Thomas Jefferson Papers

Melatiah Nash to Thomas Jefferson, 24 October 1811

From Melatiah Nash

New York Oct. 24th 1811

Dear Sir,

having frequently observed the small degree of knowledge which prevails amongst mankind in general respecting the solar system and the Stars, and believing a general dissemination of astronomical knowledge would be of great utility, I am preparing for the press a small work, which, it is presumed, will lay a foundation for general improvement in that important science. But before its publication I deem it necessary to have the opinion of gentlemen, eminent in science, on its probable utility, and request the aid [o]f their recommendations.—The title of the work is [t]o be, “The Columbian Ephemeris and Astronomical Diary”—There will be four pages to each month. The first page will be a transcript of the Nautical Almanac with the addition of Chronological events; chiefly such as relate to our own country. Also phenomena of the Heavenly bodies, principally, conjunctions of the moon with Stars near her orbit, and conjunctions of the Planets with Stars and with one another. These, expressed in astronomical terms, will afterwards be explained in language intelligible to every capacity. The second page will shew the time of the rising and setting of the Sun, the rising, setting, and culminating of the moon and planets.1 The third page will shew the time of the rising, setting, and culminating of the principal fixed stars. The fourth page will give the time of high water at sixteen principal ports, harbours, and headlands of the United States. These calculations are made on astronomical principles. For the angular distance of the Sun and Moon, and for the distance of the moon from the Earth at the time of high water allowance is made. A brief compendium of Astronomy will be prefixed, and a tide table for the whole coast of the Union will be inserted. Though the tides are sometimes affected by winds and other circumstances, yet, it is presumed this part of the work will be of great service to persons employed in the coasting trade. All the calculations in the Ephemeris are made to apparent, and adapted, to civil time. The principal design of the publication bei[ng] to enable all readers to know the Planets, and many of the fixed Stars, it is thought the work will serve this purpose throughout the United States. This first number which is made for the year 1812 will contain one hundred or more pages octavo, and if due encouragement is given one will be published for several succeeding years, with annual additions and improvements. I have no apology to offer for the trouble I have given you Sir, except the desire of obtaining your ideas on my humble attempt. Your opinion is considered of great importance, and by communicating it, You2 will receive my grateful acknowledgements.—

I am, Sir, with the greatest respect your Humble Servant.

Melatiah Nash.

RC (MiU-C); dateline beneath signature; mutilated at seal; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 31 Oct. 1811 and so recorded in SJL.

Melatiah Nash (ca. 1768–1830) kept what was variously described as a select academy, select seminary, mathematical and philosophical academy, and commercial school in New York City from about 1803 until his death. He also operated a circulating library and grocery during the first decade of the nineteenth century. Nash published a translation of Jean Baptiste Louvet de Couvray’s French novel, Emilia de Varmont, or the Necessary Divorce; and Memoirs of Curate Sevin (New York, 1799), The Columbian Ephemeris and Astronomical Diary, for the year 1812 (New York, 1812), and three annual numbers of The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Diary, or, United States Almanac, and Repository of Science and Amusement (New York, 1819–21). He also prepared a revised edition of a textbook by S. Treeby, The Elements of Astronomy (New York, 1823), and a short essay on methods of determining latitude and longitude ashore for the New York American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review 2 (1817): 92–5 (Longworth’s New York Directory description begins Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory. New York, 1796–1842 (title varies; cited by year of publication) description ends [1803], 224; [1806], 273; [1830], 454; New York Weekly Museum, 5 Mar. 1803, 23 May 1807; New-York Columbian, 29 Nov. 1811, 21 Oct. 1817; New-York Evening Post, 5 Aug. 1813, 24 July 1830).

1For use in his 15 Nov. 1811 reply, TJ here keyed the marginal note “eqn time” (equation of time) with a caret.

2Nash here canceled “Sir.”

Index Entries

  • astronomy; books on search
  • Nash, Melatiah; identified search
  • Nash, Melatiah; letters from search
  • Nash, Melatiah; The Columbian Ephemeris and Astronomical Diary, for the year 1812 search
  • The Columbian Ephemeris and Astronomical Diary, for the year 1812 (Nash) search