Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

. (page 17 of 21)
Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 17 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

thing, required for their consumption in a given time
five times the length of thread that the first did, they
could obviously only obtain so much length by draw-
ing out the common portion of cotton into thread of
five times the original fineness. Nothing could be
more beautiful or more effective than this contrivance,
which, with an additional provision for giving the
proper twist to the thread, constitutes what is called
the water-frame, or throstle.

It would be needless to enter here into the history
of Arkwright's legal contests, which, after various
success, he finally lost, and that only because the
specifications of his patents were obscure, or myste-
riously expressed. The world at large, however,
readily acknowledged the originality of his invention,
the public doing'him that justice which the law de-
Q 22*


nied. Whelher he was the actual discoverer of the
process, is, we think, of little moment. He made
the invention known under all kinds of embarrass-
ments, and at the risk of great loss ; and thus, though
he were proved to be merely the publisher of the
invention, he would, as such, deserve more praise
than the pusillanimous beings, who laid no claim to
the discovery till it was established as successful.

The most marked traits in the character of Ark-
wright were his wonderful ardor, energy, and per-
severance. He commonly labored in his multifarious
concerns from five o'clock in the morning till nine at
night; and, when considerably more than fifty years
of age, feeling that the defects of his education placed
him under great difficulty and inconvenience in con-
ducting his correspondence, and in the general man-
agement of his business, he encroached upon his
sleep, in order to gain an hour each day to learn
English grammar, and another hour to improve his
writing and orthography ! He was impatient of
whatever interfered with his favorite pursuits; and
the fact is too strikingly characteristic not to be men-
tioned, that he separated from his wife, not many
years after their marriage, because she, being con-
vinced that he would starve his family by scheming
when he should have been shaving, broke some of
his experimental models of machinery !

Arkwright was a severe economist of time ; and,
that he might not waste a moment, he generally
travelled with four horses, and at a very rapid speed.
He had extensive concerns in Derbyshire, Lancashire,
and Scotland; and his speculative schemes, which



were vast and daring, generally proved advantageous.
The exertions which he put forth in establishing his
machinery were the more remarkable, from being
made while in bad health. During the whole of his
career, he was laboring under a very severe asthmatic
affection. A complication of disorders at length ter-
minated his truly useful life, in 1792, at his works at
Cromford, in the sixtieth year of his age. He wab
high sheriff of Derbyshire in 17S6; and, having
presented a congratulatory address to his majesty on
his escape from the attempt upon his life by Margaret
Nicholson, received the honor of knighthood, and
hence had the title of Sir Richard Arkwright.


While Arkwright and others were engaged in
improving the manufacture of cotton in Great Britain,
another genius was at work in America, having the
great object in view of preparing the cotton from its
raw state, for the processes to be employed in its
subsequent manufacture. Of this genius we have
now to speak. Eli Whitney, one of the most intrepid
and persevering improvers that ever lived, was the
son of a respectable farmer at Westborough, Wor-
cester county, Massachusetts, where he was born in
the year 1765. Very early, young Eli gave striking
indications of the mechanical genius for which he
was afterwards so distinguished. His education was
of a limited character until he had reached the age
of nineteen, when he conceived the idea of entering
a college. Accordingly, notwithstanding the oppo-
sition of his parents, he prepared himself — partly by
means of the profits of his manual labor, partly by
teaching a village school — for the College of New
Haven, which he entered May, 1789. Soon after he
took his degree, in the autumn of 1792, he entered
into an engagement with a gentleman of Georgia,
to reside in his family as a private teacher ; but, on
his arrival in that state, he found that another teacher
had been employed, and he was left entirely without
resources. Fortunately, however, among the passen-
gers in the vessel in which he sailed, was Mrs.

