Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Extract of a Letter from Jonathan Ellicott to Thomas Worthington, [ca. Jan–February 1813?]


Extract of Jonathan Ellicott to Thomas Worthington

[ca. Jan.–Feb. 1813?]

“I was at Baltimore the other day, and heard many persons speaking of the verry grevious law passed by congress extending a pattent right to Oliver Evans for what he calls his Mill Improvements for an other term of fourteen years; under which law he has obtained a judgement for the extraordinary fine of Eighteen hunerd and fifty Dollars against a certain Saml Robinson of this state, who erected the machinery in his mill during the period in which Evans had no pattent—His mill, I understand, is capable of manufactoring about twelve Barrels of flour per day; a quantity that I have experiensd may be made by one miller with ease, without the use of what he calls his machinery; or in other words in the old way—This alarming decision, together with a number of others, which it is unnesscessary here to ennumerate, but which are also verry extravagant in Evans’ favour, I hope thou wilt accept as my appology for troubleing thee at this time—It is suspected by some persons, I find, that Evans is not the original inventor of the greater part of the machinery which he has pattented; but that he has artfully obtained this Law (while those interested made no opposition to it) for renewing his pattent for his Improved Elevator, &C and his council at the late trial contended, as I understood, that if no originality whatever belonged to Evans, or even no improvement, in the diffrent machines yet for the mere combination of the diffrent parts of the machinery for the purpose of improvement in the manufactory of flour, that this alone entitled him to recover under the act of Congress, and this being admitted by the opposite council, and the court, we are obliged to admit it as the construction of the Law— For thy information I will mention some things that have come to my own knowlege, respecting a part of what he calls his improved machinery—Sometime previous to the year 1786 I had invented several methods of removing meal, wheat, or other substances, in an horizontal, ascending or descending direction, Viz. by a screw revolving in a box, trough, or chest, one of which I had afterwards executed by two persons by the name of Evans, who were then working for me; I found it to answer the purpose well—Sometime afterwards hearing that Oliver Evans had machinery for Elevating meal, I went to see it, and found an Elevator placed in a slanting direction in his mill, near the meal spout, at the lower end and terminating at the uper end, so as to discharge its flour, if I recollect right, into or near the bolting hopper—It imediately struck me that an application of the screw would enable him to place the Elevator in a more convenient way by bringing the work of several pair of stones to one point; and I then informed him, accordingly,—I returnd home; and sometime afterwards he came to our mills on Patapsco, and part of what passed at that time on the subject will appear by the within copies of depositions, taken since the termination of Evans’ suit against Robinson—I also invented a method of removing flour, wheat, or other substance, by means of a Band or strap with wooden Blocks, fastened on it, revolving round two rollers or pulleys to be put in motion by the gears of the mill; and an other method by placing two rollers or pullys, one of which to be situated higher than the other, so that the Substance to be removed falling near the highest roller, by its own gravity would descend to the lowest end of the band and fall off; the under side of the band returning empty to the upper roller—these I explained to Oliver Evans before the publication of his “mill wrights guide”; and I think he saw them in actual opperation. I also informed him previous to obtaining his permission to use the Elevator and hopper-boy that I had invented a method to raise both flour and wheat; and had actually raised them by means of wind, produced1 both by a fan and a common bellows—many years since this a poor man in Chester County, Pennsylvania, whose name is Baily, has obtained a pattent for the same thing; and verry possibly the idea may be original with him as well as myself; Evans has commencd a Suit against him which I expect is to be supported on his sweeping privilege for the combination of machinery applyd to the manufactory of flour—Thou wilt find those improvements on which I claim origenality described in Evans’ “mill wrights guide” and in his specification as his improvements; but two of them with their names changed, the screw he calls a conveyor; the band revolving on rollers he calls a drill, I called it a drag, the descender not being so material an implement he has brought forth without even altering its name—The Elevation of wheat and flour by means of wind he has not brought forth at all, possibly least it might get into use, and lead to a discovery that by taking out a pattent for it I might injure the2 money-making part of the business—I think it will be found in his specification, said that he knows of diffrent ways of effecting the diffrent duties of his machinery in the manufactory of wheat into flour; but he claims under all, or to that import—I have not been solicitous to be considerd an inventor; and as thou wilt percieve not anxious to make money out of the public as a pattentee; otherwise I should have taken out pattents not only for those things but for a number of others to which I consider myself, in point of originality, entitled: otherwise I should have done it at least at the expiration of Evans’ first term of fourteen years, which he had granted by a Law of the state of Maryland—If his pattent had not been renewed and the public again placed in his power for an other term of fourteen years, without any limitation as to price, I should not have troubled myself to inquire whose, originally, the inventions were; my only wish is that the public may have the best machinery they can obtain on reasonable and iquitable terms; and this I think them entitled to—Evans also claims merrit for the improvements, because (as he alledges) they enable the miller to make a Barrel of flour out of half a Bushel of wheat less than it could be made from in the old way;—That there has been an improvement in the milling business within the last twenty-five years, must be known to every person who has made any observation on the subject, but to suppose the whole people employed in the business to have remained idle spectators and Oliver Evans to have been the sole improver and combiner of machinery for that purpose, is absurd; these improvements must have proceeded from the combined efforts of many millers, mill wrights, Blacksmiths, and other mechanicks, employd in the art and aided also by the improvement in agriculture, in producing better wheat more pure and clean; but that a Barrel of flour can3 be made out of a pound less of wheat with the use of this machinery, than without it, must be evident to the dullest apprehension, the mill stones and Bolting cloths being the sole agents in extracting the flour from the bran, without any pretended magic of the machinery—all that can be said in favour of the Elevators, conveyors and hopper-boys, is, that they save manuel labour—

