Thomas Jefferson Papers

Nathaniel G. M. Senter to Thomas Jefferson, 19 May 1812

From Nathaniel G. M. Senter

New Orleans May 19th 1812

Respected Sir

I feel rather embarrassed in addressing a man to whom I am not only a Stranger but to whom my Name even is not known. A deceased and venerable Father once spoke to me of the Charecter I now address—but I was then young, and not capable of, either, understanding the merits of those Publications or the Views of the Author who has recd so much applause from the literary Votaries of, not only your native Country, but Europe. In early Life I was sent to England (after travelling the U,S,) and then to Asia, through which I travelled for two years—particularly in Hindoostan, I returnd to my native Country and laboured two years in compiling a Narrative of my [Remarks] and the Scenes which most strongly attracted the Curiosity and admiration of an enthusiastic American. I proposed a publication of that work and, rather unfortunately it was subjected to the perusal of Doctor Jeddediah Morse, who although he complemented its Information, seemed inclined to believe it not orthodox for the N England States: I consulted Docr B. Smith Barton (the Lineus of America) on the Success of a work which I flattered myself would contain some Information and do me some little honor—he approbated the Idea and returned me a Letter which was more flattering than I deserved. Also one from John Jay expresing his desire to peruse a work which was calculated to raise the Expectations of my Countrymen—but not possessing the Means necessary for its immediate appearance before the public—I was oblidged to resort to a Contract with Booksellers—in the fullfilment of their engagements I experienced delay and vexation and suspended my design—After this I again commenced my travelling and since May 1811 have been traversing the western Parts of the United States, on the water of the Ohio, Muskingum Sandy1—Kentucky and Mississipi—examining more particularly the Antiquities of those Nation, who in former ages populated and improved, those Regions which are now deserted—I made some Collections particularly2 on the Big Sandy and near the Falls of Ohio and at Cincinatti, and left then with Col Shepherd of Natches

I think the Opinions of Volney respecting the former State of the western world not at all Utopian, but every appearance3 combines to establish his unering Judgement. A regular Journal of eight month, I have now in my Possession and intend before long to offer it to the perusal of my Friends— Since my Residence in New Orleans,4 concieving the State of the public Policy did not in any degree provide for the Exigences of the poor; and the Distresses of the Unfortunate, I concieved the Design of a Charitable Society which should ultimately lay the foundation of an Institution which would be of great and public Benefit to my Country. Viz an Infirmary or Corporation similar to those in England for the Relief of the Poor. A Copy I have the honor to enclose—by which same Mail I forward one5 to your great and good Successor James Maddison

I trust as this Division of the United States more particularly recalls to your Mind the vast & important Changes in our Commonwelth, and the extensive Addition of Territory, you will I hope approve my Design; and I ardently wish (if consistent with your August Charecter, and the Ease, which I hope, after your arduous and toilsome Career, you enjoy),6 you would send me a few Lines—approving the Foundation and permission to me to affix your Signature as an honorary Member of a Society which is patronised by the Gover of this Territory, the Mayor of the City and the Atty of the U States—I do hope, though young, the time is approaching when I can be (as my Father was) of Service to my native Country; in any Capacity I would spend my years for the diffusion of knowledge, the promotion of Arts or the Relief of those who Suffer. Were you in that dignfied Situation which you so eminently filled I should deign to beg any situation in the U States where my Abilities are competent to fullfill or my Intigruty to promote—but I lament with others your Retirement at a Period so momentous and which call for more than common Wisdom and Experience— I particularly regret I was not in America, when the Expedition to the Western Ocean7 was commenced and conducted under your Auspices with so much Success: and which reflected upon one Individual so much honor. If in your Retreat you may be again, ever consulted on the expediency and Propriety of another Expedition to any Part or Region of North America, I feel no hesitation in believing you will mention my humble Name and wishes to associate in any such Design to increase the Information necessary in our extended and wealthy Republic. I could refer (as an applicant) to the Opinion of Richard Harrison Esqre of New York or Doctor Smith Barton or Samuel Perkins of Windham Connecticut—I am young and possessed of a Constitution which would enable me to endure and support Toil—A lengthy Journey in India and the Asiatic Islands has not broke a Frame which I hope will be reserved for the Service of my Country.

I enclose with the Copies a Description of a celebrated Antiquity in Hindoostan, pronounced by Jones the most inexplicable of any in that Idolitrous Region—I shall soon publish a Description of the Caves of Elephanta, the subterraneus Temples of Carley in the Bombay Presidency and the Caverns of Salsett; on an Island of that name adjacent to Bombay —If you think me worthy of that notice which I would mark as an honor, be pleased to direct your Letter to New York to the Care of John C Champlin, Merchant—I have besides, those Subscribers whose8 Names are printed (among which you will Observe the Pastors of the Roman See) obtaned eighty others, among which are twelve Ladies of distinction in Orleans—the Institution is only one month old.

I have sent a Copy to Smith Barton & to many other Gentlemen respected for ther knowledge Charity and worth througout the United States.

In the Decline of Life—amid political Conflicts—amid Faction and Abuse—I am happy in seeing One Charecter of this Age, against which the Obliquy and contumelious Reproach of Slander has been vented, but not injured. Your political Life has been pregnant with those great and conflicting Sentiments which sometime agitates a Nation on its Rise to Glory and sometimes buries a great Nation in Ruin & Distraction—But I trust that that Country which you are a Native off, and that Country whose Glory—honor and Independence you contributed largely to establish, will feel powerfully those Precepts and will I hope pursue that Mode and persevere in those Measures which will not only entitle you to posthumous Fame—but will eventually lead to confirm our Independence and elevate America to a standing as great and as dignified as the other Kingdoms of the Earth—

The last wish is that I should have the honor of a Line from the distinguished Statesman whom I now address—

hoping you are well in health &c. I remain your devoted Servant

Nathl G, M, Senter—

Be so kind as to pardon the Errors

RC (DLC); one word illegible; between signature and postscript: “To his Excellency Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 1 July 1812 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures not found, but see Senter to TJ, 19 Oct. 1812.

