A Modern Project to Find the Salvage Boat

Joining the Hunt for the USS Alligator became an obvious decision for Alice M. Smith because the prototype’s trials tested in the waters around her hometown as early as 1859.  A local bicentennial book mentions the diving boat/submarine visits. The crew names were familiar, too.  Her job was tracking the crew and their descendants—research further supported by Civil War pension records.  If she didn’t know them, someone else did. Proof of the existence and location of the 1859 prototype boat turned up in a letter by Henrietta Leon Bucher about her father’s involvement with the submarine.

In 2005, when local newspaper printed the story about the submarine search, men between the ages of 40-60 shared their childhood memories of seeing a rusted hull hidden among the phragmite and splatter dock along the creek. Frank Astemborski, at the age of twelve, remembers ghastly tales told by the older boys.  One such tale scared Frank into believing that dead men were hidden inside. He recalls peering reluctantly through the glass ports to get a glimpse of the horror hidden inside.  “Mud Duck” Eldridge, while searching for muskrats, remembers seeing the prototype’s hatch. And Rich Pattanite recalls leaping from the Tarzan swing and landing on a rusted hull.  Years have passed, but the search continued along the creek and marsh area as we retraced the haunted hunting grounds of the young boys.

With a team of volunteers we conducted eleven expeditions with side scan sonar and a magnetometer.  In March, Stockton University’s professors Steve Nagiewicz and Mark Sullivan surveyed using a Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 with Drone Deploy (Flight and Analysis). In the report it was determined that there are two suspicious anomalies in the area. It is our firm belief that Henrietta’s letter is accurate–the submarine prototype and de Villeroi’s first 1835 submarine rest in the same area.

To verify their existence and take the next steps towards eventual recovery requires larger-scale aerial magnetometer scans. This is the point we are at today—raising funds to pay for such work. To find these craft would be an incredible boon to our understanding of period technology and the earliest days of submarine warfare. If you would like to support this project, to find the first submarine in which the U.S. Navy took interest, please use the link above to visit our Go Fund Me donations page.

Professors Nagiewicz and Sullivan deploying a drone  Target areas along the creek 
A Detailed History of the Boat
(excerpted from Natural Genius)
(return to the synopsis)

We are taught that USS Holland (SS-1) in 1900 was the first modern submarine in the U.S. Navy. This is true—but this was not the first boat to interest that service. There was, in fact, a submarine active in naval operations almost four decades earlier. The first submersible deployed to a combat zone—with an enlisted crew under the Cape Hatteras while under tow on a new mission—Alligator was the focus of a concerted effort beginning in 2002 by the modern Navy to locate her. After several years, it became apparent that her location and condition would remain elusive for the present.

Alligator, however, was not the first submarine examined by the Navy. That laurel belongs to her predecessor, which researchers dubbed “Alligator Junior” on account of her smaller size. Built in 1859 for salvage work, her inventor offered her to the navy not long after Fort Sumter was fired on. She is now the subject of an effort to pinpoint her location and, hopefully, to begin recovery. Such a project would be far simpler than finding Alligator, which may lie anywhere from 250 to a thousand feet below the surface. Junior, we believe, sits buried in the muddy bank of a small stream off the Delaware River mere feet below the surface. Locals claim parts of her were visible in the early 1960s.

Alligator Junior and Alligator proper were the brainchildren of Brutus de Villeroi, an inventor and “Engineer of the First Class,” born in 1794 in France. Among other interesting inventions, de Villeroi demonstrated his first submarine in 1832. His three-man bateau-poisson performed well enough, but failed to meet the criteria stipulated by the French Navy for use as a weapon. A second trial for the Ministry of Education in 1835 also came to naught.

Plans for this small ten-foot boat survive and indicate some advanced features. For one, de Villeroi appears to have designed a lower hull that acted as a ballast tank: his diagram shows a hollow space between the outer skin and inner wall of the boat with an interior pump and hoses to exhaust water to the outside. Although not shown in the primitive schematics, reference is made to an early, but effective, means of purifying the air of deadly carbon dioxide. This was a simple “bucket and bellows” system, where spent air was forced across a container of slaked (watered) lime, which captured and retained the deadly gas but allowed the non-lethal components of breathable air to recirculate.

