Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 43

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 43


This is the grave of Robert Fulton.

2016-05-28 13.55.53

Fulton, the creator of the first commercially successful steamship, was born in Pennsylvania, managed to make friends with prominent people, and went to Europe at the age of 23, soon after the end of the American Revolution. He continued to make interesting friends there, including the socialist Robert Owen, who funded one of Fulton’s early schemes. Fulton was highly interested in transportation technology from a young man. He understood projects on everything from canals to submarines and worked on some of the first modern sea mines for the British in their fight against Napoleon’s France, although he also took contracts for France as well. I guess Livingston was the definition of the American version of “neutral rights” during the Napoleonic Wars. He created early steamships while in Europe

Fulton returned to the U.S. in 1806 and married into the powerful Livingston family. Fulton pioneered the Clermont the next year, the first passenger steamship, which carried passengers from New York to Albany up the Hudson River. He did not in fact invent the steamship nor did he create the first steamship in the United States, which had happened in the 1780s. What Fulton did do was make the steamship a viable commercial operation useful for overcoming the transportation difficulties of the young United States. He continued working on steamboat and canal technology but died in 1815 from tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Robert Fulton is buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery, New York City.

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  • Denverite

    I once worked on a project involving state constitutional budgetary restrictions (e.g., TABOR in Colorado), many of which seemed to date to the Erie Canal bankruptcy disaster in the mid-19th century. These provisions wreak all sorts of havoc in raising funds to, inter alia, pay for public schools and whatnot.

    Question: Did Fulton make the Erie Canal viable, and as a result, completely fuck up funding for public projects for the next two centuries?

    • (((Hogan)))

      It doesn’t seem to have stopped the Panama Canal, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, or the interstate highway system.

      • Denverite

        state constitutional budgetary restrictions”

        But point taken re: I should have been more specific.

        • The Pennsylvania Turnpike was, I admit, subject to Commonwealth constitutional budgetary restrictions.

    • Lurker

      No. The Erie Canal was originally trafficked by horse-drawn boats.

      • Uatu

        For a long time there:

        The popular song “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen after Erie Canal barge traffic was converted from mule power to engine power, raising the speed of traffic. Also known as “Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal”, “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal”, “Erie Canal Song”, and “Mule Named Sal”, the song memorializes the years from 1825 to 1880 when the mule barges made boomtowns out of Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, and transformed New York into the Empire State. The tune is sadly nostalgic.


        • John Revolta

          And we were still singing that song in grade school music class in the ’60s.

          • N__B

            70s, too.

            • wjts


              • Denverite

                My spouse was paid to sing it at B&Bs on the Erie Canal in the 80s and 90s.

                • wjts

                  For the sake of the guests, I hope she could also be paid to stop.

                • Warren Terra
                • (((Hogan)))

                  I don’t even need to click on the link to know that it will delight me.

            • RobertL

              I sang it in 1970s Australian primary school.

  • Bruce Vail

    I’ve been in the Trinity Church burying ground many times: I worked nearby in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    I find it odd that you choose to highlight Fulton and when the much-more-famous Alexander Hamilton is buried just few feet sway.

    • (((Hogan)))

      Yeah, how come no one on this blog ever talks about Hamilton?

      • Warren Terra

        Yeah, how come no one on this blog ever talks about Hamilton?

        I think you mean,

        Yeah, how come ♫no one♫ on this blog ever talks about ♪Hamilton♬?

    • Thlayli

      Mr. Miranda is handling Secretary Hamilton’s PR just fine, he doesn’t need Erik’s help.

    • CD

      The blog is in the pocket of Big Steamship.

      • N__B


  • N__B

    Erik –

    You were 100 feet from my office. Beer was yours for the asking!

    Also, I hope your series is going to include Fulton’s neighbor. I worked on the Hamilton Monument restoration a few years ago and his fans creeped me out the whole time.

    ETA, since Bruce beat me to the punch: the shoe store on Rector Street in the background has the most passive-aggressive sign I’ve ever seen. “WE PROBABLY HAVE THE LOWEST PRICES IN TOWN.”

    • (((Hogan)))


      • Warren Terra


        • BiloSagdiyev

          “If you don’t want a hat, screw you.”

    • Yankee

      People are still leaving flowers on (what’s left of, or the place where used to be) the altar of Julius Caesar’s deificational temple in the Roman Forum. Saw it myself.

      • Warren Terra

        shouldn’t they be pouring libations or burning animal flesh or something?

        • Colin Day

          Shouldn’t they be tossing salads?

          • E pluribus unum!

          • rea

            Or delivering babies.

    • wjts

      …and his fans creeped me out the whole time.

      I am given to understand that Hamilton-mania has inspired denizens of certain quarters of the Internet to pen vignettes that revolve around Hamilton and Burr doin’ it.

      • Warren Terra

        I think it’s important to note that N__B worked on the site a few years ago, meaning he was dealing with Hamilton fans pre-Hamilton.

