Although Jeremiah Blackís opinion closed the case for the Patent Office, it did not end Oscar J. E. Stuartís efforts to capitalize upon Nedís inventive talent. He next memorialized the United States Senate for an amendment to the patent law. That maneuver came to naught.7 Undaunted, Stuart began to manufacture cotton scrapers at Summit, Mississippi. In 1860 he published a broadside offering cotton scrapers for sale at forty dollars each, noting further that this price would decline should demand prove sufficient to warrant the implementís manufacture by machine in Wheeling, Virginia. In addition, the broadside published statements written in 1858 and 1859 by eight persons who testified to the superiority of Stuartís machine over earlier cultivating devices such as the Taylor scraper and the Yost scraper.

      Of all the broadsideís testimonials, the most detailed came from Albert G. Brown. In a statement harking back to Stuartís struggle with the Patent Office, Brown said, "I am glad to know that your implement is the invention of a Negro slave- thus giving the lie to the abolition cry that slavery dwarfs the mind of the Negro.

     When did a free Negro ever invent anything?"8 If Brownís statement exposed his ignorance of free Negroes, it also illustrated well the increasing tendency of antebellum Southerners to shape for the defense of slavery all issues involving Black men. Whereas Stuart in 1857 had despaired over the frustrating inconveniences of the collision between slave and patent law, Brown, after more time and reflection, managed so to reassess these circumstances that he might credit the peculiar institution with a special beneficence.

      And what about Ned in all of this? None of the records from which this story comes bears evidence of his sentiments. Indeed, the whole story ends with the publication of the 1860 broadside, and thereafter neither the Stuart family papers not government records make any mention of Ned and his cotton scraper. The invention came late in North Americaís experience with slavery, and soon both Stuartís efforts at manufacturing and his ownership of slaves were swept away in the currents of civil war. For his efforts Ned had received nothing more than Stuartís grudging acknowledgment of the cotton scraperís ingenuity. But the same law that denied recognition to Ned also mildly avenged him in that it denied Stuart legal privileges to an invention not of his own creation. Though this incident is very likely, as Holt reported to the Congress, the only recorded instance of a master seeking for himself a patent on the invention of his slave, it was surely not the only time that slavery deprived a man of the full joy of his creative talent.9 Neither was it the only time that a confrontation between dissimilar legal traditions demonstrated the stark incongruity between the slavery system and the laws intended to enhance the rights of free individuals.

 

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HUAN 8 
June 2001