« WHITNEY. 261

Greene, the widow of the celebrated general, who
had given him an invitation to spend some time at
her residence at Mulberry Grove, near Savannah;
and, on learning his disappointment, she benevolently
insisted upon his making her house his home until
he had prepared himself for the bar, as was his

Whitney had not been long in her family before
a complete turn was given to his views. A party
of gentlemen, on a visit to Mrs. Greene, having
fallen into a conversation Upon the state of agricul-
ture among them, expressed great regret that there
was no means of cleansing the green seed cotton, or
separating it from its seed, remarking, that, until
ingenuity could devise some machine which would
greatly facilitate the process of cleansing, it was in
vain to think of raising cotton for market. " Gentle-
men," said Mrs. Greene, " apply to my young friend,
Mr. Whitney; he can make anything." She then
conducted them into a neighboring room, where she
showed them a number of specimens of his genius.
The gentlemen were next introduced to Whitney
himself; and, when they named their object, he
replied that he had never seen either cotton or cotton
seed during his life. But the idea was engendered ;
and, it being out of season for cotton in the seed, he
went to Savannah, and searched among the Avare-
hoases and boats until he found a small portion of it.
This he carried home, and set himself to work with
such rude materials and instruments as a Georgia
plantation afforded.

With these resources, however, he made tools

262 "WHITNEY. *

better suited to his purpose, and drew his own wire,
of which the teeth of the earliest gins were made,
which was an article not at that time to be found in
the market of Savannah. Mrs. Greene and Mr.
Miller — a gentleman, who, having first come into
the family of General Greene as a private tutor, after-
wards married his widow — were the only person?
admitted into his workshop, who knew in what way
he was employing himself. The many hours he
spent in his mysterious pursuits afforded matter of
great curiosity, and often of raillery, to the younger
members of the family. Toward the close of the win-
ter, the machine was so nearly completed as to leave
no doubt of its success. Mrs. Greene then invited to
her house gentlemen from different parts of the state ;
and on the first day after they had assembled, she
conducted them to a temporary building which had
been erected for the machine, and they saw with
astonishment and delight that more cotton could be
separated from the seed in one day, by the labor of a
single hand, than could be done in the usual manner
in the space of many months.

The machine which Mr. Whitney thus constructed,
consisted chiefly of a process of circular saws, which,
by a rotatory motion, dragged the cotton betwixt wires,
leaving the seeds to fall to the bottom, while the cot-
ton so cleaned was carried off by a rotatory brush
playing upon the saws. An invention so important
to the agricultural interest, and, as it has proved, to
every department of human industry, could Tiot long
remain a secret. The knowledge of it soon spread
through ihe state ; and so great was the excitement


on the subject, that muhitudes of persons came from
all quarters of it to see the machine ; but it was not
deemed prudent to gratify their curiosity until the
patent right had been secured.

So determined, however, were some of the populace
to possess this treasure, that neither law nor justice
could restrain them ; they broke open the building by
night, and carried ofT the machine. In this way the
public became possessed of the invention ; and before
Mr. Whitney could complete his model and secure
his patent, a number of machines were in success-
ful operation, constructed with some slight deviation
from the original, with the hope of evading the
penalty for violating the patent right. A short time
after this, he entered into partnership with Mr. Miller,
who, having considerable funds at command, proposed
to him to become his joint adventurer, and to be at
the whole expense of maturing the invention until it
should be patented. If the machine succeeded in its
intended operation, the parties agreed to share equally
all the profits and advantages accruing from it. The
instrument of their partnership bears date May 27th,

Immediately afterwards, Mr. Whitney repaired to
Connecticut, where, as far as possible, he was to per-
fect the machine, obtain a patent, and manufacture
and ship for Georgia such a number of machines as
would supply the demand. On the 20th of June, 1793,
he presented his petition for a patent to Mr. Jeffer-
son, then secretary of state ; but the prevalence of the
yellow fever in Philadelphia, at that period the seat
of government, prevented his concluding the business


until several months afterwards. We have not space
sufficient to give a satisfactory detail of the obstacles
and misfortunes which for a long time hindered the
partners from reaping those advantages from the
invention which it should have procured for them, and
which they had an ample right to expect. These
difficulties arose principally from the innumerable
violations of their patent right, by which they were
involved in various, almost interminable, lawsuits.
The legislature of South Carolina purchased, in ISOl,
their right for that state, for the sum of fifty thousand
dollars — a mere "song," to use Whitney's own
phrase, "in comparison Avith the worth of the thing;
but it was securing something." It enabled them to
pay the debts which they had contracted, and divide
something between them.

