"Letters of James Rumsey, Inventor of the Steamboat"

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Letters published by William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, 1916, on James Rumsey's pioneering efforts in making a steamboat, compiled as a result of a suit brought before George Wythe.

James Rumsey was born 1743 in Maryland. Around 1780, Rumsey became interested in mechanical engineering, particularly in inventing a steamboat for river navigation. After several years of experiments, Rumsey managed to make a boat that could move by crude jet propulsion. On December 3, 1787, the boat made a successful public demonstration on the Potomac at Shepherdstown. Rumsey went to Philadelphia in 1788 where he was well received; the “Rumseian Society” had been formed due to his progress. Contributions from that society made a venture to Europe possible. Rumsey brought with him letters of introduction from distinguished Americans. In England, Rumsey procured patents for many things, though he was primarily visiting to bring forth the steamboat. For four years, working various side jobs to get by, Rumsey made various connections, influencing other inventors including Fulton.

James Rumsey had made his brother, Edward Rumsey, the executor of his estate. James McMechen, a member of the Rumseian Society, filed suit against Rumsey’s estate for contempt of court, wanting a fourth part of Rumsey’s profits, to which McMechen was allegedly entitled.[1]

Included are McMechen’s complaint and Edward Rumsey’s answer, both of which are addressed to the Chancellor of Virginia, George Wythe. The case appears to be a result of a severe misunderstanding on McMechen’s part of the circumstances for Rumsey changing the allocation of his profits. These papers were published by William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine in January, 1916.[2]

Letter text

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James Rumsey was born at "Bohemia Manor," Cecil County, Maryland, in 1743. His father was a farmer of good social standing with a large family and limited means, but the son acquired a pretty fair education, considering the times, as his letters show. He served as a soldier in the Revolution, and at the close of the war, in 1783, with Nicholas Orrick as partner, Rumsey went into the mercantile business at Bath, now known as Berkeley Springs, in Morgan County, West Virginia. In 1784 with Robert Throgmorton he kept a boarding house for visitors to the springs, and when "the Potomac Improvement Co." was established became its secretary.

His mind, however, had a mechanical turn, and several years previous to 1783 he applied himself to perfecting a boat for navigating rivers. His first boat appears to have been propelled by mechanical power alone and in 1784 he showed a model of it to General Washington, who had a cottage at Berkeley Springs, and Washington became an eye-witness of the working powers of the model by an actual experiment in running water. In the fall of the same year Rumsey obtained from the Virginia Legislature an act protecting his right of navigation within that State for ten years, and soon after the Maryland Legislature passed a similiar provision. Rumsey was no novice in the possibilities of steam, and about September, 1784, he began to study how to apply its power to boat navigation. He removed about this time to Shepherdstown, constructed a new boat fifty feet long, and on December 3, 1787, after a preliminary private trial in March, 1786, made his first public exhibition of the invention at Shepherdstown in the presence of many persons-comprising General Horatio Gates, Colonel William Darke, Colonel Joseph Swearinger, Jeremiah Morrow, afterwards Governor of Ohio, John Mark and other prominent people. The trial was repeated December 14, 1787, and the boat attained a speed against the current of four miles an hour

Shortly after this Rumsey in January, 1788, published a pamphlet, entitled "A Paean or Short Treatise on Steam," in which, alluding to this second experiment, he claimed that a speed of ten miles an hour might readily be obtained through the use of steam.

The same winter (1788) Rumsey went to Philadelphia, and the interest awakened there in his steamboat resulted in the formation of the "Rumseian Society." The May following, aided by this Society, he went to Europe, bearing letters of introduction from Washington, Franklin, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Rush, and other distinguished Americans.

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In England he made the acquaintance of the Society of the Arts, and procured various patents from the British government for various improvements in steam engines, pumps, boilers and mill machinery, but the main object of his visit was to introduce the steamboat, this he addressed himself with his accustomed energy. He was a poor man, however, and was constantly short of funds. In order to pay his way he had to engage in various side labors, some of which are referred to in the letters that follow. He struggled on, however, and the boat was at length finished and made ready for public trial. It was 100 feet long, with proportionate breadth of beam and depth of hold.

But after all the burden borne, on the very eve of triumph, Mr Rumsey was not spared to witness the consummation. On December 20, 1792, he delivered an address before the Society of Arts in London, on hydrostatics, immediately after which he busied himself in wording resolutions to be entered in the Society's book. While thus engaged he complained of a violent pain in his temple. He became speechless, and though competent medical assistance was rendered him, expired at the Adelphi Hotel the next evening at about quarter past nine, December 21, 1792. His remains were interred in the churchyard of St. Margaret's, Westminster, London.

