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Isaac McPherson to Thomas Jefferson, 3 August 1813

From Isaac McPherson

Baltimore August 3d 1813

Respected Friend

In the year 1790 or thereabout I presented to thee letters of recommendation from George Mason, Ralph Wormley, & Henry Lee Esqre on business. From thy attention to me at that time, I take the liberty of now addressing thee without restraint on a subject that I am in no way interested in, more than as far as respects the good of my country at large, and if I am correctly informed thou hast it in thy power to be useful.

Some years ago Congress passed a Law giving Oliver Evans an exclusive right of vending machinery used in mills, Commonly called his machinery, for 14 years.

After his patent right had expired1 and going back to all who had erected mills, between the expiration of the old patent and the new law, he has met with considerable opposition when suits were instituded, by persons being summoned that were supposed to be the real inventors of the machinery, but he appears to have a particular talent in procuring testimony so pointed, (altho not always credited,) that the court and Jury must be for him.

In a suit lately decided in this city, a miller that did not manufacture perhaps more than 5 or 600 Barrells of flour yearly was fined 1850 dollars with costs of suit.

The Judges have said since that decision, and with a great deal of truth, that every opportunity was given to the defendant to prove that O. Evans was not the real inventor. That is saying, that had it been proven to their satisfaction, that he was not the inventor, they would have directed the jury to find for the defendant.

I am told that thou hast in thy possession a Book of an old date that has the plates of the screw and elevator at work in a mill, for the same purpose as he has them. If this should be the case, he may have seen that book or some other which he took his works from.

I shall be much obliged to have a reply from thee on the subject.

I am with real regard Thy Friend

Isaac Mcpherson

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by McPherson; at head of text in clerk’s hand: “Thomas Jefferson Esqe”; endorsed by TJ as received 6 Aug. 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

Isaac McPherson (1759–1827), miller and manufacturer, was a merchant in Alexandria by 1792. He married Andrew Ellicott’s daughter in 1796, operated the Occoquan Mills in Prince William County by 1798, and moved by 1803 to Baltimore, where he manufactured millstones (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 23:120–1; Charles W. Evans, Biographical and Historical Accounts of the Fox, Ellicott, and Evans Families [1882], 80; Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, 24 Jan. 1798, 29 Jan. 1801; Baltimore Republican; or, Anti-Democrat, 14 Jan. 1803; G. Terry Sharrer, “The Merchant-Millers: Baltimore’s Flour Milling Industry, 1783–1860,” Agricultural History 56 [1982]: 144; Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 24 Mar. 1826, 23 Jan. 1828, 29 Apr. 1829; R. J. Matchett, Matchett’s Baltimore Directory for 1827 [1827], 183; Records of Deceased Members of Baltimore Monthly Meeting [ca. 1658–ca. 1895], 67 [PSC-Hi]).

TJ received letters from george mason and henry lee introducing McPherson in April 1792, not 1790 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 23:120–1). On 21 Jan. 1808 congress passed “An Act for the relief of Oliver Evans,” which gave him “for a term not exceeding fourteen years, the full and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using, and vending to be used, his invention, discovery and improvements in the art of manufacturing flour and meal” (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; 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 , 62). His old patent, which had expired after fourteen years, was dated 18 Dec. 1790 (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). Early in December 1812 the United States Circuit Court for the Maryland District awarded $1,850 in damages to Oliver Evans in his patent infringement lawsuit against Samuel Robinson, a Montgomery County miller (Baltimore Patriot, 14 Jan. 1813).

1Thus in manuscript, but the intent may have been to combine the preceding two sentences thus, “for 14 years after his patent right had expired.”

Index Entries

  • An Act for the relief of Oliver Evans (1808) 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; Correspondence; letters of introduction to search
  • Lee, Henry (1756–1818); introduces I. McPherson to TJ search
  • machines; O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Maryland; U.S. circuit court in search
  • Mason, George; introduces I. McPherson to TJ search
  • McPherson, Isaac; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • McPherson, Isaac; identified search
  • McPherson, Isaac; introduced to TJ search
  • McPherson, Isaac; letters from search
  • patents; of O. Evans search
  • Robinson, Samuel; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • United States Circuit Court, Maryland District search
  • Wormley, Ralph search