Thomas Jefferson Papers

Robert Patterson to Thomas Jefferson, 23 September 1811

From Robert Patterson

Philadelphia Sepr 23d 1811


Some days ago, I received your favour of the 11, with the French poem on Astronomy. The Society had recd a copy of the same work from the Author, & therefore they wish me to return your copy.

They have eagerly embraced your proposal respecting the universal standard of weights and measures, and have referred the subject to a Committee who earnestly solicit, not merely your co-operation, but your detailed instructions on this important point.

Mr Thos Voigt, a very ingenious mechanic, a son of our chief coiner at the mint, would very cheerfully undertake to make you such an astronomical clock as you desire; the price 65 dollars, without any case. He prefers, both to the wooden & grid-iron pendulum, one with a simple steel rod, to which is attached a mercurial tube which acts as a compensating thermometer. This is the pendulum which Mr Rittenhouse used, & is still in use in his very accurate astronomical clock now in the custody of our Society—You will please to signify your pleasure on this subject

Along with the Poem I send you a Nautical Almanac for the year 13, which is as far as Mr Garnett has yet published. I am ashamed to apologise for my delay in sending you the improved artificial horizon I so long ago promised. It has been long made and only waits for a spirit-level to accompany it which I spoke for to a lazy mechanic three months ago—

With Sentiments of the very greatest respect & esteem I have the honour to be Your most obedt Servant

R. Patterson

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 29 Sept. 1811 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: John Garnett, The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris for the year 1813 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1811; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3810).

On 19 July 1811 the American Philosophical Society received its own copy of the french poem that Patterson now returned to TJ, Paul Philippe Gudin de la Brenellerie, L’Astronomie, Poëme en Quatre Chants (Paris, 1810; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4495). The society read TJ’s 11 Sept. 1811 letter to Patterson on 20 Sept. 1811 and appointed a committee composed of Patterson, John R. Smith, and Burgess Allison to take his “important remarks” relative to a universal standard of weights and measures “& the subject generally into consideration” and report thereon (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes [MS in PPAmP]). Although TJ and Patterson exchanged further letters on the subject, the committee did not report back to the society. An artificial horizon is an instrument that takes altitude readings using a small plate-glass mirror affixed to a quadrant or sextant, half of which is left unsilvered so that the horizon line or other objects can be seen through it (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ; Patterson to TJ, 12 Mar. 1811).

Index Entries

  • Allison, Burgess; and American Philosophical Society search
  • American Philosophical Society; and weights, measures, and coins search
  • American Philosophical Society; forwards publications to TJ search
  • artificial horizon; made for TJ search
  • clocks; TJ’s astronomical case clock search
  • coinage; universal standard for search
  • Garnett, John; Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris search
  • Gudin de la Brenellerie, Paul Philippe; L’Astronomie, Poëme en Quatre Chants search
  • L’Astronomie, Poëme en Quatre Chants (Gudin de la Brenellerie) search
  • Patterson, Robert; and astronomical case clock search
  • Patterson, Robert; and standards of weights, measures, and coinage search
  • Patterson, Robert; letters from search
  • poetry; sent to TJ search
  • Rittenhouse, David; and astronomical case clock search
  • scientific instruments; artificial horizon search
  • Smith, John Rhea; and American Philosophical Society search
  • surveying; and artificial horizon search
  • The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris (J. Garnett); sent to TJ search
  • Voigt, Henry; family of search
  • Voigt, Thomas; and TJ’s astronomical case clock search
  • weights, measures, and coinage; universal standard of search