In spite of his decease the trial was made of his steamboat, and as stated in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for February, 1793, page 182, the trial proved very successful, for the boat sailed against wind and tide at the rate of "four knots an hour."

Rumsey's claim to precedence was fiercely contested by John Fitch, of Philadelphia, but the question is settled against the latter by his own words, as he states himself that the first idea of a steamboat occurred him in April, 1785. Moreover, Rumsey gave the first public demonstrations of the steamboat's success.

Rumsey will always remain an interesting figure for he paved way for the success of Fulton, whom he met in England and doubtless influenced. Anything like a full biography of him has never been written, though a sketch of the man and his work was prepared for the West Historical and Antiquarian Society by George M. Beltzhoover, and printed in 1900 by the West Virginia Historical Society.

The helmsman on Rumsey's boat at Shepherdstown at the demonstration, December 3, 1787, was Colonel Charles Morrow, a brother of Rumsey's wife. Two other brothers of his wife were among the spectators, John Morrow, who afterwards was a member of Congress from Virginia (March 4, 1805-March 3, 1809) and Jeremiah Morrow (born at Gettysburg in 1771), Senator of the United States (1813-1819) from Ohio, Governor of that State (1823-1826). One of the passengers on the steamer was Ellen Mark, who before marriage was also a Morrow, probably sister or cousin of Rumsey's wife. Her husband, John Mark, was a Scotch-

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Irishman from Ulster, and founder of the first Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg. His daughter Ann, who was with her mother on the steamer, married Hon. John Baker, of Shepherdstown, and had a daughter Ann Baker, who married Thomas W. Gilmer, Secretary of the Navy under Tyler.

In the archives of the Virginia State Library are the papers of a suit originally begun in the High Court of Chancery for Staunton, Virginia. These papers were deposited in the Library by order of the Circuit Court of Augusta County, in 1907, at the instance of Armistead C. Gordon, chairman of the Library Board. The suit was brought by Doctor James McMechen against Rumsey's executor, Edward Rumsey, for settlement of alleged indebtednesses of his testator. These papers have never been published before and of them the most important are now published with the consent of Doctor Henry R. Mcllwaine, State Librarian. They are chiefly valuable for throwing light on Rumsey's movements while in England.¹

To The Honble George Wythe Chancellor of Virginia

Respectfully complaining sheweth unto Your Honor his Orator

James McMeechen of the County of Berkeley.

That some time in or about the year 1784 a certain James Rumsey and your Orator entered into Articles of agreement (here ready to be produced) for the purpose of prosecuting and receiving

¹The following is a list of the documents filed in the cause of McMechen vs. Rumsey.

1. Copy of order of Circuit Court of Augusta County, Virginia, directing that the papers in the ended chancery cause McMechen vs. Rumsey be deposited in the Virginia State Library.

2. Bill filed by James McMechen. (Printed in full.)

3. Writ of summons (to sergeant of corporation of Winchester) against Edward Rumsey, executor of James Rumsey. deceased. Dated 13 December, 1799.

4. Writ of attachment (personal), to sergeant of corporation of Winchester, against Rumsey for contempt of court.

5. Copy of order in the High Court of Chancery, May 16, 1801, taking as confessed the bill of the complainant, McMechen, in view of Rumsey's refusal to answer a writ of attachment for contempt.

6. Answer of Edward Rumsey, executor of James Rumsey, deceased, to a bill of complaint exhibited against him in the High Court of Chan-

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profit by an Invention of constructing boats to sail agt stream, by which agreement it will appear that the said James Rumsey and your orator stipulated to pursue jointly and severally with their utmost deligence & attention every Most sucessfull Measures for obtaining either premiums or exclusive Rights from the several states of America or from the States in Congress or from any principality, State or Kingdom the eastern World at the joint expense of them the said Rumsey & your Orator their heirs &c. and upon obtaining such premiums or exclusive Rights, the said Rumsey should be entitled to fourth parts thereof and Your Orator to one fourth. Among other things stated in said agree&supt; the parties bound themselves in the penal sum of one hundred thousand pounds.

And your Orator further sheweth that the said James Rumsey being a man of abilities, well versed in the Doctrines of Hydro-

cery wherein James McMeechen is complainant, and exhibits A, B, C, E, F, G, H referred to in said answer. (Printed in full.)

