is nothing in the cable histories about Horatio Hubbell of Philadelphia,
save for the occasional mention of a plan to connect Newfoundland and
Ireland with a cable suspended from floating buoys.
born in 1799, lived in Pennsylvania for most of his life, and died in 1875.
See below for Hubbell’s obituary, which gives a brief description of his
here is a copy of Hubbell’s original 1849 Memorial to Congress proposing
the buoyed cable. Particularly interesting are the later notes added by
Hubbell himself to the Memorial, which give further insight into his struggle
(and eventual failure) to get recognition of what he believed should be
his place in history as the originator of the Atlantic Cable.
In the text below, this
font indicates quotes from historical material.
|Memorial of Horatio Hubbell and John Henry Sherburne
following memorial was presented to the Senate of the United States by
the Vice President, the Hon. GEORGE M. DALLAS, at the Session of 1849,
(XXXth Congress,) and to the House of Representatives by the Hon. JOSEPH
R. INGERSOLL. In the Senate it was referred to the Committee on Commerce.
[See Senate Journal for the second session of the Thirtieth Congress—
page 157—Monday, January 29, 1849.]
Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States,
in Congress assembled --
of Horatio Hubbell and John Henry Sherburne, of Philadelphia, and State
of Pennsylvania respectfully sets forth :-
are desirous of establishing a Telegraphic communication between this
Continent and Europe. Believing this to be feasible, from many substantial
reasons, they ask your honorable bodies to appropriate means by which
this great project may he successfully carried through. Your memorialists
proceed to say, that from many observations that have been. made, there
is incontestable evidence of the existence of a sub-marine table land,
extending from the Banks of Newfoundland across the Atlantic Ocean to
the mouth of the British channel. This is proved by the altered color
of the sea water, which has a different appearance in unfathomable places
from what it has in shallow spots. This, combined with the volcanic construction
of Iceland and the Azores and the situation of that portion of the ocean
that lies between both these volcanic groups, has led to the conclusion
that there has been a lifting up of the bottom of the sea, through the
agency of a Plutonic power, and that the bottom thus elevated appears
to be cut through in many places by deep water channels. The appearance
of Medusae, Polypi, and other marine creatures seen upon the edge of the
discolored water strengthens this opinion.
propose that these suggestions should be further investigated, and for
this purpose that they be furnished with a vessel, by a resolution of
your honorable bodies, in order to make the necessary surveys and soundings.
They also ask, if such shall be found to exist across the Atlantic Ocean
: that they be furnished by the United States government with the necessary
buoys, and the chains and anchors, in order to station the said buoys
at the necessary distances across the ocean, to establish a line of communication.
The distance from Cape Race, in Newfoundland, to the headlands of Dingle
Bay, in Ireland, being about 1900 statute miles, it would take only three
hundred and eighty buoys to have a buoy anchored every five miles the
whole distance ; while it is probable that a buoy at every ten miles distance
would be sufficient-in which case one hundred and ninety buoys would be
enough. To these buoys a telegraphic wire would be attached, and sunk
at such distances under water as would protect it from all molestation.
In the intervals between the buoys, the wire, if necessary, would be supported
by cork floats attached to it.
think it unnecessary to enter into further details at the present time
to show, for instance, what precautions would be adopted to prevent chafing
of the wires against the anchoring chains; or the means of diminishing
the size of the buoy by sustaining their anchoring chains by lesser buoys
or floats throughout the whole length of the chains, &c. The chief
object of your memorialists at present being to direct the attention of
Congress to this important object—as your memorialists are of opinion
that, though no soundings can be found, as indicated above, buoys may
be anchored by means of buckets, properly constructed, let down to a sufficient
depth, so as to be clear of all currents moving on the upper surface,
and supporting a column of water, while they rested on the water, so as
to counterbalance the drifting movement of the buoys.
And this experiment,
they pray may be fully tested; which, should it not succeed, contrary
to the firm persuasion of your memorialists, will yet serve to elucidate
many important phenomena. Your memorialists will advert to the fact that
the British Government are now about adopting the bold project of carrying
the telegraphic wire across the British Channel, and it remains for our
Government, by their promptness and energy, not to allow themselves to
be anticipated in the glorious enterprise of extending a telegraphic communication
across the ocean itself.
All of which
is respectfully submitted by your Memorialists,
The Journal of the Senate of the United States of America for Monday,
January 29, 1849, records:
The Vice President
presented the memorial of Horatio Hubbell and John Henry Sherburne, praying
the aid of government in the establishment of a telegraphic communication
across the Atlantic ocean; which was referred to the Committee on Commerce.
of the House of Representatives of the United States for Monday, January
29, 1849, records:
By Mr. Joseph
R. Ingersoll: The memorial of Horatio Hubbell and John Henry Sherburne,
praying aid by the government, to enable them to test the practicability
of carrying the magnetic telegraph across the Atlantic ocean.
Ordered, That said petitions and memorials be referred to the Committee
on Naval Affairs.
further mention is found in the House or Senate Journals of any reports
from the Committee on Commerce and the Committee on Naval Affairs.
an Act of Congress approved on 3 March 1849, a little over a month after
Hubbell’s memorial was presented to Congress, American naval vessels began
systematic deep-sea soundings in the Atlantic. Based on their findings
hydrographer Mathew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), Superintendent of the
Naval Observatory, suggested that there was an undersea plateau between
Newfoundland and Ireland. It is generally accepted that Maury named this
the “Telegraph Plateau”, although there are dissenting opinions.
Telegraph Plateau from Physical Geography of the Sea,
In 1852 naval scientist John Brooke
(1826-1906) invented a deep-sea sounding lead, and the next year Lieutenant
Otway Henry Berryman, sailing on the Dolphin, used this apparatus to obtain
specimens of the sea bed from the plateau.
Maury performed microscopic examinations of these specimens, which revealed
that they did not contain “a particle of sand or gravel
mixed with them”,
but were “mites of sea-shells as perfect and
unworn as when they were alive”.
His conclusion was that the bottom of the Atlantic in this area was non-abrasive
and unaffected by currents.
the 1855 first edition of his book The Physical Geography of the Sea,
Brooke’s Deep-Sea Sounding Apparatus
is at the bottom of this sea, between Cape Race in Newfoundland and Cape
Clear in Ireland, a remarkable steppe, which is already known as the telegraphic
plateau. A company is now engaged with the project of a submarine telegraph
across the Atlantic. It is proposed to carry the wires along this plateau
from the eastern shores of Newfoundland to the western shores of Ireland.
The great circle distance between these two shorelines is one thousand
six hundred miles, and the sea along the route is probably nowhere more
than ten thousand feet deep. This company, it is understood, consists
of men of enterprise and wealth, who, should the inquiries that they are
now making prove satisfactory, are prepared to undertake the establishment
forthwith of a submarine telegraph across the Atlantic. It was upon this
plateau that Brooke’s sounding apparatus brought up its first trophies
from the bottom of the sea.”
1852 Frederic Newton Gisborne had obtained from the Newfoundland Government
a thirty year concession to connect Newfoundland by telegraph to the mainland
of Canada, with a landline across Newfoundland from St. John’s and Cape
Race to Cape Ray and a cable across the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Within a
year the company was bankrupt and during his attempt to raise more capital
Gisborne met Matthew Field and was introduced in January 1854 to Matthew’s
brother, Cyrus Field.
following his meeting with Gisborne, Cyrus Field wrote to Maury and asked
about the hydrographic problems in laying a cable across the Atlantic.
Based on his analysis of the telegraphic plateau discoverd in the surveys,
Maury told Field that a cable was feasible, and also told Field that he
had in fact just sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy (dated February
22nd, 1854 and later published) recommending that the Government establish
a prize to be awarded to “the company through whose telegraphic wire
the first message shall be passed across the Atlantic”.
the same time, Field also wrote to Samuel Morse, who was so enthusiastic
about the prospects of a cable that he visited Field in New York, and
told Field that he felt certain a transatlantic cable would be practical.
Morse referred to a letter he had written on August 10, 1843 to John C.
Spencer, then Secretary of the Treasury, in which he said:
telegraphic communication on the electromagnetic plan may with certainty
be established across the Atlantic Ocean! Startling as this may now seem,
I am confident the time will come when this project will be realized.”
