Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Jonathan Williams, 7 March 1801

From Jonathan Williams

Mount Pleasant near Philadelphia March 7, 1801:


Wishing to submit my slender Performances to the candid Examination of those of my Philosophical Associates whose talents and acquirements inspire me with the utmost deference, and whose approbation is the first object of my Ambition, I took the liberty of sending you, among others, a Copy of my thermometrical improvements in Navigation.

Permit me now to ask a place in your private Library, for the inclosed translations of a System of Artillery and Fortification, which I believe to be the most approved, in a Country where these branches of the Art military are in the highest perfection.

You will give me credit, sir, for great Labour, & (I hope) for tolerable accuracy; but the technical nature of the works forbids any claims to literary honour. If they should tend to establish uniformity among the Artists of our Country, they will combine efficacy with Oeconomy, and eventually render us in this respect independent of foreign aid.

These Translations were gratuitously made at the request of the late Administration, but I have added to the latter one, an appendix of my own, with a model in Wood which I wish to deposit where it can best answer its object. It is, I presume, in compliment for these Services that the late President of the United States has honoured me with a Commission as Major in the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers, for I never made any personal Application of the kind. I have however accepted it with gratitude, and as long as I may be continued in Service, it shall be my pride, as it will be my duty, to contribute all in my Power to the perfection of that sort of national Defence, which, being in its nature permanent and not suddenly attainable, becomes important even in peace, being a preparative, which, if it should not avert, will at least render foreign attacks less formidable.

With the greatest Deference & Respect I have the honour to be Sir Your faithfull Associate & Servant

Jona Williams

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the American Philosophical Society”; endorsed by TJ as received 12 Mch. and so recorded in SJL. PrC (PPRF: Rush-Williams-Biddle Papers); closing and signature cut out. Enclosures: see below.

Thermometrical improvements in navigation: in January 1800 Williams sent TJ a copy of Thermometrical Navigation, his book on measuring water temperature to aid ocean navigation (Vol. 31:308).

Williams had made translations for the War Department of two works previously published in French: A Treatise of Artillery by Heinrich Otto von Scheel and The Elements of Fortification by Guillaume Le Blond. Apparently both translations were printed in Philadelphia in 1800. Following the loss of most or all copies of The Elements of Fortification in the War Department fire in November 1800, that work was reissued in 1801. Williams added an appendix to it as a brief practical explication, for an American audience, of some elements of Le Blond’s theoretical discussion. Williams had made a model in wood of part of a fortification to illustrate “at one view the exemplification of all the maxims and principles contained in this treatise” (The Elements of Fortification: Translated from the French, 2d ed. [Washington, 1801], 44–5; Theodore J. Crackel, Mr. Jefferson’s Army: Political and Social Reform of the Military Establishment, 1801–1809 [New York, 1987], 56–7, 198n; 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. 1161; Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 440).

On 16 Feb. the Senate had approved John Adams’s nomination of Williams as a major in the Second Regiment of Artillerists and Engineers (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States… to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:378, 380).

TJ replied to Williams on 14 Mch.: “Th: Jefferson returns his thanks to Major Williams for the books he has been so kind as to send him. he will be very happy to see the corps of which he is a member profit by his example and pursue the line of information he has so well pointed out. he prays him to accept assurances of his high consideration & respect” (RC owned by Gordon A. Block, Jr., Philadelphia, 1947, addressed: “Majr. Jonathan Williams Mount pleasant near Philadelphia,” franked and postmarked; PrC in DLC).

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