A. Articles of agreement between James Rumsey and James McMeechen, 10 November, 1784.

B. Letter from James Rumsey to James McMeechen, dated London, April 15th, 1792.

C. Letter from James Rumsey to Charles Morrow, dated Philadelphia, May 14th, 1788.

D. Letter from James Rumsey to Charles Morrow, dated London, September 12th, 1791.

E. Letter from James Rumsey to Charles Morrow, dated London January 5, 1791.

F. Letter from James Rumsey to Charles Morrow, dated London, August 23d, 1791.

G. Joseph Barnes with Daniel Parker, award. Dated, London, 9 March, 1795.

H. Letter of James Rumsey to Charles Morrow, dated London March 30, 1792.

7. Letter from James Rumsey to Charles Morrow, dated London August 4th, 1789. (Printed in full.)

8. Letter from Joseph Barnes to Charles Morrow, dated Philadelphia, January 29th, 1792. (Printed in full.)

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statics, central forces and the Laws of gravitation, aspired other objects of invention, which were extremely usefull to the world such as Rumseys improvement on Doctor Barker's Mill, Rumsey's steam boiler &c. &c. in the proffitts of which arising from premiums, exclusive Rights or otherwise your Orator was also entitled to One fourth part. Your Orator futher sheweth that in consideration of the aforesd. agreet he advanced by different payments unto the said Rumsey the sum of three hundred pounds being the full amot. of his part of the expences attending the experiments of said Rumsey, as will appear in part by said Rumsey's letter and the books belonging to what was called the Rumseyan Society now in the hands of John Morrow of Shepherd's town, Berkeley County. That the said Rumsey made considerable sales of the above inventions in Philadelphia and received large sums of money of which your Orator was entitled at least to the sum of one hundred and thirty odd pounds, that migrated to England about the year 1789 or 1790 and there prosecuted his plans aforesaid and made considerable sales receiving at One time the sum of two thousand pounds which he renmitted to this Country as follows £1000: to the Rumseyan Society which came to the hands of One Joseph Barns and one thousand pounds in goods wares and merchandise which came to the hands of Charles Morrow since deceased with orders that these sums should be distributed among the parties intrusted, Out of which your Orator was entitled to receive £500: being his fourth part. Your Orator further charges that in or about the month of December 1792 the said James Rumsey departed this life having previously made & published his last will & Testament in Writing thereby constituting Edward Rumsey his brother Exor. who took upon himself the burthen of the administration & whom your Orator prays may made a Dft. to this his bill of compt. your Orator charges that the said Edwd. Rumsey came to an Acct. & settlement with Barns and Morrow and others for the monies remitted as aforesd and received a large sum of money particularly Your Orators shares except as to the sum of fifty two pounds Penna Cury which yr Orator recd. of the said Charles Morrow that the said Edwd. Rumsey the Dft. deputed the aforesaid Joseph

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Barns to go to England and to dispose of the inventions of the said James Rumsey decd. which your Orator is informed were sold for the sum of seven thousand five hundred pounds sterling money of which Your Orator was entitled to one fourth part But now so it is May it please your honor the said Deft. combining and confederating to and with divers persons unknown to your Orator but when discovered he prays May be made Defts. to this his bill of complt how to injure & oppress him, hath refused to account your Orator for any part of his shares aforesd. altho. repeatedly called upon giving out in speeches that your Orator is not entitled to any part and again denying that any monies have come to his hands All which actings and doings are contray to equity and good conscience and tend to the Manifest injury of Your Orator in the premisses. In Tender consideration where of and for as much as your Orator is remideless by the strict rules of the common Law but only releaveable in a court of Equity where delinquents of this kind can be compelled to account upon oath To the end therefore that the dft. may upon his corporal oath full true and perfect answer m1ake to all and singular the premisses as fully and completely as if the same were herein again expressly asked and enterrogated and the Dft Rumsy may be compelled to account with your Orator for the proffitts made by his Testator and those reced. by him & the Deft. and be decreed to pay unto your Orator the full amot. of his fourth part of all such proffitts and that your Orator May have such other & further relief as unto the court May Seem Meet &c.

Holmes Pq.

(Backed) McMeekin v Rumsey

Suit brought to March term 1800
August Rules 1800 Bill and time
May term 1801 Bill taken for confessed
June Rules 1801 answer and Gen Rep & Com
January Rules 1802 set for hearing on plts motion
thus the cause remained on the docket of the said
Court, the first day of February 1802.
P. Tinsley

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} Bill
Rumseys Exors.

Suit brought to March term 1800
May term 1801 bill taken
for confessed.
August 6, 1800

To The Honorable George Wythe Chancellor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Answer of Edward Rumsey as Executor of the Will and Testament of James Rumsey deceased to a Bill of complaint exhibited against him il the High Court of Chancery wherein James McMachen is Complainant.

