Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Stuart, 11 April 1796

From John Stuart

Greenbrier County 11th. April 1796.


Being informed you have retired from public Business and returned to your former Residence in Albemarle, and observing by your Notes your very curious desire for Examining into the antiquitys of our Country, I thought the Bones of a Tremendious animal of the Clawed kind lately found in a Cave by some Saltpetre manufacturers about five miles from my House might afford you some amusement, have therefore procured you such as were saved, (for before I was informed of them they were chiefly lossed). I donot remember to have seen any account in the History of our Country, or any other of such an animal which probabelly was of the Lion kind; I am induced to think so from a perfect figure of that animal carved upon a rock near the confluence of the Great Kenawha, which appears might been done many Centurys ago. The Claw I send must have been one of the Shortest for the man who owns the cave asures me he had one of the same kind that measured precisely eight Inches in Length. Other Bones of Human Creatures have been found here in Caves of a surpriseing size and uncommon kind some years ago, I should been happy to had it my power to have sent to you with these, but none are now to be got, if these should be worthy your observation it would give me much pleasure to hear Conjectures. And shall be Happy at all Times to communicate any thing from here you might desire to Know. And remain with very great respect Your Most Obe. Humbl. Servt.

John Stuart

RC (ViW); endorsed by TJ as received 12 May 1796 and so recorded in SJL.

John Stuart (1749–1823) was born in Augusta County and before the Revolution moved to the Greenbrier River, where he acquired large landholdings. Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates from Greenbrier County, 1778–79, he also served as county clerk, 1780–1807, was a lieutenant colonel of militia, and in 1788 was a delegate to the Virginia convention to ratify the Constitution. On TJ’s nomination, Stuart was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in April 1797. The Virginia Historical Society posthumously published his recollections of settlement on the frontier (Johnston, Memorials description begins Frederick Johnston, Memorials of Old Virginia Clerks, Lynchburg, 1888 description ends , 193–7; John Stuart, Memoir of Indian Wars, and Other Occurrences [Richmond, 1833]; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, Richmond, 1978 description ends , 129, 134; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, xxii, pt. 3 [1884], 256; TJ to Stuart, 10 Nov. 1796).

Your notes: Notes on the State of Virginia. This letter was the first report to TJ of the discovery of the fossil bones of the megalonyx; see Memoir on the Megalonyx, [10 Feb. 1797].

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