I was puttering around the attic of the Cashominium, trying to sort through some old boxes, and I came across something you all might find interesting. Before any of this makes sense, I need to give you a little family background.

Like many, the Cash family has been here a long time (a long time for America, anyway - here a hundred years is a long time and in Europe a hundred miles is a long distance, so it's all perspective) but we are not blueblooded fancy-pants Mayflower descendants or anything like that. We arrived just over 160 years ago.

The mid-1800s were a popular time to leave Europe, what with land and opportunity here and there being the place where guys like Napoleon were still fashionable and 'reform' meant killing a lot of people, but we weren't the working poor that left because of lousy potato crops or anything so dire.

More predictably, legend has it that old Jebediah left Britain under some questionable circumstances - namely a scandal involving a woman.

His reputation in tatters and a price on his head, he set sail for the New World. He still had a title, useless in America, and some money. He was not a scientist. Scientists in the modern sense did not really exist because the grant/federal funding system did not exist - to do science you either starved at a school or won a prize or obtained a benefactor who sponsored your work. So he was more like an inventor than a scientist.

I know all this because I am the closest we have to a family archivist. When members of the family discover that their own kids don't much care about their old stuff, they send it to me. That's how I came into possession of that box in the attic. I have a fairly detailed account of my maternal family a generation after this takes place but the paternal history was basically non-existent until the late 1800s, so I was thrilled to find an obscure picture in the bottom of this old box passed down from a grandparent to someone else who did not want it who sent it to me.

It was this:

Yeah, sure, she's hot. For 1850. But a hot girl dead for 8 generations is no big deal. Heck, I can flip on Boston Legal any time I want and see girls who look like this, and they aren't even trying:

Yes, last week Meredith Patterson played a character who was insane and wanted to be impregnated and still looked like this. If Boston Legal is not your favorite show for Meredith Patterson reasons alone, you are gay (*). Photo by Deborah Lopez (2007)

No, what caught my attention was not the picture but the frame. The picture was not very large, and clearly old, but the frame was much newer. It was obviously not the original and quite cheap. I wanted to preserve the picture in something a little nicer so I removed the back to peel it away from the glass. Moisture had likely gotten in there and made it a little sticky but it was okay, no damage done. What surprised me was that the backing of the picture was a document, thick, old and brittle. The front side had something I never expected to see. It was an old patent application describing a "wheel or rotor mounted in gimbal rings" but most of it was faded so I couldn't read it. This part of the schematic remained visible (A):

However, it seems he had never submitted it because he had mistakenly used it for something else - a letter, which also never got sent. That sounds a lot like my family and it taught me some things about ol' Jebediah and even the political and business culture of his day so I have transcribed it here for you. Since some of the details are obscure I did some research and where possible I have made my best guess as to what he is talking about in numbered notations like this (). Here is what I was able to read:

A fine summer day. The trees are showing their robust leaves and the sun is sending forth a genial ray.(B)


My main concern is that my calculations show we are approaching peak whale oil and no one seems to be listening. Inspect my numbers below. If my estimations are correct we have surpassed a population of 24,000,000 persons, far more than the estimates of 17.000,000 from the last census. There simply are not enough whales to ...


... and I met with Greeley (1). He advised that the Whigs are broken and in cahoots with Big Whale Oil. I offered hope for a third party but he said there was too much money involved - the Whigs and the Democrats could never be unseated in Congress much less get anyone elected president. (2)


You know I am a practical man, so I would rather light a candle, if you will pardon my jest, than curse our darkness. We have more options than those scoundrels will let on. Their onerous tax idea on alcohol is designed to make whale oil ...(3)


...I had a chance to visit Kit (4) when he was running sheep to California a short while ago and we came across a plant that is exactly what I am talking about. The wax produced by this Hohoba(5) plant is ... (illegible) ... By Jove, I think 50 percent of that thing was made up of the stuff. It was a real miracle. If we raised these on a plantation the Big Whale Oil cartel could be broken easily.


I must sign off now because the post will leave in the morning. I will visit my God son, James, in Virginia. You will recall him as the son of my friend, Archibald Stuart. (6) They nicknamed him after me, you know. He is a fine boy and asked me for some help with both horses and ladies, two things in which I excel. He is a somewhat reckless boy so hopefully I can slow him down a little also.

After that, I will go back home to visit Ada. (7) I know you don't think much of that situation and I agree that her father (8) was generally useless and somewhat mad but if you saw her description of Babbage's machine you would know she is the one for me. I'll have to take care because Lovelace (9) has promised to put a ball in my eye after he found out the truth about the children. But she is worth the risk. I want a nice and quiet life and a wife that knows how to recognize the qualities of a man and I want to take care of her like she does for me.

When I get back from London, some friends and I are heading to Pennsylvania (10) to look at a new kind of oil. We'll have those Big Whale scoundrels on the run yet. I'll keep you abreast. (11)

There's nothing more after that. As I mentioned earlier, the paternal side of the family is completely unknown prior to 1890 so this was a real find.

If the Ada mentioned here is Ada Byron, she was 'accidentally' bled to death while getting a treatment for cancer a short while after this was written.

If Jebediah Cash made the trip to England he either never returned or something happened on the way back. He is not mentioned in either the Titusville explorations or in the early history of the Republican party. He did leave behind numerous illegitimate offspring and was spoken of fondly by the women who loved him, which is why we know anything at all.

Did he speak out too loudly about Big Whale Oil? Did the bounty on his head come due? Did Ada really die from a cancer treatment?

We'll never know for sure. When it comes to Big Whale Oil, anything is possible.

(*) Not that there's anything wrong with that.

(A) Judging by the brief description and the schematic, this seems to be a gysoscope. Leave it to a Cash to invent something great and get distracted by a woman and forget about it. His lack of follow-through is why I am forced to write on the internet for peanuts.

(B) I believe he is talking about a fine summer day.

(1) Presumably Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who later became one of the founders of the Republican Party.

(2) Lincoln did do just that, in 1860.

(3) This tax, $2 a gallon(!) was imposed in 1862. I have never found any documentation that whale oil was as commonly used as he thinks it was, though maybe that was elsewhere in his correspondence.

(4) Judging by name, date and location, I think this is Kit Carson, who would go on to become famous as an Army scout, all-around frontierman and hero of dime-store novels.

(5) Simmondsia chinensis, the Jojoba plant (though it is pronounced Ho-ho-ba), is in northern Mexico and the southwest USA. Turns out he is correct on this part. Unlike vegetable seed oils, which are triglycerides, jojoba oil is made of long-chain fatty acids and fatty alcohols so it's quite distinct in the plant kingdom and became a substitute for sperm whale oil in many applications.

(6) Archibald Stuart was father to James Ewell Brown Stuart ("J.E.B."), cavalry officer for the Confederates in the Civil War and called the "Eyes of the South", so young "Jeb" is the teenage Godson he is referencing.

(7) Owing to the other clues, this is Ada Byron, the Right Honourable Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace, who died in 1852. She is still famous today in computer circles for her work on the Babbage machine and is considered the first 'programmer.'

(8) Her father would be George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, commonly known as Lord Byron, sort of famous as a Romantic poet. It was in a competition among Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, his wife Mary and Mary's stepsister Claire (who would become pregnant by Byron) that Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein.

(9) William King, 1st Earl of Lovelace and Ada's husband.

(10) Colonel Edwin Drake did drill the first oil well in the US in Titusville, PA a few years later, and an industry was born.

(11) That's what she said.