This Respondant now and at all times reserving to himself all manner of benefit of exception to the manifest errors uncertainties and imperfections in the Complainant's bill contained to so much thereof as he is advised is material to be responded unto he answerth and Saith; That true it is that on the tenth day of November in the year 1784 an article of covenant and agreement was enterred into by the said Complanant on the one part and this Respondants testator on the other; which said article of covenant marked (A) this Defendant prays may be taken as part of this Answer: that from the recital and current of the said Article as well as from the belief of this Respondtt it was the evident intent of the parties that the contract should be exclusively confined to the procuring of Patents and exclusive rights in the manner form therein discribed to a certain mechanic invention of the genius of the said decedant of a boat constructed to sail against rapid currents, and this Respondant now protests against any other inferrence from or construction of the said article, and avers that he knows of no other contract between the said parties save that which may grow from the letter and spirit of the said article of covenant: that it is apparent from the said article that the prosecution of the said Patents and exclusive rights was to

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be at the joint expense and risque of the said parties and that the emolumlnents and products of the said inventions directly and indirectly should be one fourth thereof to the Complainant and three fourths thereof to this Respondtts Testator: and that the Complainalnt never embarked in the fate or proceeds of any other invention of the decedant and would have no claim to the proffitts thereof; that some time in the year 1793 at the urgent request and instance of the said McMachen and while this Resopndt an a certain Joseph Barnes were entirely unwary and while this Respondant was ignorant of any article between the said parties, he with the said Barnes was induced to sign a Certificate the purport of which he cannot now recolect, but which he conceives embraced greater lattitude than the above exposition of the said article, but he now solemly avers that the perusal of the said article which came to him by a private and accidental conveyance from Philadelphia subsequent to the said Certificate, has induced him to vary from the said Certificate: a paper executed more from an anxiety to do ample justice to the Complainant than from an adiquate comprehention of the contract and its circumstances : that it has since appeared evident to this Respondant that the decedant could not have been so insensible to the dignity of his being as to have contemplated by the said contract a surrender to the Complainant on any conditions of one fourth of the product of his thoughts and genius to the day of his death. this Respondant has merely understood that some advances were made by the Complainant to the decedant, but to what extent he cannot state neither hath he any vouchers in his posession to elucidate this point, but this is well known to this Respondant that intervening the date of the said article and the 14th day of May 1788 the period of the decedant's departure for England the various expenditures in the prosecution of the invention: by applications and journies to many states in the Union, and to the Congress of the United States; by innumerable experiments; by the erection of expensive Works on the Potomac and other incidental expenses amounted to a sum the Complainants proportion of which would far have exceeded the sum of 300£ stated in Complanants Bill and which this Respondt believes is meant to

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be Pennsya currency. That some time in May 1788 the decendant arrived in the city of Philadelphia where he was honored with the patronage of the most enlightened characters of his country; but from a strange fatality he did not derive the slightest pecuniary advantages in that city from his invention, and consequently made no sales so that the alegation of the Complainants Bill that the decedant made sales and received emoluments therefrom in the city of Philadelphia is groundless which will more fully appear by the lower part of the first and the whole of the second page of a letter from the decedant to the said Complainant marked (B) and which is prayed to be taken as part of this answer, which letter having been found by the widow of a certain Charles Morrow an acquaintance of both parties and who in his life time accidently possessed the same, was by her handed to this Respondt – true it is that just previous to the decendants departure for England and at other times after the total sum of 600£ sterling was advanced by the Rumsian Society merely as an adventure, with the decedant for the promotion of his general plans, and which the Testator thought himself bound to refuse from principles of honor. In the year 1788 which will appear by Letter Marked (C) and which is prayed as part of this answer, a Society partly from the exertions of the decedant and others, became organized in Philadelphia under the title of the Rumseian Society, by which society the sum aforesaid was as aforesaid advanced: from the urgent wishes of the said society zealous for the promotion of mechanic science, and the pressure of his own affairs, the Testator was about to depart for the eastern world the then expanded theatre of genius and emulation, where he was taught to think an ample field would be open for the exercise of his humble talents in the acquirement of a fair fame and honest subsistance: that for the promotion of his success, the said Society furnished him with recommendatory addresses and part of the above sum evidenced by drafts on respectable persons in London that under these sanctions on the 14th day of May 1788 the testator took his departure for Europe. That after the Testator arrived in London he found himself in a strange and great Kingdom whose character has even been to concentrate the springs of action into mo-

