5 Inventions by Enslaved Black Men Blocked by US Patent Office

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Ned ?

Oscar J. E. Stuart (or Stewart), a white Mississippi slave owner, wanted to receive a patent for the invention of a Black man, Ned, whom Stuart held in bondage. Ned had invented the cotton scraper. Stuart’s request was denied after he could not prove he was true inventor of the cotton scraper. Stuart persisted, penning a letter to the Secretary of Interior Jacob Thompson, on August 25, 1858, asserting that “the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave, both manual and intellectual.”

That same year, both enslaved Blacks were barred from applying for patents and their slave owners on their behalf.

Despite numerous rejections, Stuart began manufacturing the creation and reportedly used this testimonial from a fellow plantation owner:

“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?”

In The Emergence of the Cotton Kingdom in the Old Southwest: Mississippi 1770-1860, the author states that “Former Mississippi governor Albert G. Brown wrote Stuart that his slave’s ‘double plow and scraper’ went ‘a long way ahead of both the common scraper and Yost’s then-famous plow and scraper.”

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