ROBERT FULTON
thought him particularly idle, he struck Robert
sharply over the knuckles, saying, " There, that
will make you do something !" The boy, roused
by a sense of injustice, replied with politeness yet
with reproof :
"Sir, I came here to have something beaten into
my brains, and not into my knuckles." With head
held high and arms folded, he walked back to his
place, seeming even to Caleb Johnson, at the time,
"a strange boy." When Robert's mother called at
the school to talk over her son's progress â€” for she
was worried at his giving so little attention to his
books â€” the master replied,
"Robert says his head is so full of original ideas
that there is no room in his brain to store away the
contents of dusty books."
He was beginning to consider life's problems and
he dared to try to solve them by ways of his own.
He was never really idle, for two absorbing interests
claimed attention, â€” the study of machinery and
the study of art.
For it was not very long before that lead-pencil,
pounded with such care at Nicholas Miller's store,
began to reveal Robert's talent for drawing. He
sketched parts of machinery in the various shops
of the village and made himself so useful to the
mechanics that they welcomed his visits. Then,
ROBERT FULTON'S BOYHOOD 13
as Robert realized the beauties in nature, his black
pencil seemed to disappoint him. He could find
no paints or crayons at the shops, and it was not
until a playfellow brought a box of paints to school
that Robert realized the possibility of such an
aid to making pictures. He pleaded with his friend
for a share that he might try his hand at mixing
colors, so it was agreed that each boy should paint
a picture on a mussel shell. The result proved
Robert so excellent an artist that his generous
schoolmate, whose talents lay in another direction,
presented Robert with the entire outfit. His
delight knew no bounds, and thereafter he never
was at a loss for occupation.
Like many another famous man, it should be
noted that Fulton did not enjoy the advantages of a
liberal education in his youth. Beginning work
at an early age, by the need of earning his living,
he necessarily left his desk and books before he
had mastered the higher branches of knowledge
demanded by his later work. Still, he was deter-
mined to acquire knowledge. Busy by day, he
studied by night, and in time added higher mathe-
matics, languages, chemistry and perspective draw-
ing to his mental stores. In fact, Fulton was a
student throughout his entire life.
To-day his spelling seems to us distinctly original
14 ROBERT FULTON
and often amusing ; but let us remember that he
lived in "the good old days" when that particular
art was largely a matter of inspiration, instead of
being governed, as it is to-day, by stern and un-
The War of the Revolution was in progress dur-
ing the days of Fulton's boyhood, and the town
of Lancaster was the scene of many important
There had been many English settlers in Lan-
caster, so it is not surprising that the town abounded
in "Royalists," â€” sympathizers with the British
The time and place were rife with excitement.
Village boys shared the news, one with another,
and followed every skirmish with active interest.
In 1775, Major John Andre, with other British
officers on their way to Quebec, was captured by
General Montgomery and taken for safety to
Lancaster. So crowded were the barracks that
Andre, on his word as a gentleman, was allowed
the following parole :
"I, John Andre, being a prisoner in the United Colonies
of America, do, upon the honor of a gentleman, promise
that I will not go into or near any seaport town, nor further
than six miles from Lancaster, without leave of the Con-
tinental Congress of the Committee of Safety of Pennsyl-
ROBERT FULTON'S BOYHOOD 15
vania, and that I will carry on no political correspondence
whatever on the subject of the dispute between Great
Britain and the Colonies, so long as I remain a prisoner."
A man named Caleb Cope received John Andre
into his home and Andre tutored his son, John
Cope, thirteen years old, and gave him lessons in
art ; for Andre had a decided talent for the brush
and loved to depict, from recollection, the scenes
of his English home. One of these pictures, a
landscape with a church and lodge among a bower
of trees, Andre gave to Mr. Cope who treasured it
in later years. He described Andre as "a gifted
and deceived, but noble-hearted and generous,
man." It is thought that John Cope was the boy
who presented the painting outfit to Robert Fulton,
so it is probable that, indirectly, Robert may have
profited from Major Andre's instruction.
Because of its political importance Lancaster
was the local headquarters for supplies necessary
to American troops, and rifles, blankets and cloth-
ing were manufactured there. American soldiers
patrolled the streets and had in charge the two
thousand British prisoners at one time garrisoned
The boys of Lancaster, in the late afternoons,
gathered to view the novel scenes of the encamp-
ment. After a time, growing braver, they chal-
16 ROBERT FULTON
lenged "the rebels," as they termed the Hessian
boys, with the consequence that boyish battles
began to take place between the "Tories" and the
"Rebels." A rope, stretched across the street,
defined a limit which none dared to pass.
Robert Fulton's imagination was lively and
carried him beyond bounds. One day he made a
graphic sketch of the scene, depicting the "Rebels"
advancing beyond the line to threaten a thrashing
to the "Tories." He showed the picture to the
boys and it had the unfortunate result of inspiring
them to the very action portrayed. The town
authorities, hearing of the skirmish, feared that the
boys were carrying their fun too far and put a