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tives of sordid gain supported more by the strength of his recommendations than pecuniary resource and unadided by a shilling from the purse or credit of the Complainant his pretended partner: that so situated he addressed the Parliament of Great Britain and procured certain Patents and exclusive rights to certain inventions of his own, among which was the steam invention for stemming currents recited in the first mentioned contract: and then as he ever after continued, equally unaided by the said Complainant he anxiously sought those pecuniary resources essential to the promotion of his schemes: that he negotiated with several mighty characters in the Kingdom and effectuated an agreement with a certain — Whiting a man in London of wealth an high responsibility: that under the auspices of the said Whiting and the flattering allurements of a brilliant prospect the scope of his action became more extensive and his engagements more serious: it was soon after agreed that a ship should be built and that the steam machine should be constructed with her, that the cost of the said ship separate from the constructing the machine was 600 guineas, for the whole of which sum the testator became liable: that shortly after Whiting became insolvent and he not having contributed a shilling towards the above expense the testator being wholly liable found himself surrounded by embarrassments pressed by creditors and at the door of a prison; which may more fully appear by other documents prayed to be taken as part of this Bill if possible to be produced: that under this predicament the testator eager to le relieved from his pressures contracted with a certain firm under the title of Rodgers & Parker, the tenor of which contract was that the said Rodgers and Parker were to receive two thirds of the product of the steam ship in consideration that they would advance 2000£ towit one thousand in cash and one thousand in goods but the whole amount to be 7500£ if the said ship should be compleated : that the Testator ever acting for the best received one thousand pounds in goods for the other thousand commuted for 800£ in cash: that Rodgers & Parker actually failed and became insolvent, so that the progress of the said ship was entirely impeded, and no other benefit ever received from the said house previous to said failure:

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that the Testator accepted a draft on him drawn by a certain Benjamin Wynkoop for £1000, Treasurer of the Rumsian Society, and in London discharged the same in money, 800£ thereof being one of the above received sums and two hundred from his own stock: that just previous to the said payment the friends of the Testator reflecting on his situation furnished him on loan with certain sums for which he became responsible: that then one thousand pounds worth of goods were forwarded to Berkeley County in Virginia: that these goods were consigned to a certain Charles Morrow to be sold, which will appear more fully by Letters marked B. C. D. E. and F. and which last are prayed to be taken as part of this Answer. That about August or Sept. 1791 the Testator having found himself in debt to the amount of 1500£ sterling money to have been entirely connected with unfortunate and broken characters; burthened with the heaviest demands; struct with the horid picture of his affairs, seeing nothing before him but the walls of a prison or irretreivable disgrace, cast an anxious but desperate eye towards the several sources from which he had been taught to expect relief: the hand of the Complainant was not extended to his support, unaided by any connection in his own country, unsanctioned by residence or tried friendship in Europe; being blended in the deplorable fate and sharing the unstable credit of those with whom he had been contracted he thought, that the arm of providence alone could snatch him from certain ruin. But happily for him and those to whom he had become liable, he received an invitation to Ireland through the Earl Carhampton to render his assistance in projecting and cutting a Canal in that country, for which he received £10: sterg per day, as will appear by Letter D: that he was employed either 40 or 60 days, the proceeds of which were applied to his previous incumbrances: that he afterwards not wishing to return to London went to Liverpool, whence he invented a certain Mill upon new principles, for one quarter part of which he received £750 sterg which also was applied to the discharge of his previous debts, and then was priviledged to return to London; that while at London he continued prosecuting the steam ship under the direction of the trustees of Rodgers &

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Parker who merely discharged the expenses of the said ship until his decease and from which at his decease he received no actual emolument; as will appear by Letter marked (H) and prayed to be taken as part of this Answer: that in about the 22d. of December 1792 the Testator died. This respondant being not in possession of other documents or accounts relative to the said Estate prays that if any should after come to hand they may be taken as part of this Answer. That true it is the deceadent left his Will and Testament in which he appointed the Respondant his Executor: that this Respondt hath taken upon himself the executorshilp of said Estate: that some time in the year 1793 this Respondt appointed a certain Joseph Barnes (now in Holland) his attorney to do and perform all mlatters and things relative to the said Estate in England: that the said Barnes went to England; acted as this Respondt believes in all respects for the best; that he enterred into an arbitrament: that an award therefrom took place, and that there by as well as from the statement of Barnes and this Respondt's belief the said Testator was indebted on account of the said ship, the invention mentioned in the first contract referred to, the arbitrators not concurring the invention to be in that perfection called for by the agreement which said answer marked (G) this Respondt prays may be taken as part of this answer; and that the allegation of the Complainant that Barnes received 1000£ sent to the Rumsian Society this Respondant avers to be totaly groundless, as he knows of no money ever received by Barnes on account of his attorneyship as aforesaid or on any other account of the estate of the decedant: that this Respondt hath truly and faithfully conducted himself as Executor as aforesd: that the sum of £501 : 9:134: came to his hands from the product of the remittance of goods as aforesaid to Charles Morrow: that since that time he hath settled with the county court of Berkley, with the said Estate as Executor as aforesaid that the estate was then found in his debt some where about one hundred pounds allowing as a debit against him the five hundred and one pounds, nine shillings and a penny 34d as above and that not a shilling has in any shape otherwise been received of the said estate by this Respondant: and among other

