Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Taylor to Thomas Jefferson, [30] March 1814

From Benjamin Taylor

New York, March [30]. 1814.


I take the liberty of annexing a representation of what is considered by myself and others a valuable improvement in Submarine-Explosion as a cheap and just defence against a maritime enemy: an art to which all seamen are hostile and which the people here, generally speaking, regard as diabolical; but which I contemplate as the future & only1 defence of nations against a naval despotism.

The Exploders described in the annexed half sheet, cannot cost $50. each; but were they to cost much less than $50. it is not in the power of any individual to carry them into execution, as this would require not only the whole of his time, but a stock of at least 500 Exploders. An Establishment (a laboratory, boats, workmen, &c.) is indispensible, & this would demand a capital of $10.000.

On the 18 Jan. last I communicated this improvement with the method of constructing Exploders2 to Mr Irving, on[e] of our representatives in Congress, that he might lay it before that body, & at the same time shew them, that their act to encourage sub-marine explosion was, in fact, a mockery, and would encourage no-body. On the 5th Ulto he writes me, “That the naval committee & secretary of the Navy were annoyed with Torpedo projects.—That the only thing that could & would be done, was already done by a law to pay for any property destroyed by their means.—That the Sec. of the Navy declared he could not spare time to read my long letter.”

On receipt of this answer from Mr Irving, fearing this improvement might become lost, (I am 53 years of age & in a declining state of health)3 I sent it, with the same view I now send it to you, most respectable Sir, to “The Mayor of Baltimore,” the “First Magistrate of the Port of Norfolk,” & to “Commodore Decatur, at New London”; but am, as yet, without notice from any of them.

With great respect I remain, Sir, Your mo. obt Servt

Benjamin Taylor.

RC (DLC: TJ Papers, 201:35719); edge trimmed, chipped, and torn, with missing day supplied from endorsement; addressed: “The Honble Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, Virginia”; franked; postmarked New York, 1 Apr.; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 30 Mar. 1814 received 15 Apr. 1814 and so recorded in SJL.

Benjamin Taylor (b. ca. 1761), cartographer, was appointed a city surveyor of New York in 1794 and held the position until at least 1815. He operated a circulating library, 1809–11 (Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1784–1831 [1917–30], 2:111; The New-York Directory, and Register for the year 1795 [New York, 1795], 210; 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 [1809], 349; [1811], 287; [1814/15], 274).

1Preceding two words interlined.

2Preceding six words interlined.

3Parenthetical phrase interlined.

Index Entries

  • Decatur, Stephen; American naval commander search
  • Irving, William; U.S. representative from N.Y. search
  • Jones, William (1760–1831); as secretary of the navy search
  • machines; torpedo (mine) search
  • Taylor, Benjamin (b. ca.1761); and underwater mines search
  • Taylor, Benjamin (b. ca.1761); identified search
  • Taylor, Benjamin (b. ca.1761); letters from search
  • torpedo (mine) search
  • War of1812; weapons search
  • weapons; underwater mines search