March 1854 Field had established the New York, Newfoundland, and London
Telegraph Company, the partners in which were Field, Peter Cooper, Moses
Taylor, Marshall O. Roberts, and Chandler White, and on May 6, 1854, the
company was formally organized. The company contracted with Morse for
use of all his patents and renewals (Mullaly, 1855),
and Morse was listed as Vice President and Gisborne as Engineer (Briggs
& Maverick, 1858)
Hubbell received no response from Congress on his 1849 proposal to lay
a buoyed cable across the Atlantic, and publicity surrounding Field’s
communication with Maury and the subsequent formation of the Telegraph
Company obviously annoyed him.
the back of Hubbell’s own copy of his 1849 memorial is the following handwritten note dismissing Maury's part in the project (undated, but from the context it was written after
Maury’s letter of 22 Feb 1854):
with the suggestions no doubt contained in this memorial Lieut. Berryman
was sent out by government to make soundings & made them in 1853 over
4 years after this memorial was presented to Congress.
& on the
22 Feby 1854 Maury made his report upon Berrymans Soundings—which was
all Maury had to do with it—he Maury never having made a personal Survey
of the Table Land between Newfoundland & Ireland.
took further steps to press his claim of having originated the transatlantic
cable. His friend John Oakford (Chief Clerk of the Post Office Department) wrote to Hubbell on 22 May
22 May 1854
Morse is here
a very pleasant intelligent and communicative companion,—I told him
of your pretensions to have first suggested the oceanic telegraph—he
asked me several particulars in relation thereto, which I was not able
to impart. He said that in 1842 he had written upon the subject, and that
his letter is extant.
be much pleased to make his acquaintance. You would find him the exact
counterpart of your friend Pendleton.
3 June 1854, Hubbell wrote a letter to Samuel Morse. The text of Hubbell’s
letter is not available, but in Hubbell’s papers is the following note:
from a friend of mine in Washington that Mr S.F.B. Morse was desirous
of seeing my memorial to Congress in 1849 upon the subject of Transatlantic
Telegraph I enclosed a copy to him in a letter setting forth my claims
as the original projector of said Telegraph. This letter produced a reply
from Mr Morse the portions of which essential to the understanding of
the controversy are quoted in my reply as given below.
The “reply from Mr Morse” which Hubbell refers to in this note is
Morse’s letter of 12 June 1854, immediately below.
manuscript of “Prefatory Remarks” is not in Hubbell’s hand,
and is followed on the document page by a copy, in the same hand, of the
first portion of Hubbell’s letter to Morse of (29) June 1854.
full text of Hubbell’s letter to Morse, from the copy in Hubbell’s own
hand, is reproduced as Philad.
June 1854 (below).
his 1959 book The Atlantic Cable, Bern Dibner reproduces the text
of Morse’s two letters to Hubbell, with the following note:
following letter from Prof. S.F.B. Morse to Gen. Horatio Hubbell contains
several elements of importance to the history of the Atlantic Cable. It
is reproduced from the letter-press copy retained by Prof. Morse, now
in the Burndy Library. Dated June 12, 1854, it was written during the
very earliest days of the formation of the Cable company, by one of the
true Projectors. Its patient exposition is a review of the events leading
up to the undertaking, and of the early scramble for priority of credit
for the grand scheme. It contains the famous prediction that ‘the time
will come when this project will be realized’. It also outlines the respective
roles of the inventor-dreamer and he who reduces an idea to practice.
The proposal by Gen. Hubbell seems to have been one of the many impractical
notions that plagued the Cable company technical staff. “
Reproduced here is Hubbell’s own copy of Morse’s letter. While courteous
in tone, Morse leaves no doubt that he was not impressed with Hubbell’s
June 12th 1854
of the 3rd inst is just received, and finds me much engaged with various
demands on my time, so that I can scarcely find a moment to reply, yet
I cannot let your communication pass without a few remarks. -
I have now
for the first time read and with much interest your memorial to Congress
in 1849. You will not feel offended if I give you facts, (so long as they
are facts,) though they may be fatal to your honest supposition
that “whatever has been done towards an Ocean Telegraph has only
been a following up of your ideas,” or that you can claim
priority in the suggestion of a Telegraph across the Atlantic.
You will believe
from the position which I hold in relation to the Telegraph that it was
quite natural that the extension of my System throughout the world should
occupy my thoughts with some degree of intensity, from its inception,
and that in view of this anticipated worldwide extension, the connection
of Europe and America was at least a possible if not probable subject
of thought and speculation with me. Now this, Sir, is a subject which
occupied my mind at least as early as the year 1842, as printed documents
before Congress elucidate. At that period there were certain problems
bearing on such a project necessary to be solved before an Ocean Telegraph
could assume anything like a practicable shape. Like the project of aerial
navigation, as it now exists, it rested on a brilliant but impracticable,
or rather unsolved conception, and ingenious minds like your own might
well entertain the thought and devise ingenious modes of solving it, yet
without demonstrating the means of a successful solution.
A claim for
the original barren thought, however brilliant, is comparatively of little
account in the eyes of the world. It is he who first combines facts,
plans and means to carry out a brilliant thought to a successful result
who in the judgment of the world is most likely to receive the greatest
credit, while, nevertheless an impartial posterity will award to each
one whose mind has been employed in elaborating any part of a useful project,
his just share of honor in bringing it to a result. Whatever may be said
and proved adverse to your claim of priority, your memorial of 1849 must
be noted by the historian of the Telegraph as worthy of honorable mention
at that early date (1842,) which were in the way of realizing such a project,
First; Can Electricity, by means of a single electromotor, be propelled
to a distance so great as the width of the Ocean?
This was a
problem which my experiments of 1842, 1843, were intended to solve, and
which was so far satisfactorily solved to my own mind, as to lead me to
declare the law of propulsion, or rather the law of battery construction,
in my Report of the Results of those experiments to the Secretary of the
Treasury, in a letter which will be found on the files of the Department
dated New York, August 10th, 1843. In this letter I say “The practical
inference from this law is, that a telegraphic communication on my plan,
may with certainty be established across the Atlantic! Startling as this
may now seem, the time will come when this project will be realized.”
You will perceive
that there is here “a point of time earlier than yours” by five
years, and as “high and solemn a record” of the project of a
Telegraphic communication across the Atlantic in the Archives of
the Treasury Department, as if recorded in the Archives of the Senate,
and it bears on its face the evidence that my mind was as that time engaged
in elaborating on this project. But the difficulty I had overcome and
thus announced to the Government was not the only one in the way for
Second; What is the character of the bed of the Ocean? This bed had not
then been sounded, and, therefore, its character, whether suitable or
not, from its depth, its regular or irregular bottom, its freedom or not
from currents, or other disturbing agents, for the reception of a proper
conductor, was not known.
part of the problem I conceive to have been solved by Lieutenant Maury
and Lieut. Berryman, so far as it is solved.
a cable conductor of such a length be paid out to such a depth as is required?
This is resolved only by conjecture, and the experience of comparatively
very short distances in successful submarine crossings of rivers and wide
channels. The first attempt of this kind for telegraphic purposes was
made, so far as I believe, by me across the East River, between Castle
Garden and Governor’s Island in the autumn of 1842. Long subsequent to
this submarine experiment, English companies have laid the conductor beneath
the Irish and the English channels. I have no doubt of the same success
in crossing the Ocean.
it possible to interest Government, or companies to aid in such an enterprise?
You have tried the Government for your plan, and the effort is unattended
with success, on the plea that “the world was not yet prepared for
the project.” No action has been had, and it has laid dormant for
five years. Means, however, are as essential to the project before it
can be made of practical value, as all other parts of it. A company formed
originally for a more limited purpose, has been persuaded favorably to
entertain the project of an Oceanic Telegraph first suggested by me, and
a sub oceanic conductor proposed by me. This design is formally embraced
in the Charter of the land Telegraph from St. John’s Newfoundland to New
to your proposal to be a Director in this Company, your request arises
doubtless from a misconception of its nature. While it would truly give
me pleasure to see you in that position, it does not rest with me to appoint
the Officers. The Gentlemen who procured the Charter from the Government
of Newfoundland, for this Company, are men of great Capital, who have
been at great trouble & expense in procuring their present Charter.
They have invested in the enterprise a large Capital; they invited me
to join them, and to invest a large sum, which has constituted me a joint
owner with them, and no others can now be admitted but by unanimous consent of the present Stockholders. Should you wish to become interested
by investing your proportion of capital in the company, I will cheerfully
give you my vote as Stockholder, but as you will perceive I cannot control
the vote, and it must remain with the other gentlemen to decide even if
you can be admitted as a Stock holder, and then a majority of the Stockholders
must decide who shall be of their Board of Directors.
