From Pierpont Edwards
New Haven Octr. 27th 1801
This will be delivered to you by Mr Eli Whitney of this City; the gentleman who erected and carries on the celebrated manufactory of arms in this neighbourhood, and with whom the United States have formed a contract for manufacturing a large number of those impliments of death—Mr Whitney is the inventor and patentee of the machine for cleaning cotton, so much used in the Southern states; He is considered here as a gentleman of first respectability for talents, and particularly for mathematical and mechanical information, and I, with great pleasure, recommend him to your favorable notice—
I am with the highest respect and most sincere regard your Obed Servt
RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Excellency Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 Nov. and so recorded in SJL.
In 1798, inventor Eli Whitney, Edwards’s son-in-law, received a contract to supply 10,000 muskets to the U.S. government, to be delivered in full by the end of September 1800. Produced at his Whitneyville factory near New Haven, the weapons were among the first items manufactured in America using the principle of interchangeable parts. Despite his advanced production techniques, however, Whitney did not deliver his first 500 muskets until September 1801 and would not complete the contract until January 1809 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; McLachlan, Princetonians, 1748–1768 description begins James McLachlan, Princetonians, 1748–1768: A Biographical Dictionary, Princeton, 1976 description ends , 638; Mirsky and Nevins, Eli Whitney description begins Jeannette Mirsky and Allan Nevins, The World of Eli Whitney, New York, 1952 description ends , 143–6, 213, 218–19).
Whitney benefited little as the inventor and patentee of the cotton gin, due to widespread pirating of the design and the lack of effective means to protect his patent. In the fall of 1801, he traveled to South Carolina to negotiate the sale of his patent right to that state’s legislature, carrying with him an additional letter of introduction from Edwards to James Madison. Whitney spent a week in Washington, meeting with both TJ and Madison, before continuing his journey southward. In December he secured a payment of $50,000 from the South Carolina legislature, half the amount he had originally sought. Whitney and TJ had corresponded about the gin in 1793, when Whitney obtained his patent (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 2:206–7; Mirsky and Nevins, Eli Whitney description begins Jeannette Mirsky and Allan Nevins, The World of Eli Whitney, New York, 1952 description ends , 150–4; Vol. 26:334; Vol. 27:240–51, 392–3, 433–5).