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Thomas Jefferson to Burgess Allison, 20 October 1813

To Burgess Allison

Monticello Oct. 20. 13.

Sir

I had seen the advertisement of your spinning machine some time ago, and wished to know it’s principle, as I was certain it would be ingenious. I have just been gratified with it in mr Cooper’s emporium, and am as much pleased with it as I expected. it has some valuable improvements on the Jenny which I am in the use of in my family. will you be so good as to inform me what one of them of 12 spindles will ordinarily do in a day, and what is it’s price? also, as the blockade, if it continues might render it difficult to get one brought round what is the patent price of permission to make a single one, for I believe my workman who makes the Jennies perfectly well could make one of these by mr Cooper’s drawing. if you have information respecting mr Hawkins I should be glad to learn how he has succeeded in England: I hope in a manner worthy of his ingenuity. Accept the assurance of my esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

SC (MHi); at foot of text: “Dr Allison”; endorsed by TJ.

Burgess Allison (1753–1827), educator, Baptist clergyman, and inventor, preached in his native Bordentown, New Jersey, from the age of sixteen. He attended Rhode Island College (later Brown University) in 1777, received an honorary D.D. degree from that institution in 1804, and operated a classical boarding school for more than twenty years. A longtime friend of Charles Willson Peale, Allison was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1789 and served as one of its secretaries in 1801 and 1810–11. Between 1802 and 1818 he patented improved methods of distilling spirits and stove construction. Allison also invented a nail and spike-making machine and, in 1812, a portable spinning machine. He was elected the chaplain of the United States House of Representatives in 1816 and held that post for four years. James Monroe nominated Allison as a chaplain in the United States Navy in 1822. The Senate rejected him then, but the president renominated him a year later and secured his confirmation. Allison, who spent the rest of his life as a chaplain at the Washington Navy Yard, died in Trenton, New Jersey (Sprague, American Pulpit description begins William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, 1857–69, 9 vols. description ends , 6:121–4; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 33:104–5; Historical Catalogue of Brown University … 1764–1904 [1905], 524; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends Minutes, 16 Jan. 1789, 2 Jan. 1801, 5 Jan. 1810, 4 Jan. 1811 [MS in PPAmP]; Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 19 June 1799; Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, 1983– , 5 vols. in 6 description ends , esp. 3:572–4, 4:440; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 28, 34, 45, 74, 113, 191; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 10:31, 13:22 [5 Dec. 1816, 8 Dec. 1819]; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:265, 272, 337, 338 [14 Jan., 7 Feb. 1822, 28 Feb., 3 Mar. 1823]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 23 Feb. 1827).

Allison’s first advertisement for his new “Portable Machine for Spinning Wool” appeared in 1812 (Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 6 June 1812). Thomas Cooper included a description and drawing of the invention in his Emporium of Arts & Sciences 1 (1813): 461–3. In December 1802 Allison and John Isaac hawkins patented an improved method of manufacturing paper out of corn husks, and they also collaborated in marketing the physiognotrace (List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 31; Alexandria Advertiser and Commercial Intelligencer, 25 Jan. 1803; Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, 1983– , 5 vols. in 6 description ends , vol. 2, pt. 1, pp. 652, 653n). Hawkins had impressed TJ with the ingenuity of the polygraph he developed with Peale, which TJ used to copy his own correspondence (Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas Jefferson and His Copying Machines [1984]).

Index Entries

  • Allison, Burgess; and J. I. Hawkins search
  • Allison, Burgess; identified search
  • Allison, Burgess; letters to search
  • Allison, Burgess; spinning machine of search
  • Cooper, Thomas; and Emporium of Arts & Sciences search
  • Emporium of Arts & Sciences; mentioned search
  • Hawkins, John Isaac; and polygraph search
  • Hawkins, John Isaac; inventions of search
  • Hawkins, John Isaac; TJ inquires about search
  • machines; polygraph search
  • machines; spinning search
  • machines; spinning jenny search
  • polygraph; and J. I. Hawkins search
  • spinning jennies search
  • spinning machines; TJ orders search