I have no
time to speak of the merits of your plan proposed in your Memorial. I
think however, that any plan of buoys for anchoring the conductor cable,
is liable to several obvious objections. The buoys being on the surface
of the Sea, must be exposed to all the disturbing and disastrous agencies
of Storms, currents, Ice, and Malevolence from which a submarine cable
once laid upon “Maury’s Telegraph plateau” would be free.
Sir with respect
Yr Ob Servt
Sam.. F.B. Morse
was unpersuaded by this communication from Morse, and replied as follows:
It has not
been for want of material, but for want of leisure that I did not immediately
answer your letter of the 12th inst. So far from being offended at your
facts I am only astonished that you did not when in the possession of
such facts candidly admit at once that you are not the original projector
of a Transatlantic Telegraph—for your fatal facts are most certainly
fatal to any such pretension upon your part. To come immediately to the
point—the words of your letter to some late Secretary of the Treasury
Aug. 10/43 are as given by yourself as follows: “The practical inference
from this law is, that a telegraphic communication on my plan, may with
certainty be established across the Atlantic! Startling as this may now
seem, the time will come when this project will be realized.”
Now I submit
to any impartial man whether there is any thing more than a mere conjecture
in this letter and whether it amounts to anything more that what is hazarded
every day relative to Baloons to wit: that we shall one day be able to
navigate the air with them—when someone (it is always understood) shall
discover the means to guide and propel them. I will even put it to yourself
—whether you had when you wrote that letter any definite idea how it
was to be done and whether you were not waiting for further Revelations.
an instrument correctly we take into consideration all parts together.
So here you say your difficulty was whether “Electricity could be
propelled by means of single Electrometer to a distance so great as the
width of the Ocean.” You became so satisfied of that that you wrote
the above letter. Taken in connection with this does your letter show
any thing more—than not how it could go across the ocean—but that
it might be propelled that distance—and even through water. Provided
any mode could be devised to carry and sustain your voice through &
over an ocean but how that was to be effected your letter don’t say. And
I ask you whether you had even dreamt of it. We might conjecture that
in free space it would go to the moon, but the exact difficulty here is,
that which you were in, when you wrote that letter, you did not know how
to do it! If you did, you did not promulgate it, nor even say you knew
the mode but kept it within yourself. That you had no plan is further
evident from the fact that your letter lay dormant in the said Secretary’s
office nearly eleven years and no one has heard of any plan of yours until
within the last year, five years after my whole plan as detailed in my
memorial had been published to the world through the Journals of Congress.
More particularly that of the Senate. You are pleased to call the Department
of the Secretary of the Treasury as high & solemn a place of Record
as that of the Senate. Most certainly you have the privilege of playing
upon my expressions if that suits your fancy—but you shall have a most
anomalous idea of a Record or a place of Record, if you seriously insist
upon this argument. The Journal of the Senate especially, when printed
and published forming part of the immutable archives of the Republic—
it is rather a more important document than any loose papers drawn from
the Pidgeon holes of a Secretary’s office—seen by no eye but his or
his clerk—which finds no insertion in his annual Report or in the accompanying
documents. That you wrote such a letter exactly as you have stated I am
bound from courtesy to admit and believe—but that has nothing to do
with the general argument I am now making, to wit: that in public offices,
where we have had examples of papers being put on file and taken off &
others substituted or at least where such can be done sometimes with impunity
such Records are not quite so solemn certain and authentic as you could
have us suppose. But further did any one but you and the said Secretary
know anything of your Letter according to your own showing and let me
ask do you call this private communication from one individual to another,
for it amounts only to that, such an announcement of a fact as will entitle
you to call yourself the original promulgator of a discovery. You might
as well insist upon the private confidential conversation of two persons
whispering a secret, whose object is not promulgation but concealment.
It is true you had nothing to announce more than a belief upon your part
of how far & through what your wire would carry—But where was your
specification? In the absence of which we are obliged to recur to a general
construction of your Letter as we have before observed, by which it appears
you had the conviction that the fluid would traverse a wire through the
water & width of the ocean—provided always that means would be found
to carry the wire through in the first place. To compare you with a great
name—you were in the situation of Archimedes—you could lift this world,
if you could only find the point d’applie for your lever. Your great discovery
therefore was a fruitless one until the preliminary was adjusted. It is
with reluctance that I speak of my own doings in this matter—they are
fully before the public & that public will finally judge between us;
whatever I had to announce was not done by a private letter but by a public
memorial, addressed to the assembled Representatives of this great nation,
thereby publishing it to the world & announcing the project openly,
directly & explicitly—not leaving it to future contingencies or
conjectures but demonstrating in express terms the way & mode in which
it would be effected. I did not grope my way, Sir, by experiments, of
which I mean no contempt, but reached my conclusions by the certainty
mind when it rises to general views—does not follow, but leads empirical
experience. As Sir David Brewster has well remarked the world would have
been far enough behind hand had it followed only the snail like progress
of mere induction. La Place did not require to see the Satellites of Jupiter
revolving at right angles to each other, he predicted it, and observation
afterwards confirmed it. Newton did not require to see the diamond analysed
to affirm there was something combustible in it—he inferred it &
the Florentines confirmed it by experiments. Le Venier did not require
to be shown the new Planet—he predicted it & observation confirmed
it. I am not so idle as to compare any thing that you or I could do to
these illustrious men, but I cite them to prove the truth of the assertion
that the mind when it rises to the general leads instead of following
experience. To apply it to the case in hand—I did not wait for your
experiments to know that the Galvanic fluid could be passed across the
ocean & through its floods—I inferred it with certainty—you say
you have confirmed it. Secondly—some five years more or less before
Berryman or Maury made their soundings—my memorial affirmed the existence
of soundings between Newfoundland and Ireland and a plateau was shown
to exist by the distinct assertion that there had been an upheaving of
the bottom of the ocean by volcanic action and other indicia pointed out
to show that soundings existed—and the experiment has confirmed the
prediction. And yet you undertake to say with such evidence staring you
in the face that you are the originator of a plan to carry the Telegraph
across the ocean—the very basis of the proceeding as your letter admits
as that upon which all your hopes rested having been pointed out by my
memorial & about which your conjecturing letter written to a Secretary
has not a single conjecture.
again look at my memorial and you will find—Five years before your doubts
were satisfied as you say in your recent letter to me my memorial asserted
that there were no currents at a certain depth of the ocean & for
that very reason buckets might be anchored immoveably for the purpose
of holding my buoys and all this I inferred from the hydrostatic pressure
towards the centre of the Earth as certainly as if my eyes had seen it
—and it was pointed out as one of the great means by which the Transit
of the Telegraph could be effected—all of which experiment has been
verified and yet you undertake to say that to you belongs the glory of
devising the Ocean Telegraph.
No Sir you
have signally failed to make out your case, and you will find it difficult
indeed to make the public believe that my ideas have not been followed
to the Letter. Let your own language silence your pretensions on the subject
forever. In your recent letter your expressions are as follows: “It
is he who first combines facts, plans and means to carry out a brilliant
thought to a successful result who in the judgment of the world is most
likely to receive the greatest credit.” Compare your letter &
my memorial and let the world then decide whether it was not my memorial
that first combined the facts,—formed the plans & indicated the
means by which this mighty project could be executed.
me with having failed in getting the patronage of the Government in this
matter. Let me ask whether you have been more successful. If you have
I congratulate you. But I never had much expectation of obtaining the
patronage of a Government so slow in the appreciation of science as our
let me say that as you do not think my plan of buoys is practicable, I
return the compliment by telling you that your plan first suggested by
a man in Trenton 2 or 3 years ago is impracticable for those mathematical
reasons that you might or might not understand, but which cannot be inserted
in a letter of this kind. And this too notwithstanding the assistance
you hope to receive from “Maury’s Plateau” named so I presume
from the same reason, that America was named after Vespucci, though Columbus
discovered it. As to the reasons you assign in your letter to show the
impracticability of my plan—if you will read my memorial again, you
will find that I reserve the further details of my plan to myself, &
therefore I would suggest that when they are more fully communicated,
you will be in a better position to play the critic.
I cannot conclude*
this letter without returning you my thanks for your friendly offer as
to the directorship. I am not particularly ambitious for the situation
and if its acquisition is attended with so many difficulties—I could
altogether decline it.