        • N__B

          IOW, I was dealing with a bunch of people who worship Adam Smith and Alexander Hamilton because they never read anything either man wrote and therefore completely misunderstand them.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            “I can’t believe you like money, too. We should hang out.”

            • los

              “You’re buying the coffee”
              “No, you’re buying”
              “Well if that’s how you treat your free market dates, then this is off”
              “Isn’t coffee covered by food stanps?”

    • Murc

      I worked on the Hamilton Monument restoration a few years ago and his fans creeped me out the whole time.

      Speaking as someone who considers the musical to be one of the triumphs of the form, I’m starting to rapidly lose patience with the idiots who think it is historically accurate. Fictional Hamilton is no more an accurate representation of Historical Hamilton than, say, the portrayals of any given historical figure in an episode of Doctor Who.

      I have had people seriously tell me I was a lying slanderer for quoting the Federalist Papers as examples of what Hamilton believed.

      • Warren Terra

        I haven’t looked into the historical Hamilton all that much, but I’m willing to bet the emphasis on anti-slavery and especially pro-immigrant themes are far more Lin-Manuel Miranda than they are Alexander Hamilton.

        • Murc

          On the latter, there’s not a lot of evidence either way, which in the context of the times can be interpreted as support of the status quo, which was largely pro-immigration.

          The anti-slavery thing is certainly a creation of Miranda. It is true Hamilton was anti-slavery… nominally. He was a member of the New York Manumission Society, for example.

          However, he didn’t actually do much to forward the cause of abolition. He had all those fine, powerful friends and the ears of the powerful and a lot of influence as a public intellectual but the cause of abolition never really moved him enough for him to expend serious time and energy on it. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, except it doesn’t really make him this great anti-slavery crusader, and contrary to what Eliza says in the musical, he would NOT have done “so much more” on that front had he lived.

          The big thing, though, is that Hamilton hated democracy. Hated it. He’s up-front about that. He wanted a republic, true… but he wanted a republic that was dominated by the rich and the well-born, with a hugely restricted franchise, serving the needs of business, with many veto points and supermajority requirements. He would regard our modern system of universal suffrage with horror.

          Hamilton was an oligarch, straight up. That doesn’t come through at all in the musical, which is fine, because the musical isn’t about that, but people think Fictional Hamilton is the same person as Historical Hamilton, and he was not.

          • cpinva

            “He would regard our modern system of universal suffrage with horror.”

            considering who the republican candidate for president is this year, he may have had a point.

            • N__B

              Vox populi, vox dei.

              In this case, the god is Sithrak.

          • rea

            Given Napoleon’s opportunities, Hamilton would have been Emperor Alexander I

  • JR in WV

    Regarding Steam Boats, everyone knows (or should) that the world’s first boat moved under steam power happened on the Potomac River by Shepherdstown, WV on a boat built under the direction of James Rumsey, in 1787.

    Fulton was a copying, idea stealing bad person. He’s lucky the patent office wasn’t working well in 1787!

    I will confess that Fulton’s boats probably were more practical when he got around to it… also that Shepherdstown was in Virginia at the time. But it isn’t anymore!

    • Bruce Vail


      Steam: The Untold Story of America’s First Great Invention by Andrea Sutcliffe is a good read on Fulton, Fitch, Rumsey, and the rest.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Steamboats are ruining everything!

    (It’s also a blog. Here’s their latest missive:
    http://www.steamthing.com/2016/08/why-has-trump-come-so-far.html )

  • Bruce Vail

    Hmmm…it appears that the reason both Fulton and Hamilton are buried at Trinity Church is that both had the financial good fortune to marry women of the rich and influential Livingston family.

    Fulton is actually buried in his father in law’s family plot, while the marker in Erik’s photo is another party of the cemetery.


  • At some point it would be fun (for me) if you’d write something about some of the best cemeteries you’ve been too. Trinity has long been a favorite of mine, as is Woodlawn in Elmira, NY, where Samuel Clemon’s reposes. Of course, right around the corner from me, in Buffalo, is the final resting place of Millard Filmore, Red Jacket, Shirley Chisholm, and Rick James. We look forward to your visit.

  • Tracy Lightcap

    Fun fact: Fulton tried to convince Napoleon to use a fleet of steamboats to invade England. The idea was a simple one. Wait for a period of weather unfavorable to getting sailing ships out of harbor on the English southern coast. Then send over the fleet of steam transports without any opposition form the Royal Navy. And England is finished.

    Napoleon asked about steamboats, found out they involved putting a wood-fired steam engine on board, and nixed the plan at once. A lot of people have said since that this was short-sighted, but Napoleon always took the safest path when it involved his own soldiers. Still, it would have worked. Maybe.

    And for all this about Fulton not being a competent engineer: phooey. He was actually a good mechanical hand, invented the first working submarine, and made enough innovations in the Clermont to make it commercially viable (a workable paddle wheel system was the main thing here).

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