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GrievesExperiment

This small copperplate-engraved ticket, found at a Providence antiques mall in an envelope of mixed ephemera, is interesting on several levels. The engraver was  William Hamlin, Rhode Island’s first engraver. According to an article in Rhode Island History, Hamlin “probably engraved less than one hundred plates.”1 His “engravings” were actually etchings. A certificate he executed in 1798 for the Providence Marine Society “contains the earliest extant view of Providence.”2 He created primarily banknotes and portraits.

    He was also a goldsmith and an instrument maker. Three different Hamlin trade cards are known, one from sometime before 1832, another  from sometime after 1847, and a third from between 1847-1867.3 A checklist of Hamlin’s engravings appeared in the March 1925 issue of the magazine Antiques.

    The Experiment was a boat powered by horses. According to the aforementioned article about Hamlin, the Experiment was “a boat built in 1808 by Varnum (perhaps David) Wilkinson for the inventor, David Grieve. It was driven by a "goose-foot paddle" propeller, with power supplied by eight horses on a treadmill. This revolutionary craft appears to have made but one voyage, a rather unsuccessful one, before being seized by Grieve’s creditors.”4

    David Grieve had been granted a patent on February 24, 1801 for “Boats to ascend rivers.” Unfortunately an 1836 fire destroyed all U.S. patent office records between 1794 to 1836. Grieve was apparently a well-known man about town in his day, who dressed rather flamboyantly and was something of a wit. “(Grieve) and another Providence man, John Nichols [ Jonathan Nichols, a blacksmith from Vermont. ed. ], conceived the plan of propelling vessels by the use of screws, or by what is now called Ericsson’s propeller. A ‘propectus’ was proposed, and shares were sold, and in that way money raised to build a vessel about 100 feet long by 20 beam, which drew only a few feet of water. She was designed by John E. Eddy, had three masts [ ?? ], and was rigged by Richard Marvin, after the manner of a Dutch galliot. Her machinery was constructed by Ephraim Southworth. She was hastily and somewhat rudely built, and was ready to be tried about the middle of August, 1807. She was to be moved by horse power, and Marvin Morris . . . supplied the eight horses to put the machinery in motion. The vessel started from Jackson’s Wharf on Eddy’s Point, and went off finely on an ebb tide, bound for the village of Pawtuxet, and with the wind and tide in her favor made a speed of four knots an hour.  . . . On the return a gust of wind drove the boat upon the mud flats . . . where she lay all night. Such was the end of “the Experiment.”5

   Thus the ticket shown here was extremely ephemeral. Written on the back by David Grieves is “B J Ives” (must have been one of the passengers, said to have been Masons plus a wedding party) and “D Grieve”. I note that there are a number of conflicting details in various related accounts of this episode, and also it seems there may have been a couple different boats of the period named Experiment. This ticket implies trips between Providence and Newport: perhaps Grieve had them printed up that way because such was the service he planned to offer . . . ?

GrievesTicketDetail

( A Wikipedia article on this subject has recently been added, and may be seen here. )


1 Rhode Island History, Vol.20 No.2 April 1961

2 Ibid.

3 “William Hamlin: An Elusive Providence Instrument Maker”Rittenhouse, Journal of the American Scientific Instruments Enterprise, Vol.3 Issue 12, August 1989, pp 136-137


4 Ibid.


5 The Sea Trade in Rhode Island an Providence Plantations, Robert Grieve, Providence 1902, p. 511-512


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MayFlowerBoat

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