In the following year, Mr. Whitney negotiated a
sale of his patent right Avith the state of North
Carolina, the legislature of which laid a tax of two
shillings and sixpence upon every saw — and some of
the gins had forty saws — employed in ginning cotton,
to be continued for five years, which sum was to be
collected by the sheriffs in the same manner as the
public taxes ; and, after deducting the expenses of
collection, the proceeds were faithfully paid over to
the patentees. No small portion, however, of the
funds thus obtained in the two Carolinas, was
expended in carrying on the fruitless lawsuits which
it was deemed necessary to prosecute in Georgia. A
gentleman, who was well acquainted with Mr. Whit-
ney's affairs in the south, and sometimes acted as his
legal adviser, observed, that in all his experience in


the thorny profession of the law, he had never seen a
case of such perseverance under such persecution;
"nor," he adds, "do I believe that I ever knew any
other man wlio would have met them with equal
coolness and firmness, or who would have obtained
even the partial success which he had."

There have indeed been but few instances in which
the author of such inestimable advantages to a whole
country as those which accrued from the invention of
the cotton gin to the Southern States, was so harshly
treated, and so inadequately compensated, as the sub-
ject of this sketch. He did not exaggerate when he
said that it raised the value of those states from fifty
to one hundred per cent. " If we should assert," said
Judge Johnson, "that the benefits of this invention
exceed one hundred millions of dollars, we can prove
the assertion by correct calculation." Besides the
violations of his right, he had to struggle against the
efforts of malevolence and self-interest to deprive him
of the honor of the invention, which he did tri-
umphantly. In 1S03, the entire responsibility of the
whole concern devolved upon him, in consquence of
the death of Mr. Miller. In 1812, he made applica-
tion to congress for the renewal of his patent, but
unfortunately without success — though he set forth
that his invention had been a source of opulence to
thousands of the citizens of the United States ; that,
as a labor-saving machine, it would enable one man
to perform the work of a thousand.

Some years before, in 179S, Mr. Whitney, im-
pressed with the uncertainty of all his hopes founded
on the cotton gin, had engaged in another enterprise,
VI.— 23


which conducted him, by slow but sure steps, to a
competent fortune. This was the manufacture of
arms for the United States, which he contracted for
and furnished to a large amount.

In January. 1817, he married the youngest daughter
of the celebrated Pierpont Edwards, judge of the Dis-
trict Court for the state of Connecticut. For the five
subsequent years he continued to enjoy domestic
happiness, a competent fortune, and an honorable
reputation, when he was attacked by a fatal malady —
an enlargement of the prostate gland — which, after
causing great and protracted suffering, terminated his
life on the Sth of January, 1S25.

In person, Mr. Whitney was considerably above the
ordinary size, of a dignified carriage, and of an open,
manly and agreeable countenance. His manners
were conciliatory, and his whole appearance such
33 to inspire respect. He possessed great serenity of
temper, though he had strong feelings, and a high
sense of honor. Perseverance was a striking trait in
his character. Everything that he attempted, he
effected as far as possible. In the relations of private
life, he enjoyed the affection and esteem of all with
whom he was connected.


This individual, who was the first to establish steam
navigation, was born of Irish parents, in Little Britain,
Pennsylvania, in the year 1765, being the third child
and only son. His father died when he was young,
and he had no other means of education than that
afforded by the village school.

Following the bent of his genius, he devoted him-
self to drawing and painting, and at the age of seven-
teen he was pursuing this avocation for a livelihood.
Such was his success, that at the age of twenty-one,
he had acquired sufficient means for the purchase of
a small farm in Washington county, which he settled
on his mother, and which yet remains in the posses-
sion of the family.


In 17S6, he embarked for Enirland, and became an
inmate in the family of his countrj'raan, Benjamin
West. An intimacy thus grew up between the young
adventurer and the great artist, which was only dis-
solved by death. He continued to pursue his vocation,
and, during a .residence of two years in Devonshire,
he became acquainted with the celebrated Duke of
Bridgewatcr and the Earl of Stanhope. About this
time he conceived a plan for the improvement of canal
navigation, and he received the thanks of two socie-
ties for various projects suggested by him. In 1796,
he published, in London, a treatise on canal improve-

From England he now proceeded to France, and
took up his lodgings at the same hotel with our coun-
tryman, Joel Barlow. When the latter moved to his
own house, Fulton accepted an invitation to accompany
him, and he continued to reside with him for seven
years. During this period he studied several modern
languages, and perfected himself in the higher
branches of the mathematics and natural philosophy.
He had now abandoned painting, but his skill in
drawing aided him in his mechanical pursuits. It
was about this period that he projected the first pan-
orama exhibited in Paris.

The attention of Fulton was early drawn to the
subject of steam navigation, as appears by his corre-
spondence with the Earl of Stanhope. But his mind
was devoted for a time to the destruction of ships of
war by submarine explosion. Hence his invention
of the torpedo, and the plunging-boat. With the
latter he succeeded in remaining under water several


hours, while he could navig-ate it with facility in any
direction. He partially succeeded in his views, but
not to the satisfaction of the governments under whose
auspices he prosecuted his scheme.

While Fulton was in France, and still engaged with
his experiments in submarine explosions, Robert R.
Livingston, of New York, arrived in that country as
minister to the court of France. He had been en-
gaged in some attempts to establish steam navigation
in the United States, and an intimacy between him
and Fulton immediately commenced. They soon
agreed to pursue the subject which interested them
both, and an experimental boat was soon built on the
Seine. It was completed in the spring of 1803, but
she was imperfectly constructed, and one night she
severed in twain, and went to the bottom with all her
machinery. After great labor, she was raised and
repaired, and an experiment was made with her in
July, which was so far satisfactory as to determine the
projectors to continue their efforts.

In 1806, Mr. Fulton returned to America, having
procured a steam engine, which was constructed
according to his directions, by Messrs. Watt and Bol-
ton, of England. He immediately commenced the
building of his first steamboat at New York. In the
spring of 1S07, she was launched from the ship-yard
of Mr. Charles Brown ; the engine from England was
put on board, and, in August, she moved, by the aid
of her machiner}', from her birth-place to the Jersey

Great interest had been excited in the public mind
in relation to the new experiment, and the Avharves


were crowded with spectators, assembled to witness
the first trial. Ridicule and jeers were freely poured
forth upon the boat and its projectors, until, at length,
as she moved from the wharf, and increased her
speed, the silence of astonishment which, at first
enthralled the immense assemblage, was broken by
one universal shout of acclamation and applause.
The triumph of genius was complete, and the name
of Fulton was thenceforward destined to stand enrolled
among the benefactors of mankind.

The new boat was called the Clermont, in compli-
ment to the place of residence of Mr. Livingston, and
shortly after made her first trip to Albany and back,
at an average speed of five miles an hour. The suc-
cessful application of Mr. Fulton's invention had now
been fairly tried, and the efficacy of navigation by
steam fully determined. The Clermont was adver-
tised as a packet-boat between New York and Albany,
and continued, with some intermissions, running the
remainder of the season. Two other boats, the Rari-
tan and Car of Neptune, were launched the same
year, and a regular passenger line of steamboats was
established from that period between New York and
Albany. In each of these boats, great improvements
were made, although the machinery was yet imper-

We have not space to follow Mr. Fulton through
the details of his subsequent career. Altogether thir-
teen boats were built in the city of New York under
his superintendance, the last being the steam frigate,
which, in compliment to its projector, was called Ful-
ton the I. The keel of this immense vessel was laid


in June, 1S14, and in about four months, slie was
launched amid the roar of cannon and the plaudits of
thousands of spectators. Before the conclusion of this
vast undertaking, Fulton was summoned from the
scene of his labors, after a short illness, occasioned by
severe exposure. He died in the city of New York,
February 4th, 1814.

