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Battle in the Courts: Picaroon Steam-Boats

picaroon steamboats article
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Picaroon Steam-Boats

This article, if not written by Robert Fulton,
was written by someone sympathetic to him and the
need for the monopoly.

On May 16, 1811 the [New York] Public Advertiser ran an article that began: “A company of iron mongers and attorneys in Albany have been fitting out two Picaroon Steam-Boats, which the public may have observed to the south of Courtlandt-street dock. It is impossible to look on those boats and not to see that they are exact copies from the boats of Messrs. Livingston and Fulton, to whom America owes the useful invention.

Perhaps a more infamous attempt has never been made to pirate patent rights, and invade the property of inventive and useful citizens. While such a scandalous act is universally condemned, and execrated by every honest man, we sincerely hope it will meet with the just punishment which the laws have power to inflict ...”

On June 22, the Hope, the steamboat built by those “iron mongers and attorneys,” aka “the Albanians,” set sail for Albany.

Livingston took the iron mongers and attorneys to court.

New York’s Chief Justice, James Kent, one of the most respected jurists in the nation at the time, consistently ruled in favor of the monopoly, beginning with issuing a permanent injunction against the Hope (Robert R. Livingston vs. James Van Ingen et al, 9 Johnson 506), saying all commerce within a state was exclusively in the power of the state.

Transcription of article:

A company of iron mongers and attorneys in Albany, have been fitting out two Picaroon Steam-Boats, which the public may have observed to the south of Courtlandt-street dock. It is impossible to look on these boats and not to see that they are exact copies from the boats of Messrs. Livingston and Fulton, to whim America owed the useful invention. Perhaps a more infamous attempt has never been made to pirate patent rights, and invade the property of inventive and useful citizens. While such a scandalous act is universally condemned, and execrated by every honest man, we sincerely hope it will meet with the just punishment which the laws have power to inflict. One of the kindest gifts of heaven unto man is genius; its labours well applied, improve our conveniences, and extend its beneficial effects to all society. The produce of ingenuity among a civilized people, is therefore morally and politically the most sacred of rights, and should be as well protected as the produce of any corporeal exertion; morally from a sense of right – politically by encouraging ingenuity to exertions which may produce improvements useful to our country and society in general; but if ingenious men are to be robbed of the fruits of their labour by companies of speculators, no inventor can be secure in his rights; the patent laws would be useless, and the genius of our country unprotected, would cease to be productive. Therefore, on every principle of national pride, for the honour and protection of the useful arts, and on every principle of justice, and national interest, we thus call the attention of the public to this infamous Albany speculation, in which there is interwoven, an intrigue and collateral influence, which, if the subscribers and their coadjutors have not fronts like Agamemnon’s shield, which was six double of bull hide covered with a plate of brass; they would blush to hear their names mentioned on the trial in this important case. But it is not enough that the law should punish them by touching their purse; the public respect for science, should punish them by the contempt which so shameful a conspiracy against the arts, merits.

August 21, 1811