I am Sir with
Yr obdt svt
*A claim for
the original barren thought however brilliant is comparatively of little
account in the eyes of the world.
replied to Hubbell on 22 July 1854:
July 22nd 1854
of the 29th of June is this day received. I have examined with care my
reply to your first letter to discover in it anything by which I could
have given occasion to so discourteous and acrimonious a rejoinder. As
I was conscious, while writing my reply to yours, of only the most respectful
and kindly feeling, I am wholly at a loss to account for the tone and
temper which you have manifested in addressing me, in a correspondence
of your own seeking, and while I was honestly endeavoring to give you
facts in answer to queries of your own proposing. Since the facts I gave
you remain unchanged by anything you have said, I see no necessity for
continuing the correspondence, which in view of your letter, unexplained,
could not be continued on my part but at the sacrifice of my own selfrespect.
Yr Ob Sevt.
Sam. F.B. Morse
this was not sufficient to deter Hubbell. In the collection of his papers
at Duke University is a copy of his final letter to Morse (perhaps only
a draft, and never sent):
I have only
to say in reply to your note of the 22nd that any man who has no other
answer to an argument than the contents of that note would deserve my
pity. You have not merited my contempt.
is no record of any further correspondence between Hubbell and Morse,
but in his letter to Morse of 29 June 1854 (above), Hubbell was openly
skeptical of Morse’s claim to have written to the Secretary of the Treasury
in 1843. See the 1857 letter to Hubbell on this subject from Sherburne’s
son in law, S.F. Glenn (below).
1856 Field requested a re-testing of the Atlantic seabed, and Lieutenant
Berryman conducted this survey on USS Arctic in July of that year,
verifying the existence of the plateau. Field also requested the British
Admiralty to take soundings between Ireland and Newfoundland, and this
series of soundings confirmed Berryman’s results.
Having had no success
in pressing his claims with Morse, Hubbell wrote another Memorial to Congress. The Congressional Globe for Tuesday,
January 27, 1857, records:
Mr. BRODHEAD. I desire to present the memorial of Horatio Hubbell, of Philadelphia, who states that he was the original projector of the transatlantic oceanic telegraph; that he presented his memorial to the Senate of the United States on the 29th of January, 1849, wherein he set forth the manner in which an oceanic telegraph can be constructed. He says that he first announced and promulgated its possibility, the way by which it could be effected, and the spot where it could be carried through—all clearly indicated and set forth in advance of the age, the scheme having been pronounced at the time of its promulgation a piece of madness, except by the Hon. Jefferson Davis, then a member of this House, who said, on its presentation, that the world was not yet prepared for it, but might be soon. He now desires that his rights as an original inventor may be recognized. In consequence of the recent snow storm I did not receive his memorial until the bill upon the subject passed the Senate a few days ago. I therefore present it to the Senate at this time, and express the belief that the company, for whose benefit a bill has already been passed by the Senate, will recognize his rights. Mr. Hubbell is a highly respectable citizen and lawyer of Pennsylvania. The memorial presented by him in 1849 is appended to the memorial which he now presents. I move that it lie on the table.
The motion was agreed to.
text of this second memorial is not available, but on the top of Hubbell’s
copy of the 1849 memorial he has handwritten the following, which may
be his draft of the 1857 memorial:
Sir, The following
Memorial is respectfully submitted to your consideration. The undersigned
claims to be the original projector of the Trans Atlantic Telegraph.
The subjoined Memorial which was signed by the late Col. Sherburne from
friendly motives at my request—will speak for itself. In it the great
Project is first announced & promulgated—its possibility declared
—the means by which it could be effected announced & the Spot
Plateau or Table Land where it could be carried through clearly indicated.
Soundings subsequently made by U. States officers have fully corroborated
the Statements of this Memorial. When it was first published in 1849,
it was treated as an idle Chimera, and although assistance was asked from
Government & other Quarters to carry it into Execution—it was treated
as an impossibility—now that its feasibility is demonstrated—I am
treated like all precursors. I am Sir with great respect—Hor. Hubbell.
presentation to Congress of Hubbell’s second memorial was reported in
the Daily Union (Washington) for 28 January 1857:
presented the memorial of Horatio Hubbell, of Philadelphia, setting forth
that he was the original projector of the transatlantic submarine telegraph,
and presented his memorial to the Senate on the 29th of January, 1849,
in which he stated the manner in which the inter-oceanic telegraph could
be constructed. He says that he first announced and promulgated its possibility,
and that in his memorial, before presented, the means by which it might
be accomplished, and the spot where it could be carried through, are all
clearly indicated and set forth; but in advance of the age, the scheme
having been pronounced a piece of madness, excepting by Hon. Jefferson
Davis, then a member of the Senate, who said on its presentation that
the world was not yet prepared for it, but might be soon. Mr. H. now desires
that his rights as the original inventor of this great project may be
Mr. B. remarked
that he did not receive this memorial until after the bill on this subject
had passed the Senate, in consequence of the snow-storm. He would now
present it, expressing the belief that the company, for whose benefit
the bill had just been passed, would in some proper manner recognize the
rights of this gentleman. The memorialist is a highly respectable lawyer
of Philadelphia; and appended to his memorial is a copy of the one he
presented in 1849. The memorial was laid on the table.
bill referred to here by Brodhead was passed by the Senate in January
1857 and provided an annual subsidy to Field’s company for the operation
of the cable for a period of 25 years.
Glenn now enters the story. Glenn was the son-in-law of Colonel Sherburne,
Hubbell’s co-memorialist in 1849. Believing from the article in the Daily
Union that Hubbell was claiming the entire credit for the telegraph,
he wrote to the Daily Union on 28 January 1857 to press Sherburne’s
equal claim and his letter was published on 30 January 1857:
On the above
subject the name of my deceased father-in-law has frequently been brought
in controversy, but I have so far refrained from noticing it. After the
following extract from your congressional report of yesterday’s proceedings,
I must, in justice to his memory and to his surviving children, put in
a plea in bar against the petition of Mr. Hubbell, who arrogates to himself
all the credit of originating the idea:
“Mr. Brodhead presented the memorial of Horatio Hubbell, of Philadelphia,
setting forth that he was the original projector of the transatlantic
submarine telegraph . . . “[Note:
the letter as published quotes in full the first paragraph of the OCEANIC
TELEGRAPH article, above]
to the Congressional Globe of the 29th January, 1849, will show that Mr.
Hubbell was not alone in the measure, but the associate of Colonel Sherburne;
and that fact is confirmed by recent writers. A letter in the New York
Herald of December 23, 1856, speaking of Professor Maury’s “discovery”,
“The depths reported were obtained by this improved plan, and, consequently,
are more accurate than any others taken previously, and particularly on
the route of the “telegraphic plateau” which was discovered
by the Dolphin, when under Lieutenant Berryman’s command, and, which I
find noticed in a memorial to Congress, presented on the 29th Januar,y
1849, by General Horatio Hubbell and Colonel John H. Sherburne, of Pennsylvania,
thus allowing the first indication of an intention on the part of the
citizens of the United States to connect Europe and America by means of
a sub-marine telegraph. That work was done for the Observatory, and commented
upon favorably by Mr. Maury.”
Again: a communication
in your own paper of the 27th December last, alluding to the discussion
between Messrs. Maury and Berryman, states:
“These newspaper controversies, however, are not well calculated
to subserve the true interests of either, and this is evident from the
fact that, soon after the publication of Mr. Maury’s attack on Lieut.
Berryman, there appeared in a recent number of a Philadelphia paper an
interesting article reviving the claim of Gen. H. Hubbell and Colonel
Sherburne to the discovery of Maury’s telegraphic plateau, and also to
their being the first to suggest a telegraphic connexion between Europe
I was somewhat
connected with the press when the memorial was presented; and well I remember
the storm of ridicule with which it was assailed. The world will always
agree with Seneca:- “Nullum ingenium sine mixtura dementia.”
As, therefore, the originators have had the laugh, so should the now have
at least a share of the honors and profits.
Department of the Interior
January 28, 1857
reading this article, Hubbell wrote to Glenn, seeing him as a possible
ally in the fight for credit, and perhaps financial reward. In the Duke
University papers are the following two fragments in Hubbell’s handwriting,
perhaps part of a draft of the letter to Glenn:
. . . by which
I was for the first time made awa . . .
in the Union of the 30th of January ???. I have a great kindness for the
memory of Col. Sherburne a gentleman with whom I have spent many agreeable
hours. The origin of the Trans-Atlantic Telegraph cannot be mentioned
without associating his name with it. It is there as indelible as my own.
