Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Bushnell, David (1740-1826) [Army return]

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.02540 Author/Creator: Bushnell, David (1740-1826) Place Written: s.l. Type: Manuscript document signed Date: 19 September 1783 Pagination: 1 p. : docket ; 21.5 x 34.9 cm.

Return for the corps of sappers and miners of Constitution Island, New York. Duplicate of GLC02437.02541.

David Bushnell built the first man-propelled submarine boat, called the "American Turtle." It featured a wooden magazine containing gunpowder and a clock mechanism for igniting it at any particular time. Although he was not successful in his attempts to destroy British ships during the American Revolution, he is recognized as the father of the modern submarine. While it could not be definitively confirmed that the writer of this document is the same Bushnell as the inventor of the submarine, it appears likely, as the inventor served as Captain of a corps of sappers and miners during the Revolution. David Bushnell's birth date appears as 1740 in most sources. His death date appears as either 1824 or 1826.

Order a CopyCitation Guidelines for Online Resources