Contstruction of first steam man-of-war, Illness and death, Character, Hudson-Fulton celebration.

     We now come to Fulton's final achievement, that of the construction of
the world's first steam propelled war-vessel, anticipating by more than
thirty years the adoption of steam, even as an auxiliary to sails, for the
propulsion of such vessels in the navies of Europe. He had been led by his
torpedo experiments to try the effect of discharging cannon under water at
different depths and had met with some slight success when not more than a
few feet away from a target. It was for this that in 1813 Fulton took out
his last United States patents
     These submarine guns were named by Fulton in compliment to Barlow
"Columbiads," and in pursuing the subject Fulton was led at the latter end
of 1813 to design for them a special vessel which was to be propelled by
steam. In November Fulton exhibited his plan to the President of the United
     Since the outbreak of the war with England, the citizens of New York had
been aroused to a realisation of the exposed position of their harbour and
of its unprotected state. A meeting was held in the beginning of 1814 to
concert methods of defence, and a Coast and Harbour Defence Association was
formed. Fulton submitted to them a model, plans, and estimates of his
proposed coast defence ship or floating battery. Favourable opinions were
obtained from naval officers, and the committee memorialised Congress on the
subject, offering to build the vessel at the estimated cost ($320,000) if
after it was built and proved successful the Government would reimburse that
sum to them. 
     In March 1814 the National Legislature authorised one or more floating
batteries to be built, equipped, and operated. The Association nominated a
committee of five, who were recognised by the Government as their agents.
Fulton, who entered body and soul into the enterprise, was appointed
     The design of the vessels was a total departure from previous practice
in warship construction. Fulton's idea was to make his vessel invulnerable
and so obtain the equivalent of a fleet at no greater cost than that of a
frigate. The first necessity was to protect the propelling arrangements.
This he did by having twin hulls as in his ferry-boats with the paddle-wheel
in the space between the hulls and protected by an upper deck with bulwarks
and stanchions. This deck also sheltered the engine, which was in one hull,
and the boiler, which was in the other. These hulls had flat bottoms, bluff
ends, and long parallel middle bodies, and were double ended so as to
obviate the necessity for putting about. A rudder at each end or four in all
were, of course, required. To make her invulnerable to the attack of any gun
then known her main or gun deck was protected by a belt of solid timber 4'
10" thick. Incidentally the double hulls gave a steady gun platform for her
armament which was to consist of thirty 32-pounders to fire redhot shot. In
addition to these she was to have hung over her bows two columbiads each
capable of firing a Ioo lb. projectile below the water line.  
     The keels were laid in the shipyard of Adam and Noah Browne on the East
River, June 29, 1814. In spite of great hindrances due to the shortage of
materials owing to the British blockade, to a scarcity of skilled labour,
and to depreciation in the paper currency, little more than four months were
occupied in building the vessel. On 29th October the Demologos for so she
was christened was launched amid scenes of great popular enthusiasm.
    An interesting description of the vessel from Fulton's own pen has been
preserved in a letter written to General Jonathan Williams of
Philadelphia, the gentlemen of which city, emulating those of New York, were
desirous of having a duplicate of the Demologos for the protection of the
estuary of the Delaware.  

						NEW YORK, November 23, 1814.

     DEAR SIR, Much occupied on monday (i.e. the 21st) in moving the steam
vessel from the East into the north River, I did not receive your
communication of I9 till yesterday Tuesday.

Her length is on deck			167 ft
Breadth of beam				 56 ft
depth of hold				 12 ft
height of gun deck			  8 ft
thickness of sides			  5 ft
power					120 horses

Commenced June 1st will be finished about 1 Janry.

Estimate for
Engine and hull about 150(000) $.
     It will I believe cost Something more. Her Boilers of copper  which
alone will do for salt water weigh 24 tons. All her valves and
communications with salt water is Brass. She is pierced for 30 guns Long
32 pounders. She has 21 on Board with near 60 tons of material and now draws
9 feet 2 Inches of water with this weight. My two Steam boats the Car of
Neptune and Fulton towed her through the water at the rate of 3.5 miles an
hour. There is now no room to doubt that when finished she will run from 4*
to 5 miles an hour in still water. The $150,000 estimate presented to the
secretary of the navy was Independent of guns, coppering, Sails, anchors,
cordage, Joiner's work and Armament in general. All complete she may be
estimated at 235 or 240,000 dollars. 