I shall always feel grateful to him for having most readily joined me
in that application—as he shared the reproach—he will share the honor
if there is any to be attached to it. And if our rights could be secured
by Patent his heirs & representatives would have equal rights with
. . .
. . . &
if necessary will make the requisite affidavits to establish its correctness.
I make this statement because in the article alluded to you have ?? the
extremely harsh term of “arrogate” as though it was my purpose
to suppress Col. Sherburne’s name in this mater. On the contrary as I
have before stated his name must always be mentioned the ?? with mine.
Col. Sherburne never to my knowledge held himself out as the author of
the project but in as much as he is one of the two memorialists—he it
entitled to the credit ?? . . .
by Hubbell’s acknowledgement of Sherburne’s rights, Glenn replied to Hubbell
on 3 February1857:
Feb 3 /57
the article on the first page of last Friday’s [30 Jan 1857] “Union”
I have observed in the Balt. Sun that you did connect my late father-in-law,
Col Sherburne’s name, with your Memorial presented by Mr. Brodhead, though
all our local papers report the contrary. If by co-operation with you
I can address our mutual interest I shall be happy to do so.
Yours very respectfully
wrote a letter of correction to the Union, which was published
on 9 February 1857:
Editors of the Union:
A letter from General Hubbell, in answer to my communication of in your
paper of the 30th ultimo, requests me to drop you a line to prevent a
misconception regarding his petition mentioned therein. It appears that
he did embrace the name of Colonel John H. Sherburne, as his coadjutor
in the initiatory plan of the trans-Atlantic telegraph plan, presented
to Congress in 1849, although that fact does not appear in the reports
of our local press. Writing of my deceased father-in-law, he says: “When
your claims will rest on the rights of Colonel Sherburne as indisputably
one of the original memorialists.” By your permission I make the
correction, with great pleasure, and sincerely hope that General Hubbell
will realize his just expectations, and will not find, with others, that
republics are still ungrateful.
the valuable space allowed me, I am your obliged servant, S.F. GLENN
Feb 9, 1857.
11 February 1857 Glenn also wrote to Hubbell to apprise him that the correction
had been published in the Union.
Feb 11th 1857
You will perceive
by the “Union” of this date that I have made the amendte by
inserting an explanatory note, as desired by your favor of the 7th inst.
I did not,
however, intend in my communication of the 30th ult. in that paper, to
animadvert upon your course in relation to Col. Sherburne, so much as
upon those my extracts replied to; who are all now here and urging their
merits before Congress. Justice to the dead seemed to require it at my
hands; and couched as your memorial thro Mr. Brodhead was, in the first
person singular, (or so exclusively reported) I could not but think that
his part was “interred with his bones”. I am glad to learn from
your letter the contrary, and hope the matter will prove eventually profitable.
With great respect, yours,
16 February 1857 Hubbell replied to Glenn’s letter:
favor of the 11th inst is at hand three days since—when a gentleman
falls into an error he has no hesitation in correcting it.
receiving your letter I had procured from two gentlemen who were acquainted
with the whole matter from its origin the enclosed affidavits detailing
the history of the Trans Atlantic Telegraph Project from its inception
to the time of its promulgation. One of these gentlemen Mr. Somers was
acquainted with Col. Sherburne before I was.
we have corrected the first misapprehensions I propose to publish these
affidavits with this simple heading—“In order to prevent any future
misapprehension on the subject of the Trans Atlantic Telegraph, we publish
the history of its origin as contained in the following affidavits”
or should it be more agreeable to you we can publish in the following
form, to wit.
A Card. After due investigation it is agreed between the undersigned on the
subject of the Trans Atlantic Telegraph—that the original conception
of that project belongs to Mr. Hubbell and that he & Col. Sherburne
were the original Memorialists—which fact has always been recognized.
Something of this kind must be done sooner or later and may as well be
done now while the thing is rife as it is necessary
to anticipate the proceedings of those who are fully awake now about this
A company I understand has been formed in London in opposition
to the Newfoundland Co. to bring the Telegraph directly from England to
the States. The former are going to adopt undoubtedly the ?? underscored in the printed Memorial
here with sent. Now to checkmate this operation I propose entering a caveat
to be followed when necessary by a patent. In order to enter a caveat
the person applying must be able to state that he is the real Inventor
and to obtain the Patent the applicant must swear to it. Now whoever can
do this—you cannot nor could Col. Sherburne if he were alive—because
it emanated from me. Your good sense will therefore at once suggest to
you the necessity of setting as soon as possible our relative positions.
of the joint memorialism gives you in my opinion an equitable interest
in any patent that may be taken out in this matter, but whether it does
or not you shall have your equal share in any patent I may obtain for
any thing suggested in the joint Memorial of Hubbell and Sherburne.
If you approve of the Card copy it out as above—sign it and send it on
to me & I will sign it also & forward to the Union.
Respect yours &c
is no record of publication of the affidavits mentioned in the letter,
nor does the US Patent Office have a record of any patent on this subject being issued
bill passed by the Senate in January 1857, providing an annual subsidy
to Field’s company for the operation of the cable for a period of 25 years,
was signed into law by President Pierce on March 3, 1857.
apparently had a position with the Government, and Hubbell, still skeptical
of Morse’s claim to have proposed the idea of a transatlantic cable in
a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury in 1843, asked Glenn if he could
check the veracity of this letter. Glenn replied to Hubbell:
July 18 /57
I am in the
receipt of yours of the 15th, and regret that it is out of my power to
comply with your request respecting the letter of Prof. Morse.
is such a letter I do not doubt, as I saw extracts from it in Harper’s
Weekly, about a month ago. I think it would be best to refer thereto,
and address the Department officially.
was published several (about three or four) months ago in the “National
Intelligencer” from a wealthy gentleman here of the name of Lindsay,
wherein he states that a relative of his, Lord Lindsay of Scotland, had
imagined and promulgated the ideal of a transatlantic Telegraph as far
back as the year 1840.
Lord Lindsay (James
Bowman Lindsay), referred to in Glenn’s letter, was a Scottish inventor
(1799-1862), who according to his diary proposed in 1843 a system of submerging
sheets of copper and zinc and using the ocean as a giant battery to send
signals. Lindsay was granted UK Patent No. 1242 in 1854 for “A Mode
of Transmitting Messages by Means of Electricity through and across a
Body or Bodies of Water”. Dundee City Council has documents describing this and his other telegraphic
Field made an unsuccessful attempt
to lay the cable in August 1857, while Hubbell continued to press his
The Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States for Thursday, March 18, 1858, records:
petitions and memorials were laid upon the Clerk’s table, under the 23d
rule of the House, to wit:
By Mr. Phillips: The memorial of Horatio Hubbell, in relation to a transatlantic
telegraph company; which was referred to the Committee on Patents.
June 1858 Field made another unsuccessful attempt to lay the cable. Undeterred,
he made a third, and successful, attempt in August 1858, although this
cable failed after only a few weeks of intermittent operation.
