Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Horatio G. Spafford to Thomas Jefferson, 9 January 1816

From Horatio G. Spafford

Albany, 1 Mo. 9, 1816.

Esteemed Friend—

I am very thankful for thy attention, nor was it yet too late ‘to be useful to me,’ nor is it still.

My long Essay on establishing a School of Science, &c. had not, probably, reached thee, at the date of thy Letter, Dec. 27, ’15. I hope thou wilt have time to examine it, & to favor me with thy opinion, & advice. It has been read by several of our most eminent Literary characters, & some 4 or 5 theologians, who say they approve the sentiments, & should be glad to see it in print. I am anxious to dedicate the Essay to thee, though I shall publish it in my Magazine. Under thy auspices, it might do much good; & the very authority of thy Name, known as the most distinguished patron of liberal opinions, would keep the little theologians in awe. I am also anxious that the Essay should be so published during thy life, that all the effect may be secured to it which every circumstance can conspire to give.

During the next Summer, (should I not see thee before that time,1 for I intend going to Washington this Winter,) I purpose to Send thee a Paper on the Art of making Iron & Steel, from our native Ores. This Paper is now in the hands of my friend David Parish, at Philadelphia, for perusal. The invention will make a saving of one half the expense in making Cast-Steel, & from ¼ to in making Iron. I dare not entrust it to our Patent Office, nor shall I make it public, until a better system prevails. My Cast-Steel is as ductile & weldable & malleable as the best German bar, or English blister steel. Would the Government give me the chance that I ought to have for introducing my improvements, I would soon make a fortune for myself, & greatly benefit the public. Could I obtain some office that would aid me in my need, I should be glad—but whenever the law of the land shall secure to original inventors the safe possession of their rights, & extend the period to 30 years, I will ask nothing more of the government. Thou couldst do much, by thy opinion, toward promoting this great object, as just as necessary for the public good. I am perfectly astonished that Dr Thornton should be retained in the Patent Office, when there are so many complaints against him. For myself, I can only say that I would not entrust any important invention to him, if ever so anxious to secure a right by Patent. He is, in my opinion, (but thou must know him much better than I can,) a very dishonest man, & dishonorable; & I know that he is a deadly foe to Col. Monroe, & the President, & in short the whole Administration.

With offering an apology for so long a Letter, I close with assurances of my esteem.

H. G. Spafford.

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 17 Jan. 1816 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to George Ticknor, 31 Jan. 1816, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson, LL.D. Monticello, Va.”; franked; postmarked Albany, 9 Jan.

TJ’s letter, which included his wish to be useful to Spafford, was actually dated 22 dec. 1815. my magazine was the American Magazine, a monthly miscellany. Spafford submitted his paper, entitled “Cursory Observations on the Art of Making Iron and Steel, from Native Ores of the United States” (not found), to the American Philosophical Society in the spring of 1816. An APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends committee studied the paper for four months before returning it to Spafford with recommendations for further experimentation and rewriting (Julian P. Boyd, “Horatio Gates Spafford, Precursor of Bessemer,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings 87 [1943]: 47–50). Spafford received two patents on 30 Oct. 1822, one for improvements in the art of making wrought or cast-steel and another for advances in the manufacture of iron or steel (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 , 242).

1Extraneous closing parenthesis here editorially omittted.

Index Entries

  • American Magazine; edited by H. G. Spafford search
  • American Philosophical Society; and H. G. Spafford’s works search
  • iron; manufacture of search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); mentioned search
  • Monroe, James; mentioned search
  • Parish, David; and iron and steel manufacture search
  • patents; of H. G. Spafford search
  • schools and colleges; national technology school proposed search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; and iron and steel production search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; and patents and patent system search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; as editor ofAmerican Magazine search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; letters from search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; national technology school proposed by search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; visits Washington search
  • steel; blistered search
  • steel; cast search
  • steel; German search
  • Thornton, William; as patent office superintendent search