Thomas Jefferson Papers

François Gard to Thomas Jefferson, 9 April 1816

From François Gard

Bordeaux, 9th April 1816.


You will perhaps be Surprized at the Liberty I take in addressing you, but being governed by motives of humanity & encouraged in my design by Some military gentlemen and merchants of the united States now in this place, I Beg leave to claim your attention for a moment, on the Situation of the unhappy persons in your country who have the misfortune to be deaf & dumb. afflicted myself with these infirmities & feeling with great Sensibility for all these in the Same Situation I have enquired of the american gentlemen who have visited our Institution in Bordeaux, for the Instruction of deaf and dumb, whether there existed any Similar establishment in the united States. Being informed that no Such School had been established with you & Learning that among your deaf and dumb all those who had not the means of coming to Europe were deprived of Instruction I feel an ardent desire to devote my Labours and existence to procure for them the inestimable blessing of the education of which their organisation is Susceptible & which is So indispensable both for their own happiness & to render them useful members of Society.

I was educated myself in the Institution of the deaf & dumb in this city & having acquired by long application a Perfect Knowledge of the most approved method of Instructing this unfortunate Portion of society I have for these eight years exercized the Function of Teacher & have also acquired a tolerable Knowledge of the English Language. If The american Government or Benevolent Individuals of your Country are disposed [to] Form an Institution in the united States I would Willingly go there for that purpose. I can procure Satisfactory testimonial of my moral character and my Capacity for Teaching the deaf & dumb from american Consul & Several respectable military & Commercial Gentlemen of the united States who honour me with Their friendship & Esteem—I will entirely depend on the wisdom & judgment of the american Government or of the individuals who undertake to assist me in the proposed establishment, to fix the mode & plan of its organisation.

Our Institution here is calculated for 60 Poors Students at the expence of the Government which pays for each 600 francs Pr annum & 24000. for Professors & Sundry others charges to which is to be added the expence of a Suitable building, Beds, Linen &c Making the agregate expence about 1000 fr. annually for each individual. the rich pay the expence of their children & if as I have been Told a considerable portion of the deaf & dumb in the united States have the means of paying for their instruction the Expence to the Government or a private Society would be inconsiderable for myself I do not claim great emoluments my desire & object, is to Serve an afflicted portion of humanity I have a Wife & Soon expect to be a father, my only ambition, is to procure a comfortable existence for my wife & family

If you think your Government Cannot from its formation establish Such an Institution, Will you inform me what probability there is of any one of States Governments undertaking to create Such [an] Establishment, or whether in your Opinion Individual Subscription could be raised for its formation. Your worthy consul, mr Lee. has given me great encouragement, but I wish to feel Secure of a competency before I undertake a Voyage, as it would not be prudent in me to let go a certainty for an uncertainty having from the Institution here a Salary of 1800 francs besides other Emoluments

I Should be highly flattered by your honouring me with a reply to this, on which Permit me to say, I calculate from the Knowledg[e] I have from mr Lee of your Patriotism & useful Labours.

I have the honour to be with high respect, Sir, your humble Servant
Fs Gard
Professeur à L’Institution royale des
sourds muets à Bordeaux.

RC (DLC); torn at crease and edge trimmed; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Monticello in Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 10 July 1816 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in William Lee to TJ, 11 May 1816.

François Gard (d. 1838), educator of the deaf and mute in France, became deaf himself at the age of seven. After studying under the direction of Jean Saint-Sernin at the National Institution for the Deaf-Mute in Bordeaux, Gard became a teacher there. He was educated in Latin and Greek, taught himself English, and employed teaching methods that encouraged deaf students to communicate using the grammar and structure of spoken language. Gard taught in Bordeaux for his entire career (Adrien Cornié, Étude sur l’Institution Nationale des Sourdes-Muettes de Bordeaux, 1786–1889 [1889], 25, 36, 43; Quarterly Journal of Foreign Medicine and Surgery; and of the sciences connected with them 1 [1819]: 322, 327–9; Harlan Lane, When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf [1984], 32, 214–5, 221; National Institution, for the Education of Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor, in Ireland, Eleventh Report [viz. for 1826] [1827]: 76–7).

A similar establishment for the education of the deaf and mute was established in 1815 by William Bolling and the British educator John Braidwood. The institution, located at Cobbs, Virginia, near Petersburg, was financially unsuccessful and closed in mid-1816. Concurrently with Gard’s proposal, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc were leading an effort that culminated in the chartering later in 1816 of the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, which opened in Hartford the following year (Alexander Graham Bell, “Historical Notes Concerning the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf,” in American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, Association Review 2 [1900]: 385–401; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , 8:645–6).

William lee returned to the United States from his consular post at Bordeaux in 1816, carrying a circular letter from Gard to American philanthropists. Consisting nearly verbatim of the first three paragraphs of the above letter, Gard’s circular was published in the New York National Advocate, 16 July 1816, and reprinted elsewhere. In response, New York physician Samuel L. Mitchill formed a committee to study the possibilities for deaf education. Gard was not employed, but a New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb was chartered in 1817 (Lane, When the Mind Hears, 215, 221–2; Bell, “Historical Notes,” Association Review 4 [1902]: 19–23).

Index Entries

  • Bolling, William; and education of the deaf and mute search
  • Braidwood, John; and education of the deaf and mute search
  • Clerc, Laurent; and education of the deaf and mute search
  • Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons search
  • deafness; education of deaf and mute search
  • education; for deaf, mute, and blind search
  • France; education of deaf and mute in search
  • Gallaudet, Thomas Hopkins; and education of the deaf and mute search
  • Gard, François; identified search
  • Gard, François; letter from search
  • Gard, François; seeks to establish school for deaf and mute in U.S. search
  • health; deafness search
  • Lee, William (1772–1840); consul at Bordeaux search
  • Mitchill, Samuel Latham; and education of deaf and mute search
  • New York (city); New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb search
  • schools and colleges; Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons search
  • schools and colleges; National Institution for the Deaf-Mute (Bordeaux, France) search
  • schools and colleges; New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb search
  • Virginia; education of deaf and mute in search