Early life and family
Robert Fulton was born on a farm in Little Britain, Pennsylvania, on November 14, 1765. He had three sisters – Isabella, Elizabeth, and Mary, and a younger brother,
Abraham. Fulton's father, Robert, had been a close friend of the father of painter Benjamin West. The younger Fulton later met West in England and they became friends.
A drawing of Fulton's invention Nautilus
Fulton stayed in Philadelphia for six years, where he painted portraits and landscapes, drew houses and machinery, and was able to send money home to help support his mother. In 1785 he bought a farm at Hopewell Township in Washington County for £80 Sterling and moved his mother and family into it. While in Philadelphia, he met a number of prominent figures in the city, including Benjamin Franklin (1705/1706-1790). He was known for both his political and writing abilities and his scientific and inventing knowledge. At the age of 23, Fulton decided to visit Europe.
On January 8, 1808, Fulton married Harriet Livingston (1786–1824), the daughter of Walter Livingston and niece of Robert Livingston, prominent men in the Hudson River area, whose family dated to the colonial era. They had four children: Robert, Julia, Mary, and Cornelia.