George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 4 November 1785]

Friday 4th. Thermometer at 52 in the Morng. [ ] at Noon and 60 at Night.

Lowering, and the wind very brisk from the So. West in the Morning; but clear, calm, warm, and very pleasant afterwards.

Raised the heavy frame in my [Ice] House to day and planted 16 Pines in the avenues on my Serpentine Walks.

Rid to my Dogue run Plantation, where they were still preparing ground for, & sowing of, Timothy seed. Went from thence to Mr. Lund Washington’s on a visit to Mr. Robt. Washington who was gone up to Alexandria. Returned home by the way of Muddy hole.

In the Evening a Mr. Jno. Fitch came in, to propose a draft & Model of a Machine for promoting Navigation, by means of a Steam.

John Fitch (1743–1798), of Bucks County, Pa., had been experimenting with a steam-driven boat for the navigation of rivers. He applied to the Continental Congress for financial assistance in Aug. 1785 and to the American Philosophical Society in September, but without success. He was at this time on his way to Richmond to try, again unsuccessfully, to procure assistance from the state legislature. On his way south, Fitch had stopped at former governor Thomas Johnson’s in Frederick Town, Md., where he first heard of James Rumsey’s boat. Concerned about the possibility that Rumsey too was experimenting with steam power, Fitch had, at Johnson’s suggestion, stopped to ask GW whether Rumsey was experimenting with steam. According to Fitch, GW evaded a direct answer and gave him no encouragement (WESTCOTT description begins Thompson Westcott. The Life of John Fitch, the Inventor of the Steam-Boat. Philadelphia, 1857. description ends , 127–47).

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