4 September, 1858, just a few days after the first messages through the
cable, Scientific American published the following article:
Origin of the Atlantic Telegraph
(C.W.) Times contains a long article headed “The Originator of the
Atlantic Telegraph an Englishman,” in which it gives a detailed account
of the efforts of a young Englishman named F.H. Gisborne, toward bringing
the subject of a transatlantic telegraph before the capitalists of Canada
and Nova Scotia, and claims that the grand conception of the work now
happily completed originated with Mr. G. in 1850 or ’51. We beg leave
to inform our Canadian neighbor that we have a prior claim to originality
in this matter, on behalf of our own countrymen, of at least two years
anterior date, and that the distinguished honor of originating and printing
out the feasibility of the great enterprise for whose completion the world
is now ringing with praise, belongs exclusively to Col. Horatio Hubbell,
a distinguished member of the Philadelphia bar, who projected and originated
the grand idea as early as 1848, and to his associate, J. H. Sherburne,
who had the moral courage to join Gen. Hubbell in signing his memorial
to Congress, detailing the plan, and asking governmental assistance in
carrying it out.
is the origin of the Atlantic telegraph, and was presented to the Senate
of the United States by the Vice President, Hon. C.M. Dallas, and to the
House of Representatives by Hon. J.R. Ingersoll, on the 29th of January,
1849. When first published it was treated as a chimera of the wildest
kind, and the memorialists, if not mad, as nearly so as possible. When
presented in the Senate by Vice President Dallas, the greater part of
that body were for throwing it under the table; but one Senator (says
Mr. Dallas in a note to Gen. Hubbell, dated March 18, 1854), Jefferson
Davis, moved that it be referred to the Committee on Commerce, remarking
that “the world was not yet prepared for the project, but might be
soon.” This memorial is recorded on the Senate journal of the day
it was presented, and will speak for itself. The idea of establishing
a transatlantic telegraph with Gen. Hubbell was not a vague and impulsive
one, but was the result of long and patient study, investigation and inquiry
of an original and practical mind, which, while it thoroughly comprehended
the gigantic character of the undertaking, was yet alive to, and singularly
suggestive of the obstacles to be encountered, and the means of overcoming
them. In the memorial, the existence of the plateau or table land between
Newfoundland and Ireland is first announced to the world as the course
where the telegraphic communication would be established between the Old
and the New continents. The words of the memorial are explicit on this
point, as will be seen by the following extract from it:-
memorialists proceed to say, that from many observations that have been
made, there is incontestible evidence of the existence of a submarine
table land, extending from the Banks of Newfoundland across the Atlantic
Ocean to the mouth of the British Channel. This is proved by the altered
color of the sea water, which has a different appearance in unfathomable
places from what it has in shallow spots. This, combined with the volcanic
construction of Iceland and the Azores, and the situation of that portion
of the ocean that lies between both these volcanic groups, has led to
the conclusion that there has been lifting up of the bottom of the sea,
through the agency of a Plutonic power, and that the bottom thus elevated
appears to be cut through in many places by deep water channels. The appearance
of medusae, polypi, and other marine creatures seen upon the edge of the
discolored water strengthens this opinion.”
proceed to ask that they be furnished with a vessel, in order to make
the necessary surveys and soundings, and it was, no doubt, in accordance
with this suggestion that Lieut. Berryman was dispatched, and did make
his soundings over this part of the ocean in 1853. Lieut. Maury did not
make a personal survey himself, but made a report upon the soundings of
Lieut. Berryman, under date of 22d of February, 1854-five years after
the Hubbell and Sherburne memorial had been presented to Congress and
promulgated to the world.
From the foregoing
indisputed documentary evidence now on file at Washington, it is plain
that the scheme for a transatlantic telegraph had its origin in America,
and that the mode, means, and location to carry the telegraph wire or
cable across the Atlantic ocean were originated by Gen. Hubbell; that
to him and to his deceased associate Mr. Sherburne, who signed the memorial,
is due the exclusive honor of first pointing out the existence of the
plateau or table land between Newfoundland and Ireland, in connection
with the telegraph cable now successfully laid upon it; and finally that
these gentlemen were the first to publish and promulgate the feasibility
of such an enterprise, and thus enlist in its behalf the attention, capital
and skill of the individuals and governments, through whose agency the
inceptive idea of the great mind in which it originated has been successfully
carried out in accordance with the original suggestions contained in the
Hubbell and Sherburne memorial.
weeks later, on 25 September 1858, a second article supporting Hubbell’s
claims appeared in Scientific American:
Origin of the Atlantic Telegraph
We have received
from Professor Jackman, of the Norwich University of Vermont, a copy of
the Vermont Chronicle, containing a communication of his, originally published
in the Vermont Mercury, in August 1846, in which a Transatlantic Telegraph
between England and America is recommended. The plan, as detailed in this
communication, although more definite than others claimed to have been
suggested anterior to this date, is yet impracticable in character, and
does not in any manner take from Gen. Hubbell the credit of first pointing
out the existence of the plateau or table land between Newfoundland and
Ireland, in connection with the cable now laid upon it, and in fact suggesting
the only mode, means and location, as we asserted, of carrying the cable
across the Atlantic Ocean. Before penning our article, we were aware of
the fact that many persons had made statements on this subject as early
as 1843, but as they were of an indefinite character, and simply conveyed
a belief that a telegraph would in time unite the shores of Europe and
America, we did not think it worth while to mention their authors, any
more than we would if aerial navigation were consummated, mention the
name of the thousand and one persons who are daily making predictions
of its ultimate success.
The plan of
Professor Jackman, was in substance to cover the wires with india rubber
and encase them in lead tubes, as had been previously done across the
East River, and pay them out from two vessels starting from a suitable
point mid-ocean between Liverpool and Boston. The only practical, and
original feature about this plan is, that of commencing to pay out the
cable at a point mid-ocean between the places where the termini were to
be landed. For this Professor Jackman is deserving all due praise, as
we think that this system of laying a long submarine cable is preferable
to the one adopted by the Atlantic Cable Superintendents, upon their first
unsuccessful trial in 1857. Our theory however is, that without covering
the wire with gutta percha as suggested by Mr. W. Reynolds, of this city,
and laying it on the plateau or table land as originally pointed out by
Gen. Hubbell, of Philadelphia, a transatlantic telegraph cable could never
have been successfully laid and insulated, and made to answer the purpose
of its design.
1859 Hubbell’s claims were rejected by the Committee on Patents.
The Journal of the House of Representatives of the United
States for Friday, January 7, 1859, records:
petitions and memorials were laid upon the Clerk’s table, under the 23d
rule of the House, to wit:
On motion of Mr. Brayton,
Ordered, That the Committee on Patents be discharged from the further
consideration of the petitions of William A. Burt and of General Horatio
Hubbell, and that the same be laid on the table.
Field, of course, went on to lay a fully operational cable in 1866.
further was heard from Hubbell on the subject of the cable and he died
in 1875, unrecognized for his part in the history of submarine telegraphy.
final article was published in Scientific American on 24 May 1879,
prompted by Cyrus Field’s
celebration on 10 March 1879 of the 25th anniversary of the founding
of the cable enterprise. From the content of the article, it appears to
have been initiated by Sherburne’s son, of whom this is the first mention:
THE ATLANTIC CABLE?
cable celebration has called out a claim for the late Col. John Henry
Sherburne of Washington, D.C., as deserving the honor of originating ocean
telegraphy. The claim is based on the following entry in the Journal of
the Senate of the United States for the second session of the XXXth Congress,
to wit: “Monday, January 28, 1849. The Vice President presented the
memorial of Horatio Hubbell and John Henry Sherburne, praying the aid
of Government in the establishment of a telegraphic communication across
the Atlantic ocean, which was referred to the Committee of Commerce.”
In the memorial
referred to the geographical points are indicated from which the communication
can be most conveniently made between Newfoundland and Ireland, the distances
given, the probable existence of soundings quite across suggested, or
the possibility of anchoring buoys without soundings, and the apparatus
necessary to effect the design.
death of Colonel Sherburne is claimed, by his son, to have prevented the
carrying out of his father’s favorite project.
of Cyrus W. Field to the honor of inaugurating the first Atlantic cable
does not seem to be in any way lessened by the earlier project of Colonel
Sherburne and Mr. Hubbell. The idea of telegraphy was not original with
either. As early as 1842, Professor Morse telegraphed through insulated
wire, a submarine cable, stretched between Castle Garden and Governor’s
Island. And with reference to later investigations, professor Morse wrote
in a letter to the Secretary of the United States Treasury, under the
date of August 10, 1843, these memorable words: “The practical inference
from the law just elucidated is that a telegraphic communication on my
plan may with certainty be established across the Atlantic! Startling
as this statement may now seem, the time will come when the project will
Sherburne had lived he, and not Mr. Field, would have been the founder
of the first Atlantic Telegraph Company. Possibly also he might have fought
the enterprise through to a successful issue. This, however, is a question
of fact, not of possibilities. Col. Sherburne proposed—and died. Mr.
Field proposed, and happily lived to see his plans succeed.
Acknowledgements, Notes, and References
to Jim Johnson for supplying the 1849 Hubbell Memorial document.
Morse/Horatio Hubbell correspondence courtesy of Horatio Hubbell Papers,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.
The text reproduced on this page is from Hubbell’s own copies of Morse’s
letters. As noted above, Bern Dibner’s The
Atlantic Cable (Burndy Library, 1959), reproduces the text of
Morse’s letter-press file copies of the same letters. While there are
minor differences in the texts, the letters are substantially the same.
This link is to full-page images of Dibner’s book at the Smithsonian website.
