Watson, Peter H.

Born: 1819-XX-XX England, United Kingdom

Died: 1885-07-22 New York, New York

Flourished: 1855-07-23 Washington, DC

Peter H. Watson, patent attorney and public official, was baptized in the parish of Lythe, in what is now North Yorkshire, England, in 1819. His family was living in Canada by 1837, when he fled to the United States following his father’s arrest for his role in the 1837 rebellion in Upper Canada. The family apparently reunited in Winnebago County, Illinois about 1839, and by the early 1840s Watson was living in Rockford, where he was involved in agricultural and mechanical pursuits. By 1844, Peter and his brother William were operating Rockford’s first foundry and machine shop. Peter bought out his brother in the spring of 1845 and continued the business alone until August of that year. While in Rockford, Watson also apparently studied law and by 1848 he had moved to Washington, DC where he practiced law and worked as a patent agent. Over the course of his career, Watson himself obtained patents for screw-cutting machinery, improvements in generating and condensing steam, and harvesters and binders for grain. In 1855, Watson retained Abraham Lincoln as one of the defense attorneys on the patent infringement case of McCormick v. Talcott et al. but his fellow defense attorneys Edwin M. Stanton and George Harding blocked Lincoln’s participation in the trial. Lincoln appointed Watson an Assistant Secretary of War under Stanton in 1862, and his appointment was renewed the following year. Watson married by 1850 and had several children.

The Parish Register of Lythe, IV-XI, 1754-1837 (Wakefield, ENG: Yorkshire, 1973), 186; Scott Reynolds Nelson, Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World (New York: Basic Books, 2022); Charles A. Church, History of Rockford and Winnebago County Illinois (Rockford, IL: W. P. Lamb, 1900), 205, 233-34; Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales, Winnebago County, 706:57, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL; U.S. Census Office, Sixth Census of the United States (1840), Winnebago County, IL, 418; The Union Agriculturist and Western Prairie Farmer (Chicago, IL), January 1842, 7:1-2; Subject-Matter Index of Patents for Inventions Issued by the United States Patent Office from 1790 to 1873, Inclusive (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1874), 2:675; 3:1284, 1439; Saturday Courier (Philadelphia, PA), 5 February 1848, 3:7; The Republic (Washington, DC), 13 June 1849, 3:7; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Washington, DC, 162; McCormick v. Talcott et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=137741; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Washington, DC, 58; Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1887), 12:96, 99; 13:109, 111; The New York Herald, 24 July 1885, 10:2; New-York Tribune, 24 July 1885, 5:6.