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I visited the building where S. Wetherill carried on his manufactory of velverets, fustians, &c.; and by conversation with his descendants, I found that he was most enthusiastically engaged in producing goods, so as to render the colony independent of England. He was one of those worthy men, who entered, with all their souls, into the cause of liberty, and in consequence of the peculiar views of the Friends on the subject of war, he was disowned ; as he maintained, in that particular exigence, the lawfulness of defensive operations. Nothing moved from his general religious principles, and being a decided advocate of civil and religious liberty, he commenced a society, still in existence in Philadelphia, called the Free Quakers.
From a perusal of his publications, I find him a faithful enquirer after truth and righteousness; swayed by no consideration, but a conviction of his own mind and the good influence of principles. He lived in a time which tried men's souls, and he bore the trial with firmness and patience; and manifested to the last an unwavering patriotic spirit, religiously maintained while his valuable life was spared. He lived to see the fruits of independence, in the extension of national prosperity; and in the progress of freedom, science, and truth. I was pleased to obtain the following original letter, which is characteristic of his kind feelings and liberal sentiments; and I regret that my limits will not allow me to give a fuller account of this pioneer in American industry.*
BALLston, July 26, 1809.
My dear Rebecca,
I wrote to thee from New York the next day after our arrival there, the second day of the week following we set off for Albany in the steam boat: the scenery all the way up the river is the most curious, grand, and beautiful I ever beheld; the shore being high mountains of rocks, little villages, and towns, and the remains of divers fortifications made in the late revolution, including the celebrated Stony Point, which General Arnold intended to betray into the hands of General Howe, and a great number of beautiful country seats and plantations. We left Albany the next day after our arrival, and came to Ballston the same day; we have had a great deal of company and a variety of amusements for such as have a relish for them. The evening before last there was a ball given in compliment to the governor of Massachusetts, who was here on a visit. The company are genteel people who have come far and near; from New York, Boston, Carolina, Georgia and Philadelphia. Great numbers are benefited by the waters together with the amusements combined. I suspect that the journey and amusements are a principal article in restoring health, the ball especially ; but I have received no benefit from any or all of those means—simply trusting to the waters, which do not appear to have done me any good, my weakness still continuing much the same.
* Mr. Wetherill also carried on the business of dyeing and fulling in South Alley; also chemical works. His ancestor, came to New Jersey before Wm. Penn's arrival in Pennsylvania, and before the war of the revolution he moved to Philadelphia, where he followed his trade as a carpenter, and was so decided a Friend to the cause of independence, that being disowned by the society of friends for asserting the lawfulness of defensive war, which he defended with his pen, he with others formed a new society; and being presented by the legislature with a lot at the corner of Mulberry and Fifth street, they erected a brick house of worship, which still remains.
Farewell, my dear child, from thy grandfather; I have a most miserable pen, which, together with my weakness, makes it impossible to write intelligibly. Thy grandmother sends her love to you all.
(Signed) SAMUEL WETHERill.
From a review of “Colden's Life of Fulton,” published in the New York Monthly Magazine, the following interesting extracts are made:—Robert Fulton was born, of Irish parents, in Little Britain, in the county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1765. His family is said to have been respectable but not rich. Mr. Colden says, that his peculiar genius manifested itself at an early age, and that his leisure hours in childhood were spent in mechanics’ shops, or devoted to the pencil. The latter employment seems at that time to have possessed the greatest attractions, for, from the age of seventeen to twenty-one, he painted portraits and landscapes, at Philadelphia, for profit. He then purchased, with his little earnings, a little farm in Pennsylvania, upon which he established his mother. We rejoice to record this circumstance, as we can scarcely conceive one more honourable to the character of a young man. It proves early industry, frugality, and great strength of filial affection. In the same year he went to England to improve himself in his profession, as a painter, under the patronage of Mr. West. He was for some years an inmate in the family of that gentleman. After leaving it, he removed to Devonshire, and remained in that place, and in other parts of England for some years longer—it does not clearly appear how many—and then went to France. During the latter part of his stay in England, he seemed to have relinquished his profession, and to have busied himself about several projects relating chiefly to canal navigation. In 1793, he addressed (we presume from France) some general speculations on French politics, to Lord Stanhope, who appears to have been his friend, but though designed for the public, they attracted little of the public attention, as his biographer does not even know whether they were ever in fact published or not. In 1797, he took lodging at an hotel in Paris, with Mr. Joel Barlow, with whom he formed so strong a friendship, that when Mr. B. soon after removed to his own hotel, he invited Mr. F. to reside with him. For some years Fulton was a member of the family of Mr. Barlow. He projected a panorama, which proved successful and beneficial, and made some experiments upon the explosion of gunpowder under water. The French directory gave him hopes of patronising these attempts, but at length withdrew their support. He offered the project to the Dutch government, but it was declined. It was then offered to Bonaparte, who had become first consul, and he appointed a commissioner with funds and power to give the required assistance. While in France, and probably about this period, he