Dibner, Bern. The Atlantic Cable. Norwalk: Burndy Library, 1959
Briggs, Charles F., and Maverick, Augustus. The Story of the Telegraph and a History of the Great Atlantic Cable. New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1858.
Hubbell Family Historical Society. History and Genealogy of the Hubbell Family.
Hubbell, Walter. History of the Hubbell Family, Containing a Genealogical Record.
New York: J.H. Hubbell & Co, 1881.
Maury, Matthew Fontaine. The Physical Geography of the Sea and its Meteorology. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855.
Mullaly, John. A Trip to Newfoundland: Its Scenery and Fisheries: With an Account of the Laying of the Submarine Telegraph Cable.
New York: T.W. Strong, 1855.
Hubbell’s obituary; notes on his relationship with Yale University;
his poetry and other writings; his 1838 and 1845 patents; the town of Horatio, Arkansas; the Hubbell Scholarship.
Hubbell died in 1875 and was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia
This obituary is from: “History and Genealogy of the Hubbell Family”,
Des Moines, Hubbell Family Historical Society, 1980, and is reproduced by
courtesy of the Hubbell Family Historical
Society. The obituary is based on the biography of Horatio Hubbell which appeared in Walter Hubbell’s “History of the Hubbell Family, Containing a Genealogical Record”. New York, J.H. Hubbell & Co, 1881.
Law Hubbell of Philadelphia PA, son of Walter and 2nd wife Anne (Law),
born July 9 1799 Brooklyn NY, d July 23 1875 near Pittsburg PA, mar Rebecca
Brooks September 1841, daughter of John of Harrisburg PA, d Feb 6 1875
Frederick Brooks born 1843.
November 23 1847 died Feb 1 1860.
Julia born June
14 1855 died Feb 4 1860.
He was born
on Brooklyn Heights, N. Y., July 9th, 1799. Jonathan Law, the last Colonial
Governor of Connecticut, was his maternal great-grandfather, his maternal
grandfather, the Hon. Richard Law, was a member of the Continental Congress
and first Chief Justice of Connecticut. At an early age he had the misfortune
to lose his father, and his education was conducted under the supervision
of his mother until he entered Union College, at the age of fourteen.
The climate of Schenectady, N.Y., not agreeing with him, he was transferred
the following year to Yale College. A very amusing pamphlet, published
about 1850, gives his views of the imperfect system of education adopted
at this latter institution, and suggested changes that would take Yale
from the rank of colleges and place her amongst the foremost Universities
of the age. Many of these suggestions have since been adopted and their
wisdom vindicated by the enlarged facilities and prosperity of his Alma
Mater. He graduated with honors in the class of 1818. Selecting Philadelphia
as his future residence, he entered (as a fellow-student with the late
Justice Sharswood and Hon. Henry D. Gilpin) the office of the Honorable
Joseph R. Ingersoll, for many years one of the leaders of a Bar renowned
for legal erudition and culture—an office famous for the thoroughness
of the instruction furnished to the students and from which many of the
most eminent lawyers and judges have been furnished to Philadelphia and
other cities. After his admission to the bar, General Hubbell traveled
extensively in Europe, where his acquaintance with the classics and principal
modern languages gave him unusual advantages for the acquisition of an
enlarged and useful knowledge.
In 1825 and
1826 he visited Saxony, and in connection with his friends William Hart,
Esq., and Captain Samuel Candler, of New York, imported the first flock
of Saxony sheep ever brought to the United States.
to his acquirements as a linguist, his mathematical attainments were of
the highest standard, and a work which he wrote upon gunnery has been
adopted as a textbook in one of the military academies of this country;
what is very unusual, he was not only eminent as a mathematician, but
of much excellence as a poet. It is seldom that logical exactness and
a lively imagination are combined in one individual as they were in General
In 1842 he
was elected brigadier of the third brigade, Pennsylvania Volunteers, comprising
the troops in the southern part of Philadelphia County. During the year
1844, in which most disgraceful riots took place, the exertions of General
Hubbell and the activity of the troops under his command saved the Catholic
churches of St. Paul and St. Joseph from the fury of the mob.
lustre General Hubbell has added to the name has given him a world-wide
reputation. It is that of being the first to suggest the practicability
of communicating between Europe and America by means of a telegraphic
cable, and suggesting the existence of a plateau at the bottom of the
there was opposition, as there always is to every new project which proposes
something useful to the community. When his memorial was laid before Congress
in 1849, asking for the use of a naval vessel to make soundings, and try
the experiment, the only Senator who viewed the project favorably was
the Hon. Jefferson Davis, so far as least as to move the reception and
filing of General Hubbell’s memorial:
probably it would be a matter that after-generations might be willing
to lay hold of and investigate to their satisfaction.”
was a facile writer, and a frequent contributor to the magazines and periodicals
of his time.
years his legal practice was extensive, and his sterling integrity and
the earnestness of his oratory made him very successful with juries. Prior
to the consolidation of the City of Philadelphia, he was at different
times the Solicitor for the districts of Southwark, Moyamensing and Kingsessing. For fifty years his legal practice was extensive, and his sterling integrity and the earnestness of his oratory made him very successful with juries. Prior to the consolidation of the City of Philadelphia, he was at different times the Solicitor for the districts of Southwark, Moyamensing and Kingsessing. In his personal character, his sincerity, warm-heartedness and magnanimity were striking traits. His affection for his family and friends was constant, and his attachment to his native country—the whole country—was most conspicuous ; of its capabilities and future grandeur he was never weary of speaking.
In September, 1841, General Hubbell was married to Miss Rebecca Brooks, the third daughter of John Brooks, Esq., of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. For thirty-four years they shared life’s joys and cares, when death suddenly deprived him of his companion [Feb 6 1875].
relations in the vicinity of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, on July 23, 1875,
he fell a victim to apoplexy, a disease which seems to cause death among
men of intellect in this country; a few shocks of a slight character had
given warning, the previous winter, of the impending danger. When the
last summons came, it was fortunate that it reached him when amidst those
who were near and dear to him. He survived the attack only a few hours.
His remains were interred in South Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia,
on July 27th, 1875, and the following epitaph was placed upon his monument:
The Patriotic Citizen,
The Man of Honor and Truth,
The Faithful Friend,
and Devoted Husband and Father.
The New York Times of Jul 27, 1875 carried this obituary:
Gen. Horatio Hubbell, an old member of the
Philadelphia Bar, died in Pittsburg last Friday
evening. Gen. Hubbell was born in 1799 in Brook
lyn, being the eldest son of Walter Hubbell, of this
City. He entered Union College at fourteen, but
left and entered as a Sophomore at Yale, and graduated in 1818 with honors. He studied law with Hon.
J. R. Ingersoll, being admitted to practice in 1821.
Though an active and industrious lawyer, he found
time to write much for magazines and newspapers.
He was one of the earliest to urge the feasibility of
an Atlantic cable telegraph, and was largely instrumental in procuring the Government survey of the
North Atlantic in 1849. He continued in the active
practice of his profession up to the time of his death.
Note: Hubbell’s commission as Brigadier General of the 3d Brigade, 1st
Div. of the Militia of the City & County of Philadelphia was dated
Aug. 3, 1842, at Harrisburg, and signed by David R. Porter, Governor of
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
This description of Hubbell from the 1908 book “Legal Philadelphia: Comments and Memories”
by Robert D. Coxe perhaps sums him up best, and explains the tone of his Atlantic Cable correspondence quoted above:
Horatio Hubbell was a character. The arbitrary procrustean adjustment by which professional identity is now merged in law-firms, with their extensive clerical and other business appendages, has forever negatived the possibility of the monotony of the lawyer’s existence being lessened or relieved by such individualism as was embodied in Mr. Hubbell. Hubbell was a gifted, but eccentric personage. Of excellent forbears, with superior early advantages, socially and educationally, life, let it in all charity not be attempted to determine wherefore, had not gone well with him. Possibly, his own thoroughly unpractical nature had its share in the untoward result. As the outcome of it all, he was, although the owner of a kindly, generous, sympathetic heart—and such are the too familiar contradictions and paradoxes of our poor human life—the most crossgrained, irritable person that ever came before a bench of judges. He had, obviously, cultivated the art of being disagreeable to such an extent, that it was, clearly, a real luxury for him to gratify the perverse second nature which had grown into an instinct to be uninterruptedly unamiable in his intercourse with his brethren and with the judges. A frequent manifestation of it was his savage expression of dissatisfaction, when a decision was rendered against him. It was not at all in words, but there was a snort or a growl which imparted more than the most vigorous every-day speech, though stenography was inadequate to reproduce it; and even had this been possible, it is doubtful if the most intolerant and least indulgent of judges would have had the heart to have thereby secured material for disciplining the surly counsellor for contempt.