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credits allowed by the said court in this Respondants favor was the actual satisfaction of a Judgment obtained against the said Estate for the sum of about £200, which had been contracted by the testator in England towards the prosecution of the above mentioned steam ship. So that the Respondant is now confident in averring that he hath nothing of the estate at present in his hands: that the goods before referred to as having been transmitted to Morrow were not directed to be divided as the Complainants bill alledges; and that there were no orders as to the distribution of these goods or the product thereof to McMachen or any other person further than appears from the letter marked B: that true it is a draft was made by the defendant upon said Wynkoop for £1000 treasurer of the Rumsian Society for the discharge of the decedants previous acceptance as above stated: that 600£ was to be disposed of to the society: and this and the rest appear by letter marked B: but none of this draft hath ever been received; the said Wynkoop having been insolvent; and this Respondtant further states that the decedant received no proffit from any other invention within his Knowledge save the Mill before mentioned and the steam boat to which last the contract of the parties were confined.

So that now it appears may it please your honors that the decedant expended and became indebted for and discharged to the use of the steam boat invention above mentioned £1500—sterling money, equal to £2000 Virga currency 1000 curry of which according to the acknowledged contract became the debt of the Complainant: then as the £600 sterling equal to 800£ curry was advanced by the society for the joint of the Compt and Testator, which never was refunded he the Complat became also indebted to the Testator other 400£ Va. currency, which added will make a debt due from the Complainant to the Respondant of 1400£ Va. currency. The whole of the proffits of the steam invention was £1800 sterling money equal to £2400 currency; of which the Complainant wanted to claim one fourth part towit 600£ currency, which deducted from the aforesaid debt of £1400 will in due submission leave the Complainant in debt to the Testator in the sum of £800 current money

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of Virginia; But should this honorable court deem it consistent with equity, good faith and the contract, that the £1000 remitted to Wynkoop, having been lost after every diligence on the part of the Testator and this Respondant, which he now avers hath been used and that it never hath been received by the Testator to the use of the said contract; then the proportions to demand of the Complainant acting only on £1000 sterling would be but £250 sterling leaving according to the above submission a balance now due from the Complainant to the decedants estate of £1250 current money of Virginia.

And now this Defendant having amply responded to all the material allegations in the Complainants Bill contained, now utterly denying all fraud, guile, combination and collusion prays to be dismissed according to the rules of equity and with his proper cost and chas [?] in this behalf most unrightously expended.

Joh. Woodward Jr. Df

Monroe County towit

Personally appeared before me a Justice of the Peace for said county Edward Rumsey the Defendant wvithin mentioned and made oath that allegations of the within Answer as far as respects his own Knowledge are true and as far as they relate to the Knowledge of others he believes to be true Given under my hand this 24th day of April in the year 1801.

James Alexander

} Ans

Answer: High Ct. Chancery
Edwd Rumsey Exr.
James McMachen
May 27, 1801.

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ARTICLES of agreement made and Concluded by and between James Rumsy of Berkley County & State of Virginia of the one part & James McMechan of the same place of the other part witnesseth that whereas they jointly have undertaken to prosecute their scheme for obtaining a premium on Exclusive Right for sd. Rumsey's Invention of Constructing a Boat to sail against Rapid Currents be it known and Remembered by these present that the Terms and Conditions of their Mutual agreement is as follows viz; that they the sd. James Rumsy & James McMechen shall & will Jointly and severally pursue with their utmost Diligence and attention every the most probable & successfull measures for obtaining eighther premiums or Exclusive Rights from the Several States of america or from the United States in Congress or from any other principality, State or kingdom in the Eastern world, at the Joint Expense of them the sd. Rumsy and McMechen their heirs &c. & that upon their obtaining the several premiums or exclusive Rights as the Case may be the mode proposed for Divition thereof shall & is hereby agreed to be that he the said James Rumsy his heirs &c. shall be Intitled to three fourths of the several premiums obtained & James McMechen the one fourth & three fourths of the profits of Exclusive Rights that may arise to James Rumsy & one fourth thereof to James McMechen his heirs &c. & furthermore it is hereby Covenanted & agreed that the mode of petitioning & addressing the several States in future for premiums or exclusive Rights shall be in the Name of James Rumsey his heirs &c. alone as the sole Inventor, & the end that all Difficulties & Disputes may be Removed relative to the Divition of the premiums arrising as they may be Recovered by Reason of the grant thereof being made to James Rumsy & his heirs alone it is hereby further Covenanted and agreed that James Rumsy shall & he is hereby bound in the penal sum of fifty thousand pounds Current money of Virginia as also his heirs, Exors. and adnmrs. to be recovered to the use of the sd. James McMechen his heirs &c. provided the

