History Timeline 1810s

Image above: The U.S.S. Constitution captures the British war ship Guerrier, War of 1812. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Right: Battle of New Orleans, E. Percy Moran, 1910. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

War of 1812

U.S. Timeline - The 1810s

The War of 1812

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  • Timeline

  • 1811 - Detail

    October 11, 1811 - The first steam-powered ferry service between New York City and Hoboken, New Jersey is started on John Steven's ship, the Juliana.

    John Stevens III and the Stevens Estate

    There was a whole lot of patronage and nepotism going on in the world of steam-powered boats, ferries, and locomotives in the world pre and post-1800. The only man who didn't seem to know how to play that game was John Fitch, and perhaps John Rumsey, early pioneers who got less credit that they deserved. But even those men had ties to the businessmen and politicians that made the first decades of the United States work. However, the man that made nepotism a watchword in this field of steam was definitely Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York. A partner and financier of Robert Fulton's success with the first practical steamboat, who married Livingston's niece. For John Stevens, already of political priveledge as the son of John Stevens, Jr., a delegate to the Continental Congress, his sister married Robert R. Livingston. There must have been a lot of hot air steaming up those family dinners. And that steam, through legend and almost history, has John Stevens III riding along the Delaware River when John Fitch was testing his steamboat.

    John Stevens Prior to Steam

    As noted above, John Stevens III was born in 1749 to a prominent family, one which, through his father, John Stevens, Jr. had formed the United States through his role in the Constitutional Convention. Once John Stevens III graduated in 1768 from the forerunner to Columbia University, known as King's College, he studied law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1771.

    Once the American Revolution started, John Stevens joined the Continental Army as a captain, later promoted to colonel, and served from 1776 to 1779 as the Treasurer of New Jersey. When the war was over, Stevens went back into his law practice, but also became enamored with inventions and their intellectual property value, which he thought should be protected by law. He petitioned Congress for a patent law, which passed on April 10, 1790.

    While in law practice in New York City, Stevens lived in New Jersey. He bought land at public auction in 1804 from a Tory landowner, William Bayard, which encompassed almost the entirety of today's city of Hoboken (Hoebuck). His estate was built on Castle Point, now the site of the Stevens Institute of Technology. Later in his life, he developed Elysian Fields, which became a recreational haven for New Yorkers. Elysian Fields is known to host some of the first baseball games.

    John Stevens, the Inventor

    Stevens was intrigued with the application of steam since he investigated (if true) Fitch's steamboat at the dock in 1787. He began to experiment with the concepts several years later, actually keeping a correspondence going between himself, Fitch, and Rumsey. In 1789, he applied for the exclusive right to run steamboats in the state of New York, even though he did not exactly have the steamboats to run. Stevens was turned down anyway. The man who was not turned down, nine years later, was Robert R. Livingston, for his friend Robert Fulton.

    Stevens tested the steamboat Polacca in 1798, running it from Belleville, New Jersey to New York City, however, by the time the ship landed, the vibration of the engine had split open the seams of the pipes. By 1804, Stevens and his two sons had designed the Little Juliana, a thirty-two foot craft using screw propulsion. Its boiler, designed by John Stevens, was not yet efficient enough to propel at the speeds desired, although its test on the Hudson River was a success, and the design amazed the crowd since you couldn't see how it moved.

    Colonel John Stevens thought that his idea was advanced enough to gain patents around the world; in 1805, Great Britain was first as they continued to work on two experimental steamboats over the next two years. Finally, the next boat, Phoenix, was a success, but it was one year late to be the first. Livingston backed Fulton as the first to launch a successful steamboat service, with his Clermont on August 17, 1807. But the Phoenix was a marvelous steamboat when it first tested the waters in spring 1808. Its one hundred foot hull, designed by son Robert, and two side paddlewheels propelled by steam, were a sight to see.

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    John Stevens, Robert Fulton, Robert Livingston and the Monopoly

    Now the nepotism and family arguments started to brew. Stevens did not believe that the monopoly granted to Livingston and Fulton was fair. Livingston, trying to appease Stevens, offered a partnership; Stevens refused. Fulton wanted to make as much money as he could out of the monopoly anyway.

    Stevens attempted to get around the monopoly by staying away from the Hudson River and running the Phoenix from New Brunswick, New Jersey to New York. Livingston and Fulton decided to compete head to head with him on that route with their new ship Raritan. Eventually Stevens gave up due to the New York competition.

    Stevens decided to try another route, traveling from New York to Philadelphia in the Atlantic under the leadership of Robert Stevens on June 10, 1809. With that voyage, the Phoenix became the first all American steamboat to travel in the ocean. Once in Philadelphia, Stevens began a service up and down the Delaware River, its first run from Philadelphia to Trenton on July 5, 1809.

    However, they got their chance again to service a New York to Hoboken, New Jersey route when a pier lease opened up in 1811. The date of this is under debate; on either September 11 or October 11, 1811, but it became the first steam-powered ferry service. Unfortunately, Livingston and Fulton again challenged the use of a pier in New York as going against their monopoly. Stevens had to stop his service in 1813. Finally, in 1824, the Supreme Court ruled in Gibbons versus Ogden that it was illegal for a state to grant such monopolies.

    Image above: Montage of (left) painting of John Stevens III, 1830, unknown author. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery via Wikipedia Commons; (right) Stevens Estate, 1808, William Russell Birch. Courtesy Library of Congress and Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Montage (left) Robert Livingston, 18th century, Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons; (center) Robert Fulton, 1850, Crehen, C.G. Courtesy Library of Congress; (right) painting of John Stevens III, 1830, unknown author. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery via Wikipedia Commons. Source Info: Hoboken Historical Museum; Library of Congress; Wikipedia Commons.

    Robert Livingston, Robert Fulton, John Stevens III

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