Berkeley Springs



In the long letter that follows, Rumsey discusses two important parts of his relationship with Washington -- the houses he was supposed to be building in Bath, and his boat inventions. This was the first time Rumsey wrote to Washington about his work on a boat using steam.

3/10/85....GWP.... Rumsey to Washington....

"Respecting your houses Sir, they will shorely be built agreeable to your directions, and would have been had I not have heard from you at all as I had spoke to a man before I went to Richmond that kept two or three workmen to build me the kitchens and stables of all the houses I had to build. My stay was so long that before I got home the loggs were all hewed the shingles got and are all on the spott ready for raising. I hope Sir you will not disaprove when I tell you of my proceedings respecting your big house, nor constry it into a desire of me to revive our old agreement, but I have it underway. The window, shutters, doors and sash are all made and most of the moaldings. Every inch of the stuff is sawed and I have agreed with a man to frame and raise it against the first day of May. I shall not call upon you nor draw any orders more for money nor do I desire that you should lend me any except you can spare it with the greatest convenance. And I now give you my word that I will not distress myself to finish it. If I find I cannot do it without, I will quit when I have it inclosed which I can do with but little more expence, and it will then be as secure against the weather as if it was done...."

"I have taken the greatest pains to perfect another kind of boat upon the principles I was mentioning to you at Richmond. I have the pleasure to inform you that I have brought it to the greatest perfection. It is true that it will cost sum more than the other way but when done is more manageable and can be worked by as few hands. The power is amence (immense) and I am quite convinced that boats of passage may be made to go against the current of the Mesisipia or Ohio River, or in the Gulf Stream from the Leeward to the Windward Islands, from sixty to one hundred miles per day. I know it will apear strange and improbeble and was I to say thus much to most people in this neighborhood, they would laugh at me and think me mad. But I can ashore you Sir, that I have ever been very cautious how I aserted anything that I was not very certain I could perform. Besides it is no phenomna, when known, but strictly agreeable to philosophy. The princeples of this last kind of boat, I am very cautious not to explain to any person, as it is easy performed and the method would come very nateral to a Rittenhosue, or an Eliot. The plann I mean to persue is to build the boat , with boath the powers on board on a large scale and then Sir, if you would be so good enough once more, the asemblys will alow me something clever which will be better for the public as well as my self, than to have the exclusive right. I am astonished that it is so hard to force an advantage on the public, admit it did make the fortune of one man."

3/15/85.....GWW....Washington to Hugh Williamson .... responding to McMechen's explanation of Rumsey's boat;

"...Further than this I am not at liberty to explain myself; but if a model, or thing in miniature, is a just representation of a greater object in practice, there is no doubt of explanation, removed the principal doubt I ever had in my mind of the practicability of propelling against a stream by the aid of mechanical power; but as he wanted to avail himself of my introduction of it to the public attention, I chose previously to see the actual performance of the model in a descending stream before I passed my certificate; and having done so, all my doubts were satisfied...."

6/5/85....GWP ....Washington to Rumsey....

"Your letter of the 10th of March came safe, but not in a short time after the date of it. The reason which you have assigned for giving me an order on Mr. Ryan, is perfectly satisfactory. I wish that that or any other, expedient would have extracted from him what he owes you. From the accot. given of his circumstances and conduct I fear you have incurred a bad debt with the manager of the theatre.

As the large house you was to build for me was in such forwardness at the date of the above letter, and as you expected to have had it raised by the first of May last; I am very well satisfied with the advance it has made, and that it should continue, provided you can make it convenient to wait a while for your money; but I should be wanting in candor were I to give you assurances of speedy payment. The kitchen and stable I would gladly have finished as soon as possible and what ever the cost of them amounts to, I will settle for without delay.

It gives me much pleasure to find by your letter, that you are not less sanguine in your boat project than when I saw you in Richmond, and that you have made such further discoveries as will render them more extensively useful than was at first expected, you have my best wishes for the success of your plan."

Inclosed are the proceedings of the Directors of the Potomac navigation. I pray you to have them set up at some public place. If the manager advertised for, can come well recommended, liberal wages will be given him. It were to be wished that the following qualities could be readily combined in the same person, integrity, abilities, indefatigable industry, and if he has not experimental knowledge of this particular kind of work, at least that he may be possessed of a genius which may soon fit him for it."

In this remarkable letter from Rumsey, Washington is confronted with a series of disasters related to building his houses that will be familiar to contemporary owners working with contractors.

6/24/85...GWP....Rumsey to Washington....

"I had the honor of receiving your favour of the 5th Inst. with the inclosures and am happy to find that you excuse my imprudence respecting Mr. Ryans note. But the following account I fear will give you sum disapointment. The number of houses I undertok was four, yours included that was large. The stuff for the (w)hole was sawed but from the badness of the road, ocationed by so much rain the greatest part of it lay at the mill untill the beginning of April when unfortunately the sawmill took fire in the night and was not discovered untill next day by which time the mill was intirely consumed with a great part of the plank and scantling. This stroke put it intirely out of my power to proceed with your large house and not withstanding my outmost exertions at other mills to get the stuff necessary, it has put me so far back that I shall be under the disagreeable nesesaty of disapointing at least one of the three gentlemen that I have obligated with for the present season.

But I have prepared him a house should he insist on being furnished with one. I should have gave you this information much sooner but I saw your brother Col. John Washington at April Court and he said he would inform you of it as he went home. Perhaps he did not see you or multiplisity of business may have caused it to have slipped his memory. I have got my boat nearly done the machinery excepted. Inclosed I send a letter for you and the Directors of the Potomack Compny and if you please be kind anough to read it and have it dilivered or suppressed as you may think best. I can only add that should I have the honour of apointment I will exert myself to the outmost of my power to afect the business.

Your small houses are nearly done. The chimney, cellar &c will be very compleat. There will be sum money coming to me and I am sorry I am under the nesesity of requesting the favour of you to answer the first draft towards my share of the Potomack navigation."

7/2/85 ... GWP...Washington to one showed up for Potomac Company job.

"As I have imbibed a very favorable opinion of your mechanical abilities, and have had no reason to distrust your fitness in other respects, --- I took the liberty of mentioning your name to the Directors, and I dare say if you are disposed to offer your services, they would be attended to under favourable circumstances"

7/14/85 ....GWD ...

"Agreed with Mr. James Rumsey to undertake the management of our works..." Potomac Company.

One of Rumsey's chief rivals in the steamboat inventing business was a John Fitch. Their rivalry would continue for a number of years. As a prestigious supporter of Rumsey's, Washington found himself in the middle of this conflict. His support was always for Rumsey.

11/4/85 ....GWD....

"in the evening a Mr. Jno Fitch came in, to propose a draft and model of a machine for promoting navigation by means of a steam(boat.)"