formed an intimate acquaintance with Chancellor Livingston, and at that period those gentlemen laboured conjointly in their attempts to introduce steam navigation, which was afterwards attended with such brilliant success. In 1801, he made several experiments with a plunging boat, designed for sub-marine warfare, with a degree of success which seems to have been satisfactory to himself. The following very flattering account was given by St. Austin, a member of the tribunal:—The diving boat, in the construction of which he is now employed, will be capacious enough to contain eight men, and provision for twenty days, and will be of sufficient strength and power to enable him to plunge one hundred feet under water if necessary. He has contrived a reservoir of air, which will enable eight men to remain under water eight hours. When the boat is above water it has two sails, and looks just like a common boat; when she is to dive, the mast and sails are struck. In making his experiments, Fulton not only remained a whole hour under water with three of his companions, but had the boat parallel to the horizon at any given distance. He proves that the compass points as correctly under the water as on the surface, and that, while under water, the boat made way at the rate of half a league an hour, by means contrived for that purpose. If we may judge of the future from the past, it would seem necessary for the success of these projects, to obtain the consent of those who are to be “decomposed,” which has not yet been done. Fulton was, therefore, never able to demolish an English ship, although he watched long and anxiously such as approached the French coast, for that purpose. The rulers of France being at length discouraged, and Fulton thinking that the all-important object was to blow up ships, and so that was effected, it was no great matter to what power they might happen to belong, turned his eyes for patronage to the English government—or they turned their eyes to him. Mr. Colden seems very properly aware that this conduct of his friend might make an unpleasant impression on the minds of those who were not, like his biographer, acquainted with the elevation and philanthropy of his views, and seeks to justify him by the following defence. It must be recollected, that Fulton's enthusiastic motions of the advantages of a universal free trade and liberty of the seas, had led to the inventions which he was then endeavouring to employ, and which as he supposed, would annihilate naval armaments, the great support in his estimation of what he calls the war system of Europe. He was persuaded, that if this system could be broken up, all nations would direct their energies to education, the sciences, and a free exchange of their natural advantages. He was convinced that if, on the contrary, the Europeans continued to cherish this war system, and to support and augment their great naval armaments, his own country would be driven to the necessity of protecting herself by similar establishments, which, as he thought, would be inimical to her republican institutions, and destructive of her happiness. Without reference, therefore, to the merits of the then existing contest, the grounds of which were constantly changing, without feeling a partiality or enmity to either of the belligerents, he was desirous of engaging one of the nations at war to give him an opportunity of trying the efficacy of his inventions. If they were proved to answer his expectations, he was indifferent as to the temporary advantages it might give either over the other. He believed that the result would be the permanent happiness of all, and that in the general good his own country would largely participate. He considered himself as introducing a new military science, which he wished to prove, and which he had a desire to perfect himself, for the benefit of his country and of mankind. His sentiments on this subject were not novel, nor without the sanction of the nations which they most immediately concerned. Neither France nor England has hesitated to encourage their citizens, with a view to their improvement in military science, to serve in the armies and navies of foreign states at war, where they have been neutral. “Whatever,” says Mr. C. “may be the just force of this reasoning, it swayed the mind of Mr. Fulton to honest conviction.” It is doubtful whether it will produce a similar effect on any other mind. From the following passage we infer that the negotiations between Fulton and the English ministry were clandestine, and were carried on at a time when he resided in France, and was ostensibly attached to her interests:—“It has been mentioned, that the Earl of Stanhope had taken great pains to inform himself as to Fulton's proceedings in France. This nobleman's mathematical and mechanical mind perceived what consequences might result from the application of Fulton's inventions. The information he obtained was communicated by the British cabinet and excited attention. It was determined by the British ministry, is possible, to withdraw Fulton from France. Lord Sidmouth, who was then one of the ministers, contrived to have a communication with Fulton, while he was in Paris, and obtained his consent to meet an agent of the British government in Holland. In October, 1803, Fulton went from Paris to Amsterdam for this purpose, but the agent with whom he was to confer did not arrive; and after being in Amsterdam three months he returned to Paris. We cannot resist the impression that some light is thrown upon Fulton's conduct by the evidence adduced for another purpose by Mr. Colden from Lord Stanhope, his early friend and correspondent. In a speech on American affairs, made by Lord Stanhope in the house of lords, soon after these experiments were made, he is reported in an English newspaper to have said, “it was not perhaps sufficiently known, that at that very moment exertions were making in America to carry into effect a plan for the disclosure of which an individual had, a few years before, demanded of the British government fifteen thousand dollars, but had been refused. He alluded to a plan, he said, for the invisible destruction of shipping, and particularly men-of-war. That the inventor of this scheme was then in America, and it was ascertained that it would not, on an average, cost twenty pounds to destroy any ship whatever.” While he was labouring for
* The following letter has induced me to select the above notice.
