Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Patent Dispute & a Letter to Jefferson

There's certainly something very American about being connected to a historical legal dispute over a patent for whisky distilling. This particular dispute also involved an appeal to former President Thomas Jefferson for support.

On 13 November 1813, James Wheatley received a patent from the US Patent & Trademark Office for distilling, still and condensed tub, most likely for the production of whisky. James was the brother of my 6th-great-grandfather Daniel Wheatley, and resided in Fauquier County, Virginia at the time. James' patent was disputed by Robert Gillespie, another inventor who claimed prior rights based on his earlier patent published in 1810. Gillespie wrote about his dispute to Thomas Jefferson, who responded by letter on 3 August 1814:
Source: Papers of Thomas Jefferson
The Jefferson papers reference pages on file in the Culpeper County Court, so this is another set to add to my growing list to copy in the future. From the summary above, Gillespie agreed to divide the rights to the region, so perhaps he recognized Wheatley had some claim on the new patent.

The letter from Jefferson to Gillespie is cited as: “Thomas Jefferson to Robert Gillespie, 3 August 1814,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0378 [last update: 2014-09-30]). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 509–510.

I previously wrote about James Wheatley and his mill back in July (see 1828 Petition to Create Wheatley's Mill Town). I am assuming that Wheatley, like a more famous mill operator in Northern Virginia (George Washington), operated a distillery at his mill.

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