RUMSEY vs. FULTON,
It is almost or quite impossible to correct a historical error once it has become fixed and crystalized in the public mind. As case in point is the claim for priority in the invention of steam navigation. The world believes to-day, and has for a century, that Robert Fulton was the first inventor of the steamboat; but Virginia and West Virginia have had the facts before them for more than a century, that it was the marvelous inventive genius of their modest citizen James Rumsey, that first applied steam to the propulsion of boats. Fulton was not even the second in point of time. Fitch followed Rumsey and antedated Fulton by several years.
Fulton, who had seen the models of Rumsey’s boat, took up the matter where Rumsey had left it and appropriated the great honors and emoluments when Rumsey was in his grave and had no one to champion his cause, by proclaiming his rights.
The facts in relation to Rumsey’s invention, tests, dates, etc., are in nowise ambiguous or uncertain; they are of record and patent to the world.
In Norris’ “History of the Lower Shenandoah Valley,” published some years ago. Rumsey and his invention were pretty fully written up. The late Col. Alex. Botler, of Jefferson county, in his lifetime devoted much time and labor to collecting and writing up the facts of the case. The writer of this, in a paper on the history tit the Eastern Panhandle Counties of West Virginia, read before the West Virginia Historical Society, in 1899, stated the principal facts in the case.
Some time in last year, (1900) Mr. D. M. Beltzhoover. Jr. of Shepherdstown wrote an able and interesting paper on the subject, which was published by the West Virginia Historical Society. About the same time a Judge Hayden, of Washington City, wrote a paper on the subject, and more recently, the Hon. D. B. Lucas, of Charlestown has written the clear-cut paper entitled, “The Inventor of the Steamboat.” herewith published in this magazine.
As it is “never too late to do good.” West Virginia should at once begin to atone for the injustice of her long neglect of her honored citizen.
New York, in honor of her son, Robert Fulton, for whom priority of invention was wrongly demanded, erected to him a marble statue on the steps of the Capitol building at Washington. West Virginia, to honor her gifted son, the rightful inventor, should erect a statue of him in Statuary Hall, in the National Capitol, and a monument on the bluffs overlooking the Potomac river and scene of his steamboat tests, at Shepherdstown.
Who will start the ball in motion and keep it rolling until justice, though tardy, shall be done to the deserving, and the name of James Rumsey, the West Virginian, shall be enrolled among the greatest inventors of the world, and greatest benefactors of the race.
J. P. HALE.