AshLAND, 4th July, 1835. Sir 3–1 received your letter transmitting a copy of your prospectus, for the publication of a memoir of the late Mr. Samuel Slater. I have been highly interested by what I have heard from time to time, of his early and successful exertions to introduce the cotton manufacture in the United States; and I have now in my possession some cotton yarn spun by the first spindles which he put up, which I was informed were the first used in the United States. Without being able to contribute to the accomplishment of your undertaking, I shall be glad to hear of its successful execution. The names of Fulton, Evans, Whitney and Slater, should ever live in the grateful recollection of the people of the United States. With great respect, I am, your ob't servant, Mr. George S. White, Canterbury, Connecticut. HENRY CLAY.
his new employers, some of the torpedoes were thrown from British boats upon French vessels, but they exploded without effect—a circumstance which Fulton attributed to a slight, and easily rectified mistake. To evince the correctness of his opinion, in October, 1805, he did blow up with complete success a brig provided for the purpose. Still, however, the British ministry were incredulous, and Fulton, wearied with incessant applications, disappointments and neglect, at length embarked for this country.” Mr. Colden here fairly states—it would be doing injustice to the memory of Fulton, as well as that of another ingenious native American, not to notice, before we leave this subject, that Fulton did not pretend to have been the first who discovered that gunpowder might be exploded with effect under water, nor did he pretend to have been the first who attempted to apply it as the means of hostility. He knew well what had been done by Bushnel in our revolutionary war. He frequently spoke of the genius of this American with great respect, and expressed a conviction that his attempts against the enemy would have been more successful, if he had had the advantages which he himself derived from the improvements of nearly forty years in mechanics and mechanical physiology. We cannot but think, that it is a very exaggerated estimate of the efficiency of Fulton's contrivances, which induces Mr. Colden to suppose, that the “British ministry never truly intended to give Fulton a fair opportunity of trying the effects of his engines.” The object may have been to prevent their being placed in the hands of an enemy ; and if that was accomplished, it was the interest of England, as long as she was ambitious of maintaining the proud title of mistress of the seas, to make the world believe that Fulton's projects were chimerical. Nothing could be more likely to produce this effect, than abortive attempts to apply them. This would prevent other nations from making similar experiments and discourage the inventor. In June, the British ministry appointed a commission to examine Fulton's projects. The commissioners were Sir Jos. Banks, Mr. Cavendish, Sir Home Popham, Major Congreve and Mr. John Rennie. Many weeks passed before Fulton could prevail on them to do any thing, and finally, when they met, they reported against the sub-marine boat as being impracticable. In a letter to the ministry, Fulton complains that this report was made without his having been called for any explanations, and although the gentlemen who made it had before them no account of what had been done. Indeed, in the first interview which Fulton had with Mr. Pitt and Lord Melvile, the latter condemned the Nautilus without a moment's consideration. If these engines were, in truth, terrible as the biographer imagines, it would not be strange that the British ministry should choose to preserve the navy by
almost any means from entire demolition; and they might oppose the introduction of a mode of warfare which though, in the first instance, it was exerted against their enemies, would infallibly re-act against themselves with greater effect in proportion to the superiority of their naval force. But no such motives can be ascribed to the French republican government, and they rejected it—no such suspicion can be against Bonaparte, and after a full trial he relinquished it; or against the Dutch government, and they declined it; no such policy is to be attributed to our administration, and still we are told by Mr. Colden, “Mr. Fulton's plan for sub-marine warfare met