• John Quincy Adams Approves Historically Important Horse Boat Patent For Early, Notable Inventor Barnabas Langdon

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    JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (1767-1848) was a brilliant secretary of state under President Monroe (1817--25). Adams negotiated with Spain the treaty for the acquisition of Florida and wrote a good deal of the "Monroe Doctrine' (1823). In 1824 he won the presidential election over Andrew Jackson, but only after a close vote in the House of Representatives. In 1831 he entered the US House of Representatives where, for the rest of his life he was a champion of the antislavery faction. In 1841 he successfully defended the African mutineers of the slave ship Amistad.


    Offering a three-piece grouping: Document Signed, "J.Q. Adams" on Patent Certification, October 5, 1823, 1pp., seal intact, a little rough at edges. In part, "I certify that Barnabas Langdon took out a patent on the 5th day of June 1819 for his improvement of the Horse Boat; but owing to some defects in the specification, another patent was granted to him for the same object, bearing a date on the 1st day of May 1821, the specification being corrected to his wishes." ...

     

    Second item is a Letters of Patent document, May 1, 1821 for the same application, "Boats to be moved by animal power ...", 1pp., fold some archival tape repairs at folds, secretarily signed James Monroe and John Q. Adams.

     

    Finally, a wonderful 7 ¾ x 12 ½, six-page Autograph Letter Signed by Barnabas Langdon describing in extraordinarily granular detail the Horse Boat construction.  In very small part, “...The horse boats commonly n use before my invention consisted of two boats, joined together, having a platform in the centre for the horses to walk on. The horses were attached to an arm or arms, inserted in a vertical or upright shaft; on this latter shaft was placed a large horizontal wheel, working into a trundle head or cog wheel, which turned the axis on which the water wheels were placed; the horses attached to the first mentioned arm or arms, walked round the platform turning the vertical shaft, which turned the horizontal wheel...”


    BARNABAS LANGDON was a prolific early inventor, with patents for a water pump, tin ware manufacture, steam-powered boats, horse-powered boats, grist mills, flax and hemp processing, etc. Langdon's turntable design permitted the horses to walk straight ahead instead of in circles. "Langdon placed a rotating turntable slightly below the level of the boat's deck; horses stood atop the turntable through large slots in the deck and drove the wheel backward by walking in place. This design eased the burden on the horses, freed up valuable deck space, and allowed the ferry to be built atop one hull." One description of a turntable type team boat using six horses says, "The treadmills, on either side, were each trod by three horses always facing in the same direction. To reverse the paddlewheels it was only necessary to stop the horses a minute, and withdraw a drop pin that would reverse the gearing."

     

    In their book, “When Horses Walked on Water,” authors Kevin J. Crisman and Arthur B. Cohn (Smithsonian Institution Press) wrote, “Horse boats may have begun as a substitute for steamboats, but their utility and cheapness made them attractive even to companies working under a Fulton/Livingston license.”  The ferrying enterprise founded by Robert Fulton and William Cutting is a case in point. Under the term of its lease with New York, this company was required to complete a second steam ferry as commodious as the first by 1819, but the operation simply could not afford to build another vessel the size of the Nassau. The directors petitioned to build a large horse boat, citing the savings in construction and maintenance and service to the public comparable to the existing steam ferry.  The Nassau cost about $30,000 to build and the horse boat with extra horses and a stable on shore were estimated at $12,000.  The city of New York agreed to the substitution on December 17, 1817. 

     

    There were two ferries in Troy using the Langdon machinery.  In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette, famous for his Revolutionary War exploits on the American side, toured America and as part of his tour crossed the Hudson at Troy. Crowds cheered as the hero crossed on a horse ferry.  In July 1826, one of the horse ferries was replaced with a steam ferry. Within a short time, it failed and was replaced with another horse ferry.  In several cases after the steamboat had been perfected, there were many instances when the quiet, reliable, safe horse drawn ferries were preferred over the nose of steamboats, which were known to explode.

     

    The two documents have fold tears repaired with archival tape and some margin chipping.  Some fold reinforcement to the letter with archival tape.  A wonderful historical lot.

     

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