Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Stephens Smith, 1 September 1786

From William Stephens Smith

London Septr. 1st. 1786.


I have the honor of forwarding to your Excellency a Copy of a Letter I received this day from Mr. Barclay at Morrocco dated the 16th. of July ulto. I have sent a Copy to Mr. Jay and shall forward a duplicate by the next Vessel. I am your Excellency’s most Obedt. Humble Servt.,

W. S. Smith

RC (MHi): postmarked; addressed. Noted in SJL as received 23 Sep. 1786. Enclosure: Barclay to Commissioners, 16 July 1786.

Smith did, on this date, send a copy to Mr. Jay, but the chief burden of his letter of transmittal was that of informing Jay about John Ledyard’s plans: “During my tour on the Continent the last season, I formed an acquaintance with a Mr. Ledyard, a Gentleman from Connecticut, who accompanied Capt. Cook on his last Voyage to Kamtschkatka; he was about offering his services to the Empress of Russia, for exploring the western Coast of America, which it is the received opinion is not very distant from the back parts of Siberia and the place abovemention’d. He has been disappointed in his pursuits, notwithstanding in Paris, he was much countenanced and protected by Mr. Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette, in his negotiations with the Russian Ambassador &c. &c. After meeting with various impediments he gave up all thoughts of bringing the subject to that benificial point of operation, which he at first expected, and in consequence of some allurements from an English nobleman at Paris, he came here with an intention of entering into the service of this Country for the purpose of visiting and exploring that Coast and Country.—Upon being acquainted with his pursuits, I endeavour’d to convince him, that it was his duty as an American Citizen, to exercise his talents and Industry for the immediate service of his own Country, and if the Project he was upon, could be benificial to any, his Country upon every Principle was entitled to those services.—After a few conversations on the subject, he consented to move independent of this Court, and a Vessel being on the point of sailing for that Coast, after supplying himself with a few necessary articles for his Voyage, and march, he procured a Passage, with a promise from the Captain to land him on the Western Coast, from which he means to attempt a march thro’ the Indian nations, to the back parts of the Atlantic States, for the purpose of examining the Country and its Inhabitants, and expects he will be able to make his way thro’, possessed of such information of that Country and its produce, as will be of great advantage to ours. This is to be proved. It is a daring, wild attempt, and I have my doubts of his success. But finding him determined to pursue the subject, I thought he had better do it in the way he now is, than bind himself in any manner to this people. He embarked the last week free and independent of the World, pursuing his plan unimbarassed by Contract or obligation. If he succeeds, and in the Course of 2 or 3 years, should visit our Country by this amaizing Circuit, he may bring with him some interesting information, if he fails, and is never heard of, which I think most probable, there is no harm done. He dies in an unknown Country, and if he composes himself in his last moments with this reflection, that his project was great, and the undertaking, what few men are capable of, it will, to his mind, smooth the passage. He is perfectly calculated for the attempt; he is robust and healthy, and has an immense passion to make some discoveries which will benifit society and insure him, agreable to his own expression, ‘a small degree of honest fame.’ The Vessel sails round Cape Horn, bound to Nootka sound in the Pacific ocean, situated on the northwest Coast of America in Lat. 40° No. At this place he intends to land, and begin his march nearly a south East course. It may not be improper for your Excellency to be acquainted with these Circumstances, and you are the best judge of the propriety of extending them further” (Smith to Jay, 1 Sep. 1786; DNA: PCC, No. 92, p. 136–9).

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