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Petition of John Fitch Respecting His Steam-Powered Vessel

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Source Name Image(s)
CollectionLibrary of Congress: Papers of John Fitch. view image
Document Information
Date June 22, 1790
Author Name John Fitch (primary) Location: Philadelphia
Recipient Name Thomas Jefferson (primary)
Summary Fitch petitions Jefferson, Randolph, and Knox for funds to cover his expenses in developing a prototype of a steam-driven vessel which he believes will immensely improve navigation of the waters of the United States.
Document Format Letter Signed
Document Notes [not available]
Content Notes [not available]
Related Persons/Groups John Fitch; Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State; Edmund Randolph, Attorney General; Henry Knox, Secretary of War; Congress; experienced workmen; ;
Related Places Philadelphia; New Jersey; New York; Pennsylvania; Delaware; Virginia; western waters of the United States; westerm territory; England; ;
Keywords legislatures of many of the states; construction of a steam engine; labor; navigation; experiiments; valuable discovery; profits; ;
Key Phrases ...applying steam to the purpose of progressing vessels through the water;

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June 23 - 1790
To the honorable the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War and the Attorney General
The Petition of John Fitch of the City of Philadelphia Humbly sheweth
That your Petitioner in the spring of the year one thousand seven Hundred & eighty five, conceived the Idea of applying Steam to the purposes of propelling Vessels thro' the Water-- That fully satisfied in his own mind of the practicability of such a scheme, of its great immediate Utility, and the important Advantage "which would in future result therefrom not only to America but the World at large, if the Scheme should be carried into effectual Operation, he divested himself of every other occupation and under took the arduous Tasks; not doubting, that when perfected he should be amply rewarded. In his first attempts to procure assistance from Congress and the Legislatures of many of the States, from the peculiar situation of their Finances, and the seeming Improvability of the Success of his Scheme, he met with no relief. Not entirely discourage by those Disappointments, he entered application to his project, and prayed several of the States for an [undecipherable] Right to the Use of Fire and Steam to Navigation That New Jersey, New York Pennsylvania Delaware & Virginia granted him an Exclusive Right agreably to the prayer of his Petition for fourteen Years
That the impracticability of procuring experienced Workmen in America, your Petitioners total Ignorance of the Construction of a Steam Engine, together with the necessary Diviation from the form described in the Books--In order to accommodate its weight and bulk to the narrow limits of a Vessel, have caused him not only to expend about eight Thousand Dollars in successive Expenses but nearly four years of some of his Grants have expired, before he has been able to bring his Engine to such a degree of perfection, as to be carried into Use
That haveing at length fully Succeeded in his scheme, proofs of which he is prepaired to offer He trusts he now comes forward, not as an imagining Projector, but as a man who, contrary to the popular Expectation, has really acomplished a design, which on Examination will clearly evince the many & important Advantages which must result therefrom to the United States: some of which your Petitioner begs have to Enumerate
The Western Waters of the United States, which have hitherto been Navigated With Great dificulty & Expence, may now be assended with Safety, [Conveniency?]
and great [Felisity?]; [undecipherable] by those [undecipherable], an immediate [undecipherable] & [undecipherable] will be given to the Western Teritory: All the internal [undecipherable] of the United States will be rendered [undecipherable] [undecipherable][undecipherable] and safe, and the carrage on [undecipherable] [undecipherable] expeditions--- That from these advantages will result a great saveing in Labour of Men and Horses, as well as expence to the Traveler
Your Petitioner also conceives, that the introduction of [undecipherable] Steam Eng formed upon this [undecipherable] and best Principles into such a Country as America, where Labour is high, would entitle him to public Countinence & Encouragement, independant of its Use in Navigation; he begs leave today; that the Great length of [undecipherable] & Vast Sum of money expended in bringing the scheme to perfection, have been wholey occasioned by his total Ignorance of the improved State of Steam Engines, a Perfect Knowledge of which has not [undecipherable] without an infinite number of faultless Experiment; for not a person could be found, who was acquainted with the Minutia of Bolton & Wall's new Engine and whether your Petitioner's Engine is [undecipherable] or not to those in England, he is to this moment totally ignorant; but is happy to say, that he is now able to make a compleat Steam Engine, which in its Effect, he believes is equal to the best in Europe; the construction of which he has never kept a [secret?]
That on his first undertaking the Scheme, he knew there were a great number of Ways, of applying the power of steam, to the Propelling of Vessels thro' the Water; perhaps equally effective; but this formed no part of his Consideration, knowing, that if he could bring his Steam Engine to work in a Boat, he would be under no dificulty in applying its force; therefore he [undecipherable] no Interference with him in propelling Boats by Steam under any pretense of a different Mode of Application will be permitted; for should that be the case, the Employment of his time and the amazing expense attending the perfecting his scheme, would, whilst they gave the World at Large a Valuable Discovery, & to America great and important Advantages, eventually eventuate in the total Ruin of your Petitioner; for a thousand different Modes may be applied by subsequent Navig[missing] all of them benefiting by the Expense, & perservering Labour of your Petitioner and thus sharing with him those Profits, which they never earned. such a Consequence he is confident will not be permitted by your honourable Body
Your Petitioner therefore prays that your honours will take the subject of his Petition into Consideration, and by granting him an [undecipherable] [undecipherable] to the Use of Steam to Navigation for a Limited time, do him that justice which he conceives he mertis, and which he trusts will [undecipherable] to the honour and add to the true interest of America and your Petitioner as in duty bound shall ever Pray
John FitchNew York 12 June 1790