Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Elkanah Watson, 8 May 1817

To Elkanah Watson

Monticello May 8. 17.


I have duly recieved your favor of Apr. 24. and had long remarked the course and labors of the Berkshire1 society, of which you were president. we have been indebted to them for much useful information, and for the example they have set of zeal in the most important of all human arts, agriculture. about a dozen years ago an effort was made at Washington for the establishment there of a general board of agriculture, to which were proposed to be affiliated a secondary board in each state, and to this again subordinary boards in every county. the person most active in producing this institution was Isaac Briggs of that neighborhood, who was made Secretary of it,2 and mr Madison, while Secretary of state, was it’s3 president. he still I believe possesses the skeleton of the organisation;4 but whether they ever published any thing, or not, I do not know.   with respect to myself, you have been quite misinformed5 as to my having any intention to take part6 in any periodical publication, agricultural or of any other character. I know, with the Preacher, that there is a time for all things, a time to labor, as well as to cease from labor, and that this last time has fallen on me. dayly and hourly admonitions, physical and moral warn me to leave to other and younger citizens, the management of what are to be their own concerns, and to be contented with the share I have had in those of my own day. I submit to these monitions the more willingly as they favor that rest & quiet which the increasing debility of age calls for; & have therefore to offer only my prayers for success to the efforts of others, and praise to those engaged in them, among whom I distinguish yourself, and to whom I particularly address the assurance of my great respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjMoHP: Lloyd W. Smith Collection); holes in manuscript, with missing text supplied from PoC; at foot of text: “Mr Elkanah Watson”; docketed by Watson: “Vide–President’s Maddisons Letter on the Subject of a Natl bord Agriculture this book pg 164.” PoC (DLC). Tr (Lb in N: Watson Papers).

The general board of agriculture organized by Isaac Briggs was the American Board of Agriculture. At its founding meeting on 22 Feb. 1803, Briggs and James Madison were elected secretary and president, respectively (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 40 vols. description ends , 37:339–40). The biblical reference to a time for all things is from Ecclesiastes 3.1–8.

1Tr here interlines “agl.”

2Instead of preceding nine words, Tr reads “who was Secy.”

3Preceding six words not in Tr.

4Remainder of sentence not in Tr.

5Reworked from “uninformed.”

6Remainder of sentence not in Tr.

Index Entries

  • aging; TJ on youth search
  • agriculture; American Board of Agriculture search
  • agriculture; Berkshire Agricultural Society search
  • agriculture; national board of proposed search
  • American Board of Agriculture; founding of search
  • Berkshire Agricultural Society; E. Watson as member of search
  • Bible; Ecclesiastes referenced by TJ search
  • Briggs, Isaac; and American Board of Agriculture search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and American Board of Agriculture search
  • Watson, Elkanah; letter to search
  • Watson, Elkanah; national board of agriculture proposed by search