Mr. Fulton left a family of four children — one son
'and three daughters ; and, as is too frequently the case
with the benefactors of mankind, he died encumbered
with a load of debt which had been contracted in those
pursuits which have produced such beneficent results
to his country and the world at large.

The personal character of Fulton was in the high-
est degree attractive. His manners were cordial,
cheerful and unembarrassed. He was a kind husband,
an affectionate parent, and a zealous friend. Inde-
pendent of his public fame, he has left, as a private
individual, an unsullied reputation, and a memory
vo'd of reproach.

The attempt has been frequently made, by those
who were governed by narrow and unworthy motives,
to deprive Fulton of the credit due for the greatest
achievement of modern times — the actual establish-
ment of steam navigation. The futility of such
attempts is sufficiently evinced by the notorious fact,
that, in 1S07, he had put in practical operation the
first steamboat that ever was built, and that no boat
was launched in Europe which proved successful till
five years after. This was constructed by Mr. Bell,
of Glasgow, in 1812. At this time, four of Fulton's
boats were running from New York.


It is not contended that Fulton is the first individual
who conceived the idea of steam navigation, or sought
by experiments to accomplish it. Rumsey is known
to have attempted it in Virginia as early as 1787 ;
Fitch made experiments in 1783; Oliver Evans in
1785 ; and Jonffray, in France, in 1792. Indeed, the
idea had been suggested by Jonathan Hulls, in Eng-
land, even so far back as the year 1736. But it was
reserved for Fulton to perfect and bring into operation
what had been conceived by others, but which had
baffled all human attempts to reduce it to practice.

The life of this remarkable man suggests various
interesting reflections. While he was pursuing his
labors, which were to result in one of the most stupen-
dous blessings ever conferred on mankind, he was the
incessant theme of ridicule and contempt. Many a
pert editor of a paper, many an habitual satirist, many
a man wise in his OAvn conceit, amused himself in
dilating upon the folly of attempting so impossible a
thing as steam navigation. He was as truly an object
of persecution by the bigotry of ignorance, as was
Faust, whose improvements in printing subjected him,
in a darkened age, to the charge of sorcery ; or Galileo,
who was imprisoned for discovering the revolutions
of the earth. Yet Fulton, with a calmness which
beautifully displays the dignity of genius, unmoved
by scoffs and sneers, pursued the even tenor of his way,
and, unabashed by rjdicule, undismayed by difficulties,
persevered till his triumph was acknowledged by the

Another reflection suggested by the life of Fulton
is, as to the mighty influence which one individual may



exert on the destinies of his fellow-men. It is impos-
sible to estimate, in their full extent, the beneficial
results of his labors. There are, at least, eight hun-
dred steamboats in the United States, and probably as
many in England. A large part of the navigation of
our rivers is performed by steamboats, as well as a
considerable portion of the travel from one section of
the country to another. It is the cheapest, and proba-
bly the safest mode of travel yet devised. The fol-
lowing statistics of steam navigation will not only
show that the risk of travel on steamboats is almost
nothing, but it will suggest the amazing extent of
steamboat travel.

During the five years ending on the 31st December,
1838, the estimated number of miles run by steam-
boats connected with the single port of New York,
was 5,467,450 ; the number of accidents, two ; lives
lost, eight ; the number of passengers, 15,886,300 ;
and the proportion of lives lost, to the passengers,
about one i% two millions ! If we compare this state
of things with what existed prior to Fulton's opera-
tions in 1807 ; if we extend our views over the whole
country ; if we cross the Atlantic, and see the mighty
movement in respect to this subject, there ; if we take
into account the recent navigation of the Atlantic by
steam, and its incalculable consequences ; if we look
to the navies of the great powers of the world, and
remark that Fulton's discoveries are being applied to
the art of maritime warfare. — then we may begin to
feel, in some faint yet inadequate degree, the effects
which one man of genius, by one great invention, may
produce on the interests of mankind.



Nicholas Copernicus was born at Thorn, on the
Vistula, on the 19th»of February, 1473, where his
father, who was a Westphalian, had become a citizen

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21

Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 17 of 21)