Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BUSHNELL, David, inventor, born in Saybrook, Connecticut, in 1742; died in Warrenton, Georgia, in 1824. He was graduated at Yale in 1775. He had previously given some attention to submarine warfare, and during his College course he matured plans that led to the production of what may be called the earliest of torpedoes. His intention was to fix a small powder-magazine to the bottom of a vessel, and to explode it by a clock-work apparatus. In order to do this, he contrived a tortoise-shaped diving-boat of iron plate, which contained air enough to supply a man for half an hour. This boat, called the "American Turtle," was propelled by a sort of screw, and guided by means of a compass made visible by phosphorus. The torpedo was carried outside of the boat, but could be detached by the concealed operator contained within. A line to a screw connected it, which was to be driven into the bottom of the hostile ship. As soon as this was effected, the torpedo was to be cast off when it floated against the vessel's side. The action of casting off set the clock-work going, and then the operator had time to retire to a safe distance before the catastrophe. A detailed account of this machine is given in the "Transactions of the American Philosophical Society" and in Silliman's " American Journal of Science" in 1820. A machine capable of conveying an operator with 100 pounds of powder was tested on "The Eagle," a British 64-gun-ship lying in New York harbor, but the attempt proved unsuccessful. In 1777, in an attack on the frigate "Cerberus" at anchor off New London, he blew up a schooner astern of the frigate, and killed several men on board. This was the first vessel ever destroyed in such a manner. Mr. Bushnell invented several other machines for the annoyance of the British shipping; but from accidents, not militating against the philosophical principles on which their success depended, they but partially succeeded. In January, 1778, he sent a fleet of kegs down the Delaware, to destroy the British ships that held possession of the river, against which fire-ships had been ineffectually employed. Owing to the darkness, they were left at too great a distance from the shipping, and were dispersed by the ice, but during the following day exploded and blew up a boat, occasioning no little alarm to the British seamen. This incident gave rise to the humorous poem by Francis Hopkinson, entitled "The Battle of the Kegs." Mr. Bushnell served continuously during the war, attaining the rank of captain in the corps of sappers and miners, and was on duty at New York, Hudson Highlands, Philadelphia, Yorktown, and elsewhere. Later he went to France, and was supposed to have died there, but he appeared to have been subsequently at the head of one of the most important schools in Georgia, after which he settled in Warrenton, where he practiced medicine as Dr. Bush.
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