Thomas Jefferson Papers

Mason L. Weems to Thomas Jefferson, 31 July 1815

From Mason L. Weems

North Garden. July 31.–15


My Son Jesse Ewell brings you a copy of the Life of Marion which I pray you to accept. It was written for the Moral & Military Services of our Youth among whom it has taken well.

I have a great favor to ask of you, viz your assistance in a little book on a Great Man, to which I believe you can contribute more than any other Gentleman in the U. States. The Great man I allude to is Dr Franklin. I am impressd with the belief that no American ever led a life better calculated to do good to our youth than did Dr Franklin. And yet I have never seen a Life of him, that I thought likely to please them. I am trying my hand on this great subject—in the size & shape of a School book only. Shou’d it prosper, as some of my little books have done, it may help to multiply the Virtues of Industry, Sobriety, Frugality, Honesty, Patriotism, Devotion to useful Science &c for which Dr Franklin was so illustrious & which you, better than most men, knew to be the only true Gypsum of our young Republican Vine & all its future Interests & Glories. On this account I am led to hope you will lend me your assistance, which you can do more effectually than any other person now living. You were with D. Franklin in France, as well as in America, and perhaps in Britain. You have read a thousand Magazines, Museums and all other publications perfumd with praises of him by Rousseau, Voltaire, &c &c also enrichd with Bon mots, Anecdotes Stories &c. &c All which, if only tolerably “cookd up”, wou’d make a savoury dish for Juvenile palates. Now All I have to beg of you, Honord Sir, is that you wd be so1 good as tell me where2 I may find the best collection3 of these notices. I have Colo Duane’s book, but that is only for Adults in Philosophy, Politicks4 &c &c My Son, on his way back, tomorrow, will do himself the honor to call on you. With highest Respect I am, Honord Sir, yours

M. L. Weems

RC (CSmH: JF-BA); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 1 Aug. 1815 and so recorded in SJL.

Mason Locke Weems (1759–1825), bookseller, author, and Episcopal clergyman, was a native of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Having received medical training in London and at the University of Edinburgh prior to the Revolutionary War, he returned to Great Britain after the conflict and was ordained into the Episcopal ministry in 1784. Weems served in two parishes in Maryland, 1784–92, before relocating to Dumfries, Virginia, in the mid-1790s. About that time he became an agent for the prominent Philadelphia publisher Mathew Carey and, as such, spent the rest of his life traveling up and down the East Coast selling books. Following the publication of his famed biography of George Washington in 1800, a later edition of which included the oft-repeated cherry-tree story, Weems wrote biographies of Francis Marion, Benjamin Franklin, and William Penn, as well as a number of moralizing tracts. He died in Beaufort, South Carolina (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Paul Leicester Ford and Emily Ellsword Ford Skeel, Mason Locke Weems, 3 vols. [1928–29]; Lewis Leary, The Book-Peddling Parson: An account of the life and works of Mason Locke Weems [1984]; Weems and Edward Gantt to Benjamin Franklin, 9 July 1784 [PPAmP: Franklin Papers]; Franklin to Weems and Gantt, 18 July 1784 [DLC: Franklin Papers]; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 37 vols. description ends , 34:321–2; Richmond Enquirer, 1 July 1825).

TJ received at this time a copy of Peter Horryand Mason L. Weems, The Life of Gen. Francis Marion, 3d ed. (Baltimore, 1815; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 4 [no. 137]).

1Preceding six words centered on own line, possibly to protect against anticipated damage from seal tear.

2Preceding five words centered on own line.

3Preceding six words centered on own line.

4Manuscript: “Politicts.”

Index Entries

  • books; for children search
  • children; books for search
  • Duane, William; and The Works of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in Philosophy, Politics, and Morals search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; M. L. Weems on search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; reputation of search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; The Life of Doctor Benjamin Franklin (M. L. Weems) search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; The Works of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in Philosophy, Politics, and Morals (ed. W. Duane) search
  • Horry, Peter; The Life of Gen. Francis Marion search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Weems, Jesse Ewell search
  • Rousseau, Jean Jacques; praises B. Franklin search
  • The Life of Doctor Benjamin Franklin (M. L. Weems) search
  • The Life of Gen. Francis Marion (P. Horry and M. L. Weems) search
  • The Works of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in Philosophy, Politics, and Morals (ed. W. Duane) search
  • Voltaire (François Marie Arouet); praises B. Franklin search
  • Weems, Jesse Ewell; delivers book to TJ search
  • Weems, Mason Locke; identified search
  • Weems, Mason Locke; letters from search
  • Weems, Mason Locke; opinion of B. Franklin search
  • Weems, Mason Locke; The Life of Doctor Benjamin Franklin search
  • Weems, Mason Locke; The Life of Gen. Francis Marion search