Archive:Encyclopedia of Massachusetts, Volume 1

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Cutter, William Richard, Encyclopedia of Massachusetts, biographical--genealogical (New York: American Historical Society, 1916), volume 1.


pp. 68-69


Inventor of the Cotton Gin.

Eli Whitney was born in Westborough, Massachusetts. December 8, 1765. He engaged in the business of making nails by hand, and by his industry saved sufficient money to defray his college expenses, and was graduated from Yale College, A. B., 1792, A. M. 1795. He was invited by the widow of General Nathanael Greene to make his home at her plantation, called Mulberry Grove, on the Savannah River in Georgia. He studied law, but abandoned it to follow his mechanical bent.

Giving himself to the problem of inventing a machine for separating the lint of cotton from the seed, in 1793 he succeeded in producing the saw cotton gin, consisting of two cylinders - one, revolving with great velocity, to detach the lint from the seed by means of from fifty to eighty steel disks with serrated edges; and the other to remove the lint from the saw teeth by means of stiff brushes. This machine, which, with a few improvements remains practically as it first came from Whitney's hands, has a capacity equal to that of three thousand pairs of hands in separating the lint from the seed, which process, up to the time of this invention, was the only means used in the separation. Mr. Whitney was unable to preserve the secret of his invention, and, before he could obtain a patent, several gins, modeled after his own, had been put in operation on various neighboring plantations. He formed a partnership with Phineas Miller, and removed to Connecticut to manufacture the machines, but, owing to frequent vexatious litigations caused by the infringement of his patent, he was obliged in 1796 to devote himself to the manufacture of firearms in order to obtain a livelihood.

Removing to New Haven, Connecticut, he there originated the system of making the manufacture of different parts of a gun interchangeable He built an armory at Whitneyville, near New Haven, and filled a government contract for ten thousand stand of muskets. He subsequently received $50,000 from the legislature of South Carolina for the general use of the cotton gin, and was allowed a further royalty on every gin used in the State, but, considering the universal benefit derived from the invention, this was but small recompense. He established a fund of $500 at Yale College, the interest to be devoted to the purchase of books on mechanical and physical science.

He was married, in 1817, to a daughter of Judge Pierpont Edwards. His "Memoir" was published by Denison Olmsted in 1846. He died in New Haven, Connecticut, January 8, 1825.

p. 290

HENTZ, Caroline Lee,

Prolific Novelist.

Caroline Lee Hentz was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, June 1, 1800, the daughter of General John Whitney, and sister of General Henry Whitney, both officers in the United States army.

She early evidenced literary ability, and before she had reached the age of thirteen she was the author of a poem, a novel, and a tragedy in five acts. In 1825 she married Nicholas M. Hentz, a French gentleman, who at that time was associated with Mr. Bancroft, the historian, in the Round Hill School at Northampton, Massachusetts, and who was soon afterwards appointed to a professorship in the college at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This position he occupied for several years, and then removed with his family to Covington, Kentucky. Here Mrs. Hentz wrote her popular drama "De Lara, or the Moorish Bride," for which she received a prize of five hundred dollars offered by the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, where it was successfully produced for many nights. It was afterwards published in book form. From Covington, Mr. and Mrs. Hentz went to Cincinnati, Ohio, and in 1834 to Locust Hill, Florence, Alabama, where for nine years they had charge of a flourishing female academy. In 1843 they transferred this institution to Tuscaloosa, and in 1848 to Columbus, Georgia, where Mrs. Hentz resided the remainder of her life. These frequent changes and the arduous duties connected with the school, afforded her little opportunity for literary labor, and she was not able to write with any degree of regularity until her removal to Columbus. Here she wrote her second tragedy, "Lamorah, or the Western Wild," which was brought out in a newspaper, and afterwards produced on the stage at Cincinnati. In 1843 she wrote a poem, "Human and Divine Philosophy," for the Erosophic Society of the University of Alabama. In 1846 she brought out "Aunt Patty's Scrap-bag," a collection of short stories written for magazines, which was followed in 1848 by "Mob Cap," for which she received a prize of two hundred dollars. Both of these books have been almost universally read and admired. Among her other works are: "Linda, or the Young Pilot of the Belle Creole," "Rena, or the Snowbird," "Marcus Warland," Eoline, or Magnolia Vale," "Wild Jack," "Ellen and Arthur," "The Planter's Northern Bride," and "Ernest Linwood." Her short poems are scattered throughout various periodicals, and are full of the tender warmth of the writer's nature. Her tragedy, "De Lara," stands first among her poetical works, and holds high rank in the dramatic literature of America. Mrs. Hentz died in Marianna, Florida, February 11, 1856.

pp. 353-354

WASHBURN, William Barrett,

Governor, U. S. Senator.

William Barrett Washburn was born in Winchendon, Massachusetts, January 31, 1820, son of Asa and Phebe (Whitney) Washburn, grandson of Colonel Elijah Washburn and of Captain Phineas Whitney, and a descendant of John Washburn, the immigrant.

He attended the Westminster and Hancock academies, then entering Yale College, from which he was graduated A. B. in 1844. He clerked for his uncle, W. B. Whitney, of Orange, for three years; and in 1847 engaged in the chair and woodenware manufacturing business in Erving, Massachusetts, in which he continued until 1857. Subsequently he was in the same business in Greenfield, Massachusetts, where he also served as president of the national bank for several years. He was a State Senator from the Franklin district in 1850, and a representative in the State Legislature in 1854. He was elected without opposition in 1862 a Republican Representative from the Ninth Massachusetts District, and by reelection served in the Thirty-eighth to the Forty-second Congresses, serving until January 1, 1872, when he resigned to become Governor of Massachusetts. He was chairman of the committee on claims in the Forty-second Congress, and was a delegate to the Loyalist Convention at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1866. He resigned the governorship upon his election as United States Senator to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of Hon. Charles Sumner, and served from May 1, 1874, to March 3, 1875. He received the honorary degree of LL. D. from Yale College in 1872; was an overseer of the charitable fund of Amherst College, 1864-71; a trustee of Yale College, 1869-81, and a fellow of Yale, 1872-81; and a trustee of Smith College and of the Massachusetts State College. He bequeathed $50,000 each to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, of which he was a corporate member, to the American Home Missionary Society, and to the American Missionary Association.

He was married, September 6, 1847, to Hannah A., daughter of Colonel Samuel Sweetser, of Athol, Massachusetts. He died suddenly in Springfield, Massachusetts, October 5, 1887.

Copyright © 2013, Robert L. Ward and the Whitney Research Group.

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