Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson, 18 September 1813

To Isaac McPherson

Monticello Sep. 18. 13.


I thank you for the communication of mr Jonathan Ellicot’s letter in your’s of Aug. 28. and the information it conveys. with respect to mine of Aug. 13. I do not know that it contains any thing but what any man of Mathematical reading may learn from the same sources. however if it can be used for the promotion of right, I consent to such an use of it. your enquiry as to the date of Martin’s invention of the drill plough with a leathern band & metal1 buckets I cannot precisely answer: but I recieved one from him in 1794 & have used it ever since for sowing various seeds, chiefly peas, turnips & Benni. I have always had in mind to use it for wheat; but sowing only a row at a time I had proposed to him some years ago to change the construction so that it should sow 4. rows at a time, 12 I. apart; and I have been waiting for this to be done either by him or myself; & have not therefore commenced that use of it. I procured mine at first thro’ Colo John Taylor of Caroline who had been long in the use of it, & my impression was that it was not then a novel thing. mr Martin is still living, I believe. if not Colo Taylor, his neighbor, probably knows it’s date. if the bringing together under the same roof, various useful2 things before known, which you mention as one of the grounds of mr Evans’s claim, entitles him to an exclusive use of all these either separately or combined, every utensil of life might be taken from us by a patent. I might build a stable, bring into it a cutting knife to chop straw, a handmill to grind the grain, a curry comb & brush to clean the horses, & by a patent exclude every one from ever more using these things without paying me. the elevator, the conveyer, the hopper boy are distinct things, unconnected but by juxta-position. if no patent can be claimed for any one of these separately, it cannot be for all of them. several nothings put together cannot make something. this would be going very wide of the object of the patent laws. I salute you with esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr Isaac McPherson.”

TJ suggested to Thomas C. Martin through John Taylor of Caroline in 1798 that the drill plough be altered to allow the sowing of 4. rows at a time, 12 i. apart (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 30:252, 347, 387; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:976).

1Word interlined.

2Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • drills (sowing implements); designed by T. C. Martin search
  • Ellicott, Jonathan; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Evans, Oliver; originality of machinery questioned search
  • food; peas search
  • food; turnips search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; patent law search
  • machines; drill search
  • machines; O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Martin, Thomas C.; drill of search
  • McPherson, Isaac; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • McPherson, Isaac; letters to search
  • patents; of O. Evans search
  • peas; as crop search
  • seeds; pea search
  • seeds; sesame search
  • seeds; turnip search
  • sesame (benne; benni); TJ cultivates search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); and T. Martin’s drill search
  • turnips; seed search