It may be observed, that when I saw the mill in which Oliver Evans had an Elevator there was one pair of Small stones in her the Elevator and every part of the works, to me appeard rude and trifling, compared with the mills which I had been accustomed to; there were few mills which I had ever seen that pretended to do merchant work that were not superior to his; Thence it would appear, that if Oliver Evans has been of benefit to the community in the milling art, it has proceeded more from his method of riding from mill to mill and communicating the improvements of one to an other than from any inventions of his own; for nothing, except the idea of an Elevator, was to be gained by viewing his mill as far as I recollect. And although on my first acquaintance with Oliver Evans I was induced to believe he was the inventor of the Elevator, yet at the present time, on a fair investigation of the subject, I think it extremely doubtfull whether he will prove to be the real inventor, or improver, of the machinery, or any part of it—

To conclude, I sincerely wish every justice to be done to Oliver Evans, which in truth and honesty he is entitled to; but if it shall appear, that he has arrogated to himself the right of inventions that in reality never belonged to him, or if he is actually extending his claim beyond the proper limits, either in point of time or in exacting from individuals sums of money that are in themselves exorbitant, I feel particularly desirous that equal justice may be done to the public”

Signed Jonathan Ellicott

Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, 200:35597–600); in Isaac McPherson’s hand; conjecturally dated based on comment in covering letter; at head of text: “Extract of a letter from Jonathan Ellicott to Thomas Worthington Esqr.”

Jonathan Ellicott (1756–1826), miller and manufacturer, joined other members of his family in managing the famed Ellicott’s Mills on the Patapsco River near Baltimore for more than a quarter-century. The Ellicotts added an ironworks to their flour-milling operation in 1806, after which they manufactured iron, copper, and nails on a large scale (Martha E. Tyson, A Brief Account of the Settlement of Ellicott’s Mills [1871], 38–47; Oliver Evans, The Young Mill-Wright & Miller’s Guide [Philadelphia, 1795; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1180], 125; Charles Varle, A Complete View of Baltimore [1833], 100; tombstone in Ellicott family graveyard, Ellicott City, Md.).

Thomas Worthington (1773–1827), public official, was born near Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia) and worked as a surveyor before marrying well and moving in 1798 to Chillicothe in the Northwest Territory. There he prospered as a farmer, miller, and land speculator. Worthington served several terms in the territorial legislature, was a prominent member of the convention that drafted Ohio’s 1802 constitution, and sat in the new state’s General Assembly in 1803, 1807–08, 1821–23, and 1824–25. He also represented Ohio as a Republican in the United States Senate, 1803–07 and 1810–14, including service as chair of the Indian Affairs, Military Affairs, and Public Lands committees. During two terms as governor, 1814–18, Worthington acquired a reputation as a supporter of banking interests, internal improvements, and public education (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Alfred Byron Sears, Thomas Worthington: Father of Ohio Statehood [1958]; Chillicothe Scioto Gazette, 5 July 1827).

Congress’s verry grevious “Act for the relief of Oliver Evans” was enacted on 21 Jan. 1808 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 6:70–1). Evans held no pattent for his supposed improvements in the manufacture of flour and meal between the expiration of his first patent on 18 Dec. 1804 and the receipt of his second on 22 Jan. 1808 (List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 4, 62). The two persons by the name of evans were Lewis Evans and Joseph Evans (Memorial to Congress on Evans’ Patent description begins Memorial to Congress of sundry citizens of the United States, praying relief from the oppressive operation of Oliver Evans’ Patent, Baltimore, 1813 description ends , 28). Jeremiah baily patented his “Machine for raising grain, by blowing” on 5 Mar. 1810 (List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 79).

1Manuscript: “produed.”

2Manuscript: “the the.”

3Thus in manuscript, but in the context “cannot” appears to have been intended.

Index Entries

  • An Act for the relief of Oliver Evans (1808) search
  • Baily, Jeremiah; receives patent search
  • books; on milling search
  • Ellicott, Jonathan; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Ellicott, Jonathan; identified search
  • Ellicott, Jonathan; letter from to T. Worthington search
  • Evans, Joseph search
  • Evans, Lewis search
  • Evans, Oliver; asserts patent rights search
  • Evans, Oliver; machinery of patented search
  • Evans, Oliver; originality of machinery questioned search
  • Evans, Oliver; The Young Mill-wright & Miller’s Guide search
  • machines; O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • mills; on Patapsco River search
  • patents; of J. Baily search
  • patents; of O. Evans search
  • Robinson, Samuel; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • The Young Mill-wright & Miller’s Guide (Evans) search
  • Worthington, Thomas; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Worthington, Thomas; identified search
  • Worthington, Thomas; letter to from J. Ellicott search