History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Cable Projectors: Horatio Hubbell
by Bill Burns

Introduction: There 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.

Hubbell, 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 polymath career.

Reproduced 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 serif font indicates quotes from historical material.

—Bill Burns

Memorial of Horatio Hubbell and John Henry Sherburne

THE 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.]

Hubbell3a.jpg (210647 bytes)

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress assembled --

The memorial of Horatio Hubbell and John Henry Sherburne, of Philadelphia, and State of Pennsylvania respectfully sets forth :-

That they 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.

Your memorialists 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.

Your memorialists 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:

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.

The Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States for Monday, January 29, 1849:

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.

No further mention is found in the House or Senate Journals of any reports from the Committee on Commerce and the Committee on Naval Affairs.

By 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.

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Map of Telegraph Plateau from Physical Geography of the Sea,
1869 edition showing cables

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.

In the 1855 first edition of his book The Physical Geography of the Sea, Maury notes:

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Brooke’s Deep-Sea Sounding Apparatus

“There 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.”

In 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.

Immediately 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”.

At 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:

“... a 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.”

By 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.

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On 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):

In accordance 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.


Hubbell 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 1854:

Washington 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.

You would be much pleased to make his acquaintance. You would find him the exact counterpart of your friend Pendleton.

On 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:

Prefatory Remarks

Having learned 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.

The 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.

The full text of Hubbell’s letter to Morse, from the copy in Hubbell’s own hand, is reproduced as Philad. June 1854 (below).

In his 1959 book The Atlantic Cable, Bern Dibner reproduces the text of Morse’s two letters to Hubbell, with the following note:

“The 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. “

Transcribed 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 claims:

Po’keepsie June 12th 1854  

Dear Sir,

Your favor 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 in history.

The difficulties at that early date (1842,) which were in the way of realizing such a project, were,
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.

This important part of the problem I conceive to have been solved by Lieutenant Maury and Lieut. Berryman, so far as it is solved.

Third: Can 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.

Fourth; Is 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 York.

In regard 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.

Believe me Sir with respect
Yr Ob Servt
Sam.. F.B. Morse

Hubbell was unpersuaded by this communication from Morse, and replied as follows:

Philad. June 1854  

Dr Sir

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.

To construe 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 of reasoning.

The human 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.

Thirdly— 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.

You charge 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 own.

In conclusion 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 Respect,
Yr obdt svt
Hor. Hubbell

*A claim for the original barren thought however brilliant is comparatively of little account in the eyes of the world.

Morse replied to Hubbell on 22 July 1854:

Po’keepsie July 22nd 1854  


Your communication 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.

Respectfully Yr Ob Sevt.
Sam. F.B. Morse

Even 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):

Mr. S.F.B Morse


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.

Hor. Hubbell  

There 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).

In 1856 Field requested a new survey 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.

The 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:

Hubbell2a.jpg (168572 bytes)

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.

The presentation to Congress of Hubbell’s second memorial was reported in the Daily Union (Washington) for 28 January 1857:


Mr. Brodhead 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 recognised.

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.

The 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.

S.F. 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]

A reference 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”, says:
“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 and America.

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.

S.F. Glenn
Department of the Interior
January 28, 1857

On 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 ?? . . .

Mollified by Hubbell’s acknowledgement of Sherburne’s rights, Glenn replied to Hubbell on 3 February1857:

Washington, Feb 3 /57  

Dear Sir:

Since writing 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

S.F. Glenn  

Glenn wrote a letter of correction to the Union, which was published on 9 February 1857:

To the Editors of the Union:

GENTLEMEN: 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.

Thankful for the valuable space allowed me, I am your obliged servant, S.F. GLENN

Feb 9, 1857.

On 11 February 1857 Glenn also wrote to Hubbell to apprise him that the correction had been published in the Union.

Washington, Feb 11th 1857  

Dear Sir:

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,

S.F. Glenn  

On 16 February 1857 Hubbell replied to Glenn’s letter:

Phila, Feby 16 1857  

Dear Sir

Your courteous 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.

Previous to 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.

Since therefore 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 matter.

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.

The recognition 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.

With great Respect yours &c
Hor. Hubbell

There 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 to Hubbell.

The 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.

Glenn 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:

Ensign Office
July 18 /57

Dear Sir:

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.

That there 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.

A communication 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.

In haste,

Yrs most truly
S.F. Glenn

Gen Horatio Hubbell

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 proposals.

Field made an unsuccessful attempt to lay the cable in August 1857, while Hubbell continued to press his case.

The Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States for Thursday, March 18, 1858:

The following 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.

In 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.

On 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

The Hamilton (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.

This memorial 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:-

“Your 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.”

They then 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.

Three 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.

In 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:

The following 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.

Cyrus Field, of course, went on to lay a fully operational cable in 1866.

Nothing 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.

One 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 recent 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.

The sudden death of Colonel Sherburne is claimed, by his son, to have prevented the carrying out of his father’s favorite project.

The right 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 be realized.”

If Colonel 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

Thanks to Jim Johnson for supplying the 1849 Hubbell Memorial document.

Samuel 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. Des Moines,1980.

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.

Horatio William 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 age 61.

Frederick Brooks born 1843.
Rebecca born 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.

In addition 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 Hubbell.

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.

The greatest 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 ocean.

Of course 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:

“As probably it would be a matter that after-generations might be willing to lay hold of and investigate to their satisfaction.”

General Hubbell was a facile writer, and a frequent contributor to the magazines and periodicals of his time.

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. 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].

While visiting 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 Eminent Jurist,
The Patriotic Citizen,
The Man of Honor and Truth,
The Faithful Friend,

The Dutiful Son,

The Tender 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.

Hubbell and Yale

Hubbell’s 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 of education.

Hubbell’s Literary Works

Hubbell’s 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.

An unpublished 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.

Hubbell’s Patents

The 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.

Horatio, Arkansas

Hubbell is 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

(Information from an archive copy of the website of Sevier County, Arkansas)

Hubbell Scholarship

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.

(Information from the Academic Register on the website of Union College, Schenectady, New York).

Last revised: 19 February, 2021

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