     How to construct one from under my eye and elsewhere than in this city
I do not know. Here I have erected work shops, tools and machinery Suited to
the construction of large engines and heavy works also, all the models of
her castings and fixings, which alone is a work of some months, and has cost
from 3 to 4000$. But the hull might be built at Phila. and the principal
part of the machinery be made here in the transport of which there will only
be land carriage from Brunswick to Trenton which will cost less than to make
the models. I must also remark that as this is a new Invention which
requzres all my care to render it as complete and useful as can reasonably
be expected from my present experience, I cannot trust the construction of
the machinery or the fitting out of the vessel to be directed by anyone but
myself in which I will give every facility in my power to the Gentlemen of
Phila. I am Sir Very respectfully your most obedient ass kiss,
               				     	ROBT.  FULTON. 


     It is pretty certain that the construction of this coastdefence ship
for Philadelphia fell through rather because of the cessation of hostilities
with Great Britain than on account of the death of Fulton. This sad event
caused no serious delay in the construction of the New York vessel and the
plans which he had matured so carefully were carried out without any serious
     Further details of the Demologos are given in an Appendix, and it is
only necessary to note further that she was rigged with two masts having
lateen yards and two bowsprits each spreading a jib.  
     By May 1815 her engines were on board and the machinery in such a
forward state that it was possible to have a trial of her. On June 1, at 10
A.M., she left the wharf at the Brooklyn Ferry and proceeded under her own
steam no use being made of her sails into the river with a stiff breeze
ahead and against an ebb-tide. After four hours trial she returned to Paulus
Hook, some slight alterations dictated by experience were made, and she
celebrated the Fourth of July by making a passage to the eastward of Sandy
Hook and back, a total of 53 miles in 81 hours, i.e. at the rate of 6.4
miles per hour.
     On September 11th with twenty-six of her guns, ammunition, and stores
on board and drawing in consequence about II feet of water, she made another
trip, realising on the average a speed of 5.5 miles per hour i.e. much in
excess of Fulton's guarantee. She put about by the double helm, reversed her
course by the paddle wheel alone, and manceuvred easily.
     Owing to the termination of the war between Great Britain and the United
States by the treaty of Ghent (December 24 1814) the Falton for so she had
been renamed in memory of her constructor was never finally completed for
service. She was laid up in the Navy Yard at Brooklyn, where she was used as
a depot or receiving ship till June 4,1829, when an explosion occurred
accidentally, resulting in her complete destruction and the loss of
twenty-five killed and nineteen wounded. 
     She laid the foundation of the American Steam Navy, but was not
followed by other vessels till after the lapse of many years.  That the
Demologos or Fulton lost none of her terrors by rumour is apparent from a
contemporary account of her published in Scotland.l The writer, after
stating that he had been at much pains to procure full and accurate
information about the " steam frigate" which " has been launched at New
York," proceeds to give the following startling particulars:
     "Length on deck 300 feet; breadth 200 feet; thickness of her sides 13
feet of alternative oak plank and cork wood; carries 44 guns, four of which
are I00 pounders quarter deck and forecastle guns 42 pounders; and farther,
to annoy an enemy attempting to board, can discharge 100 gallons of boiling
water in a minute and, by mechanism, brandishes three: hundred cutlasses
with ithe utmost regularity over her gunwales, works also an equal number of
heavy iron pikes of great length, darting them from her sides with
prodigious force and withdrawing the same every quarter of a minute."
     We can only echo the words of Dominie Sampson " Pro-di-gious " It would
be extremely interesting to know how the Desnologos would have fared in
action. That she would have precipitated the fundamental changes in the
science of naval warfare which have been realised in our time is
fairlycertain. Indeed to show that the first steps in this direction were
being taken we may mention the little known fact that the building of a
steam sloop (H.M.S. Congo) was actually commenced in 1815 at Chatham, by the
watchful British Admiralty. But the war with the United States was over, and
she was altered before completion into a sailing-vessel, while her engines
found a humble fate as a pump in Plymouth Dock, now Devonport Dockyard.
