James Rumsey

In St Margaret's Church Westminster is a wooden tablet in memory of James Rumsey of West Virginia, USA, inventor, who was buried in the churchyard on 24th December 1792. The tablet, with white lettering on a blue ground, was unveiled in 1955 by Admiral the Hon. Sir Guy Russell in the presence of the United States Ambassador. Rumsey previously had no memorial in the church or yard. The tablet also forms a memorial to Elizabeth Herrick, niece of the poet, as her previous memorial had disappeared from the church in the 18th century. The inscription concerning James reads:

This epitaph by Robert Herrick...was restored in memory of James Rumsey whom the State of West Virginia honours as the inventor of the steamboat, which he demonstrated privately to George Washington in 1784 and publicly on the Potomac rive at Shepherdstown, W.Va. 3 December 1787. Born of English parents in Cecil County, Maryland in 1743, he died while lecturing on the principles of steam navigation to English scientists in London and was buried in St Margaret's churchyard 24 December 1792

There is no connection between Rumsey and Herrick just that the people of West Virginia paid for the Herrick replacement in order to have a memorial to James as well.

James was born at Calvert, Maryland and the family moved to Bath (now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia). His cousin Benjamin was a Maryland statesman. George Washington stayed at the family inn and James showed him his plans for a steam boat and he obtained a patent. He was America's first engineer. In 1788 he came to London. It is assumed he lived in the parish of St Margaret's.

Further reading

His will is at The National Archives, Kew, Surrey

The Rumseian Society


24th December 1792


Scientist; engineer


St Margaret's Church

Memorial Type


James Rumsey
James Rumsey tablet

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2022 Dean and Chapter of Westminster