Georgia and Connecticut clashed Monday in college basketball, when the
University of Connecticut swatted Georgia Tech in the NCAA men's basketball
The day before, a connection between the two states that goes back almost
230 years was the topic of conversation at the Augusta Museum of History.
And it just might be the start of getting recognition for an overlooked
Near midnight, Sept. 6, 1776, Sgt. Ezra Lee of the Continental Army piloted
a bizarre craft into the New York Harbor. The mission was to sneak up on the
HMS Eagle, the flagship of the blockading British fleet, and attach a bomb
The attempt failed when the auger on top of Lee's craft hit metal on the
bottom of the Eagle. Spotted by British sailors as he aborted the attempt,
Lee jettisoned the bomb and paddled away. When the device exploded 30
minutes later, the British were alarmed enough to move their blockade
further from shore.
That was to be the limited success David Bushnell ever really enjoyed with
his "submarine bomb" and the craft that delivered it to the Eagle that
night in 1776: the Turtle.
Bushnell was a creative, prolific inventor, born in Saybrook, Conn., Aug.
30, 1740. He caught the revolutionary fever like many young men of his time,
and used his fertile imagination to first create a way to explode gunpowder
underwater; then develop a clockwork timing device to trigger it; and then
create the world's first working submarine to deliver it.
This was nearly 100 years before the Confederate sub The Hunley would become
the first submarine to sink a ship - and, unfortunately, itself - in combat.
Bushnell's ideas were so far ahead of their time that they ultimately were
impractical for a war fought with muskets and bayonets. He finished the war
as a captain in the Corps of Sappers and Miners - the predecessor of the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - and many believe he was penniless perhaps
pursued by creditors when his former Yale classmate, Abraham Baldwin,
persuaded Bushnell to get a fresh start in Georgia.
In Columbia County.
Bushnell lived his remaining 30 years under the assumed name of Dr. David
Bush, operating what may have been one of Baldwin's state academies - the
predecessor of the University System of Georgia - and becoming a physician.
He died in 1824, and is buried in what is now the city of Warrenton. His
true identity was discovered when his will was read, reconnecting Bushnell
decades later to his forgotten family in Connecticut.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, professor Rick Brown of the
Massachusetts College of Art, and his wife and fellow professor Laura Brown,
recently built a full-sized working replica of Bushnell's Turtle. Their
efforts have been chronicled in a Discovery Channel documentary and in
National Geographic magazine - and it could one day be coming to a museum
The Browns were in Augusta Sunday to scout the Augusta Museum for a possible
exhibit of their incredible replica. Their Hands-House Studio in Norwell,
Mass., is working on a tour of the historic vessel, and Bushnell's final
resting place in Georgia is a logical stop.
It's really amazing that so few people in Georgia even know about our
connection to the creator of the first submarine. Hopefully that will
change, perhaps as early as this Aug. 30, 2004, 264 years after the day of
Bushnell's birth: thanks to state Reps. Ben Harbin, Barry Fleming and Sue
Burmeister, the Georgia House of Representatives designated Aug. 30 as David
Cementing the Georgia connection for Bushnell may come as slowly as his
submarine's namesake. But maybe, just maybe, the centuries-old oversight
will finally be corrected.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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