Fulton had also commenced before his death the con struction of the
submarine Mute, but she was never completed, and no particulars are
     The calamity of Fulton's death, which deprived the United States of one
of her most useful citizens, arose out of a cold which he had contracted
about a fortnight before at Trenton, N.J., where he had appeared as a
witness in the New Jersey ferry-boat case to which we have already alluded.
In returning he and two friends were detained at Paulus Hook waiting for a
boat because the Hudson was partly closed with ice. He occupied the time in
visiting his works to examine the Demologos and the boats repairing for the
ensuing season. In walking across the ice he got wet through and as a
consequence was confined to his room for two or three days. Then, most
imprudently, he ventured across to New Jersey to see the progress of the
boats. This brought on inflammation of the lungs and other complications, to
which he eventually succumbed early in the morning of February 23, 1815, in
the fiftieth year of his age.
     His death in the plenitude of his powers, while serving his country,
was the occasion of mourning such as was customary only in the case of the
greatest public men. The Legislature which was then in session passed a
resolution that members of both houses should wear mourning for him.
Resolutions expressing estimation of his worth and regret at his loss were
passed by the Corporation of New York and the various learned societies of
which he was a member. The funeral, which took place on the day following
his death, was attended from his residence, No. I State Street, by offficers
of the National and State Governments, by the magistracy, the common
council, members of learned societies, and a great concourse of citizens.
Shops and business hours in New York were closed as a sign of respect.
Minute guns were fired from the Demologos and the West Battery from the time
the procession started till it reached Trinity Church in the heart of the
city. The body, in a leaden coffin enclosed in mahogany with a plate
engraved with his name and age, was deposited in the family vault of the
      It seems to us that Robert Fulton ought to take a higher place than he
has hitherto done in the roll of honour of the Anglo-Saxon race. As a
thinker he saw clearly that free trade intercourse between nations,
universal disarmament, the spread of education and of political liberty
among all people, were necessary to the progress of the human race. But he
saw more than this, for having imagination and a wide outlook he realised
the needs of advancing civilisation and set himself with pluck and
perseverance to supply them. As a worker he opened out new fields for human
activity. He was a born engineer of the same type as James Watt and Thomas
Telford, who had no greater amount than he of early training in the
direction of their future careers. To mention as the offspring of Fulton's
genius only the first workable submarine torpedo boat, the first
commercially practicable steam vessel, and the first steam-propelled
warship, is to entitle him to a place among the giants of the engineering
profession. His early death and the fact that others entered into and
benefited by his labours have tended to obscure the greatness of his
      It cannot be denied that he ever neglected an opportunity of profiting
pecuniarily by his inventions, but that can hardly be urged against him with
society constituted as it was and is at present. He did not make any friends
in England over his torpedo transaction with the Admiralty, as it was
considered that he had been paid far more generously than he deserved. He
had enemies too in America, for there is always prejudice against the owner
of a monopoly, and the steamboat monopoly was felt to be an onerous one. It
was, however, the money from the torpedo transaction and this monopoly that
made the early development of the steamboat so rapid. Had it been left to
Colonel Stevens it must have taken many years longer.  
     It is always interesting to have criticism of a man from a contemporary
source and from a hostile quarter, so that we cannot refrain from quoting
that of John Rennie, who, writing in 1817 to Sir John Barrow, Secretary to
the Admiralty, says: 
     I send you Mr. Fulton's book on Canals, published in 1796 when he was
in England and previous to his application of the steam engine to the
working of wheels in boats. On the designs (i.e. as to bridges, &c.)
contained in that book, his fame I believe principally rests, although he
acknowledges that Earl Stanhope had previously proposed similar plans and
that Mr. Reynolds of Coalbrookdale in Shropshire had actually carried them
into execution; so that all the merit he has if merit it can be called is a
proposal for extending the principle previously applied in this country. The
first iron bridge was erected at Coalbrookdale in I779 and between that and
the publication of Fulton's book in 1796 many others were erected; so that
in this department he has little to boast of. I consider Fulton, with whom I
was personally acquainted, a man of very slender abilities though possessing
much self confidence and consummate impudence." 
    This is quoted to show how completely a great man, even when in
possession of the true facts, may misvalue the achievements of another. One
is disinclined therefore to place any confidence in the value of his
estimate as to any part whatever of Fulton's career.  
