Elizabeth Walker Quarterman wrote in her book, “The Home at the Bluff,” about one of the outstanding guests at their family home on the bluff in McIntosh County when she was a child, before she married and moved to Liberty County.
This outstanding guest was Dr. Francis Robert Goulding, the well-known writer of “The Young Marooners,” “Marooners’ Island,” “Sapelo” and other coastal stories. Goulding also invented a sewing machine but refused to get a patent for it because it would put too many women out of work.
Here is an excerpt from her book:
“His book ‘The Young Marooners’ was largely written at our home at the bluff. It was an account of the actual experiences of his children and his sister’s son, whose wild journey out to sea in the escort of a devil fish began on the banks of the very river that flowed by our door.
“It was on one of these visits that he came near meeting his end. A great sufferer from asthma, he often found it difficult to sleep and tried various devices to ease the condition and induce repose. As he grew older, he formed the habit of lying down in the afternoon after a midday meal to try to get a nap. One evening, when he had been upstairs all afternoon and it was time for supper, Mama sent one of the children to call for him. Knocking on the door and calling, ‘Dr. Goulding, supper is ready.’ The child did not wait for an answer but went back downstairs expecting to be followed by the doctor. But he didn’t come.
“After waiting a while, Father went upstairs and knocked on the door. Hearing no sound from the room, he called, ‘Dr. Goulding, Dr. Goulding!’ There was no reply and no sign of life. Father then opened the door. There on the bed the old gentleman was lying with a handkerchief dampened with chloroform over his face! He was barely breathing and his pulse was barely discernible. What a stir there was then.
“Fortunately, hot coffee was readily available and, after an hour’s unceasing ministration, he began to show signs of reviving. In time, he was himself again and always referred to this experience as his ‘resurrection.’”
“A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians, Vol. 2,” printed in 1917, gives more information about Goulding. He was born near the old Midway Church in Liberty County on Sept. 28, 1810, and died Aug. 21, 1881. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1830 and from the Theological Seminary in Columbus, S.C. He was licensed to preach in 1833 at the age of 23. He was a son of the first native-born Presbyterian minister in Georgia, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Goulding of Midway.
Goulding married Mary Wallace Howard of Savannah in 1833. She became sickly, so they moved to Kingston in Bartow County in north Georgia, hoping the mountain air would help her. He opened a school for boys and taught them science. Mary died in 1853 after 20 years of marriage, leaving behind six children.
In 1855, he married Matilda Rees of Darien. She owned a beautiful home in Darien, and they had two daughters. Goulding was the pastor of the Darien Presbyterian Church from 1856-1862.
In 1842, while visiting a friend near Eatonton, Goulding noticed a beautiful quilt on one of the beds. It was Sunday, and he was getting ready to go to church. Nevertheless, he could not forbear regretting the thousands of stitches wasted on one piece of bed covering.
At this time he lived in a small but well-to-do community called Bath, which was near Augusta. He pastored a church in Bath for eight years. He spent much time on his ministerial and literary work but saved time to work on mechanical things.
Goulding always was thinking about how mechanical things worked. He began to work on his idea for a sewing machine in order to lighten his wife’s workload. In 1845, his wife was using a sewing machine that her husband had invented. Goulding wrote in his journal, “Having satisfied myself about this machine, I laid it aside that I might attend to other, weightier duties.” Therefore, he did not apply for a patent, as he had no mercenary motives.
Dr. James Stacy, historian of the Midway settlement, is another witness to the invention. He visited Goulding at Bath in the summer of 1848 and saw the remains of an old sewing machine in his home.
One person researching as to why Goulding did not get a patent for his invention came up with different theories or explanations. The first one was that the streams were flooding, and this delayed his trip to Washington, D.C., where the patent had to be applied for.
Another explanation was that Elias Howe of Massachusetts visited Goulding in Bath and asked to see the sewing machine. He inspected it thoroughly and remembered everything he saw. When he got home, he immediately set to work making one except maybe a tad better. He was the first to get to Washington and apply for a patent.
Another story was that while Goulding was on his way to Washington, his buggy overturned and, in all the confusion, the model was stolen and never recovered. And still another story said that the model machine was dropped into a deep stream as the buggy was crossing over and it was never found.
It also has been said that Howe found defects in the needle of the sewing machine at Goulding’s home; when he made his own, he fixed the problem. A lady who saw many pieces of the handiwork that Mrs. Goulding produced showed no defects in any of the pieces of sewn work. She thinks that it must have been Goulding’s kind consideration for the interests of the gentler sex that he didn’t apply for the patent.
Howe received his United States patent for the lockstitch sewing machine on Sept. 10, 1846. After that, a long legal battle ensued with Isaac Singer and another inventor. Howe won the battle in 1856. In 1851, Howe received a patent for the zipper. During the Civil War, he donated a portion of his wealth to equip an infantry regiment of the Union Army, in which he served as a private. He died at the age of 48 as a multi-millionaire from inventing the sewing machine.
Dr. Francis Goulding served as chaplain during the Civil War, even though he was pretty feeble from malaria and hard work. He was living in Darien when the Civil War broke out. He had a nice home, including a splendid library with a mass of manuscripts. This all was destroyed when the Union soldiers burned Darien in June 1863.
Goulding died at the age of 71 on Aug. 21, 1881, in Roswell, where he lived his last few years, and was buried in a little churchyard. He left behind a record of a life spent in well-doing and the character of a purely spiritual man, with a literary reputation of a high order. He was impoverished at his death.
In my next article, I will tell you about the book Goulding wrote, which was read around the world and made him famous even if he was never credited with inventing the sewing machine.