George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Lincoln, 23 January 1790

From Benjamin Lincoln

Boston Jany 23 1790

My dear General

Knowing that your Excellency must be greatly burdened by the weight of public affairs and that the pressure is increased by various other avocations I should hardly have been persuaded to have broken in so much upon your time as to have given any other Gentleman, going from among us, a line of introduction But when I considered your Excellencys love of science & your partiality for scientific men I thought I could justly plead them as an apology for introducing Mr Read a native of this common wealth,1 who from great labour & close application of mind has made very valuable improvments in the construction of several machines among them are the Still the steam engine the machinery for a self moving clock &ca His productions have been fully examined by many Gentlemen of education, and all of them saving one, are good judges of them who are fully in opinion of the great merit of the author.

If your Excellency should find a leisure hour to look into his performance, I have no doubt but you will be highly pleased and you will certainly by your countenance not only promote the interest but gratify the feelings and make a good man happy. With the most perfect esteem I have the honour of being my dear General Your most obedent & humble servant

B: Lincoln


1The bearer, Nathan Read (1759–1849), a native of Warren, Mass., graduated from Harvard in 1781, received the A.M. degree in 1784, and remained at Cambridge as a tutor until 1787 when he moved to Salem, Massachusetts. After studying medicine and opening an apothecary shop, he became interested in steam navigation. Read designed a lightweight boiler, an improved engine, and a paddle-wheeled boat in 1789 and effectively presented them in January 1790 to a special committee of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The endorsements of members of the academy and Salem notables encouraged him to seek federal assistance, and Read traveled to New York in February with letters of introduction to Washington, Jefferson, Adams, “and several of the most respectable and influential members of Congress.” On 8 Feb. Benjamin Goodhue presented to the House of Representatives Read’s petition “praying the aid of Congress, and an exclusive privilege for constructing sundry machines and engines, which he has invented for improving the art of distillation, for facilitating the operation of mills and other waterworks, and for promoting the purposes of navigation and land carriage.” With a similar petition of John Stevens, Jr.’s, it was referred to Aedanus Burke, Benjamin Huntington, and Lambert Cadwalader who were then considering a bill to promote the progress of useful arts. Read later wrote: “After spending considerable time in New York without effecting the object I had in view, I returned to Salem.” He did receive one of the first patents issued by the United States, on 26 Aug. 1791, for his portable-furnace tubular boiler (“Autobiography of Nathan Read,” description begins “Autobiography of Hon. Nathan Read, Who Died at Belfast, Maine, Jan. 20, 1849.” Communicated by Joseph Williamson. New-England Historical and Genealogical Record 50 (1896): 434–36. description ends 435; Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 16:111–12, 289; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:288–89, 6:1624–25; Preble, History of Steam Navigation, description begins George Henry Preble. A Chronological History of the Origin and Development of Steam Navigation. 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1895. description ends 28).

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