George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Fielder, 24 October 1789

From Thomas Fielder

Boston 24th Octr 1789

T. Fielder presents most sincear Respects to his Excellency The President, of the united States of America[.]

Has an uncommunicated Idea on Machinary which he hopes might be of utility to the Country.

If when F. calls on Monday Morng at Eight his Excellency will condescend to appoint when he will honor him with a short interview, it will be esteem’d a very particular favor.1


1GW evidently acceded to Thomas Fielder’s request for an interview. On 29 Oct. Fielder wrote the president that his “condescendg kindness on Monday last cannot but excite sincerest gratitude In Consequence of it. . . I laid the Model with an explanation before a Capt. Goodwin who judges the principle to be new & calculated to answer the proposed purpose. I hope sir you will excuse my mentiong that havg made a suppos’d improvmt in the Article of American Rum I have taken the liberty of troubling Mr [William] Jackson with a Sample from a Hhd of it in it’s original state & one also in it’s alterd state in which it appears on Trial to be divested of it’s perniceous quality shoud you sir see it right to order an investigation of it, I can render it for the whole of the United States at an advance of Two Pence per Gallon” (DLC:GW).

The model Fielder exhibited to GW undoubtedly concerned “an apparatus for facilitating navigation” for which he petitioned a loan of money from Congress on 11 April 1792 (Journal of the House, description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States . . .. various places, 1789—. description ends 1:574). Richard Wells noted in a letter to William Thornton on 11 May of that year that “another great adventure[r]—the great walking Fielder, has obtained a Patent for a boat to work by—Magic, I suppose, for I do not know any Agency he is to employ more than the Hands on board” (DLC: Peter Force Collection, John Fitch Papers). See also Fielder’s advertisements in the Federal Gazette (Philadelphia), 21 May and 4 June 1792. Unsuccessful in his attempt to raise money in Congress—the House of Representatives tabled his petition—Fielder again wrote GW, this time from Philadelphia, on 23 Feb. 1792. “Unforseen occurrences intervening have retarded for a long time my attempting to facilitate navigation,” Fielder wrote, but he had “now endeavor’d to simplify my Ideas by compleating a Model Draft, & specification, which I conseive will prove to be of general utility.” He asked GW to examine the model (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). By August 1793 Fielder was working on a new invention. On 19 Aug., “Having ascertained that my Machine for making Hay &c. is adapted to facilitate (perhaps particularly) the State of Virginia,” he wrote GW requesting his aid in the invention “being brought into immediate effect” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). There is no evidence that GW gave particular support to the invention, but aid in another form was forthcoming. On 29 Aug. Fielder wrote GW that “Your favor of Twenty Dollars on Loan I receive with gratitude. I regreted much that . . . my utmost exertions were not sufficient to be in time to explain to your Excellency how far the utility of my Machine for improving Agriculture extends, the experience of which has only been obtain’d by my accurately observing on its operations, as I understand by Mr Powell that you intend me the Honor of making one for your Estate, if admissable to favor me with an opportunity of being farther explanatory” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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