Thomas Jefferson Papers

Robert Turner to Thomas Jefferson, 29 November 1816

From Robert Turner

Richmond Nov. 29th 1816


Although I have not the honour of being personally acquainted with you, I have taken the liberty of enclosing to you, a paper containing my ideas concerning the earth, which were lately published in this Town. As you have no doubt thought much on the same subject, I shall consider it a great favour, if you will examen the theory1 in the enclosed, and honour me with your opinion of its correctness. If any reasonable objections can be suggested, I shall be as ready as any man to admit them. Perhaps it will be said that no theory of the earth, can ever be proved, but it appears to me as susceptible of being reduced to certitude, as many other theorys, which are now universally allowed to be correct.

You will please Sir, to pardon this intrusion, in one who is sincerely in search of truth.

Yours with great respect,

Robt Turner

RC (ViHi); endorsed by TJ as received 18 Dec. 1816 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to William Sampson, 30 Dec. 1816, on verso; addressed: “The Hon. Thos Jefferson Monticello Albermarl V,a,”; stamp canceled; franked; postmarked Richmond, 12 Dec., and Charlottesville, 18 Dec. Enclosure: “Examinator” [Turner], “Concerning the Earth,” asserting that “We have daily new proofs of the Atlantic parts of the middle and southern states having been lately formed by alluvion”; revealing the discovery at Richmond of “a variety of bones, wood, marine shells, sharks’ teeth, &c.” and smooth pebbles deep within the earth; dismissing explanations of this phenomenon that are based on the biblical deluge; contending that “the ocean has progressively occupied all parts of our earth”; and hypothesizing that both the formation of mountains through volcanic activity and natural weathering affect the tilt of the planet over time, which causes water to flow from one part of the globe to another (undated essay in Virginia Patriot, and Richmond Daily Mercantile Advertiser, 16 Nov. 1816, with TJ’s clipping in ViHi; extract dated Richmond, 10 Nov., printed in Boston New-England Palladium & Commercial Advertiser, 26 Nov. 1816, and elsewhere).

A Robert Turner between the age of twenty-six and forty-four resided in Richmond with his family and four slaves in 1820 (DNA: RG 29, CS, Richmond, 1820).

1Manuscript: “theoy.”

Index Entries

  • Bible; deluge in search
  • geology; R. Turner on search
  • oceanography; R. Turner’s theories on search
  • Richmond, Va.; marine remains found at search
  • Turner, Robert; earth-science theories of search
  • Turner, Robert; letter from search