Plans of de Villeroi's 1835 "fish boat"

Following the disappointing official reactions to his invention, de Villeroi turned his hand to other inventions—but did not abandon his hopes of marketing a working submarine. Immigrating to the United States in 1857, he settled in Philadelphia. In September of that same year, word spread along the eastern seaboard of the loss of the steamship Central America in the waters off South Carolina. Four hundred and twenty-three passengers and crew went down with her—as well as an estimated $2.4 million in gold. Salvage operators were quick to approach the underwriters of the lost ship, offering a variety of plans to retrieve her incredibly rich cargo. These included sending divers down to manually bring up the chests, schemes to patch whatever hole might be found in her hull and pumping out the water to refloat her, and sending down a submarine. In hindsight, none of these plans were in the least practicable due to the depth at which the Central America rested. Believed at the time to be a mere 168 feet below the surface, she was, in reality, some 7,200 feet down, well beyond the reach of period technology. Ignorance of this fact spurred a group of investors in Philadelphia to bankroll Brutus de Villeroi to build a salvage submarine for the operation. On 28 July 1858, John D. Jones, the president of Atlantic Mutual, signed a contract with de Villeroi to retrieve the lost gold.

The new boat was first seen on 25 August 1859 off New Castle, Delaware, some 45 miles below Philadelphia. Described as “perfectly round” down the length of her thirty-five foot hull, she was a long and narrow vessel, measuring but forty-four inches in diameter. The interior was illuminated by a double row of bulls-eye deadlights embedded in twin rows along her back. One hatch on the top allowed the crew of, reportedly, a dozen men to wriggle in and out, while a second hatch amidships on the bottom afforded divers a means to exit and reenter the submerged boat. A three-foot propeller pushed the submarine through the water, and she could be made to rise and fall by angling her bow planes. These were plates of iron about eighteen inches square, which “are moved like the fins of a fish. 

A wildly oversized representation of de Villeroi's salvage submarine from a French journal of the time

These bow or diving planes were something unique. Such devices have been a commonplace in modern submarines for over a century, but who first thought of the idea? Their use seems very obvious today, but we must remember that early submarines evolved from diving bells. These were used almost exclusively for vertical movement, and had to rely for any lateral motion upon a surface support boat. When the bells became enclosed and carried their own air supply, the notion of diving or surfacing while underweigh was not obvious: it was enough that the vessel could submerge in place to a desired depth and then move about horizontally; if it became necessary to sink further or rise a bit, more or less water could be admitted to the ballast tanks. No submarine prior to 1859—and many for several years thereafter—had diving planes. These include de Villeroi’s own 1832 bateau poisson; Bauer’s 1851 Brandtaucher; Phillip’s 1852 Steering Submarine Propeller; Bauer’s 1856 Seeteufel; Monturiol’s 1859 Ictineo I; Brun’s 1863 Plongeur; Monturiol’s 1863 Ictineo II; Merriam’s 1863 Intelligent Whale; and Kroehl’s 1864 Explorer. Interestingly, in the impending civil war, Southern submarine designers would incorporate bow planes in the [1861?] “New Orleans Submarine,” 1863 Pioneer II, and 1864 Hunley; Northern designers would not follow suit until Horsford's Soligo in 1864 (which was never completed). It may well be that diving planes were first devised by Brutus de Villeroi.

All of the foregoing was visible from the outside of the boat. Evidence for the interior came from interviews with the crew or, most probably, de Villeroi himself. No one was allowed to enter the submarine at this time, since, “the invention having not yet been patented, many of the details in the working of the boat are kept a secret.” However, a quick and rudimentary sketch made two years later by a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post, shows some helpful details; it also entirely leaves out equipment which was known to have been part of the workings of the vessel.

One such system that was described but not drawn was the arrangement for taking on and discharging water ballast, which was very different than what the inventor had previously designed. Recall that the inventor created a double hull in the lower half of his first vessel, which acted as a ballast chamber. For his 1859 boat, he used large canvas bags coated with gutta percha (latex) as his ballast tanks; water was pumped into (and presumably out of) these “by machine”—probably manual force pumps.

The double hull approach worked well on the smaller boat in 1832, but enlarging this system to the 1859 submarine would have increased the weight and cost significantly. Using waterproofed cloth bags resolved both problems—but one that nonetheless came at a price. While saving weight and money, there was a dangerous tradeoff in safety.

