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John Boyd SLEETH 7834, McCracken Co.

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John Boyd SLEETH 7834, McCracken Co.

Posted: 1039612102000
Classification: Biography
Surnames: Sleeth, Morse, Shafner, Field, Roddy, McGaugh, Gilson, Janes
NOTE: I have no connection, no further information and am not seeking additional information.

Memorial Record of Western Kentucky, Lewis Publishing Company, 1904, pp 556-559 [McCracken]

JOHN BOYD SLEETH, who is better known in Paducah as Captain Jack Sleeth, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, November 21, 1826, and died in Paducah, Kentucky, March 12, 1895. In early life he left home to engage in boating, and readily found employment on one of the many boats which in those early days plied along the Ohio river. Finally he reached Paducah, Kentucky, and there took up his residence. In 1845 a telegraphic system had been established at Paducah, and the entire country was excited over the freely expressed opinion of Professor Morse relative to a cable. Mr. Tal. Shafner was actively engaged in experiments as to the possibility of such a feat, endeavoring to connect St. Louis and Nashville by means of an overhead wire across the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Mr. Sleeth was employed by Mr. Shafner, who afterwards played so important a part in the laying of the Atlantic cable, and assisted in stretching the telegraphic wire from one side of the river to the other, the center support being a tall staff attached to the top of a large hickory tree standing on an island separating the mouth of the Tennessee river from the Ohio. The weight of the wire caused it to sag so at flood stages of the waters that the taller, stacked steamers would catch and pull down the wire. Young Sleeth, who had some knowledge of the principles of insulation, conceived the idea of laying an insulated wire across the river bed. His idea was received with considerable skepticism by Mr. Shafner and others, but finally Mr. Shafner consented to make the attempt. With an ample supply of the wires then used for telegraphic lines on hand, the work of laying the first submarine cable began, and the result came after nearly a year. The wire chosen for use as the cable proper was one strand, and it was stretched along the float and wrapped first with canvas such as was then used for roofing steamers, and which had been thoroughly soaked in hot coal tar pitch. The covering process was continued until the wire was about half an inch in diameter and then it was guarded by a wire of a smaller size, this being placed parallel, as in now the custom. It was then wrapped by loose coil with another wire of the same size. The number of wires laid parallel to the cable outside of the canvas insulation was eighteen. The cable was made in sections and joined before being laid. This cable was over a mile long and when laid was reeled off from the end of a large "broadbow" boat in tow of a steamer craft. It worked successfully for several weeks; then the pitch became water-soaked and failed to operate successfully, and the cable was abandoned, but the idea had proved practical, the difficulty lying in the poor insulation. Some months later Mr. Field sent a representative to Paducah to see Mr. Sleeth, and an offer was made him to continue his investigations and enter into a partnership. As Mr. Sleeth was then in very moderate circumstances he was forced to decline this very flattering offer. He resumed boating, soon after being made captain of a Tennessee river steamer. He never patented his cable or made any attempt to do so, but abandoned it entirely after the first failure. Nevertheless he gave to the world the demonstrated idea that it was possible to connect by a link of wires distant lands, separated by water, and to encircle the globe with a message within forty minutes without any special effort. The submarine cable, the idea of which was conceived by Mr. Sleeth and under his direction laid at Paducah, was the forerunner of the world's great system of submarine cables. Captain Sleeth was engaged in boating until the Civil war, when he enlisted in the Confederate army and served under General Roddy, gaining the rank of captain during the war. After the conflict was over he went back to the river and became one of the very best known, competent and popular of western steamboat captains, although his life was principally spent upon the Tennessee river. Until within one year of his demise Captain Sleeth was engaged in his work, and he left behind him a record of which his family may well feel proud, while his estate was a large one, accumulated by his untiring efforts. In his happy home Captain Sleeth was always a kind and loving husband and father; in the city of Paducah he was universally respected, and with men of his own calling his experience made him a man of great esteem. In 1867 Mr. Sleeth married Margaret McGaugh of Mt. Hope, Alabama, who is still living, aged fifty-five years, a lady of much refinement and culture. The children born to Captain and Mrs. Sleeth were: John Sleeth, who died young; James Porter Sleeth, who is a well known business man of the city, educated in the Paducah public schools and the Louisville College of Pharmacy, from which he was graduated in 1901, after which he purchased the drug establishment of E. H. Gilson at the corner of Ninth and Broadway, and is now engaged in conducting this concern. James P. Sleeth married, in January, 1903, Miss Sue Janes, daughter of William Janes, a well known real estate agent of Paducah. Robert Sleeth, a brother of our subject and resident to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has a record from Mr. Field, of New York, stating that he obtained the idea of a submarine cable from Jack Sleeth, of Paducah, Kentucky, to whom he had sent a representative while he was residing in Paducah, to get this same idea, and this record Mr. Sleeth values very highly as it is to a certain degree a slight recognition of his brother's great service to science and civilization.

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