Gilpin, Thomas

SUBJECT AREA: Canals
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b. 18 March 1728 Chester County, Pennsylvania, USA
d. 30 April 1778 Winchester, Virginia, USA
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American manufacturer.
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Thomas Gilpin belonged to a wealthy Quaker family descended from Joseph Gilpin, who had emigrated from England in 1696. He received little formal education and was mainly self-educated in mathematics, surveying and science, in which subjects he was particularly interested. With estates in Delaware and Maryland, he was involved in farming and manufacturing. He moved to Philadelphia in 1769, which further extended his activities. With his fortune he was able to indulge his interest in science, and he was one of the original members of the American Philosophical Society in 1769. He wrote papers on the wheat fly, the seventeen-year locust and the migration of herrings. It was through this Society that he became friendly with Benjamin Franklin, to whom he wrote on 10 October 1769 setting out his proposals for and advocacy of a canal linking the Elk River on Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River and Bay, thereby cutting off a long haul of several hundred miles for vessels around Cape Charles with a dangerous passage unto the Atlantic Ocean. Gilpin also invented a hydraulic pump that delighted Franklin very much. Gilpin had visited England in 1768 during the formation of his ideas for the Chesapeake \& Delaware Canal, and probably visited the Bridgewater Canal while there. Despite his pressing advocacy the canal had to wait until after his death, but later his son Joshua, a director from 1803 to 1824, saw the canal through many difficulties although he had resigned before the official opening in 1829. At the outbreak of the American War of Independence, in 1777, Gilpin, together with other Quakers, was arrested in Philadelphia owing to suspicions of his loyalty on the grounds that as a Quaker he refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance. He was later exiled to Winchester, Virginia, where he died in April 1778.
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Further Reading
1925, "Memoir of Thomas Gilpin", Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.
R.D.Gray, 1967, The National Waterway: A History of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, 1769–1985, Urbana: Illinois University Press.
JHB

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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