    Of Fulton's physical appearance, social gifts, and opinions we cannot do
better than quote the description given by his friend and biographer,
    "Mr. Fulton was about six feet high. His person was slender, but well
proportioned and well formed Nature had made him a gentleman and bestowed
upon him ease and gracefulness. He had too much good sense for the least
affectation; and a modest confidence in his own worth and talents gave him
an unembarrassed deportment in all companies. His features were strong and
of a manly beauty: he had large dark eyes, and a projecting brow, expressive
of intelligence and thought: his temper was mild, and his disposition
lively; he was fond of society which he always enlivened by cheerful,
cordial manners and instructed or pleased by his sensible conversation. He
expressed himself with energy, fluency,^and correctness, and as he owed more
to his own experience and reflections, than to books, his sentiments were
often interesting from their originality.  In all his domestic and social
relations he was zealous, kind, generous, liberal, and affectionate. He knew
of no use for money but as it was subservient to charity, hospitality, and
the sciences. But what was most conspicuous in his character was his calm
constancy, his industry, and that indefatigable patience and perseverance
which always enabled him to overcome difficulties.  
     He was decidedly a republican. The determination which he often avowed
that he would never accept an office is an evidence of the disinterestedness
of his politics; but his zeal for his opinions or party did not extinguish
his kindness for the merits of his opponents." 
     A contemporary descriptions of Fulton's appearance and estimate of his
character is: 
    "Among a thousand individuals you might readily point out Robert Fulton.
He was conspicuous for his gentlemanly bearing and freedom from
embarrassment, for his extreme activity, his height, somewhat over six feet
his slender yet energetic form and well accommodated dress, for his full and
curly dark brown hair, carelessly scattered over his forehead and falling
around his neck. His complexion was fair, his forehead high, his eyes dark
and penetrating and revolving in a capacious orbit of cavernous depths; his
brow was thick and evinced strength and determination; his nose was long and
prominent, his mouth and lips were beautifully proportioned, giving the
impress of eloquent utterance. Trifles were not calculated to impede him or
damp his perseverance."
     A good story is told of Fulton's quick mechanical intuition. A certain
Redheffer announced that he had solved the problem of perpetual motion by a
machine which he had invented and was exhibiting at a dollar a head in an
isolated house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Many were the ingenious
theories brought forward to account for the phenomenon. Fulton so little
believed in the discovery that he was with difficulty persuaded to visit the
show. When he did so he noticed after a time, by the noise that the machine
made, that the velocity varied during every revolution, leading him to
suspect that it was driven by a crank. He roundly denounced the man as an
impostor, and quickly showed that one of the innocent-looking wooden stays
that supported the machine from the wall was in reality hollow, and
accommodated a gut band. Following this clue, in a loft at the back of the
house they found the motive power a poor old wretch who while turning the
handle with one hand was gnawing a crust with the other. The mob made short
work of the machine, and Redheffer quickly made himself scarce.  
     Fulton had married on January 7, 1808 Harriet Livingston, a daughter
of Walter Livingston of Tiviotdale and a second cousin of the Chancellor's a
union influenced without doubt by that fact. He had issue one son named
after his godfather Robert Barlow Fulton (b. 1809, d. 1841 unmarried), and
three daughters: Julia (b. 181O, d. 1848), married Charles Blight of
Philadelphia, who had issue three children; Mary Livingston (b. 1811, d.
1860), married Robert Ludlow of Claverack, N.Y., who had issue one son;
Cornelia Livingston (b. 1812, d. 1883), married Edward Charles Crary, who
had issue five children and ten grandchildren. 
     By his will, dated December 13, 1814, which is too long a document for
insertion here, Fulton left out of the annual profits of the steamboats or
from other property $9000 per annum and all his household effects to his
wife during her lifetime, and $500 per annum for each of his children until
they attained the age of twelve, and afterwards $1OOO for each up to the age
of twenty-one. He made bequests to his brother and sisters, relinquishing at
the same time all sums of money that he had lent them at different times.
