Archive for the ‘Steamer Captains’ Category

Another Georgetown Civil War Story

Friday, August 18th, 2017

History books inform us that the Civil War started in April 1861 in Charleston, SC with the bombardment of Ft Sumter in Charleston Bay.  This event provoked the war between the states, but the shots fired there were not the first act of war. 

 

Earlier in Dec 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union.  Others followed.  Rumors of war were rife in local newspapers.  Sec of War John B Floyd, a southern sympathizer, sent an order to the Allegheny Arsenal in Pittsburgh to ship 124 canons to New Orleans.  The steamers Silver Wave and Marengo were contracted by the US Army to transport the artillery south.  The commander of the Allegheny Arsenal, Col John Symington, attempted to obey the order from Washington on Christmas Eve.  When citizens of Pittsburgh learned of this action ─ from a whistleblower at the arsenal no doubt ─ the citizens protested, knowing that the guns would be used to fortify the south.  Angry Pittsburgh crowds halted the movement of the canons and their military escorts to the Monongahela wharf.  Thirty-eight guns had been loaded on the str Silver Wave before the crowds blocked the streets to the wharf.  To avoid violence the order for shipment was countermanded.  Further, Pittsburgh citizens threatened to blow the Silver Wave out of the water if it attempted to go down the Ohio River with the thirty-eight guns aboard.  The str Silver Wave never left the wharf. [1]

 

Southern politicians in Congress were outraged that ordinary Pittsburgh citizens threatened to interfere with military orders for the distribution of federal artillery and munitions. 

 

The protest by the honorable citizens of Pittsburgh was the first genuine act of war between the North and South.  Their activism reminds us of the need to resist – to do what is right.

 

Much later in 1863, the str Silver Wave was the first noncombat steamboat to successfully pass the Vicksburg batteries.  That feat was a big deal!  Vicksburg was deemed impassable – the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.  The Union convoy of three gunboats and the str Silver Wave and three other packets was riddled with holes carrying supplies to Gen Grant’s army below the city.  Many historians consider the fall of Vicksburg the tipping point of the Civil War.   In that campaign, Pittsburgh and Georgetown men played a significant role.  

 

The Silver Wave was a packet owned and operated by Capt John Smith McMillin.  Born on 23 Jul 1817 in Georgetown, PA, Capt John S McMillin began his river career keel-boating in the 1830’s and was the master and owner of several steamers.  He moved to Grandview Ave on Mt Washington in Pittsburgh in 1853.  In my heart, Capt John Smith McMillin will always be a Georgetown man.  His parents are buried in Georgetown Cemetery.  

 

 



[1]  , Standard History of Pittsburg Pennsylvania, (HR Cornell and Co, Chicago, 1893), p 548-549. 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Francis W Nash

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Capt Poe’s 50th Wedding Anniversary

Monday, January 30th, 2017

 

Capt Jacob Poe’s 50th wedding Anniversary (Collection of Ann L and John F Nash)

 

A fun bit of Georgetown, PA history.  Capt Jacob Poe and his wife, Mary Ann Ebert, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 27 Dec 1888.  Capt Jake was presented a gold headed cane by the citizens of Georgetown.  Capt Thomas S Calhoon made the presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Francis W Nash
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No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

Str Silver Wave

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Several years ago, the question, “Where was the Civil War won?” was posed on a history site.  The usual answers were submitted with much documentary support.  I thought about the question for a few days then settled on my answer – Pittsburgh, PA.  The administrator of the blog wrote that it was the “damnedest” thing he had ever read, but he would seriously think about it.  One can get a bit carried away singing the praises of Pittsburgh.  Or can one?

 

History books inform us that the Civil War started in April 1861 in Charleston, SC with the bombardment of Ft Sumter in Charleston Bay.  This event provoked the war between the states, but the shots fired there were not the first. 

