Letters From Officials


Desirous of receiving some authentic statistics of this first locomotive, the author addressed a letter to Erastus Corning, Esq., who was president of the road at that time, and the following answer was received:



DEAR SIR: Yours, respecting the introduction of the first locomotive on the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, and asking information in relation thereto, was duly received.

I referred your communication to John T. Clark, Esq., of Utica, who was at the time resident engineer and superintendent of transportation, requesting of him such information as he might be able to furnish. I send you herewith his reply, and by American and Adams's Express a photograph copy of the sketch in the Hartford Athenaeum. I remember well your original cutting in black paper of the first locomotive, the 'De Witt Clinton,' and her train of cars. I was forcibly struck on viewing it by its accurate resemblance to the engine and train of cars attached.

Yours very respectfully,

The following is Mr. Clark's reply to Mr. Corning's letter. It was forwarded to the author:

UTICA N. Y., December 21, 1859, HON. ERASTUS CORNING, Albany, N. Y.—

MY DEAR SIR: I received, on the 18th last, your note, with Mr. Brown's letter to you, seeking for information as to the time when the first experiment was made, with a locomotive-engine, on the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, and other particulars in relation to the early history of the road.

"Before answering your letter, I wished to consult Mr. John B. Jervis, of Rome, to procure from him some facts in relation to details in the construction of the first locomotive. I went to Rome on Saturday for that purpose alone, but, not finding him at home, I send you to day such facts as I can gather from memory, and some papers in my possession.

"The first experiment with steam upon the road was made with the locomotive 'De Witt Clinton?' in the latter part of July, 1831. This engine was built at the West Point Foundry Works, New York. A Mr. Matthew had charge of the hands fitting up the machine, and came with it in charge to Albany. This engine was contracted for by John B. Jervis, Esq., the chief engineer of the road. The estimated weight of the 'De Witt Clinton' was about six tons. It was mounted on four wheels, of about five feet diameter each, and had single drivers. The hubs and rims of the wheels were of cast-iron, with wrought-iron spokes and tires. I feel certain that the 'De Witt Clinton' had an iron tank or tender on four wheels. The first locomotive-engine which came from England, and was afterward put on the road, was made by Stephenson, and was called the 'Robert Fulton.' This engine was double the size and weight of the 'De Witt Clinton.' It arrived about the latter part of August, 1831, and was put on the road about the 10th to the 20th of September following. On the occasion of an excursion which was to take place the latter part of September, great preparations were made for a large crowd of passengers, as the Governor, judges of the courts, and members of the Legislature, were expected to participate in the ride, and consequently the most powerful engine, the 'Robert Fulton,' pull the train. But it did not so happen: something (I do not remember now) got wrong with 'Robert Fulton,' and 'De Witt Clinton' took his place at the head of the train, which being too heavy for so small a machine, a part only was attached to the 'De Witt Clinton,' and the remainder were drawn each car by a horse, making a very amusing-looking cavalcade. I think 'Fulton' would have done better and have been more at home upon the Hudson River than on the stand upon the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad. However, on that occasion the little 'De Witt ' acquitted herself well, and got to the end of the road long before her companions by horse-power arrived, and did the same in returning. Mr. Brown's sketch was taken on the first excursion with the 'De Witt Clinton,' before the time of this second excursion, and the arrival in this country of the first locomotive from England, the 'Fulton,' for our road. The second locomotive which came from England arrived nearly a year after—perhaps not so long, but I remember it was late in the fall of the year. This second engine came without a tank or a tender. A temporary arrangement was made for supplying this English engine with water by means of a cask with the capacity of about three hundred gallons, made in the usual form and manner of a cask, and resting on saddles of wood fastened to a frame of the same material; and the whole, being mounted on four light cast-iron wheels, presented a very novel appearance.

"This English locomotive was called the 'John Bull,' and had four driving wheels of four feet diameter. The hubs and naves of the wheels were made of cast-iron, the spokes and rim or felloes were made of wood and secured by wrought-iron flanged tires. It is, perhaps, needless to say that after this engine was put in use, those parts of the wheels made of wood gave audible complaint of hard service. The 'shrieking' of the machine caused no little merriment among the knights of the whip, who were yet reluctant in believing that the beautiful tandem teams which they had the honor of driving formerly over the road, at the rate of twelve miles an hour, 'could ever be superseded by such a cursed-looking iron concern as that, as it was broken-winded already!'

The first regular trip for the public with a locomotive was on the 9th day of August, 1831, with the 'De Witt Clinton.' A few experiments had been made with her previous to that date. Mr. John B. Jervis was chief engineer of the road, and the undersigned was resident engineer and superintendent of transportation; and he had the honor and satisfaction of receiving, with his own hands, the first fifty cents for regular established passenger-fare ever received on any railroad in the United States, as he believes. The names of the first three engine-drivers employed by the company were David Matthew, who first run the 'De Witt Clinton,' John Hampson, and Adam Robinson.

It has been said by some that the first locomotive-engine actually run in this country in the transportation of passengers on a railroad, was upon the Charleston Railroad, in South Carolina, drawn by an engine called the 'Best Friend,' but this I believe is a mistake. The fact can easily be obtained by Mr. Brown addressing a letter to Horatio Allen, Esq., now of the Novelty Works, New York. Mr. Allen was the chief engineer of the Charleston road in its commencement, and would know of this incident.

"I recollect seeing Mr. Brown's sketch of the 'De Witt Clinton' and her train of cars executed in black paper, in his peculiar style, when he was in Albany; and I could not but admire the wonderful correctness of his likenesses to the engine, engineer, and the old citizens of Albany, who are represented in the cars as passengers.

I am very respectfully and truly yours,
John T. Clark, Utica.

We will now add the following letter from John B. Jervis, Esq., the chief engineer of the road, showing that the sketch of the engine and train of cars which appears in our work is the " De Witt Clinton," an American locomotive, the first ever run in the State of New-York, and not, as has been represented in Sage & Son's lithograph, the "John Bull," an English engine and the first attached to a passenger-train in the United States, or as published since that time, by the Antique Publishing company, of Boston, in 1870, as the "John Bull."

ROME, N. Y., April 20, 1869.



Yours of the 15th last was duly received. I have no memoranda to refer to; but my memory serves me that you are correct in saying that the first engine or locomotive run upon the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was named the De Witt Clinton, and the date of the first trip correct, viz., the 8th day of August, 1831. The engine was built under a contract I made as chief engineer of the road with the West Point Association in New York City. Late in the same year, the English engine the 'John Bull,' was imported from England, for the same road. Mr. David Matthew was the machinist who put up the 'De Witt Clinton,' and run it, and no doubt his statements upon the subject are reliable. I do know, positively, that an American-built locomotive was put in successful use upon a railroad in this country prior to the 'De Witt Clinton;' my own impression is that there were two on the South Carolina Railroad.

"Respectfully, your obedient servant,

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