Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Samuel L. Holmes, 17 May 1803

From Samuel L. Holmes

Brooklyn, May 17th 1803

Dear Sir,

For some time past I have been endeavouring to find out some method by which I might obtain Learning At length I have (as I knew not of any so likely method by which I could acquire it) to write to you.

Sir—In the first place I will give you a short detail of the Circumstances of myself and then the reasons which induced me to take the Liberty of writing to you.

1stly. My Father is poor; and is my only parent thats is living, he is old and is now I expect among the Indians there sent by the Baptist Misionary Society of New-York He has given me but a little Learning, though as much as he possibly could afford. At twelve years of age I was bound an apprentice to the Printing business, wher I still remain.

2dly. But Learning is my object, the sole cause of this letter, and what renders me unhappy because I cannot attain it. Finally, (I do consent) it is to ask the boon of you. Excuse me dear Sir if what I am saying is wrong. If Fortune will but smile when You receive these few simple lines (simple, for perfection cannot be expected from a boy of only 14 years of age, with no more Learning than barely to read and write.) then will I call myself the happiest of beings, but if not—why I suppose I must bear it with patience as Job did when he felt the rod yet blessed God.—That this request may succeed, will from this time to the time I shall receive an answer (for do please to write a few words in return, if not I shall be more wretched than ever) be most earnestly prayed for—O God Interfere!

Dear Sir if you will but consider that my relations are poor and not able to go as it such a request, and knew my thirst for Learning you would not think my asking it of you strange. I cannot ask you in any grand style which perhaps might be rather more agreeable to you, for I am yet too young—And again I repeat it, if I have said any thing improper please to forgive me—What more can I say?—why my dear sir, no more than the Glorious words Learning. Learning the greatest blesing, the only ornament and jewel of man’s life—and to conclude that I remain now Your unhappy, but when at the arrival of the answer with the transporting Consent!—Then your happy O ever happy Friend and

Humble Servant

Samuel L. Holmes

P.S.—Please to excuse me for the manner in which this Letter is wrote as the time I had to write it in was in the working hours—Please to write a few words in return and direct to

Samuel L. Holmes
Mr. Thomas Kirks Printing Office
Brooklyn Long Island

RC (MHi); addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson President of the United States of America at the City of Washington”; franked; postmarked New York 19 May; endorsed by TJ as received 21 May and so recorded in SJL.

Samuel L. Holmes (ca. 1788–1853) became a high school teacher in Bedford, New York, and, in 1842, a member of the state assembly. From 1848 until his death, he was superintendent of Brooklyn public schools (Brooklyn Eagle, 20 May 1853; New York Times, 21 May 1853).

thomas kirks printing office: Irish native Thomas Kirk established Brooklyn’s first newspaper, The Courier, and New-York and Long Island Advertiser, in 1799, and published it until 13 Jan. 1803. Kirk was also proprietor of a circulating library and bookstore. In 1816, Kirk established the first Sunday school in Brooklyn at his printing office, where he offered reading and writing as part of the curriculum. He helped create, in 1823, the Apprentices Library Association, a free reading library for the apprentices of Brooklyn, and awarded prizes to boys who were its regular readers (Marguerite V. Doggett, Long Island Printing, 1791–1830 [Brooklyn, 1979], 29–32; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, Worcester, Mass., 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:555).

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