 

Earlier in Dec 1860, SC was the first state to secede from the union.  Others followed.  Sec of War, John B Floyd, a southern sympathizer, sent an order to the Allegheny Arsenal in Pittsburgh to ship 124 canons to New Orleans.   The steamers Silver Wave and Marengo were contracted to transport the canons south.  When citizens of Pittsburgh learned of this action, they protested knowing that the guns would be used to fortify the south.  The commander of the arsenal, John Symington, attempted to obey the order from Washington.  On Christmas Eve, angry crowds halted the movement of the canons and their military escorts to the Monongahela wharf.  Thirty-eight guns were loaded on the Silver Wave before the crowds blocked the movement and the order was countermanded.  Pittsburgh citizens threatened to blow the Silver Wave out of the water if it attempted to go down the Ohio River with the thirty-eight guns. 

 

Southern politicians were outraged that Pittsburgh citizens threatened to interfere with military orders for the distribution of federal artillery and munitions. 

 

The Silver Wave was a packet owned and operated by Capt John Smith McMillin.  The Silver Wave was also the first noncombat steamer to successfully pass the Vicksburg batteries in 1863.  Born in Georgetown, PA, Capt John S McMillin moved to Grandview Ave on Mt Washington in Pittsburgh in 1853.  In my heart, Capt John Smith McMillin will always be a Georgetown man. 

 

It can also be argued that the Pittsburgh citizens protest was the first act of war between the North and South.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Francis W Nash
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No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

Capstan Patent

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Capt John Smith McMillin was born on 23 Jul 1817 in Georgetown, PA.  During the Civil War, he achieved considerable fame for fearlessly running the batteries at Vicksburg as the owner and master of the steamer Silver Wave.  He was also an inventor. In that role, he was awarded a US Patent for the invention of the steam-powered capstan.[1]  The capstan patent was a Letters Patent No 63,917, granted on 16 Apr 1867 to John S McMillin for “an improvement in applying steam-power to the capstans of steamboats and other craft”. [2]

 

The steam-powered capstan patent was contested in court in at least two cases.  One suit, McMillan[3] v Rees[4] (17 OG, 1222), was filed against John S McMillin to “restrain the infringement” of the patent.  The circuit court opinions issued in both cases were not in favor of Capt McMillin.   The capstan patent was declared void “for want of any patentable invention”.  The basic arrangement of “shafts and cog-wheels” of the capstan was unchanged.  In the case against McMillin, the argument was that the modification to steam power did not warrant the issue of a patent because there was no “ingenuity of merit”, only the “ordinary judgement and skill of a trained mechanic”.   Capstans and steam engines were old technology, well known elements used in many places including grist mills and steamboats.      

 

Capt McMillin appealed the decisions.  On 17 Nov 1884, the Supreme Court of the US decided:

 

Upon the ground stated, we think the letters patent upon which the suit is based are void.  The decree of the circuit court by which the patent was sustained must therefore be reversed and the cause remanded with direction to dismiss the bill, and it is so ordered.  [5]

 

The history of the patent process was long and curious.  The first application for the patent was filed by Capt McMillin on 23 Jul 1855.  This application was rejected.   On 7 Feb 1856, the application was amended.  This amended application was also rejected.  Eleven years later, the application awarded the patent included the drawings and specifications of the first application unchanged.  The steam-powered capstan had been in wide use for more than a decade without any new state of the art developments or improvements.   That was the defense relied on to defeat the patent in court.              

 

More research is required to determine whether John S McMillin was demanding royalties from other steamboat owners and lines. 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes and References.



[1]   A capstan was a spool device mounted on the steamboat deck used for winding up heavy rope.  With booms and block-and-tackle, a capstan was used to move heavy loads on and off the boat.  It was also used when “sparring” the boat over sandbars.   Before the steam-power improvement, the cylinder was turned by muscle power.    

[2]   Decisions of the Commissioner of Patents and of the US Courts in Patent Cases for the Year 1884, Washington Government Printing Office, 1884, p472.

