Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on Conversations with William Strickland, May 1795

Notes on Conversations with William Strickland


May. 1795. William Strickland esq. son of Sr. George Strickland of York in England informs me that about 3. years ago he found in the herald’s office in London papers vouching the following facts.

That Sebastian Cabot, having grown old, and become poor, petitioned the crown for some recompence in consideration of his voyages and discoveries in America, and was allowed a pension.

That a Strickland, an ancestor of his, had been one of Cabot’s captains in those voyages, and petitioned also for a reward. But not being in necessitous circumstances, as Cabot was, he prayed that he might be permitted either to assume the newly discovered American bird, the turkey, for his crest, or to change the crest of his arms for that (I do not recollect which) as a token of his services. That the permission was accordingly given him by grant from the crown in the 1st. year of E.6. which he read in the herald’s office: and that the crest of his family’s arms has ever since been a turkey.—He mentioned that the circumstance which occasioned the propagation of the round potatoe in Ireland so long before England was that one or some of Sr. Walter Raleigh’s ships touched in Ireland on their return from America, and the roots being still sound, were left there.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, with title inserted afterward in the same ink; endorsed by TJ: “Turkey.”

William Strickland (1753–1834), from whom TJ received this information, was the eldest son of Sir George Strickland, a Yorkshire agriculturist who introduced new methods of crop rotation and new types of farm machinery. A naturalist and honorary member of the British Board of Agriculture, Strickland established his own farm at Welburn in York before succeeding his father as the sixth baron of Boynton in 1808. He toured the United States in 1794 and 1795 collecting information on American farming practices for the Board that he later used as the basis for a critical assessment in Observations on the Agriculture of the United States of America (London, 1801). See Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 819. During Strickland’s visit to Monticello from 14 to 16 May 1795, TJ gave him drawings and a small model of his moldboard plow, which the Englishman praised as an invention “formed upon the truest and most mechanical principle of any I had seen.” Strickland’s 1798 paper “On the Use of the Thermometer in Navigation” was read by Jonathan Williams at a meeting of the American Philosophical Society in 1800 and published in the Society’s Transactions two years later. TJ’s subsequent correspondence with Strickland—marked by exchanges of publications, seeds, and information on agriculture and natural history—continued until 1805 (William Strickland, Journal of a Tour in the United States of America, 1794–1795, ed. James E. Strickland [New York, 1971], xi–xii, 22–3n; Cokayne, Baronetage, description begins George E. Cokayne, ed., Complete Baronetage, Exeter, 1900–06, 5 vols. description ends ii, 115–16; TJ to James Steptoe, 17 May 1795; Strickland to TJ, 20, 28 May 1796, 16 July 1798; TJ to Strickland, 12 Mch. 1797, 23 Mch. 1798). For the dates of Strickland’s visit to Monticello, see his journal, with a printed format for recording weather, flora, and fauna, which he kept from 19 July 1794 to 1 Sep. 1795 while traveling in the United States (photocopy on deposit NHi: Strickland Papers).

To prepare for his trips to various locations in the United States, Strickland kept two notebooks, one arranged by state and the other by sites he planned to visit, in which he copied passages from various published sources, including the writings of the Marquis de Chastellux and John Bartram. In both notebooks, Strickland quoted extensively from the Stockdale edition of TJ’s Notes on the State of Virginia (London, 1787). In his entry for “Monticello” in the second notebook, Strickland departed from his usual practice of simply excerpting sources and set down questions and topics he planned to discuss with TJ as follows: “to enquire of Mr: Jefferson concerning the oil nut; which grows three miles on this side Greenbriar town at the foot of the hill, and again on this side near the River. Bartram.

Enquire after the Pea Vine in all this country

Buffalo clover, and Seneca scent-Grass.

At least 50 caves are worked on the Greenbriar for Making nitre—Are they continued?

Silk grass and wild hemp. Round horned Elk. Indian tumuli are spheroidical about 40 feet diam: and 12 feet high, round the base an excavation out of which the earth had been taken to form the hillock—Jeff: P:158—Why hemp is not cultivated in Virginia—Mr: Jefferson has a Park containing some American deer. Chast: V: II. P: 51.

In Virginia is a native hemp called silk grass the thread of which is stronger than hemp, beside which they have 3 or 4 sorts of native hemp which thrive in the poorest lands. Amer. Husb: VI. P275.

Cassia Chamdæcrista—

After a long N:E: storm, rain will sometimes penetrate through walls of well burnt brick and good mortar: therefore brick and stone Houses are not accounted wholesome in Virginia. Jeff: P: 227” (unpaginated notebook in NHi: William Strickland Papers).

For the pension granted by Edward VI to Sebastian Cabot in 1548, see George P. Winship, Cabot Bibliography … (New York, 1900), 46.

Concerning the Turkey crest that the same monarch granted to the Strickland family in 1550, see G. Bernard Wood, Historic Homes of Yorkshire (Edinburgh, 1957), 119–20. TJ had an ongoing interest in the history of the introduction of the North American turkey to England (TJ to Hugh Williamson, 10 Jan. 1801). He made the following note on the subject:


“Modus for the tithe of any thing of late introduction into England as turkies, hops, and whatever is in the same predicament, cannot be a valid modus for want of a sufficient duration [for a modus can only be founded on prescription from time immemorial] 2. Wooddeson. 106. and quotis. Watson 408. (edn. 1701) Bunb. 308.” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 98: 16867; undated; written entirely in TJ’s hand at the top of a narrow scrap; brackets in original).

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