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Fulton, Robert (1765-1815) to Henry Dearborn

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02302 Author/Creator: Fulton, Robert (1765-1815) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 4 June 1814 Pagination: 1 p. ; 25 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Lists the estimated costs of constructing the first steam-powered U.S. naval vessel. Fulton estimates that $25,000 will be required for three months, with the amount decreasing after that. Costs include materials, wages, and a monthly payment to the shipbuilders, "the Messrs. Browns." Accompanied by scribal document giving specifications for "U.S.S. Fulton the First." Former secretary of war Major General Henry Dearborn (1751-1829) served as commander of New York's defenses during the War of 1812. The inventor, engineer, and artist Robert Fulton had been constructing and operating passenger steamships since the launch of the "Clermont" on the Hudson in 1807. Fulton, in partnership with Robert Livingston, is credited with making steam navigation a commercially successful venture. He also had an intense interest in designing canals and naval armaments, including submarines and torpedoes. During the War of 1812, Fulton organized the Coast and Harbor Defense Committee to support his design and construction of an armored steam-powered warship to protect New York. The committee included such prominent figures as Dearborn, Stephen Decatur, Morgan Lewis and, eventually, John Jacob Astor. Congress authorized $1.5 million for the ship in May 1814, and construction began in late June. Fulton designed the vessel as a catamaran to protect the paddle wheel placed within the two hulls. The warship was originally dubbed "Demologos" or the Fulton Steam Battery, but eventually called the "U.S.S. Fulton I" or "Fulton the First." Though Congressional funds were slow in coming, Fulton persevered, supervising every aspect of construction. In October 1814, four months before his death, the ship was launched, with thousands of spectators cheering. As the War of 1812 soon drew to a close, the ship never saw combat. Its sole active duty was to ferry President Monroe across New York Harbor in 1817. Fulton's two-hulled design, however, would be used in armored naval ships until the advent of propeller-driven ships. Partial Transcript: "As by order of the committee all bills for wages and material for the Engine, will pass through my hands to them, I beg leave to present you with the annexed estimate of the sum required per month for the engine and Machinery...900 dollars a week workmens wages...8 tons of copper a month at 50/100 a pound...8000 Iron castings and Wrought Iron 5000...This sum will be required for three months to drive on the works with all dispatch, after which a less sum will answer the purpose...."

People: Fulton, Robert, 1765-1815.
Dearborn, Henry, 1751-1829.

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Keywords/Subjects: Navy, Steam, Steamboat, Science and Technology, Transportation, Finance, Maritime, War of 1812, Military History

Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison