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Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis, 16 August 1809

To Meriwether Lewis

Monticello Aug. 16. 09.

Dear Sir

This will be handed you [by] mr Bradbury, an English botanist, who proposes to take St Louis in his botanising tour. he came recommended to me by mr Roscoe of Liverpool, so well known by his histories of Lorenzo of Medicis & Leo X. & who is president of the Botanical society of Liverpool. mr Bradbury comes out in their employ, & having kept him here about ten days, I have had an opportunity of knowing that besides being a botanist of the first order, he is a man of entire worth & correct conduct. as such I recommend him to your notice, advice & patronage, while within your government or it’s confines. perhaps you can consult no abler hand on your Western botanical observations. I am very often applied to to know when your work will begin to appear; and I have so long promised copies to my literary correspondents in France, that I am almost bankrupt in their eyes. I shall be very happy to recieve from yourself information of your expectations on this subject. every body is impatient for it.

You have seen by the papers how dirty a trick has been played us by England. I consider all amicable arrangement with that nation as desperate during the life of the present king. there is some ground to expect more justice from Napoleon: & this is perhaps favored by the signal defeat he has suffered in the battle of the1 Danube, which has obliged him to retreat & remain stationary at Vienna, till his army, literally cut up, can be reinforced. in the mean time, the spell of his invincibility being broken, he is in danger of an universal insurrection against him in Europe. your friends here are well, & have been long in expectation of seeing you. I shall hope in that case to possess a due portion of you at Monticello, where I am at length enjoying the never before known luxury of employing my self for my own gratification only. present my friendly salutations to Genl Clarke, and be assured yourself of my constant & unalterable affections.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); torn at crease; at foot of text: “Govr Lewis”; endorsed by TJ.

Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) was born at Locust Hill, near Ivy Creek in Albemarle County, into a locally prominent family enjoying cordial relations with the neighboring Jeffersons and Randolphs. In 1795 he joined the United States Army as an ensign, rising to lieutenant in 1799 and captain in 1800. TJ made Lewis his personal secretary in 1801. Two years later TJ put him in charge of the successful 1803–06 transcontinental exploration that has become known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. TJ appointed Lewis governor of Louisiana Territory in 1807, and he took up residence at Saint Louis. In September 1809 Lewis began a journey to Washington, D.C., in order to investigate the repudiation of several bills he had issued on the government. He died en route, in a central Tennessee inn, probably by his own hand (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Richard Dillon, Meriwether Lewis: A Biography [1965]; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, 2 vols. description ends , 1:631; TJ to Lewis, 23 Feb. 1801 [DLC]; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:53, 54 [28 Feb., 2 Mar. 1807]; John Brahan to TJ, 18 Oct. 1809; James Neelly to TJ, 18 Oct. 1809; TJ to Paul Allen, 18 Aug. 1813).

In SJL under this date TJ records both this letter and an undated letter by Lewis received from Mississippi; the latter is otherwise unknown and may simply be an inadvertent and incorrect reference to the former.

