Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Oliver Barrett, 20 February 1812

To Oliver Barrett

Monticello Feb. 20. 12.


Being desirous of getting a Spinning machine simpler than any of those made on the Arkwright plan, so simple indeed as that we can use and keep it in order in our families in the country where we have nothing but very coarse workmen, I consulted Dr Thornton of the Patent office on the subject. he recommends yours as coming more nearly within my views than any other and carrying about 20. threads1 which induces me to wish to get one. he says that you furnished one to Judge Cranch of Washington2 at the price of 50.D. of which 20. goes for the patent right and that the workmanship is about 25. or 30.D. will you be so good as to answer this letter and to inform me if he is correct as to the number of threads & price. if he is I wish you to prepare me one immediately for 20. threads, and on reciept of your letter I will immediately remit you the price to any address you direct in New York, and will expect you to forward the machine well packed to the address of Gibson & Jefferson merchants at Richmond to be forwarded to me. Doctr Thornton further mentioned that you would sell your patent right to a county for 500.D. I imagine you judge of our counties by those of N. York, which are perhaps 5. times as large & populous as ours. we have about 100 counties which may average 5000 souls of white population each. 500.D @ 20.D. a machine, patent price, would suppose 253 machines in a county, which are 5. times as many as could be sold at 50.D. each. if the machine answers as well as Dr Thornton says, I think it probable that at 100.D. to a county you would sell twenty county rights where you would one at 500.D. this is mentioned for your consideration, my object being only to get a single one to use in my family Accept the assurance of my respect

Th: Jefferson

PoC (MHi); at foot of text: “Mr Oliver Barrett. New York”; endorsed by TJ.

Oliver Barrett (ca. 1783–1818) patented his Domestic Roving and Spinning Machine on 3 Dec. 1811. He sought to profit from the machine by selling exclusive rights within specific territories to designated agents. According to one such agent, the machine processed wool “fine enough for broadcloths, or sufficiently coarse for carpeting and rose blankets—and cotton may be spun fine enough for domestic purposes.” A child of twelve or fourteen years could be taught its use in two or three days and it was “simple in construction and operations, and not liable to be put out of repair—and may be built with any number of spindles.” Barrett also patented a mill for fanning wheat and clover seed in 1808 and a cloth-felting machine in 1812. The patents all placed him at different locations in the state of New York, at Sandy Hill (later Hudson Falls), Schaghticoke in Rensselaer County, and Troy, and at some point he was also postmaster of nearby Mechanicville. Barrett died at Venice, near Sandusky, Ohio (List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 63, 103, 118; Hartford Connecticut Courant, 9 June 1812, 4 May 1813; New-York Columbian, 9 Sept. 1818).

1Preceding five words interlined.

2Preceding two words interlined.

3Number interlined in place of “a.”

Index Entries

  • Arkwright, Sir Richard; spinning jenny of search
  • Barrett, Oliver; identified search
  • Barrett, Oliver; letters to search
  • Barrett, Oliver; spinning machine of search
  • Cranch, William; buys spinning machine search
  • Gibson & Jefferson (Richmond firm); and textile machinery acquired by TJ search
  • machines; spinning search
  • patents; of O. Barrett search
  • spinning machines; described search
  • Thornton, William; and spinning machines search
  • wool; spinning of search