James Rumsey was born in Calvert Co Maryland, at the top of the Chesapeake Bay, in 1743, and his family moved to Berkeley Co. Virginia, now West Virginia, likely about fifteen years later. He became a millwright, a builder of water mills. After finding a book on Newtonian physics he was inspired to leave the old craftsman’s methods of trial and error and rules of thumb for the modern ones of calculation, testing and verification. Before his untimely death in 1792, he built two of the earliest steamboats, designed the first true water turbine and envisioned the entire field of power hydraulics. He was America’s first engineer.
The Rumseian Society was founded in 1788 to develop Rumsey’s inventions. It was disbanded at his death, but recreated in 1903 to build the Rumsey Monument in Shepherdstown, WV. To mark the bicentennial of his steamboat demonstration on Dec. 3, 1787, the Society built a working replica of his steamboat, the Rumseian Experiment, from 1984-87. This is now in the Rumsey Boathouse Museum in Shepherdstown.