On 12 Aug. 1809 John bradbury wrote to William roscoe from Monticello: “I have been here about 10 Days which time I have spent in examining the neighbourhd assisted often by Colnl Randolph who is Son in Law to Mr Jefferson & one of the best if not the best Naturalist I ever met with—I have made out two new Cypripedia, two new Orchidea of a Genus established by Persoon which he has separated from Serapias & calls Heleborine, two new Cacaliæ a new & most Odorous Coreopsis a new Talinum a beautiful Rock Plant and many others of which I am doubtful—Some of these are removed into Mr Jefferson’s Garden & others are Marked in the Woods & known to Coll R. who has this morning promised to take care of them for me, or Your use should I never return to reclaim them.” TJ had informed him that Lewis was now stationed at Saint Louis as governor of Louisiana, and that the territory had not yet been explored by any botanist. Bradbury accordingly decided to travel to Saint Louis instead of New Orleans “and put myself under the direction of Capn Lewis, to whom Mr Jeffn & Mr Randolph will give me Letters. … As I am assured by Mr Jefferson that even War with Britain shall not obstruct my researches I purpose to establish a Garden at Ft St Louis as a place of Immediate deposit and place one of my sons at New Orleans to receive & transmit. … Mr Jefferson will I suppose write to you, he has some intention of sending you seeds of a new variety of Zea Maize which was brought by Capn Lewis from a Vast distance beyond the Mouth of the Missouri he found it with a Tribe of Cultivating Indians in Latitude 49° and a Country so much elevated as to render it almost a Greenland Climate. Mr J. thinks it will be an Immense acquisition to Britain as it will grow even in the Highlands [. . .] and Yields most abundantly: At all events [I shall] not return to Europe without it—Coll Randolph has obtained 2 Years ago some seeds of Holcus Sorghum (Sorghum Vulgare of Persoon) and of Sesamum Indicum both of which he is cultivating the former as an article of food the Latter for Oil. The Seeds of the Holcus are much better than the Maize & it yields in greater abundance I measured some of it 14 feet high. The culture of both will become general & highly beneficial here.” In a postscript Bradbury added that “Since I finished this Lr Mr Jefferson requested me to present his respectful compliments to you and informs me that he will forward all my Letters to Mr Pinckney which will afford me the opportunity of making inclosures,” and he enclosed “seeds of S Cypripedia … all inhabitants of shady Woods” (Bradbury to Roscoe, 12 Aug. 1809, RC in UkLi: Roscoe Manuscripts; torn at margin; printed in H. W. Rickett, “John Bradbury’s Explorations in Missouri Territory,” APS, Proceedings 94 [1950]: 62–4). There is no record of TJ writing to Roscoe at this time. In a similar letter of 12 Aug. 1809 to James Edward Smith, Bradbury spoke of the “Very good Botanic Library” at Monticello and remarked that “Mr Jeffersons House stands on a Hill, on that Hill I have in a few days found 3 Cypripedia 2 of which are evidently neither discribed in Michaux’s Flora Americana Boreali or by Persoon or indeed in any work that we have. Also two species belonging to the genus Heleborine as established by Persoon but not discribed by him or any Author so far as we can find Other Orchidea also not in flower or possessing marks sufficient to determine them We reckon also 2 new Cacaliæ a new Talinum & some others of dubious Genera” (RC in Linnean Society, London: James Edward Smith Manuscripts).

1TJ here canceled “Rhine.”

Index Entries

  • Aspern-Essling, Battle of (1809) search
  • botany; and T. M. Randolph search
  • botany; books on search
  • botany; J. Bradbury’s expedition search
  • botany; Liverpool Botanic Garden search
  • Bradbury, John; botanical expedition of search
  • Bradbury, John; proposes garden at Saint Louis search
  • Bradbury, John; visits Monticello search
  • coreopsis search
  • corn; from Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • corn; Indian search
  • fameflower search
  • Flora Boreali-Americana (Michaux) search
  • gardens; at Monticello, described search
  • gardens; at Saint Louis, proposed by J. Bradbury search
  • gardens; Liverpool Botanic Garden search
  • Heleborine search
  • Holcus sorghum (Johnsongrass) search
  • lady-slipper search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; and publication of journals search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; death of search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; identified search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; letters to search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; TJ introduces J. Bradbury to search
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition; publication of journals search
  • Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth (W. Roscoe) search
  • Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici, called the Magnificent (W. Roscoe) search
  • Liverpool Botanic Garden search
  • Madison, James; presidential proclamations of search
  • Michaux, André; Flora Boreali-Americana search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); gardens search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Bradbury, John search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; Battle of Aspern-Essling search
  • Persoon, Christiaan Hendrik; Synopsis Plantarum, seu Enchiridium Botanicum search
  • Pinkney, William; as U.S. minister to Great Britain search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); botanical skills of search
  • Roscoe, William; and J. Bradbury’s botanical expedition search
  • Roscoe, William; Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth search
  • Roscoe, William; Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici, called the Magnificent search
  • seeds; sesame search
  • sesame (benne; benni); J. Bradbury on search
  • Smith, James Edward search
  • Sorghum vulgare (bicolor); grain grown by T. M. Randolph search
  • suicide; and M. Lewis search
  • Zea maize; from Lewis and Clark Expedition search