Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Charles Douglas, 16 May 1801

From Charles Douglas

Alexandria 16th: May 1801.


I cannot dispense with troubling you with my acknowledgments for your condescension in being pleased to regard my offers of service by Mrs. Douglas. Shou’d you from any inducement honor me with your protection, I shall endeavor to be grateful; but certainly (like Dr. Johnson to the Ld: Chancellor) shall consider myself for the rest of my life “with more regard for so flattering a distinction.”

But to merit your notice by some distinction, however desirable I cannot pretend, unless I might presume to say by integrity—

In my profession I have acquired the usual Certificates.—And from Surgeons Hall, what is call’d the grand Dyploma, constituting me a Member of the Surgeons Company in London in 1777.

From a long series of sickness, and anxiety in bad cases, I have been driven more than once, to attempt a change—All that I have effected, is a sale of Drugs, which in some measure exempts me from a sick room.

Sensible Sir to your peculiar situation, and as a stranger; I feel a diffidence in obtruding a petition, which wou’d be gratified by your notice in any line, to which common talents might recommend me. I will trespass, no longer on your time, but to assure you I am, and always have been with every respectful sentiment, Sir Your obliged mo: Hble Servt:

Ch: Douglas

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); closing quotation marks supplied; endorsed by TJ as received 17 May and so recorded in SJL with notation “Off.”

Charles Douglas (d. 1823) leased a three-story building on Prince Street in Alexandria in 1797, where he sold drugs and medical equipment, worked as a dentist, treated patients with paralytic and nervous disorders and other conditions using an “electrifying” machine, and promoted inoculation against smallpox. In 1805, the custom house at Alexandria reported that Douglas was caring for a disabled seaman. In 1811, he served as physician for the St. Andrew’s Society (James D. Munson, comp., Alexandria, Virginia, Alexandria Hustings Court: Deeds, 1783–1797 [Bowie, Md., 1990], 218; Miller, Alexandria Artisans description begins T. Michael Miller, comp., Artisans and Merchants of Alexandria, Virginia, 1780–1820, Bowie, Md., 1991–92, 2 vols. description ends , 1:111–12; T. Michael Miller, Portrait of a Town: Alexandria, District of Columbia [Virginia], 1820–1830 [Bowie, Md., 1995], 106; Alexandria Advertiser and Commercial Intelligencer, 29 Mch. 1803; Alexandria Daily Advertiser, 6, 14 Apr., 24 Oct. 1804; Alexandria Daily Gazette, Commercial & Political, 4 Dec. 1809, 10 May 1811; Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 10:813).

So flattering a distinction: in 1747, William Warburton, who later became bishop of Gloucester, praised Samuel Johnson as “a man of parts and genius.” James Boswell noted: “Of this flattering distinction shewn to him by Warburton, a very grateful remembrance was ever entertained by Johnson, who said, ‘He praised me at a time when praise was of value to me’” (James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, ed. R. W. Chapman, rev. ed. [New York, 1970], 127–8; Pat Rogers, The Samuel Johnson Encyclopedia [Westport, Conn., 1996], 417).

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