George Washington Papers

Enclosure Memorial from John Anderson, 20 August 1793

Enclosure Memorial from John Anderson

Glasgow College [Scotland] 1793. August 20th

The Memorial of John Anderson Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Glasgow, Humbly Shewth

That he has invented a Bronze Gun Metal, which has the advantages of Common-Iron-Guns, and of Common-Brass Guns, without their imperfections.

That he has invented a Carriage for Guns; by which the recoil of the Gun is destroyed, without giving motion to the Carriage. That the advantages of these two inventions are pointed out in printed papers which accompany this Memorial; to wit, N. 1 Essays on Field Artillery 1788. N. 2. Essais sur L’Artillerie de Campagne 1791. N. 3. Of Cast Metal Cannon. N. 4. Of Anderson’s Ship Gun.1

That there can be no doubt of the usefulness of these two inventions, because they were brought to the test of experiment by French Armies under the Generals, La Fayette, Rochambeau, Durmourier, and Custine; and because the Memorialist received the thanks of the French Nation, and, which he values much more, of the military officers who made use of them in very trying situations. Extracts in proof of this, marked N. 5 accompany this Memorial.2

That these Field Pieces would be of very great advantage to the armies of the United States of America, whose enemies at present are successful, because it seems, they are in ground where common Field Pieces cannot be used. Whereas the Field Pieces invented by the Memorialist, though of a large calibre can be carried speedily without wheels; and fired in swamps without sinking; upon stones; or rough ground without recoiling; and upon the sides of steep hills without running down; properties which belong to no other Field Pieces whatever.

That though the Memorialist communicated the method of making the Carriages of his invention to the Generals of the French Nation; yet that he has communicated to no person whatever, the invention of the Gun Metal which may be easily kept secret. If therefore the United States of America should think it their interest to have the sole possession of that Gun Metal, and to have Carriages made of the Memorialists invention, he for a proper reward is ready to communicate both inventions; and would think himself highly honoured by being appointed Engineer, Arillerist, and Director of the Gun Foundery to the United States of America, which Office would likewise give Them a right to other things of his invention, besides the two specified, and explained in the five numbers above mentioned.3

John Anderson, Prof. Nat. Phily

LS, DLC:GW; LS, NNGL: Knox Papers.

1On the essays designated as numbers 1 and 2, see the source note for Anderson to GW, 26 Aug. 1793. The printed essays designated as numbers 3 and 4, “Of Cast Metal Cannon” and “Of Anderson’s Ship Gun,” are at DLC:GW.

2The enclosed extracts are “A short account of Inventions for the improvement of Artillery, By Benjamin Robins Between the years 1740 and 1751” and “A short account of Inventions for the improvement of Artillery, by John Anderson Between the years 1778 and 1788.” They were accompanied by “A short account of the Field Pieces presented by Mr Anderson Professor of Natural Philosophy to M. La Fayette, and the first National Assembly of France; together with two Extracts referred to in the Memorial to General Washington dated August 20th 1793,” which included extracts of statements from the Marquis de Lafayette and Bernard-François, marquis de Chauvelin (1766–1832), praising the operation under battle conditions of Anderson’s Artillerie Volante, a cannon without wheels. All three accounts are at DLC:GW. Benjamin Robins (1707–1751) was a British mathematician and military engineer. His New Principles of Gunnery: Containing the Determination of the Force of Gun-powder, and An Investigation of the Difference in the Resisting Power of the Air to Swift and Slow Motions (London: J. Nourse, 1742) provided the basis for subsequent work on the theory of artillery, projectiles, and aerodynamics. He invented the ballistic pendulum, which measures the velocity of projectiles.

3On 6 May 1794, GW wrote Tobias Lear, who was in London: “I wish most sincerely that some inducement could be offered Professor Anderson which would bring him to this Country. His labours are certainly ingenious, & worthy of encouragement; but I fear it will not be in my power to avail these states of them. His communications however, are under consideration” (ALS, CSmH). GW apparently sent a duplicate, signed, copy of this memorial and its enclosures to Henry Knox for his consideration. For Knox’s favorable opinion of Anderson’s proposition and his concern that “the utter want of any provision for this subject has rendered an answer nugatory,” see his letter to GW of 17 May 1794 (DLC:GW). Knox’s copy of the Institutes of Physics was offered for sale in 1996 (sold by Sotheby’s, catalog #6904, “The Victor and Irene Murr Jacobs Collection sold for the Benefit of the President and Fellows of Harvard College,” item 5, 29 Oct. 1996).

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