Known as “camels,” the canvas bags that de Villeroi employed were more commonly used as floats. Carried deflated aboard ship, they could be ringed around a sunken or foundering vessel, inflated, and raise her over a sand bar or even off the bottom. Originally made of wood, camels had been built of leather and, in the 1840s, rubber. With the introduction of gutta percha to the West in 1848, that material began to be favored. Gutta percha, which is derived from the sap of the Malaysia isonandra tree, could be formed into any shape when heated, and retain that form upon cooling. If rolled in very fine sheets, it could be pressed into cloth, steamed to over 300 degrees, and result in a flexible and waterproof fabric. It offered a great many advantages over rubber, and gutta percha camels were all the rage in the world of marine salvage after 1850.

De Villeroi’s application of the bags, while unique, was not illogical: if gutta percha could be used to keep water out, it could also be used to keep water in. But, as the American salvor John Gowen discovered in his operations at Gibraltar in 1851 and again at Sebastopol in 1857, camels, whether of rubber of gutta percha, had a disconcerting tendency to pop under pressure. For the men on the surface working the pumps, this was frustrating; for a submarine crew, it would be deadly. Allow too much water in too quickly or under high pressure at depth, and the bags could easily rupture and flood the boat.

Mention was also made in the initial report of a divers’ hatch. This was not an air lock. Such a chamber, then as now, sectioned off a diver in a small compartment; this could be flooded and an outer hatch opened, allowing the diver to exit; upon reentering, the outer door would be sealed, the water in the compartment exhausted with air pumped from inside the submarine, and the inner hatch reopened, permitting the diver to rejoin the crew. Instead, de Villeroi followed the example set by fellow French submarine designer Payerne: the entire interior of the boat was pressurized and a hatch in the bottom opened to allow men to leave and return. Whether such pressurization occurred while the boat was still on the surface—the air being pumped in directly from the outside—or was the result of opening multiple canisters of compressed air once on the bottom, is not indicated. Given that de Villeroi had suggested the use of canisters to refresh the interior atmosphere back in 1832, and that these same had begun to be used for pressurization (Payerne), this is likely to have been the procedure.

As with the crew of Auguste, that of de Villeroi’s Salvage Boat dispensed with the typical submarine armor. This is proven by a report of a second demonstration, which took place on Sunday 2 October 1859 off Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania (about a dozen miles downstream from Philadelphia). The writer recorded that, "M. Villeroi’s men (sailors) plunge into the water and disappear, and after entering the boat, reappear on the surface, thus testing the power to enter and quit the boat while she is under water." Aside from the impracticality of suiting up a diver in submarine armor within the confines of an iron tube measuring but 44 inches diameter, no salvor, nomatter how strong, could “reappear on the surface.” Salvage operators were either hauled to the surface by their lifeline or climbed a ladder suspended from their support ship. The weight of the gear worn by the diver, 160 pounds, made this impossible. Instead, the men who left the Salvage Boat to work were more than likely “naked divers.”

This term was most commonly applied to Greek sponge divers who, plunging into the balmy waters of the Mediterranean, could well afford to enter the sea au naturel. Beyond such temperate waters, however, divers faced a chillier prospect. John Gowen’s armor-clad divers at Sebastopol on the Black Sea complained of the cold at depths not greater than sixty feet. John Greene, a famous “naked diver” on the Great Lakes, was known to descend to depths of over a hundred feet—where the temperature hovered near freezing; it is difficult (even dangerous) to think of him doing so without the benefit of at least a suit of flannels. “Naked” might well mean simply “unprotected,” (i.e., by submarine armor). However clad, anyone leaving the submarine needed a supply of air; at the time, this could only be provided through a pump-supplied hose. Whether de Villeroi’s divers wore any sort of helmet or headgear to which a hose might be secured is unknown; although risky, they might simply have held onto the hose with one hand or clenched the end between their teeth. For safety’s sake, the air hose would have been wrapped together with a tether back to the submarine. The only hint at this time as to the procedure is that “the workmen get out, taking with them the means of obtaining a full supply of fresh air from the boat.” The simplicity of the arrangement is further evidenced by a later U.S. Navy report that states simply, “the divers, who, breathing by means of tubes attached to the boat are enabled to perform submarine operations.”

