George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 18 November 1792

From Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia] Nov. 18. 1792.

Th: Jefferson has the honor to inform the President that the papers from Monsr Cointeraux of Paris contain some general ideas on his method of building houses of mud, he adds that he has a method of making incombustible roofs and cielings, that his process for building is auxiliary to agriculture, that France owes him 66,000 livres, for so much expended in experiments & models of his art, but that the city of Paris is unable to pay him 600. livres decreed to him as a premium, that he is 51. years old has a family of seven persons, and asks of Congress the expences of their passage & a shop to work in.1

Th: Jefferson saw M. Cointeraux at Paris, went often to examine some specimens of mudwalls which he erected there, and which appeared to be of the same kind generally built in the neighborhood of Lyons, which have stood perhaps for a century. instead of moulding bricks, the whole wall is moulded at once, & suffered to dry in the sun, when it becomes like unburnt brick. this is the most serious view of his papers. he proceeds further to propose to build all our villages incombustible that the enemy may not be able to burn them, to fortify them all with his kind of walls impenetrable to their cannon, to erect a like wall across our whole frontier to keep off the Indians, observing it will cost us nothing but the building, &c. &c. &c.

The paper is not in the form of a petition, tho evidently intended for Congress, & making a proposition to them. it does not however merit a departure from the President’s rule of not becoming the channel of petitions to that body, nor does it seem entitled to any particular answer.2

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State; LB (photocopy), DLC:GW.

1Tobias Lear had written Jefferson earlier on this date to ask him to “run over the enclosed papers,” which Jefferson identified below the text of Lear’s letter as “Cointeraux’ proposition to come over with his family of 7. persons to shew us how to build houses with mud walls & incombustible roofs & cielings, if we would pay their passage & give him a shop” (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Cointeraux’s papers originally were enclosed in French émigré St. Hilaire’s letter to GW of 14 Nov. 1792.

François Cointeraux (1740–1830), an architect from Lyons, dedicated his career to the development and promotion of the pisé, or rammed-earth, method of construction, in which mud is placed in large wooden molds to form the components of fire-resistant buildings. Jefferson already was familiar with Cointeraux and his ideas, having first received a letter and promotional material from him in 1789. Cointeraux later sent Jefferson a copy of his book on the pisé method, Ecole d’architecture rurale, published in Paris, 1790–91 (see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 15:184–86).

2No correspondence from GW to Cointeraux has been found.

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