Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Abraham Du Buc de Marentille, 27 January 1802

From Abraham Du Buc de Marentille

Elizabeth-town New-Jersey
le 27. Janvier. 1802.

Monsieur le Président,

Ce n’est point au président des états-unis de l’amérique que je prends la liberté de m’adresser directement, mais à Monsieur Jefferson comme philosophe, ami des arts et des sciences et de tout ce qui tend au bien de l’humanité. Je ne doute pas, Monsieur le Président, que dans le cours de vos travaux et de vos réflexions une observation intéressante sur la marine ne se soit quelquefois présentée à votre esprit et que vous ne vous soyez dit—Comment se peut-il que les progrès étonnans de l’art naval n’aient encore rien enfanté pour le salut des naufragés. Cette réflexion m’a conduit à des idées qui me paroissent d’une grande importance, et le mémoire ci-joint vous fera voir en deux mots ce que j’ai imaginé. Je prétends sauver, Monsieur le président, les neuf dixièmes des malheureux qui périssent à la mer. Je vous demande très humblement la faveur de votre influence et de votre protection pour le succès de ma demande; et sous vos auspices, Monsieur le président, le monde maritime va voir naître une époque intéressante.

Monsieur Jonathan dayton Sénateur des états-unis a bien voulu se charger de présenter au Congrès ma pétition. il paroit qu’une discussion élevée sur la concession des privilèges lui a fait juger convenable d’en suspendre la présentation. J’ose solliciter de votre bonté, Monsieur le président, de vouloir bien accorder quelque intérêt au succès de ma demande sur un sujet d’une aussi grande importance.

Je suis avec respect, Monsieur le président, Votre très humble et très obéissant serviteur

Du Buc Marentille

Editors’ translation

Elizabeth, New Jersey
27 Jan. 1802

Mister President,

It is not to the president of the United States of America that I take the liberty of addressing myself directly, but to Mr. Jefferson, the philosopher, friend of the arts and sciences and of everything that tends towards the good of humanity. I do not doubt, Mister President, that in the course of your labors and reflections, an interesting observation about the navy has presented itself sometimes to your mind and that you have said to yourself, “How is it possible that the astonishing progress of naval art has not yet given birth to anything for the rescue of the shipwrecked?” That reflection led me to some ideas that seem to me to be of great importance, and the attached memorandum will show you in two words what I have imagined. I claim to save, Mister President, nine-tenths of the unfortunates who perish at sea. I ask you very humbly for the favor of your influence and protection for the success of my request; and under your auspices, Mister President, the maritime world will see the birth of an interesting epoch.

Mr. Jonathan Dayton, United States senator, has been willing to take on the task of presenting my petition to the Congress. It seems that a serious discussion on the concession of privileges has caused him to deem it appropriate to defer its presentation. I dare to solicit your kindness, Mister President, to be willing to grant some interest to the success of my request on a subject of such great importance.

I am respectfully, Mister President, your very humble and very obedient servant

Du Buc Marentille

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 30 Jan. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Memorial of Du Buc de Marentille to Congress, asking for patents on his inventions of a lifeboat, a life raft, and a distress signal “for the preservation of the lives of those who traverse the seas” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 127:22016–17; in Du Buc de Marentille’s hand, signed; dated “the  . .  november. 1802,” but very likely the memorial referred to in the letter above).

Abraham Du Buc de Marentille, according to a later letter to TJ, had been an officer with the French army at the siege of Yorktown. He was probably in the West Indies after that, and lived in the United States beginning in 1792. His petition to Congress in 1802 was based on a supposition that aliens could not obtain patents. After learning that foreigners who had resided in the United States for two years could take out patents, Du Buc de Marentille in December of that year patented an “insubmersible boat.” His design called for decking to keep water out of the boat and affixing cork to the craft for bouyancy. That arrangement prepared the boat for use as a lifeboat when the ship carrying it was out at sea; in port the special components could be removed to make the boat suitable for ordinary tasks. Du Buc de Marentille launched a prototype at Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the spring of 1803, subjecting it to a public demonstration in which the boat proved resistant to sinking, swamping, or capsizing. Du Buc de Marentille advertised that he would give free licenses for the use of such a lifeboat to the first three shipowners who placed orders. He apparently received no response to that offer, and in July 1803, someone stole his demonstration vessel from a wharf in New York City. That year Du Buc de Marentille also took out patents on a “wreck raft,” which was a life raft to be carried on board a ship, and a “sea-sitting chair” designed to keep a person afloat in a sitting position. The lifeboat, the raft, and the chair all employed cork flotation and incorporated weighted levers to keep the craft from upsetting. Beginning in 1807, Du Buc de Marentille drew up plans for the defense of New York harbor, but was not able to get them implemented (Philadelphia Mail; or, Claypoole’s Daily Advertiser, 5 Oct. 1792; Elizabeth, N.J., Federal Republican, 10, 17 May, 6, 13 Sep. 1803; New York Mercantile Advertiser, 27 May 1803; M. A. Du Buc Marentille, All People Wrecked at Sea Saved: Description of the Machines Invented for that Purpose, and for which Patents have been Obtained [Elizabeth, N.J., 1803]; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 3:594–5; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, Washington, D.C., 1872 description ends , 30, 32; Mary Weatherspoon Bowden, “Knickerbocker’s History and the ‘Enlightended’ Men of New York City,” American Literature, 47 [1975], 171; Du Buc de Marentille to TJ, 30 July, 22 Sep. 1807).

Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey presented Du Buc de Marentille’s memorial to the Senate on 10 Feb. 1802. The Senate tabled the memorial and took no further action. In December 1804, Du Buc de Marentille wrote to the speaker of the House of Representatives asking the “patronage of Congress” to assist him in getting one of his lifesaving devices adopted by the navy and on merchant vessels (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:180; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 5:66, 68).

Discussion élevée Sur la Concession Des Privilèges: Dayton may have hesitated because the House of Representatives, after forming a committee to prepare a revised naturalization bill on 15 Dec., had begun to send to that committee any petitions from aliens that related to the “privileges and benefits” of citizens (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:18, 49–50, 52, 55).

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