To allow the divers to get out, the submarine would, of course, have to be stationary on the bottom. De Villeroi used a simple anchor—a conical iron weight—that was lowered from the hatch in the bottom once the vessel was on site. While undocumented, the process would logically have been to first drop the anchor to stop any motion in the current. Achieving neutral buoyancy by expelling a quantity of water from the ballast bags would be the next step. Finally, the anchor cable would be drawn up until the Salvage Boat rode at an appropriate distance above the seafloor to allow the divers to exit and reenter—perhaps four or five feet.  

The means of keeping the air for both divers and crew fresh was kept secret, “but it is believed to be by some chemical arrangement.” A variety of chemicals for removing “carbonic acid” were well-known and routinely used. De Villeroi’s desire to keep his “arrangement” confidential suggests more that he had devised some mechanical means through which to apply his chemicals of choice—perhaps a series of pumps and reservoirs, more or less complicated than what Payerne had created, but along the same lines—than that he had discovered any new “chymicall liquor.” It may also be that, having never been shy about sharing his inventions with the world with no thought to monetary profit, the board of investors in the Salvage Boat (who were certainly keen to realize a return on their investment) instructed him to keep his mouth shut about all aspects of the new submarine; if so, the “means of keeping the air fresh” could well have been nothing more than the tried and true “bucket and bellows.” Nothing drawn or written provides any further clue.

For this, his second submarine, Brutus moved away from the use of paddles or oars to provide motion. Instead he opted for a large, three-foot propeller. This was powered by six of the crew who, ranging down the length of the hull, pulled on a leather strap that ran along the outer edge of the vessel. This strap spun a large wheel fixed in a horizontal attitude to a post in the stern of the boat, which in turn rotated the propeller, probably through use of a simple bevel gear. Given the confines of the Salvage Boat, the “propeller men” probably knelt or sat on small benches, facing outward, in a staggered formation. De Villeroi, acting as captain “sits near the head” to operate both the diving planes as well as the rudder.

Following the early October demonstration, there are no more recorded dives for the remainder of 1859 and all the way through 1860. No attempt was made on the Central America. A subsequent article claimed that, "A number of experiments were tried, with a view of adopting it to recovering goods from wrecks, and examining the bottoms of rivers, but from all that we can gather, the machine has proved, so far, an utter failure for all practical purposes."

At the beginning of 1861, de Villeroi moved the Salvage Boat across the river to New Jersey. There is no stated rationale for this, but it may relate to funding: the major investment in the “grand desideratum for submarine operations,” as a rather excitable Philadelphia reporter had initially christened the new marvel, had not returned any profit. It is believable that an appropriate spot for mooring the boat might have been cheaper on the eastern shore of the Delaware. From all appearances, de Villeroi had managed once again to devote time, energy and money in an invention he could not capitalize on. Now 64 years of age, Brutus’s most recent undertaking might well be his last. While famed in France, in the United States he had a poor track record of stale and failed discoveries and inventions. Only something miraculous could rescue his reputation. But there would be no miracle for the aging chevalier—only a catastrophic event that would thrust him one last time into the limelight and secure for his greatest creation a place in history. Far to the South, on 12 April 1861, Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The War of the Rebellion had begun.

This event moved Brutus de Villeroi to offer the navy of his adopted country its first submarine. The Salvage Boat that would soon come to the attention of the United States Navy had, since its October 1859 appearance, disappeared from the papers. Save for mention of its relocation to New Jesey about January 1861, we know nothing of its activities through all of 1860. In fact, it appears that the boat was simply docked and no additional dives made. In a letter of 4 September 1861, de Villeroi referred to “the last experiments which have been made at New Castle and Marcus Hook.” This sounds as though no further tests were made in the year after the demonstration in October 1860. But, based upon the events of 16 May 1861, work on the boat evidently resumed soon after the start of the war.

Philadelphia, like every city in the North and the South, had been gripped in the war frenzy that followed the attack on Fort Sumter. After a few weeks, a sense of relative calm had returned, and “Philadelphia [was] now as quiet as in the most peaceful times.” Nonetheless, the public was vigil, and someone had directed the attention of the police

to the movements of [the] iron submarine boat, to which very extraordinary abilities and infernal propensities were attributed.

