Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Isaac McPherson to Thomas Jefferson, 28 August 1813

From Isaac McPherson

Baltimore 28th aug. 1813

Respected friend

I duly reciev’d thy verry able letter of the 13th Ins, and have greatly to regret that the public had not been possessd of the views thou hast there taken of the subject, before the late trial of O Evans vs Saml Robinson in the circuit court at Baltimore—had it been the case, the result of that trial must have terminated the question between1 Evans and the public—perhaps there never was a trial conducted in any of the superior Courts of the u.s, where it was more evident to every person present, that the whole subject was wraped in obscurity, and from which the council for the defendant were wholy unable to draw it—though esteemed sound Lawyers, they were not mechanicks, and the jury were mere merchants—I shall certainly hold myself bound, not to make any use of thy letter that can be the means of giving inquietude to thyself, yet I deem it to be so clear, concise, and conclusive, upon the subject of the Elevators, that I must beg thy permission to make that use of it, that its merits deserve, and which cannot fail to be so beneficial to the public—In the prosecution of the trial and since, of Evans vs Robinson, several circumstances have transpired to induce me to believe, that so much merit was not due to Evans, as had been by common consent awarded him—Saml Strouds deposition proves that Evans was not the first to apply the Elevator to raising of flour, and Marshall and Strouds deposition proves that, an incomplete Hopper-boy was made and in use before Evans claimed to be the inventor of that machine—Lewis Evans deposition proves that Jonathan Ellicott was the first to apply the spiral screw to removing flour horizontally, by which the whole system is connected and, that Evans acknowleged himself not to have made that discovery2—How much of the “improvement in manufactoring flour” is really owing to Oliver Evans will probably never be known, owing to the difficulty in procuring testimony from distant parts—he will certainly claim the merrit of having been instrumental in combining several usefull inventions for that purpose; But as they were all seperate and complete machines, of themselves, I can never suppose that he would be entitled to recover under a pattent, for being the first person to let the public know, that they could all be employd in the same mill House!—It appears of importance in the investigation of this subject, that we should know the time at which the Gentleman in Caroline County first invented and applyd the Elevator in his drill, if it was before Evans obtained his patent from the State of Maryland in 1787 it would seem conclusive that he had no right to the benefit of a patent under the Law, if thee can bring this to thy recollection, thee will oblige me by communicating it, or if not to advise me how to direct a letter to him—Seeing the situation in which the public are placed, by the continuation of Evans patent, with the influence of a judicial decision in his favour, and the exorbitant damages allowd, it is found to be a verry embarrassing question3 to decide, as to what steps to recommend, in the many Suits now depending for damages in the circuit court of Maryland—I have enclosed with the depositions of Strouds and Marshalls a coppy of a Letter written by Jonathan Ellicott to a member of the senate during the time the subject was under considerati[on by] a committee of that body last winter—

The verry frank and candid manner which thee treated my first communication, and a full persuasion that thou art desirous that no obstruction shall be thrown in the way of usefull manufacturs, is the only appology I can render for intruding on thy time and attention—

With sentiments of great respect I am thy friend

Isaac McPherson

RC (DLC); mutilated at seal; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire Monticello Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 15 Sept. 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

McPherson summarized depositions of Samuel Stroud and of Edward marshall and James Stroud, both dated 5 Jan. 1813, and of lewis evans, dated 8 Dec. 1812, all of which had been submitted to Congress early in 1813 (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 , 16–8, 28). With the letter above McPherson enclosed the second and probably the first of the 5 Jan. 1813 depositions, but the versions transmitted to TJ have not been found. The gentleman in caroline county was Thomas C. Martin. Evans obtained the exclusive right to use the elevator and hopper-boy from Delaware, maryland, and Pennsylvania in 1787, three years before receiving a federal patent for these inventions (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. (all editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. Citations given below are to the edition mounted on the American Memory website of the Library of Congress and give the date of the debate as well as page numbers) description ends , 13th Cong., 2d sess., 641 [25 Feb. 1814]; 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). A select committee of the United States Senate looked into the public outcry against Evans’s patent pretensions between 11 Jan. and 23 Feb. 1813 (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States description ends , 5:227, 272).

1Manuscript: “betwen.”

2Manuscript: “discovey.”

3Manuscript: “qustion.”

Index Entries

  • drills (sowing implements); designed by T. C. Martin search
  • Ellicott, Jonathan; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Evans, Lewis search
  • Evans, Oliver; asserts patent rights search
  • Evans, Oliver; machinery of patented search
  • Evans, Oliver; originality of machinery questioned search
  • Evans v. Robinson search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • machines; drill search
  • machines; O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Marshall, Edward search
  • Martin, Thomas C.; drill of search
  • Maryland; U.S. circuit court in search
  • McPherson, Isaac; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • McPherson, Isaac; letters from search
  • patents; of O. Evans search
  • Robinson, Samuel; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Senate, U.S.; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Stroud, James search
  • Stroud, Samuel search
  • United States Circuit Court, Maryland District search