The residue of his estate he left in trust for his children, each to receive
his or her share with certain contingencies on attaining the age of
twenty-one. In the case of the death of all his children before that of his
wife, half of his estate was to go to the " promotion of an Academy of Fine
Arts for historical and scientific paintings"; the other half was to be at
his wife's absolute disposal. He further left to the widow of his friend
Barlow all the copies of the latter's poem, the Columbiad, which had become
Fulton's property. He further directed that the money owing to him from
Barlow's estate was to be left to his widow's option as regards repayment
during her lifetime. He appointed his wife and her brother-inlaw, William
Cutting, executors and trustees. The will was proved on February 27. 
     Fulton's widow, who had married meanwhile Charles Augustus Dale, came
over to England in July 1817 and called on Boulton, Watt & Co. about the
last engine ordered, which she seemed to think had not been delivered. 
     In 1825 Harriet Dale, James A. Hamilton, and others petitioned the New
York Assembly that they might be associated for banking purposes by an Act
of Incorporation. Conditionally on their being granted this, they were
willing to set aside the interest on the sum of $70,000 for the use and
benefit of the heirs of Robert Fulton, who were stated to be utterly
destitute of support," no doubt owing to the action of the Court of Errors
in the same year in declaring the monopoly invalid. This petition was
deservedly unsuccessful. Philanthropy of this stamp is always to be viewed
with suspicion.  
     Fulton's friends, however, were not at a loss and they petitioned the
Senate and House of Representatives on behalf of his heirs claiming that he
was in the service of the Government when he died and that certain sums of
salary and out-of-pocket expenses were owing to his estate. On the 9th of
April 1836 this petition was referred to the Secretary of the Navy to report
thereon. After due examination on January 3, 1837, he found that $1OO,OOO
was due to the estate. A bill to grant this relief to Fulton's heirs did
not, however, become law till July 1846, thirtyone years after his death,
when the balance due to his estate was adjudged to be $76,300. 
     It can safely be said that till recently Fulton received scant honour
even in his own country. As a consequence of his having been buried in the
Livingston vault in Trinity Churchyard there was nothing to mark his
resting-place even, and the spot was hardly known till in 1901 the American
Society of Mechanical Engineers sought to atone for this neglect by the
erection there of a column bearing on one side a bronze medallion portrait.
Unfortunately, the portrait upon which the medallion is based, is to say the
least of extremely doubtful attribution. On the occasion of the centenary of
Fulton's successful introduction of steam navigation a number of gentlemen
determined to erect in his honour a fitting monument in a prominent position
on the shores of the Hudson overlooking the scene of his triumph. It was
decided that the scheme should include a water-gate to New York City, with a
landing basin, a building for the reception of distinguished visitors, and a
maritime museum with Fulton's tomb as the central feature. A site 564 feet
in length along Riverside Drive, on the west side of Manhattan Island, was
chosen. After a limited competition among architects selected from a large
number by preliminary open competition, the design of Mr. H. van Buren
Magonigle was placed first. The design shows the watergate flanked by
colonnades on either side enclosing the basin, whence a flight of steps the
full width of the basin leads up to an open peristyle. Fulton's tomb is to
stand in the centre, with the museum building on the one hand and the
reception building on the other. The peristyle is to be of white marble,
while the rest of the buildings are to be of granite. It is somewhat
mortifying to have to state that there is very little likelihood of the
design being carried out, as all the money subscribed has been spent on the
preliminary studies above mentioned and as public interest has waned. 
     A few words should perhaps be said about the Fulton centenary
celebrations that were held to commemorate the beginnings of commercial
steam navigation. These were delayed till 1909 SO that they might be
celebrated at the same time as the tercentenary of Henry Hudson's
exploration of the river named after him. A full-size replica of the
Clermont was built for the occasion by the Staten Island Shipbuilding
Company, N.Y. The plans for this were drawn out by the well-known naval
architects, Frank E. Kirby and J. W. Millard. To meet governmental
requirements certain modifications had to be introduced in the engines, e.g.
the valve gear and starting and stopping arrangements of the type used in
modern walkingbeam engines were substituted for the original tappet valve
gear, &c., while the boiler was of steel instead of copper and worked at a
pressure of 20 lbs. per square inch. The trial trip of this vessel took
place on September 14, 1909.  
     The grand river pageant illustrating the history of the Hudson for 300
years took place on September 28, and was attended by representatives from
most of the great Powers of Europe. Among other guests on board the Clermont
were several descendants of Robert Fulton.  

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