At ordinary times its discovery would have resulted in little excitement; but, now, when men think and dream only of treason, its capture involved speculations and odd rumors, which entitled it to some degree of notice.

[It] was said to be an infernal machine, which was to be used for all sorts of treasonable purposes, including the trifling pastime of scuttling and blowing up Government men-of-war.

About midnight on the sixteenth, Lt. Benjamin Edgar’s Harbor Police noticed a skiff manned by two men push off from South Street wharf. They followed the boat to the lower (southern) end of Smith Island and confronted the pair in the act of transferring their cargo of pigs of lead into a submarine. The men, Alexander Rhodes and Henry Kreiner, were taken into custody and, at two o’clock in the morning, their “iron pet” was towed to the Noble Street pier, to which it was chained by the police.

Rhodes and Kreiner explained that the submarine belonged to Brutus de Villeroi and that they had brought the boat to the island on Tuesday 14 May for the purpose of demonstrating it to officials at the Navy Yard on the south side of Philadelphia. The young men claimed that de Villeroi “had got permission from the officers of the Yard to make the trial.” Their story did not match up: “the authorities at the yard know no­thing of the machine, and that no such arrangement has been made.”

All of the foregoing was visible from the outside of the boat. Evidence for the interior came from interviews with the crew or, most probably, de Villeroi himself. No one was allowed to enter the submarine at this time, since, “the invention having not yet been patented, many of the details in the working of the boat are kept a secret.” However, a quick and rudimentary sketch made two years later by a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post, shows some helpful details; it also entirely leaves out equipment which was known to have been part of the workings of the vessel.

One such system that was described but not drawn was the arrangement for taking on and discharging water ballast, which was very different than what the inventor had previously designed. Recall that the inventor created a double hull in the lower half of his first vessel, which acted as a ballast chamber. For his 1859 boat, he used large canvas bags coated with gutta percha (latex) as his ballast tanks; water was pumped into (and presumably out of) these “by machine”—probably manual force pumps.

The “capture” of the Salvage Boat sent the city into a frenzy. “Never since the Battle of the Kegs has the river front of Philadelphia been the scene of such peculiar excitement.”

The news of the capture soon flew around, and by little after daylight, the rush of people to the spot commenced. All sorts of stories were afloat, and thousands upon thousands gathered at the wharves, scaled the neighbor­ing board piles, and importuned the amphibious policemen, who had the monster in charge, for permission to board her and see how she looked inside. But “no admission” was the rule, and the interior remained invisible to the millions.

The capture of de Villeroi's 1859 boat, depicted here at a more accurate scale

Only a single reporter, Camper Soudor, “renowned for looking into odd things,” was permitted to enter the submarine. His article is the only impartial eyewitness account of the boat, and formed the basis of the description in the previous chapter. As expected, Soudor spoke of “pumps, faucets, pigs of ballast lead, and numerous other things.” One wishes he had spilled a trifle more ink describing even a few of the “numerous other things.” Additional details would be very illuminating, for example, in reference to “a large reel of wire, which might be intended for galvanic purposes”—meaning the remote detonation of mines.

Sketch of the interior of the salvage boat made by a local reporter

Upon closer inspection, the “amphibious and ambiguous creature,” “half aquatic, half ærial, and wholly incomprehensible” proved, of course, to be the “submarine propeller invented by Monsieur de Villeroi,” with which the locals were quite familiar.Their innocence now manifest, Rhodes and Kreiner were released within a few days. But what to do with the Salvage Boat? With no legal reason for keeping it, but perhaps not entirely certain whether the boat might yet prove to be a dangerous weapon, the Harbor Police had it towed to the Navy Yard. Commandant Samuel F. Dupont, however, saw no threat in the small submersible and returned it to its owners. At some point in these several days, de Villeroi managed to press his request for an evaluation of his invention for, on 20 May, Dupont ordered a trio of qualified officers to cross to the river and examine the boat.