Nathaniel Greene Montague Senter (ca. 1785–1837), author and lecturer, was a Rhode Island native who claimed to have read law under Richard Harrison in New York. By his own account he then traveled in 1802 to England, purchased an ensign’s commission in the British army, was stationed in India the following year and promoted to lieutenant, but gave up his commission and returned to the United States in 1805 after he fell ill and learned of his brother’s death. Five years later Senter was associated with Samuel Perkins in Windham, Connecticut, and attempting to sell or barter land in Ohio from his deceased father’s estate. He toured the American frontier, 1811–12. In the latter year Senter published articles supporting the War of 1812 and became a captain in the 25th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, during its service on the Canadian border. Soon he fell under suspicion of being a British spy, and in 1813 he resigned his commission and was incarcerated twice, but not convicted. In periodicals and lectures, Senter expounded on his travels, natural events, and politics. Some journalists suspected that his purportedly autobiographical accounts were fabricated. Although extracts appeared in the newspapers, Senter’s manuscripts, including “Travels in India, in 1803 and 4,” “Travels in the Southern States, in 1808” and “Travels in the Western Country (America) in the Years 1811 & 12” remained unpublished and are not known to be extant. He did publish A Vindication of the Character of Nathaniel G. M. Senter against the charge of being a Spy and a Traitor (Hallowell, Me., 1815), and An Oration delivered before the Washington Benevolent Society (Herkimer, N.Y., 1817). In 1834 Senter unsuccessfully petitioned the United States Congress for a land grant in order to cultivate mulberry trees for silk production in Indiana, where he died three years later (Senter, Vindication description begins Nathaniel G. M. Senter, A Vindication of the Character of Nathaniel G. M. Senter against the charge of being a Spy and a Traitor, Hallowell, Maine, 1815 description ends ; RHi: Isaac Senter Papers; Windham Herald, 13 Apr. 1810; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, 2 vols. description ends , 1:874; Norwich, Conn., Native American, 7, 14 Oct., 9 Dec. 1812, 10 Mar., 14 Apr. 1813; Boston Repertory, 25 Dec. 1813; Alexandria Gazette & Daily Advertiser, 14 June 1817; Portsmouth Oracle of New-Hampshire, 19 June 1817; Concord [N.H.] Gazette, 28 July 1818; Hallowell Gazette, 7, 14 Jan. 1818; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 27:332, 374 [17 Feb., 4 Mar. 1834]; Newport [R.I.] Mercury, 1 Apr. 1837).

Senter’s father, Isaac Senter, served as a surgeon in the Revolutionary War and achieved prominence as a medical author (James Thacher, American Medical Biography [1828, repr. 1967], 2:75–6). Senter briefed Jedidiah morse on his travels later this year, reported that he had corresponded with TJ, and indicated that he was preparing “Extracts from my E. India Journals” for the United States Military Philosophical Society, to which Senter belonged and “of which Jefferson is Patron” (Senter to Morse, 26 Sept. 1812 [CLjC]). About 1810 Benjamin smith barton was “really anxious to see” Senter’s proposed book, and early that year Senter wrote john jay that his research interests included “the origin of mankind” and eastern and western cultures, especially the origins in India of Greco-Roman civilization and the similarities between Hindu religion and Biblical revelation (Barton to Senter, n.d. [PPAmP: Barton Papers]; Senter to Jay, 25 Jan. 1810 [NNC: Jay Papers]). The charitable society of New Orleans, which was founded in 1812 for the relief of the elderly, ill, and disabled, found it difficult to collect the $5 subscription fee from its supporting members (Louisiana Gazette and New-Orleans’ Mercantile Advertiser, 22 Sept. 1814). The Lewis and Clark Expedition went to the western ocean. Senter later published an account of the termination of a monsoon on elephanta Island (Hudson, N.Y., Northern Whig, 3 June 1817).

1Manuscript: “Sandry.”

2Manuscript: “particulary.”

3Manuscript: “appearnce.”

4Manuscript: “Orlans.”

5Manuscript: “one one.”

6Manuscript: “your enjoy,” with omitted closing parenthesis editorially supplied.

7Manuscript: “Occion.”

8Manuscript: “Subscribes who.”

Index Entries

  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; and N. G. M. Senter’s works search
  • Champlin, John C. search
  • Harrison, Richard (of N.Y.) search
  • India (Hindustan; Indostan); and N. G. M. Senter’s travel writings search
  • Jay, John; and N. G. M. Senter’s works search
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition; N. G. M. Senter on search
  • Morse, Jedidiah; and N. G. M. Senter’s works search
  • New Orleans; and N. G. M. Senter’s charitable organization search
  • Perkins, Samuel search
  • Senter, Isaac search
  • Senter, Nathaniel Greene Montague; and New Orleans charitable society search
  • Senter, Nathaniel Greene Montague; identified search
  • Senter, Nathaniel Greene Montague; letters from search
  • Senter, Nathaniel Greene Montague; travel writings of search
  • Volney, Constantin François Chasseboeuf, comte de; N. G. M. Senter on search