Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Preston to Thomas Jefferson, 18 August 1816

From John Preston

Charlottesville 18th. August 1816.


With much pains and trouble mingled with anxiety I have compiled a Lancastrian Spelling book and caused the same to be printed: I have also written an Introduction to Arithmetic1 on a similar plan as you will perceive by the manuscript accompanying this note. The embarrasments I have brought on myself by this assiduous task, the flattering recommendations given by some of our first American Characters, and the enthusiasm I have ever possessed for the diffusion of rudimental knowledge, make me anxious to publish this work.

If a general diffusion of knowledge is expedient and will be the means of prolonging a free government,2 I am compelled to believe that every improvement which facilitates the attainment of our first principles in literature, must be an individual and public acquisition worthy of patronage.

If by examining the manuscript you find agreement of opinion with Mr Clinton, the other Gentlemen and yourself, I will consider your additional certificate as an important favour. It is impracticable to give every man time to examine a work of this nature, if they were disposed to undergo the task; therefore if the publication deserve that encouragement which is certified, then I consider it my duty to present Gentlemen with such authorities as will do away hesitancy in subscribing.

Being a stranger, please to excuse my boldness—I have a few books to dispose of in this Village—By tuesday evening will ask the liberty to call on you personally as I must prepare to take Stage for Washington on Wednesday at two o’Clock P.M.

Meanwhile am Sir

Your most obedient friend And humble servant

John Preston

P.S. A short note by the Bearer will be thankfully received.

RC (MHi); postscript written perpendicularly in left margin; at foot of text: “Mr Thomas Jefferson.” Enclosure not found.

John Preston (ca. 1755–1842), educator, was born in Connecticut and served as a private in the New York Continental Line during the Revolutionary War. By 1790 he was in Albany County, New York, having settled at Van Leuven’s Corners in the present-day township of Westerlo. Here Preston ran a tavern and an establishment that tanned and curried leather. He also began teaching at a nearby Quaker school. Preston championed the instructional methods established by the English-born educator Joseph Lancaster, under whose system older students tutored younger ones and inexpensive visual aids replaced textbooks. Adherents established numerous Lancasterian schools in the United States early in the nineteenth century. In 1812 Preston borrowed $500 from the state of New York to assist in publishing Lancasterian spelling-book cards and an arithmetic textbook. Some of this material was in circulation early the following year, but in 1816 Preston admitted that his efforts had failed and that he could not repay the loan. He had, however, written another arithmetic book, which he expected to be more successful. Preston included a survey of schools and wrote on the importance of education in his Statistical Report of the County of Albany, for the Year 1820 (2d ed., Albany, 1824), 7–8, 28–9. As late as 1835 he petitioned the New York legislature to implement the Lancasterian system throughout the state (National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, DAR Patriot Index [2003], 3:2172; The Pension Roll of 1835 [1835; indexed ed., 1992], 2:355; A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services [1841], 73; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., Albany Co., 1790–1840; George R. Howell and Jonathan Tenney, eds., Bi-Centennial History of Albany. History of the County of Albany, N.Y., from 1609 to 1886 [1886], 265, 921, 924, 927; Journal of the Senate of the State of New-York [Albany, 1812], 220, 228, 254, 270 [2, 3, 10, 13 June 1812]; Albany Register, 12 Jan. 1813; Journal of the Assembly, of the State of New-York [Albany, 1816], 397, 430, 440, 495 [21, 25, 26 Mar., 1 Apr. 1816]; Preston, Every Man His Own Teacher; or, Lancaster’s Theory of Education, Practically Displayed; being An Introduction to Arithmetic, written in thirteen parts. to which are annexed, Thirty-Two Cards of Lessons, to be suspended in the school-room conformably to the Lancaster Plan [Albany, 1817]; Documents of the Assembly of the State of New-York [1835], 1–4; gravestone inscription and memorial plaques in Westerlo Rural Cemetery).

1Manuscript: “Arithmeti.”

2Manuscript: “govermment.”

Index Entries

  • books; for children search
  • books; on mathematics search
  • books; on spelling search
  • books; school textbooks search
  • children; books for search
  • Clinton, DeWitt; and Lancasterian textbooks search
  • education; elementary search
  • education; Lancasterian model search
  • education; textbooks search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Lancaster, Joseph; educational system of search
  • mathematics; books on search
  • mathematics; elementary education in search
  • Preston, John (ca. 1755–1842); identified search
  • Preston, John (ca. 1755–1842); letters from search
  • Preston, John (ca. 1755–1842); visits Charlottesville search
  • Preston, John (ca. 1755–1842); writes Lancasterian textbooks search
  • schools and colleges; textbooks for search