Mr. Hubbell had a fairly good legal mind, though system was no part of his nature. As a referee or as master, for which positions he was, at times, and all things considered, quite properly selected, one looked for, and obtained, in the procrastinated end, satisfactory determinations. Nevertheless, he was often the despair of counsel appearing before him. He appointed meetings at which he capriciously neglected to be present; and his demeanor and methods at such meetings as he held, would have been amusing if they had not been vexatious. His filed reports in such references were marvels of clerical shortcomings. Among the records from the old court offices there is doubtless one of those legal curiosities, a type of many of its fellows. The testimony and the opinion are entirely in Mr. Hubbell’s own extraordinary handwriting, a vast chaotic mass of hieroglyphic matter, on sheets of paper of various shapes, sizes and colors, insufficiently paged and regardless of numerical sequence, and in divers kinds and hues of ink; all of it tied together in a most slovenly fashion, by red tape. Counsel who had not prudently obtained, in time, their own memoranda of the testimony, would have derived little benefit from Mr. Hubbell’s undecipherable scrawl.
obituary above describes a pamphlet he wrote circa 1850, suggesting improvements
to his college alma mater, Yale. The Personal Gossip column of the New York Times for Aug 9, 1858, had this note:
WASHINGTON, Friday, Aug 6, 1858
One Horatio Hubbell, who was a graduate of Yale in the class of 1818, and has lately been created a Brigadier-General of the Militia in Pennsylvania, has written a letter denouncing his Alma Mater. Yale has at least one ungrateful son—benign mother as she is. The Brigadier talks in this undutiful fashion: “It is true that I was graduated at Yale, but I deny that I was ever educated there; and I solemnly protest that I cannot trace a single idea or habit that has ever been of use to me in the affairs of life to its instruction. The fault may have been in the pupil or the pedagogue, or both.”
Hubbell continued to tweak the Professors of Yale,
as the following extract from The
New York social science review: a quarterly journal of sociology, political
economy, and statistics,
v. 1-2; Jan. 1865—Oct. 1866. shows:
Among civilized nations
we, as a people, are certainly the readiest talkers and the most unphilosophical
thinkers. And this principally arises from the fact that we have abnormally
cultivated the “gift of the gab.” Many of our readers will recollect
the bitter but decidedly clever reply sent some time in the year 1855
by Horatio Hubbell, Esq., of the Philadelphia bar, to the Professors of
Yale College, who desired a contribution of five dollars from him toward
the building of a hall for the debating club of that institution. Mr.
Hubbell says in his letter:
“Do you not know that,
of all the besetting sins of this sinning nation, the most innate and
original is this propensity for gab? that by it we have wasted more time,
spent more money, and paralyzed more decision than can be rightly estimated?
Instead of being encouraged, it should be repressed. Do you not know that,
under the influence of this mania, tinkers, rowdies, and snobs throughout
the land are rushing to the bar, the pulpit, the stage, and the halls
of legislation? And that those windy sons of Eolus, under a supposed inspiration,
are howling like midnight wolves from one end of the continent to the
other, “Clamor ibat ad coelum!” It is the fatal epidemic of
republics. What distracted Greece? Gab! What fractionized Rome? Gab! What
anarchized France? Gab! What will dismember this Union? Gab! This eternal
propensity of gabbling, on all occasions, and at all times, is the curse
of our country. Ask me to subscribe to support the dead languages—to
raise a deaf and dumb institution—to build a Quaker meeting-house—
to erect some monumental stone—in short, to do anything that implies
or promotes silence, and my purse strings will in all probability be opened.”
We are decidedly of opinion
that the propensity for gabbling animadverted upon by Mr. H. is one of
the incidental causes of the degeneracy of the bar. But properly educated
men do not gabble, and the only way to get rid of this propensity to talk
at all times and on all occasions is to teach people the value of ideas,
and a proper respect for them. And that can only be done by a proper system
poetry is also mentioned in his obituary, and the Library of Congress
Music Division lists four pieces of sheet music pieces for which Hubbell
was the lyricist:
Oh! Bear me where the roses
bloom / by Ch. Zeuner.Philadelphia: E. R. Johnston, 1849.
A dream that love can ne’er
forget / by M. Keller.Philadelphia:
Lee and Walker, 1849.
Where thy torrent waters
roam, a canzonetta to the Susquehanna / by Ch. Zeuner.Philadelphia:
E. R. Johnston, 1849.
Those fatal dreams / by
J. A. Getze.Philadelphia:
Lee and Walker, 1850.
biographical sketch of Hubbell notes:
Previous to the War of
the Rebellion as we have before listed Gen Hubbell had applied himself
to classical & general literature as well as Scientific Studies &
had produced besides the Tragedies of the Conspiracy of West Point &
the Algonquin several Poetical translations of Greek idyllic poetry—
& the choral odes of the tragedies of Sophocles—besides the Ode
to the Alps, the Hymns of the Alleghanie & the Sierra Nevada—and
other minor pieces such as Parthia & Lines to the Susquehanna & “Oh! bear me where the roses bloom”.
Hubbell’s play on Benedict Arnold and Major John André, Arnold, or, The Treason of West Point, A Tragedy in Five Acts, was published in 1847, but seems to have received little notice from the critics.
In his introduction to a play of 1887 on the same subject (William Dunlap’s André; A Tragedy in Five Acts), scholar and literary critic Brander Matthews made the following comments:
The episode of the Revolutionary War most often chosen for dramatic treatment has been the treason of Benedict Arnold, with the consequent capture and execution of Major André.
I have found no record anywhere that the next play on the subject was ever acted at all. Arnold, or the Treason of West Point, a tragedy, in five acts, by Horatio Hubbell (Philadelphia, 1847), has the traitor for its chief figure and not the spy, and it presents Madame Arnold as “the conscience of Arnold incarnate”;—from her he receives those reproaches “that he must often have felt in his dark and mysterious soul” (p. 5). This is not a bad idea, but Arnold, or the Treason of West Point, is not a good play; its construction is rambling and scattering, and its blank verse is unspeakable.
Two years later, again, there appeared yet another play on the same subject,—André, a tragedy in five acts, by W.W. Lord (New-York: Charles Scribner, 1856). This was also in blank verse; but Mr. Lord’s blank verse was, although prosaic enough, far more scholarly than the blank verse of Mr. Hubbell, Mr. Holland, or Mr. Orton. And Mr. Lord, having attempted less, was able to accomplish more. His play is not a chronicle in dialogue of all the salient deeds of Arnold’s life, it is a dramatic setting of the treason itself and of its fatal consequences. It has André as its chief figure, rather than Arnold. It begins with a scene at West Point, and it ends with a scene in New-York in which the news of André’s death is brought to Arnold. Mr. Lord’s drama cannot be said to be successful, but it is at least an honorable failure.
In a strange coincidence, in 1879 Cyrus Field erected a monument on the site of André’s execution at Tappan, New York.
Atlantic Cable proposal was not Hubbell’s first venture into technology.
In 1838 he was granted US Patent 876 for Mode of Generating Steam/Steam Boiler Flasher, and in 1845 US Patent 4,111 for a Conical Screw Propellor.
Click this link for the full text and drawings
of the patents.
not completely forgotten today. The town of Horatio, Arkansas, was given
its name by Col. Fred Hubbell, general manager of the Texarkana and Ft.
Smith Railroad. He named the town after his father, General Horatio Hubbell.
A first petition to incorporate Horatio was made on October 4, 1898 and
was approved by the county judge on October 8, 1898 but was not sufficient
to pass. Another petition was approved on December 19, 1899
from an archive copy of the website of Sevier
Hubbell’s alma mater, Union College, Schenectady, New York, has a Hubbell
scholarship. It was established under the will of Frederick Brooks Hubbell in
memory of Levi Hubbell, Class of 1827; Walter Hubbell, Class of 1814; Walter Seymour Hubbell, Class of 1894; Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell, Class of 1819; and Horatio Hubbell, Class of 1818.
from the Academic Register on the website of Union
College, Schenectady, New York).