[3]  McMillin was misspelled, or at least spelled differently.  In the two lower court challenges, the name is spelled with an “in” on one docket and “”an” on the other.  Adding to the confusion, the name McMillen is found on markers in Georgetown Cemetery.   Changing the spelling of a family name was not uncommon at that time in our history.  Such changes occurred between generations rather than within a family.  That makes this case unusual.  

[4]   Rees is a famous steamboat family from Pittsburgh.   Thomas M, James H, or William, or the Rees firm could have filed the complaint.

[5]   Decisions of the Commissioner of Patents and of the US Courts in Patent Cases for the Year 1884, Washington Government Printing Office, 1884, p475.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Francis W Nash
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No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capt John Smith McMilllin

Monday, December 12th, 2016

Over the weekend, David McMillin introduced me to his triple great grandfather David Bruce McMillin who was born in Georgetown on 28 Jan 1810.   The McMillins owned Lots 52 and 53 on the town square.  Lot 7 on the river next to Capt Andrew Parr was listed to Steel McMillin.  A daughter, Sarah McMillin, married George Nash who owned property and a sawmill along Smith or Nash Run. 

 

The email exchange that peaked my interest was the statement that John Smith McMillin was a steamboat captain who owned the str Silver Wave.  I had read about the str Silver Wave, but had no idea of its connection to Georgetown.  Capt John S McMillin also invented the steam  capstan.  He was awarded a patent, but litigation regarding that patent was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court against Capt McMillin.

 

 

The str Silver Wave was the first non-gunboat to pass the batteries at Vicksburg.  So Georgetown had two captains with their steamers loaded with troops and supplies at Vicksburg.  The str Horizon owned by Captains John N McNurdy and Thomas S Calhoon, collided with the str Moderator on its second pass by the batteries.  The str Horizon owned was a complete loss with many lives lost.

In the coming days, I will be adding a bio of Capt John S McMillin, researching the capstan patent, and amending the pages to include him and his steamers histories.  Till then a bio of Capt McMillin follows.  It was  included in the history of A history of the Grace Church Parish transcribed or contributed by Joan Skinnell Benincasa. 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPT. JOHN SMITH MCMILLIN.

     John Smith McMillin, son of William and Catherine Smith McMillin, Scotch-Irish Covenanters, who settled in Beaver County at the close of the last century, was born July 23, 1817, in Georgetown, Beaver County, Pa., where he spent his youth and received a common school education. He was the fourth child of a family of thirteen children. When fifteen years old he engaged in keel-boating on the Ohio River; he next became a pilot on a steamboat, and soon, by quickness and attention to business, he became a captain and was master and owner of several fine boats, and ran regularly to Memphis, New Orleans and all points on the Lower Mississippi River. During the Civil War he won for himself high reputation for bravery by fearlessly running the blockade at Vicksburg in his boat, the Silver Wave, and carrying supplies to the army below the city.


     He invented and put into successful use the well-known steam capstan, now a necessary part of the equipment of every river steamboat.


     In April, 1853, he moved to Pittsburgh and built a home on Grandview avenue, corner of Bigham street, Mount Washington, where he continued to reside until his death.


     He was married twice. His first wife was Phebe Ann Fry, daughter of Dr. Thomas Fry, of Rhode Island, who moved with his family to Georgetown. They were married in Georgetown in December, 1846, and Mrs. McMillin died in Pittsburgh July 8, 1866, leaving no children. His second wife, Mary Bindley, eldest daughter of John C. and Elmina Bindley, of Pittsburgh, he married August 7, 1867. She and three children, one daughter and two sons, survive him. He was baptized by Dr. Killikelly, in Grace Church, July 10, 1866, at the funeral of his first wife, beside the remains, and was confirmed by Bishop Kerfoot in St. Peter’s Church, Pittsburgh, April 14, 1867. He was a vestryman of Grace Church nearly thirty years ; was several times senior warden ; six years treasurer of the church, and was frequently deputy of the same church to the Annual Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He was a liberal contributor to the expense of putting a basement schoolroom under the church in 1865, and also to the fund for finishing and furnishing the church in 1869. He was a contributor to the support of the church from the time he moved to Mount Washington and a communicant of the same for twenty-six years. He died March 11, 1893, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.


