Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Rodolph Vall-Travers, 16 September 1795

From Rodolph Vall-Travers

Altona, near Hamburg, Septr. 16th. 1795.


The Secretary of Mr. Jaÿ, your Plenipotentiary in England, having obligingly taken Charge, after his Patron’s Departure for America, of mÿ last Packet to your Honor, as President of your philosophical illustrious Society, dated the 1t. of June last from London: I hope, it came safe and officially to Hand in due Time. It contained, (besides Mr. Cavallho’s Theory of magnetic Fluids and their Effects on the Needle, laid before the roÿal Societÿ, when I was present at its Meeting) a Hint, given me by Mr. Patterson, the present liberal Proprietor and Improver of the celebrated Leverian Museum, of his Readiness to treat with your Society, about a Cession of all the numerous Duplicate Specimens of his rich Collections in most Branches of natural History, in best Preservation, to serve as a considerable Foundation for a similar american instructive Museum. He wou’d willingly recieve, in Exchange, an equal Number of Specimens, of american natural Curiosities, not contained as yet in his own Collections. The overplus, on either Side, to be ballanced by an equitable Compensation. This Negociation, if attended to by your Society, can be carried on by a direct Correspondence with Mr. Patterson and his Son.

The chief Improvements I found to be made in England, in mathematical and philosophical Instruments, since the Departure of my late Friend, Dr. Benjn. Franklin, and mine, being contained in the inclosed Catalogue of Messs. haas and Hurter, of great Marlborough-Street London, I herewith beg Leave to inclose it for the Society’s Information, and occasional Demands.

My Health and far advanced Age requiring a milder Climate, under a well regulated republican Government, propitious to Arts, Sciences, and every Branch of useful Knowledge and Industry I cou’d wish to repair, the Sooner the better, to Venice, or its Vicinity: and shou’d rejoice very much, if my Abode in that, or any other Part of Italy, cou’d, by your Means, be made Subservient to some beneficial Objects of your Congress, and its confederate States, Societies and Individuals; either in the mercantile Line, as Consul; or in the literary Line, by instructive and interesting Communications of the most important literarÿ Productions in every learned academy in Italy; and lastly in the political Line, in Objects of defensive and commercial Treaties and Alliances, of Finances, of Improvements in Agriculture, Horticulture, and Manufactures, in Proportion to the Scale of Power, and the Tenor of Instructions, I might be entrusted with and enabled to act, with Diligence, and Energy.

Shou’d these my humble Offers meet with your kind Notice and Approbation, so as to be laid before your venerable and illustrious President, for his mature Consideration and possible Sanction: I wou’d strain every Exertion, to render myself not totally unworthy of both your Confidence and Protection; being with never ceasing Admiration of your eminent Merits, and fervent Prayers for your mutual Preservation and Prosperity Sir! Your Honors Most sincerily devoted humble Servant:

Rodolf Valltravers

RC (PPAmP: Archives); beneath dateline: “recommended to Messs. Lotz & Solltau, Merchants, on the Herren-Graben, at Hamborough”; at foot of text: “To T. Jefferson; Philadelfia”; endorsed by TJ as received 27 May 1796 and so recorded in SJL; notation by John Vaughan on verso of last page: “Recd at Philos: Society Communicated by directions of Mr Jefferson Read: 19 Augt 1796 Parkinson (of Levin Musœum) proposal for Exchanges.” Enclosed in TJ to David Rittenhouse, 3 July 1796.

Vall-Travers’s last packet … dated the 1t. of June last is printed under 29 May 1795. From 1791 until January 1795, TJ was one of three vice presidents of the American Philosophical Society, but he did not become its president until 1797 (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, xxii, pt. 3 [1885], 187, 201, 211, 217, 227, 235, 246). Mr. Patterson: that is, James Parkinson.

The inclosed catalogue may have been A Catalogue of Mathematical and Philosophical Instruments Made and Sold by J. B. Haas, No 4, Silver-Street, Golden-Square (London, 1790?). Messs. Haas and Hurter, who were possibly of Swiss origin, made barometers, thermometers, and other scientific instruments (E. G. R. Taylor, The Mathematical Practitioners of Hanoverian England 1714–1840 [Cambridge, 1966], 313, 314; Maurice Daumas, Scientific Instruments of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Mary Holbrook [New York, 1972], 219, 245).

After considering Vall-Travers’s letter to TJ at a meeting of 19 Aug. 1796, the American Philosophical Society—whose published minutes erroneously describe it as a communication of 1796—ordered that the “draft of an answer” be prepared. At its 7 Oct. 1796 meeting the Society approved the reply presented by its corresponding secretaries and the publication in American newspapers of the Leverian Museum’s request for exchanges of specimens (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, xxii, pt. 3 [1885], 241, 242).

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