That the Navy had any interest in the submarine was contrary to that organization’s proud peacetime claim that “the boats used by the Navy go on and not under the water.” But now the country was at war and such a craft might indeed prove useful. While de Villeroi’s boat could never hope to attack a ship underweigh, one possible target would be ships anchored at the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, which was now in rebel hands. The Federal warships anchored there had been put to the torch on 20 April when the Yankees abandoned the base. One among these, USS Merrimack, while burned to the waterline and scuttled, might yet prove useful to the newly-formed Confederate States Navy. On 18 May, Southern salvage operators began the work of raising her hull with its valuable machinery; this was completed by 30 May and what was left of the frigate was resting in the Yard’s dry dock. Rebuilding the ship to its previous condition was worrisome enough, given that the copious stores left undamaged in the destruction of the Yard made it entirely possible; but among those supplies was sufficient material to build one or more ironclads. This fact was not lost on Southerners, who claimed “we have enough to build a navy of iron-plated ships.” Any serious threat to the U.S. Navy would come out of Gosport, and a submarine would be the perfect way to make a clandestine attack.

The report written by Commander Henry K. Hoff, Commander Charles Steadman, and Chief Engineer Robert Danby was issued on 7 July 1861. The committee made plain that they considered the “Diving Machine of Mr. de Villeroi” to be but “a model to demonstrate the principles established by the inventor.” It was recognized that the Salvage Boat had not been designed “for war purposes.” The officers’ greatest concern was “with regard to locomotion,” on which subject “the commission cannot form any decided opinion.”

To be fair, the waters of the Delaware were rough on the day of the test. But might this not happen during a mission? The fact that “the machinery was not of sufficient power to operate in a satisfactory manner” was cause for concern. The lack of power in the boat is not surprising. Although the thing certainly looks like a submarine to our modern eyes and was, in fact, called a submarine at the time, it should be remembered that “sub-marine” meant only that it operated below the surface. Like Auguste, it technically had the means of underwater motion: the feet of the Payerne’s crew or the labors of de Villeroi’s men at the propeller straps. But neither inventor expected his boat to move about much at all—just submerge and rise. The Salvage Boat was towed to its dive site, just as its lobster-red predecessor. Once arrived, it functioned more as a diving bell, a platform for its divers, with the propeller being used perhaps to maneuver the boat more closely alongside a wreck—to “fine tune” its position rather than to make any long-distant approach. This is all but proven by the Navy report, in which Commander Hoff and his fellows expressed concerns about effective horizontal movement. Ultimately, they felt that a boat built “on a larger scale,” with a larger crew, would “be provided with greatly increased powers of propulsion.” Their estimate of the “improved” speed was one mile per hour. How slowly must the Salvage Boat have moved for this snail’s pace to appear an impressive advance?

Beyond this, the committee decided that de Villeroi’s machine met all of the Navy’s criteria by demonstrating the following principles:

1st    The ability to remain submerged for a length of time without communication with the surface or
         external atmosphere and without the least fatigue or exhaustion to the men.

2nd That of sinking and raising his boat at pleasure making repeated immersions and emersions.

3rd   Ability of the men to leave and return to the boat while under water.

4th   Ability of a man leaving the boat to live for a length of time, breathing by means of a
        tube connected with the boat.

Additionally, "an artificial atmosphere perfectly respirable by the men is generated by the inventor by a chemical process so that the submerged boat executes its maneuvers without any connection with the surface.  Its entire apparatus is contained in the interior and invisible from the outside."

There is no further description of this “apparatus.” While it may not have been as compact and machined as the box that Payerne kept tightly concealed during his demonstrations, de Villeroi’s system was probably more evolved than the “bucket and bellows” approach, which, being fairly well-known, might be expected to occasion specific reference by the Navy officers as simplistic.

Following the favorable report, de Villeroi offered to sell the Salvage Boat to the Navy “with all the specifications, plans, drawings, and secrets pertaining thereto” for “a sum of money to be hereafter agreed upon.”  Naturally, being the inventor and, at least as far as he was concerned, most qualified person for the position, Brutus also offered his services to “drill the crew and conduct in person the submarine operations.” Should the U.S. government accept his proposal, “the owners of the Villeroi Submarine propeller” promised “to blow up one or more vessels of war at the Norfolk Navy Yard for a sum equivalent to the damage inflicted upon the enemy, to be paid them on the destruction of the property.”

Reference to “the owners” makes it plain that de Villeroi, although at the time acting as point of contact with Washington, did not wholly own the submarine. One or more other individuals, probably from among the “Philadelphia gentlemen” who had witnessed the October 1859 demonstration, held joint title.