     The circumstances of his death were peculiar. On Saturday morning, March 11, 1893, he started as usual for his place of business in the city, the Bindley Hardware Company. Near his gate he met Miss Elizabeth Kenah, and they walked on together, the Captain being, as he often was, in a joking, playful mood. They were proceeding along Grandview avenue going toward the Monongahela Incline Plane, and had just crossed Stanwix street, when he threw his left hand up to his head with an exclamation of sudden pain, tottered, and laid hold of the fence at the side of the street, sank down to the ground and in a few moments (before a physician could reach him) was dead.


     The funeral service was held at his late residence on Tuesday, March 14, 1893, at 2 P. M., in the presence of a large gathering of his relations and friends, and he was buried the same afternoon in Allegheny Cemetery.


     He was a well-known man, of strong character, noted for his simplicity, honesty and sincerity.

 

The Rev. R. J. Coster, in an address at his funeral, said:


     “God’s providences sometimes touch our hearts with peculiar force and stir our feelings to their lowest depths. Their suddenness and their pathetic surroundings point to God’s immediate presence and tell us that they are the work of His Hand. We cannot read the secret counsels of the Almighty; but this we know, His ways are wise and merciful. He doeth all things well. His infinite wisdom precludes mistakes. In faith, therefore, we bow to His Blessed Will, believing that His ordering is best. In times of sudden bereavement, like this, the promises of God’s Holy Word come to give us resignation and comfort. The Church of Christ, the mother of all the believing, comes to us with her sacred ministrations; her lessons and her prayers speak to us in Christ’s name and bid us fear not, faint not.


     “These thoughts harmonize well with the occasion that brings us together here today. Our friend and fellow-servant of God, to whom His Master granted more than his three-score years and ten, has been suddenly taken from our midst. So unexpected was the summons that we can hardly yet realize that we shall no more meet him in his home; no more meet him in the church.  We have been so long accustomed to see his tall form and his striking features, so long accustomed to see his kindly smile and to hear cordial welcome, that we shall sadly miss him many days. We had learned to look upon him almost as a permanent part of this community. For forty years he had occupied this home and identified himself with the interests of this section of the city. Most or all of those years he has been closely connected with Grace Church. For nearly thirty years he was one of its vestrymen; he was several times senior warden, for many years treasurer, and frequently he represented his parish in the Diocesan Convention All these years he and his family have been members of Grace Church, and often have they come to its aid in times of need. Some of you have known our departed friend longer than I have, but for nearly twenty-five years I have enjoyed his friendship and confidence.


     His home was always open to me, and here I always met a kindly greeting and a
The Rev. R. J. Coster, in an address at his funeral, said:


     “God’s providences sometimes touch our hearts with peculiar force and stir our feelings to their lowest depths. Their suddenness and their pathetic surroundings point to God’s immediate presence and tell us that they are the work of His Hand. We cannot read the secret counsels of the Almighty; but this we know, His ways are wise and merciful. He doeth all things well. His infinite wisdom precludes mistakes. In faith, therefore, we bow to His Blessed Will, believing that His ordering is best. In times of sudden bereavement, like this, the promises of God’s Holy Word come to give us resignation and comfort. The Church of Christ, the mother of all the believing, comes to us with her sacred ministrations; her lessons and her prayers speak to us in Christ’s name and bid us fear not, faint not.


