Thomas Jefferson Papers

Cunningham Harris to Thomas Jefferson, 27 March 1809

From Cunningham Harris

Harrisburg. Dist of Lancaster So. Car. March 27th 1809.


From a conviction that the cultivation of the Benni would prove a useful acquisition to both the medical and agricultural departments, and uncertain where to procure even a partial supply of the seed, I have taken the liberty to request that you will have the goodness to forward me by an early post such a supply as may not be deemed an unwarrantable requisition on that department.

I have further to request that you will accept of an assurance of my sincere congratulations on your honorable & dignified retirement from the toils of public life; with every assurance that the best wishes of the great mass of the citizens of United America will not cease to attend you through the remaining portion of a long and useful life.

I am with sentiments of the highest respect & consideration, Sir, your obedient servant

Cunningham Harris. M.D.

RC (DLC); dateline at foot of text; at head of text: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 23 Mar. 1809 received 14 Apr. 1809 and so recorded in SJL.

TJ’s interest in cultivating benni (benne, Sesamum indicum) began in 1808 when he tried substituting sesame oil for olive oil in cooking. The leaves and oil from the seed were also used medicinally (Betts, Garden Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766–1824, 1944 description ends , 359–60, 361–2; James Thacher, The American New Dispensatory [Boston, 1810], 210; 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 1039).

Index Entries

  • food; olive oil search
  • food; sesame oil search
  • Harris, Cunningham; and sesame search
  • Harris, Cunningham; letters from search
  • medicine; plants used as search
  • oil; olive search
  • oil; sesame search
  • olives; oil search
  • plants; medicinal properties of search
  • seeds; sesame search
  • sesame (benne; benni); and C. Harris search
  • sesame (benne; benni); oil search