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sd. Rumsey his heirs &c. shall refuse or neglect to Render up unto the sd. James McMechen his heirs &c. his moiety or one fourth part of the Several premiums as they may be recorded or Recovered from the Several States, by Reason of his Invention, to all which matters and things herein Containd the parties to these presents do hereby bind themselves each to the other their heirs, executr & admrs in the penall sum of one hundred thousand pounds Money of Virginia to be Recovered of the party Delinquent or that shall Refuse to Comply with the Terms and particulars of this article, and in Testimony whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals Interchangably this Ioth day of November 1784.

James McMechen (seal)
James Rumsey (seal)

Dabney Miller

Richard Curd

Richard Anderson Jr.

Articles of agreement
James McMechen
& James Rumsey
Novr 1784.
vs Articles


London April 15th 1792.

Dear Sir,

Near the end of November last I received your favor of the 14th July 1791, wherein you tell me that you had “received two

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letters from me since I had left America" I believe that is all (before this) that I have written to you, and hope that you will not ascribe the smallness of the number to neglect, or want of friendship; as I can assure you that neither was the cause; But my having written frequently and, prety, fully to Capt. Morrow, respecting my preceedings here, with a request to communicate the same to you (among other friends) made me conclude it was unnecessary (to say nothing of the avertion I have [for wr]iteing one thing over and over again) to repeat the same to you and in this light (tho it is indirectly) I have written to you, as often as to any friend that I have.

Believe me that I am much and most Sincerely distressed by the account you give me of the disagreeable situation that ware in when your letter was written; but I hope and believe that you had only taken a View of the dark Side of your Situation, & trust that the fear you expressed of things getting worse with you, was more Ideal than rail! I too often myself see danger through a magnifying glass, it is therefore that I am expermentally enabled, to Judge of your Situation by my own! you mention the £1000, worth of goods that I sent to Capt. Morrow, and the £100 stg. I alloted for you; It may therefore not be improper to say Something respecting them least you (for want of more accurate information) should have some wrong impressions relative thereto; when I made the sail of the patents here, I was to receive £1000 in goods and £1000 in Cash, on finding that the latter was not easy to be come at , I (therefore) agreed to take £800 for it, in hand; you know how unfortunately the whole of that sum, fell into the hands of that scoundel, Wynkoop, who I then expected (as I had taken up his Bills that otherways must have been protested) would repay the whole £1000, which I directed to be disposed of as follows £600 Sterg. to the Society (which sum they had advanced to me) £100, to you £50 to ned & my wife, and the remainer to Mr. Barnes the Villain paid none of [torn] therefore no more need be said respecting it, at present: The £1000 Sterg worth of goods I sent to Capt. Morrow to be sold upon, and for, my own account; to indemnify me for the expences I had been at, an account of the business

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here; which at that time (say nothing of my Servise) was upwards of £750 sterlg.!!! and now is more than double that Sum! all this over and above the £600. furnished me by the Society from which you may Judge (having had no resources) of the enormous Sum that I (constantly have and) now owe. View me thus loaded with debt, in a Strange Country, Conected with broken men; and pursueing projects, in the Success of which, but few believe. Compare this with your own Situation and bless yourself that you are yet Liveing in the peacefull shades of Berkley! tho on but a Scanty Subsistance. I have frequently been in the prisons here, on purpose to make them familiar to me! as I have long expected that one of them, must eventually become my abode; I will not discribe them to you; they are too horrid for your contemplation; if however you should dwell upon the Idea, conceive a man shut up with thousands of hardened & unhappy wretches, without the allowance of even bread and water to Subsist on! believe me this is Literally true! and to add to the horror, be assured that a man, the moment he is Locked up, is no more thought of, or sought after than if he was in his grave! Capt. Mor[row] will inform you with the success I have lately had with one of my new mills, which however has produced no pecuniary relieff, one of my partners being much worse than nothing (with respect to property) and the other scarcely never to be seen, is but cold comfort; after four years absence from home! the Business has for some time been totally at a stand; how it will end, to use Barnes' expression; "heaven only knows." I am determined however as soon as I possibly can, to bring the whole to an end; of some kind or other, as I find it impossible, any longer to proceed without better support; this you will Say is a hard lot; especially [torn] time when I have (according to my agreement) [torn] to me, more than £3000 sterlg. I have long since Intimated to Capt. Morrow to Let you have any money, or goods that you might stand in need of; which no doubt he will readily do; I therefore trust that you Cannot suffer while I am able to furnish you with that resource; which you very well know is all that I have in the world, and that it will ever give me pleasure to divide it with you, which I Cheerfully will Should