     “These thoughts harmonize well with the occasion that brings us together here today. Our friend and fellow-servant of God, to whom His Master granted more than his three-score years and ten, has been suddenly taken from our midst. So unexpected was the summons that we can hardly yet realize that we shall no more meet him in his home; no more meet him in the church.  We have been so long accustomed to see his tall form and his striking features, so long accustomed to see his kindly smile and to hear cordial welcome, that we shall sadly miss him many days. We had learned to look upon him almost as a permanent part of this community. For forty years he had occupied this home and identified himself with the interests of this section of the city. Most or all of those years he has been closely connected with Grace Church. For nearly thirty years he was one of its vestrymen; he was several times senior warden, for many years treasurer, and frequently he represented his parish in the Diocesan Convention All these years he and his family have been members of Grace Church, and often have they come to its aid in times of need. Some of you have known our departed friend longer than I have, but for nearly twenty-five years I have enjoyed his friendship and confidence.


     His home was always open to me, and here I always met a kindly greeting and a
cordial welcome. I constantly met him on terms of closest intimacy, and this intimacy only increased my confidence and respect for the man. As one learned to know him well, and to understand his ways and modes of expression, one could not fail to appreciate the sterling traits of his character, his simplicity, his honesty, his sincerity. Like every man of strong character, he had his peculiarities, and these peculiarities caused him sometimes to be misunderstood by those who imperfectly knew him. But to his intimate friends these peculiarities only intensified his personality and made him the man that they love to honor and remember. His sudden departure while still busy with his ordinary duties, the tragic termination of his active life, will tend to prolong his memory and to deepen the keenness of our sense of loss. But let us not sorrow for him as men without hope. He was a believer in Christ. He was a communicant of the Church. He died in the faith; and although he was reserved in the expression of his religious convictions, as most men of a like character are, yet he accepted the great truths of the Gospel and died trusting in his Lord. We can, therefore, lay him to rest believing that God will deal mercifully with him for Christ’s sake and give him the rest and peace that shall be the portion of his faithful people.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burials.

 

 

July 10. 1866:
PHEBE ANN McMILLIN, aged 50 years, wife of Capt. John S. McMillin, of Grandview avenue and Bigham street. Service at the church, conducted by Dr. Killikelly, the rector, assisted by the Rev. Dr. Page and the Rev. Mr. Snively, of the city. Buried in Allegheny Cemetery. “A devout communicant of Grace Church, a most excellent Christian woman and a valuable member of the church and of society.”

 

March 14, 1893:
JOHN SMITH McMILLIN, aged 76 years. Service at the late residence of the deceased, Grandview avenue and Bigham street, and interment in Allegheny Cemetery, the Rev. R. J. Coster, his pastor and friend for twenty-five years, officiating. A strong character, noted for his simplicity and integrity. (See obituary.)

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Francis W Nash
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Vintage Book

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

Transportation in the Ohio Valley fly leaf.

My reading this week has been A History of Transportation in the Ohio Valley by Charles Henry Ambler published in 1931.  The first edition history was lent to me by Michael Libenson who is the great great grandson of Capt Thomas Stevenson Calhoon.   The many comments and corrections hand written in the margins of the book make this book special.  Those comments were written by Harriet Darrington (Calhoon) Ewing (b ? d 1950), the daughter of Capt Thomas S Calhoon and great grandAunt of Michael Libenson. Her writing is the closest thing we have to a voice into these steamboat captains lives.  Mrs WH Ewing dated her copy of the book Oct 26, 1931.

 

Transportation in the Ohio Valley p173.

 

Along with her notes, Harriet D Calhoon taped a response letter from CH Ambler to the front flyleaf.  The response, on West Virginia University letterhead, was dated 13 Aug 1930.  The content of the letter indicated that the exchange of information was too late to be included in the forthcoming book.  Whether a meeting or additional correspondence between them ever took place is unclear.  There is no record of such a meeting and no updated edition of the book.  

 

 

 

 

Transportation in the Ohio Valley p293.

 

Harriet D Calhoon is well known to those with long memories.  Often Capt Frederick Way used her comments in articles about Georgetown in the S&D Reflector.  See Vol 2 No 4 Dec 1965 p10,12.

