Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John George Baxter, 16 July 1815

To John George Baxter

Monticello July 16. 15.


I have duly recieved your favor explaining to me your improvement on the carding machine; but I am too little acquainted with that now in use to form any opinion of their comparative merits. the only part of your request therefore which I can answer respects the obtaining patent rights in France & England. in France before the revolution (I know not how it is since) no standing law allowed patent rights for inventions. a special law was necessary to be passed in every individual case, and was refused but for great discoveries promising important advantages; nor was it easy under that government to procure attention to a petition for this purpose. in England there is a standing law granting a patent as a matter of right on petition & payment of fees, amounting I believe to about 100. guineas, perhaps more. but the patent is void if for an invention used, before it’s date, in any other country. this last circumstance requires your attention.

Mr Breckenridge informs me you have invented a spinning machine which from it’s cheapness, simplicity and saving of labor is rapidly getting into general use. I should like to know in what this differs from the old spinning Jenny, or from Arkwright’s machines. these last will not answer in the country because they require nice workmen to keep them in repair. I have therefore used the Jenny, because our workmen can make them, and any body can repair them. I have three of these, carrying 24. threads each, in operation in my own family. but if there be any thing yet more simple & of equal effect I should prefer it. Accept the assurance of my respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on verso of reused address cover of Patrick Gibson to TJ, 28 Apr. 1815, for which see note to Gibson to TJ, 3 May 1815; at foot of text: “Mr Baxter”; endorsed by TJ. Enclosed in TJ to Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, 16 July 1815.

John George Baxter (d. 1826), machinist and inventor, emigrated from Dundee, Scotland, to Philadelphia and resided in 1807 in Philadelphia County, where he was working a year later at the Blockley Flax and Hemp Spinning Mill. He had previously been in New York; New London, Connecticut; and Boston. In 1809 Baxter advertised his improved looms and six-spindle machines that spun thread from flax, hemp, cotton, or wool, noting that he had thirty years of background in manufacturing with flax and hemp and considerable experience with cotton. He received a patent in 1811 for a “family cotton spinning machine.” Baxter moved about the same time to Lunenburg County, Virginia. His plan to manufacture his various machines there failed, and by 1813 he was in Philadelphia. Two years later Baxter had relocated to Kentucky, and he settled in Frankfort by 1825 (Josiah Stoddard Johnston, ed., Memorial History of Louisville from its First Settlement to the Year 1896 [1896], 1:623; Baxter to TJ, 1 Apr. 1807 [PHi]; The Process For Rotting Hemp [Philadelphia, 1808; broadside in DLC: TJ Papers; content by Thomas Cooper, with Baxter’s 21 Apr. 1808 covering letter]; Sag Harbor, N.Y., Suffolk Gazette, 8 Apr. 1809; 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 , 99; John S. Ravenscroft to TJ, 21 July 1812; New York Commercial Advertiser, 8 Jan. 1814; John A. Paxton, The Philadelphia Directory and Register, for 1813 [Philadelphia, 1813]; Kite’s Philadelphia Directory for 1814 [Philadelphia, 1814]; Breckinridge to TJ, 20 June 1815; Frankfort Argus of Western America, 2 Mar. 1825; Brent Moore, A Study of the Past, the Present and the Possibilities of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky [1905], 55; Frankfort Commentator, 23 Sept. 1826).

Baxter’s undated letter explaining his improvements to the carding machine, not found, is recorded in SJL as received 5 July 1815 from Lexington, Kentucky. Although TJ expressed interest in acquiring one of Baxter’s carding machines in 1812, he bought a different one instead (TJ to Ravenscroft, 3 July 1812; TJ to Jacob Alrichs, 10 Aug. 1812; 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 , 2:1287).

Index Entries

  • Arkwright, Sir Richard; spinning jenny of search
  • Baxter, John George; identified search
  • Baxter, John George; letter from accounted for search
  • Baxter, John George; letter to search
  • Baxter, John George; textile machinery of search
  • carding machines; G. Baxter’s search
  • carding machines; TJ on search
  • France; patent rights in search
  • Great Britain; and patents search
  • inventions; textile machinery search
  • machines; carding search
  • machines; spinning search
  • manufacturing, household; spinning jennies search
  • patents; in Europe search
  • patents; TJ on patent rights search
  • spinning jennies search
  • spinning machines; TJ on search