Personalities of Confederate
Patent Office Not Well Known
We know relatively little about the personnel of the Confederate Patent Office. In comparison with the Unites States Patent Office, which even in the middle 1800's had several hundred employees, the Confederate Patent Office was tiny.
The staff of the Confederate Patent Office in February, 1992 was as follows: Commissioner, Rufus R. Rhodes; Chief Clerk, William W. Lester; Assistant Examiners, Americus Featherman and Thomas R. Duval; Recording Clerk, Howard H. Young; Temporary Recording Clerk, C.H. Ely; Messenger, E.A. Baughman. There is no evidence that the staff was ever larger than this, and as early as 1863 was substantially smaller. Most of the information thus far located during research relates to Rufus Rhodes and Americus Featherman.
We already know (See Chapter One, Rufus Rhodes Goes Home) that Rufus Rhodes was from Mississippi and that until just before the beginning of the Civil War was an employee of the Board of Appeals of United States Patent Office in Washington. Mr. Rhodes resigned, considering the "election of Lincoln as a verdict against the equality of the southern states on the part of the sectional majority of the north...." Mr. Rhodes actually formed the Confederate Patent Office, and was its only Commissioner. Mr. Rhodes was born in 1818, so was about 43 when the war started. In January 1863 Mr. Rhodes issued his second annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents. In addition to the purely ministerial function of listing the patents filed and issued during the previous year, he first noted that the business of the Patent Office had fallen off substantially. He commented on the obvious fact that the occupation of New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville and parts of Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia and the consequent interruption in the lines of "communication had an immediate and most depressing effect upon the revenue of an establishment whose revenues are measured by the number of persons seeking protection of the government."
Further research revealed a particular poignancy to Rhodes' comment regarding the fall of New Orleans. In March, 1863, only a few weeks after submitting his Report, he wrote the Governor of Mississippi, asking a favor. His letter is reprinted in full below:
Richmond March 12, 1863
My Dear Sir:
As an old friend I venture to invoke your services in behalf of my father-in-law Mr. Sam'l C. Fisher who is a fugitive from New Orleans where he resided and who is by the chance of war cut off from all of his resources. He has no funds or resources that he can now command and the necessity of procuring employment presses upon him with a sternness that admits of neither delay nor escape. I ask you to find some employment for him as a favor I can never forget. You know well were our positions relatively the converse of what they are I would strain every nerve to serve a friend of yours, and I do not doubt that you will grant the favor I ask if it be within your powers.
Mr. Fisher is an accomplished book keeper and business man generally and I am sure he would fill any place you might procure for him with ability.
He desires to be as near to New Orleans as possible to increase the chances of occasionally hearing from his wife and children. His sons that are old enough to bear arms are in our army or already dead upon the field of Shiloh and hence he does not wish to come to Richmond where I could find a place for him.
I take it that among all your kind friends I have troubled you as little if not less than any other and it appears to me therefore that I have some small right to ask you for this small favor.
Very faithfully & truly
Rufus R. Rhodes
Hon. John J. Pettus
Governor of Mississippi
This letter reached Governor Pettus - it was found in his papers - but we do not know whether he was able to help his friend find a job for his father-in-law.
Mr. Rhodes served until the end of the war in 1865. Summaries of his Reports of 1864 and 1865 will appear in later Chapters. Research has thus far failed to turn up further information regarding Mr. Rhodes and what he did after the war. Presumably he went back to Mississippi. His son, Rufus Napoleon Rhodes, who was born in 1856, led a distinguished life as a lawyer and later as founder and publisher of the Birmingham (Alabama) News. He was also a Vice President of the Associated Press and a Brigadier General in the Alabama National Guard.
The only other employee about whom any significant information has been located is Americus Featherman. Featherman was an assistant Examiner who apparently served throughout the war. In 1861 Featherman was alleged to have been offered an $85.00 bribe by one John Henson of Fluvanna County, Virginia, to influence an award of a patent for a hay-press. Featherman reported the alleged bribe, and the grand jury of the District Court, C.S.A. for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted Henson on three counts related to the offense. On February 12, 1862, a trial resulted an acquittal. (One other instance relating to alleged bribery of the Patent Office - this time of Rhodes himself - resulted in an indictment against E.F. Husted, who was jailed pending trial. The trial resulted in a mistrial, and Husted was admitted to a bail of $800 pending trial at the next term.)
Featherman had a literary bent. In August 1863, Featherman published a novel entitled "The Belle of New Orleans, A Romance of the War." The book was written "at the request of Miss Minnie Baughman to whom it is respectfully dedicated by her friend." Miss Baughman was apparently the daughter of E.A. Baughman, a Patent Office messenger, as mentioned above.
After the war, Featherman returned to his native state, Louisiana, and became a Professor of Romance Languages and Botany at Louisiana State University. Featherman continued publishing. We do not know of any more romance novels he authored, but in 1871 he published a "Report of Botanical Survey of Southern & Central Louisiana" taken in the Year 1870, and later published a volume of reminiscences of the Confederate States.
Little more is known regarding the personalities of the Confederate Patent Office. Further research, including review of some of the publications referenced above may provide the material for a later chapter.
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