Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Seth Jenkins, 21 June 1791

To Seth Jenkins

Philadelphia June 21. 1791.


According to my promise when I had the pleasure of seeing you at Hudson, I have examined my notes made when I was at Bordeaux and find that the lowest priced white wines of that canton cost 75 livres the ton, which contains 1000 French pints, their pint almost exactly our quart: that they yeild from a fifth to a sixth of spirit on distillation, and that the smallest wines make the best brandy. According to this a ton will yeild 200 quarts or 50 gallons of spirit, which will be 30 sous or ⅔ New York money the gallon. I think you told me this was the price of a gallon of molasses now in the West Indies. It is then to be considered whether a saving may not be made in the freight, and a gain by the superior quality of the spirit distilled from wine. You have probably a correspondent at Bordeaux: if not, and you cannot readily get one well recommended, you may safely address yourself to Mr. Fenwick a native of Maryland, consul at Bordeaux for the United states, who is an honest man, and pretty well acquainted with the subject of wines.

I inclose you one of my reports on the whale and cod fisheries, and will be obliged to you if, in reading it, you will have a pen in your hand, and make notes, ever so roughly, of any errors you may discover in it, and any new facts you can furnish me with, and be so obliging as to send me the notes. I am with great esteem Sir Your most obedient humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (William I. Davis, Newark, Ohio, 1944); at foot of text: “Capt. Seth Jenkins.” PrC (DLC); mutilated, so that about a third of the text is lost.

Captain Seth Jenkins was a Nantucket whaler who, with his brother Thomas Jenkins, Alexander Coffin, and others, founded the whaling port of Hudson in 1783. The town prospered so that within three years it had four fine wharves, several warehouses, a ropewalk, a sail loft, a spermaceti factory, a distillery, and about 150 dwellings (Edouard A. Stackpole, The Sea Hunters, p. 100–1). TJ saw Jenkins at Hudson when he and Madison passed through on May 25, 1791. They breakfasted at the thriving port after spending the night at Claverack. TJ clearly had two objects in view for Jenkins’ distillery: in arguing that better and cheaper spirits could be produced from wine than from molasses, he hoped to lessen American dependence upon the British West Indies and to increase trade relations with France. With the distillery exporting a thousand hogsheads of rum annually, TJ must have been disappointed that his argument was not convincing to Jenkins (Jenkins to TJ, 5 July 1791).

Index Entries