Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Nancarrow, 27 December 1792

From John Nancarrow

12 mo. 27th. 1792

Jno. Nancarrow sincerely asks pardon for not paying earlier attention to the obliging request of Secretary Jefferson—he has been unusually engaged with a number of Farmers who are in Town at a considerable expence.

J. N. thinks he knows from experience that one man cannot throw water 45 feet high, because a small column would be dispersed long before it could reach that height, and a column of sufficient size to produce that effect will require two men.

In a few days J. N. will with pleasure pay every attention to this matter in his power, as he expects to have finished his business with the People from the Country by that time.

RC (MoSHi: Bixby Collection); endorsed by TJ as received 27 Dec. 1792 and so recorded in SJL.

A Quaker steel manufacturer who described himself as having been “bred to the business of an Engineer,” John Nancarrow emigrated in 1774 from Penzance, in Cornwall, to Philadelphia, where he established a furnace. He went back to England during the Revolutionary war and evidently provided relief to Americans confined in Mill Prison in Plymouth before returning to the United States in 1783. Although Nancarrow enjoyed the reputation of being “one of the first Mechanical and Philosophical Geniuses” and “the greatest Enginear in America,” John Fitch rejected his design of the engine for his steamboat in 1786. Jailed for debt in 1792, Nancarrow was disowned by the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in July of that year for failing to make amends for his conduct. In 1794 he was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society (William Wade Hinshaw and Thomas Worth Marshall, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, ii [Ann Arbor, Mich., 1938], 605; Frank D. Prager, ed., “The Autobiography of John Fitch,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Memoirs, CXIII [1976], 167; Thomas Boyd, Poor John Fitch: Inventor of the Steamboat [New York, 1935], 153–4; Nancarrow to [Richard Phillips], 6 Feb. 1786, Friends Reference Library, London, photostat in PPAmP; Nancarrow to Benjamin Franklin, 28 Aug. 1788, I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, 5 vols. [Philadelphia, 1908], iii, 379; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, xxii, pt. 3 [1885], 220). The Editors gratefully record their thanks to Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., of the American Philosophical Society for sharing several of the references cited above.

Index Entries