My final comment/concern is how many books similar to this history written by captains or pilots have I missed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

 

 

 

Old Economy Village

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

I recently returned from a visit to Old Economy Village in Ambridge PA.  Old Economy Village is the last of three settlements established by the Harmony Society.  Ms Sarah Buffington, curator and employee of the PA Historical and Museum Commmission guided me through their archives.  Time well spent.

 

The OE archives have a treasure of wonderful books and documents. In 1825 the Harmonites built a steamboat named the str William Penn. The str William Penn was one of the first 25 western river steamboats built. That alone makes it significant.  Beyond that the archives contain letters, to and from Johann G Rapp and some in German, documenting its conception and design by Henry Miller Shreve to its sale.  Drawings of the design also exist.  Most of the other boats of that day have only their name remembered.  Their details have been lost to history.  Following the Harmonite correspondence and weaving Shreve and the captain and pilot selections into the tapestry would make a valuable historical work of art.

 

Ms Buuffington is also entwined with the history of the Civil War Battle for the Buffington Island.  So I reread the article about Morgan’s Raiders in the S&D Reflector, June 2013 by Myron J Smith Jr with greater interest.  That Jul 1863 Sunday, my great grandfather made a Paul Revere like ride from Georgetown to Hookstown to raise the alarm that Morgan’s Raiders were coming.  It was reported that you could hear gun fire all over the county. A gun forged at the Pittsburgh arsenal was brought down river to defend Pittsburgh from Gen Morgan.. It ended its service in Georgetown’s vets memorial.  I have a picture of two Kinsey boys “riding” the cannon in c1928. After 78 years as a monument in Oct 1942 the relic was donated as scrap metal for the WWII effort.

To me those stories are fascinating.

 

 

 

 

 

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No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

 

Fantastic Week

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

As my wife says, I never tire of telling Georgetown steamboat stories which is Oldspeak for boring people to death. That as background, my presentation to the Beaver Area Heritage Foundation was the highlight of my summer.   There I met many interesting people with a bent for local history.  Every lecture I do I learn something.  Sometimes, like at BAHF, I Iearn a lot.

 

On Mon before the BAHF presentation, I received an email from the great-great-grandson of Thomas S Calhoon = Mr Mike Libenson.  Mr Libenson was planning to visit Georgetown with his daughter on Sat and notified me via GeorgetownSteamboats.  From Boston, they carried gifts of gold: a book published in 1932 on Ohio Rriver Transportation and photos of Poe men that I had been unable to identify.  In addition to those items, Mr Libenson also has a complete genealogy of the Calhoon, Poe, and Parr families prepared by Dr John Ewing, Capt Thomas S Calhoon’s grandson.  I plan spending much time with that volume.

 

While visiting the Georgetown Cemetery with the Libensons, we spoke to Mr Tom Lombard who is the president of the Georgetown Cemetery Maintenance Association (donations greatly apppreciated).  Mr Lombard provided the history of the Calhoon cemetery lot, and others, plus a map of the cemetery with every stone marked and accommpanied by a listing by name, where legible, of the people interred.  The map and listing are a fantastic find that I will compare/merge with work already in progress. 

 

 

 

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No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

 

 

BAHF Program

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

 

BAHF Postcard

BAHF Postcard

 Tue eve, I told a Georgetown story at the Beaver Area Heritage Foundation 2015 Speakers Series.  To me it was fascinating to see so many people interested in local history.  The people there had an incredible wealth of steamboat knowledge and river history.  Truly an inspiring evening for me.

 

The McDermotts, Judy and Jim, and the Deelos, Judy annd Mike, could not have been more accommodating.

 

I wish I knew more, and was a better presenter of, GeorgetownSteamboat stories.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Francis W Nash All Rights Reserved

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Steamboat Photos

Friday, August 14th, 2015

A wonderful series of steamboat photos has been posted on the East Liverpool Historiical Society website.  The images are attributed to Jim Paulaskas of Chester, WV.

 

The photos were taken in Georgetown, PA by members of the Capt Andrew Parr family circa 1899.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Francis W Nash All Rights Reserved

No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.