Thomas Jefferson Papers

James W. Wallace to Thomas Jefferson, [received 16 March 1809]

From James W. Wallace

[received 16 Mar. 1809]

I send to Mr Jefferson the following Articles Viz

Jeffersonia Antivenena (the Roots) in a large wafer Box

Sun Brier in a Box

Balsam Copaiba Tree in a Box (copaiba Brasiliensis)

one Beet & one Carrot for Seed in the half Barrel. the Beet weighed 15¾ lbs in Oct. 12¼ lbs in Decr. March 10th 9.¾ lbs an astonishing loss

2 wild Geese—tis feared they are of one sex

The Summer Ducks a wicked boy shot, to my great mortification

The leaf of the Copaiba Brasiliensis grows large, is famous for relieving head achs &c. you may ride a week with a Switch of it—& at the end of that time stick one end in the ground & you will soon have a tree, like the Lombardy Poplar it will grow quick any where.

The Jeffersonia Antivenena must be used in the following manner (tis an accommodating plant & thrives equally well on the summits of barren & stony mountains as in the fertile plain) beat well three or four of the roots tops & all and boil the mass in one pint of new milk, give the afflicted unfortunate one Tablespoonful hourly & apply the boiled pulp to the wound. a smaller quantity I presume will answer for a person under puberty. an instance of its powers occurred near this place last June. a negroe boy was bit on the foot by a snake (the name unknown—) Horehound & Plantain juice was freely given—the pain increased also the swelling untill the size of the foot leg & thye had become almost incredible, his Screams1 were heard as far as his voice could reach, untill he became weak & faint, his Pulse trembling, his body covered with a profuse cold sweat & he delerious bordering on madness—in this situation the Jeffersonia Antivenena as before derected was used—by degrees the excrutiating pains & the swelling abated, his Pulse became better his mind composed & free from delerium—he survived—but the swelled parts were covered with Blisters which broke and discharged a Green fluid, to which were applied for a few days the boiled pulp which soon healed the Sores.

If provedence will grant you my will of happiness you will have a plenty

God bless You Sir

James W. Wallace

NB No 1 Marvel of Peru

No 2 Wax Work Flower


RC (DLC: TJ Papers, 203:36103); undated; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Mar. 1809 and so recorded in SJL.

James Westwood Wallace (ca. 1769–1838), a relative of George Wythe, studied medicine at Edinburgh University and lived near Warrenton in Fauquier County. He and TJ had exchanged information on the medicinal properties of plants (PTJ, esp. 41:304–5; “Old Kecoughtan,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , 1st ser., 9 [1900]: 130–1; Richmond Enquirer, 11 Sept. 1838).

TJ asked Wallace for these articles in a letter of 28 Feb. 1809 (ViU: TJP), and in a note of the same date to Edmund Bacon (MHi) asked him to deliver the request to Wallace on his way to Washington and collect the specimens about 10 or 11 Mar. 1809 at Fauquier Court House during his return trip to Monticello.

jeffersonia antivenena was probably Wallace’s idiosyncratic name for Jeffersonia diphylla, or Twinleaf. Native to the northern and western states, it was first identified by John Clayton and then found in the Blue Ridge Mountains by André Michaux in 1791. Benjamin Smith Barton named it in honor of TJ the following year on behalf of the American Philosophical Society. TJ probably never saw it in the wild but was growing it at Monticello in 1807. Twinleaf, also known as “rheumatism root,” has medicinal qualities concentrated in the root. It acts as a stimulant and when used as described by Wallace can increase capillary circulation or wash sores and ulcers. Prenanthes serpentaria (Lion’s foot) and Alisma plantago-aquatica (water plantain) had been used on snakebites in Virginia, a remedy learned from the Indians (Lucia Stanton, “A Botanical Anniversary,” Twinleaf Journal [1992]; Betts, Garden Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766–1824, 1944 description ends , 172–3, 335, and plate 11; William Cook, The Physio-medical Dispensatory: A Treatise on Therapeutics, Materia Medica, and Pharmacy [1869], 298; Richard Harlan, “Experiments Made on the Poison of the Rattlesnake,” APS, Transactions 3 [1830]: 301–2; Reuben Gold Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 1748–1846 [1904–07], 22:95–6).

balsam copaiba: a tropical tree, copaiba balsam grows up to one hundred feet in height, and its oily resin is used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes both internal and external. marvel of peru: Mirabilis jalapa, or four-o’clock, is a tropical American species whose flower blossoms open late in the afternoon. wax work flower: Celastrus scandens, or American bittersweet, also known as Waxwork. (Hortus Third description begins Liberty Hyde Bailey, Ethel Zoe Bailey, and the staff of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium, Cornell University, Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada, 1976 description ends , 239–40, 735).

1Manuscript: “Scrams.”

Index Entries

  • balsam copaiba trees search
  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; names plant after TJ search
  • beets search
  • brier, sun search
  • carrots search
  • Clayton, John; identifies Jeffersonia diphylla (twinleaf) search
  • ducks; summer search
  • food; beets search
  • food; carrots search
  • geese; wild search
  • horehound; as snakebite remedy search
  • Jeffersonia diphylla (twinleaf); medicinal properties of search
  • lion’s foot; as snakebite remedy search
  • marvel-of-Peru search
  • medicine; horehound search
  • medicine; plants used as search
  • medicine; snakebite cures search
  • Michaux, André; accounts of travel through U.S. search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); plants grown at search
  • plantain; water search
  • plants; medicinal properties of search
  • snakes; remedy for bite search
  • sun brier search
  • trees; balsam copaiba search
  • Wallace, James Westwood; identified search
  • Wallace, James Westwood; letters from search
  • Wallace, James Westwood; sends geese to TJ search
  • Wallace, James Westwood; sends plants to TJ search
  • water plantain search
  • waxwork (American bittersweet) search