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desperate events not deprive me of it. give my best respects to Mrs. McMechen and be assured that I remain your Sincere friend

James Rumsey
Docr Jas. McMechen.

(Backed) Doctr James McMechen

To the Care of Captn Charles
Morrow, Shepherds Town,
Berckeley County,
Single sheet

[The following was written as a postscript.—Editor.]

London June the 29th 1792. The ship that I expected this Letter to have went by sailed without my knowledge and no other oppertunity offering till now the Letter was obliged to lay by. I have nothing new to add except that one of my partners has totally sank under the pressure of his affairs by which means it comes out that he has conveyed his third of the patent to his Creditors more than i6 months ago; the other will weather the storm I hope Soon he has already let me have much money as to releive [torn] from the danger of a jail and the pressure of my most hungry dunns but the business is still almost Stationary, but I hope some change (perhaps) for the better may yet take place; my news from Barnes is all bad, you shall [hear?] from me again soon. I am in good health and bad Spirits. tell my enquiring friends so. I am your friend J. Rumsey.


Philadelphia May 14th 1788.

Dr Charles

In two hours time I shall be on board A Ship bound for London with a bill for two hundred pounds Sterling in my pocket and the best Letters that Philadelphia Can aford me Doctor Frank-

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lin is now writing Letters for me and many other has wrote, at a meeting of Our Company on the 9th of May They proposed this plan and Did me the honor of Calling the Company The Rumseian Society. on the 13th Inst, was the Second Meeting when my going was Determined upon and the Gentlemen in Consequence of it very generously Consented to Cansel my proposials So far as they ware binding on me, and has Since procured the bills as an adetional Venture and are to Suport Joseph Barnes in the pursuit here on the Continant, I have Impowered you the Doctr and him to act in my place while I am gone This Charles is my Meredian if I Do not Do sumthing now I am Done. It is Certain my prospects is flattering as these gentlemen that patronise me are Conspecious Characters. We Chose our officers in form a Gentr William bingum [Binghamnl Esqr was Chose president Mires Fisher Esqr Vice president Mr Joseph James Secretary and Bengaman Wynekoop Esqr treasurer. I Enclose you a Report of the Committee of the Society I beg Sir that you will Leave no Stone unturned to Detect fitch [John Fitch] in his Villianey you shall have one of his pamphlets Sent you as Soon as they Come out you Can then judge what Sort of proofs is wanten and Can forward them to Our Secretary & Committee of Correspondence which I had nearly forgot to mention Wm. Bartan Esqr is one of them and Mr. Levi Hollingsworth is another Bengaman Wynkoop Esqr acts as another the fourth I forgot write to any of them you think proper but Mr Wynekoop is the most active he has been propelled with great velocity through the streets for Several Days by the force of Steam alone.

Charles take [care] of my Child and of all the Little Business I Left with you I Can make no promises but I think I Shall not go to Europe for nothing if I donot you Shall be Remembered if Mr. Pages and Mr. Fitzhughs houses Can be Done by anymeans It will save me sum charector Remember me to polly tell her I Sincerely wish her all happyness and tell my Child to be good garl and Remind her that it is in part for her I toil Keep neddy with the Doctr if posable or Sum other school I shall Endeavor to have him Sum Clothing got against winter and if nothing Else Can be Done Send him here to Joseph Barnes

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I have Laid a train for him to finish his Studyes but it will be Expensive and therefore most be the Last Shift Except; my cir[cumstan]ces mend Remember Me to Dady [torn] and Charles, and to all my old friends and Neighbours

(Backed) McMechan

vs Letter


Capt. Charles Morrow

Berkeley County


(To be continued)

See also


  1. "McMeechen v. Rumsey," Library of Virginia Chancery Records Index.
  2. Lyon G. Tyler, "Letters of James Rumsey, Inventor of the Steamboat," William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine 24, no. 3 (January 1916), 154–174.

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