The arrangement proposed by de Villeroi on behalf of this coalition was a business deal, not a donation stemming from a surfeit of patriotic fervor. As such, it must be asked whether the investors saw this as a chance to divest themselves of a losing proposition. The “Diving Machine” had never completed an entirely successful test, had sat idle for over a year, and had yet to turn a profit for its backers. Attempting to fob marginal ships off on a Navy struggling to build or obtain sufficient vessels was a not uncommon scheme at this time. The early months of the war saw a number of Northern ship owners seize the opportunity to try to sell rotting vessels to the fleet. But, while possible, this is not probable as regards the Salvage Boat, given that the inventor himself offered to train a crew and even undertake a combat mission. It seems that Brutus, for his own part at least, was committed to seeing some use made of his latest invention.

In the event that the government declined this offer, the owners included another:

They would agree to superintend the construction of an iron submarine propeller for hostile operations, not to exceed in cost fourteen thousand dollars, and to be completed in forty days after the contract (the Government to pay for the work as executed)—and to dispose of said invention with all the plans, specifications, secrets, etc., pertaining thereto for a (larger) sum of money to be hereafter agreed upon, contingent upon the success of the said vessel, the money to be paid as soon as the boat shall be satisfactorily tested by a commission appointed by the Government. 

De Villeroi’s investors even offered the existing boat to be used as a “school of instruction” while the larger vessel was under construction—stipulating, of course, that they “would expect the Government to take the same at cost.” Business was business.

The 7 July report seems to have been overlooked through the summer of 1861 as more imperative demands were made upon the Navy. Commandant Dupont had forwarded it to Joseph Smith, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, in Washington, but without response. Despairing of any decision, de Villeroi went straight to the top, penning a letter to President Abraham Lincoln on 14 September 1861. The lengthy note spoke in general terms of the advantages and progress in submarine technology without over-emphasizing the fact that its author had just such a boat available should the Chief Executive “find my services to be profitable to the grand cause of the Union.” In one prescient passage, Brutus imagined that submarines could be used

to reconnoiter the enemy coast, to land men, ammunition, etc., at a given point, to enter harbors, to keep up intelligence, to carry explosive bombs under the very keels of vessels, without being seen. . . When under water the men can go out of the boat to perform any work, to remove any object from the bottom, etc., and come in again without the least difficulty.  

All of these operations are among the many roles played by modern submarine-transported Navy SEAL teams.

Given his well-known fascination with mechanical things, Lincoln was undoubtedly intrigued by the idea of a submarine. Logically, he would have shared the inventor’s letter with Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. There is no indication that the President was aware of the Navy’s evaluation of the same boat, which report had spent the summer languishing on Commodore Smith’s desk; it is unknown whether the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks had even shared it with his Welles. The Secretary may, in fact, have received de Villeroi’s letter to Lincoln in ignorance, but that situation was soon remedied by a second communication from the inventor, this time addressed to Welles himself. At the end of September, Brutus wrote directly to the Secretary, pointing out that the experiments to which his boat had been subjected had “proved satisfactory,” and might he “do me the favor to cause me to be informed of what conclusion the Government has come in regard to the offer of my services.”  Possibly miffed that the Frenchman had gone over his head to Lincoln, Welles turned to Smith for an explanation.

In a letter of 16 October, the Chief of the Bureau told the Secretary that he had given the report “a cursory examination.” While cautioning that de Villeroi had not detailed the chemical means by which he supplied refreshed air to the crew nor made plain the method by which the Salvage Boat submerged and rose, Smith conceded that these things had all been demonstrated. He “inferred” that a larger vessel, built upon “this proposed plan,” might, with a trained crew, “prove useful against vessels in an enemy's port or in a roadstead.” Commodore Smith recommended the Navy take up the inventor on his proposal to build a bigger submarine for no more than $14,000; he would later record that, “it was regarded as a doubtful experiment, but one which would warrant the expense of the trial." Smith also told the Secretary of the Navy that he considered de Villeroi’s offer to sink one or more ships in Gosport Navy Yard as “a safe experiment for the government.” Welles agreed.

Two weeks later, Gideon Welles signed an agreement for construction of an “iron submarine propeller on the plan of M. de Villeroi.” This would become known as Alligator. No longer needed, her predecessor, the 1859 Salvage Boat or Alligator Junior was left tied along the bank of a small stream on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.