Thomas Jefferson Papers
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William Wirt to Thomas Jefferson, 10 July 1809

From William Wirt

Richmond. July 10. 1809.

Dear Sir

Alexander McRae esqr & Majr John Clarke, two gentlemen, justly reputed for integrity and talents, and well known I believe, Sir, to you, are just about to embark for Europe, with views which I am authorized to state to you. In conjunction with several other gentlemen, they have formed a project of introducing m[anu]factures into Virginia on a grand scale and permane[nt] basis and with that view to enlist into their association the skill and capital of European artists and owners. It is believed that in this season of agitation and dismay in the old world, their proposal, combining the highest profit with a safe & peaceful asylum, will be embraced with alacrity: and they are pleased with the hope of promoting, by the same act, their own independence and that of their country.

The object of this is to enquire, at their request, whether it may be convenient and agreable to you to give them such letters of introduction to your acquaintances abroad as may either promote their views or render their excursion the more pleasant. They will sail for England in about a fortnight; and after some time spent there will proceed to France, unless their object shall be accomplished in the first country.

You will easily percieve that in order to ensure success & safety to their views, it is necessary that their object should be known to as few as possible: hence, I hope, you will excuse me for begging that this communication may be recievd in confidence.—And that you [w]ill believe me as I truly am with the highest consideration

Yo. obt. Servt,

Wm Wirt

RC (DLC); mutilated at seal; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 31 July 1809 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in Alexander McRae to TJ, 22 July 1809.

William Wirt (1772–1834), lawyer and author, frequently corresponded with TJ, who chose him as one of his counsel when he was sued in 1810 by Edward Livingston in the controversy concerning the Batture Sainte Marie and who unsuccessfully recruited him for the presidency of the University of Virginia in 1826. Born in Maryland, Wirt lived in Albemarle County, 1795–99, served with TJ’s recommendation as clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates, 1799–1802, and after stints in Williamsburg and Norfolk, became a prominent member of the Richmond bar in 1806, appearing a year later for the prosecution at the treason trial of Aaron Burr. Wirt’s best-known publications were Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (Richmond, 1817), and two volumes of essays, The Letters of the British Spy (Richmond, 1803) and The Old Bachelor (Richmond, 1814). He served as United States attorney general from 1817–29 and remained in Washington thereafter. In 1832 Wirt was the presidential candidate of the Anti-Masonic party (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 ; John P. Kennedy, Memoirs of the Life of William Wirt, Attorney-General of the United States, 2 vols. [1849]; Anya Jabour, Marriage in the Early Republic: Elizabeth and William Wirt and the Companionate Ideal [1998]).

McRae and Clarke were traveling to Europe to pursue a secret and ultimately unsuccessful silk-manufacturing project. McRae departed in December 1809 without Clarke, who by then had dropped out of the scheme (Wirt to James Madison, 10 July 1809, and McRae to Madison, 22 July, 11 Aug., 8 Dec. 1809, Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 6 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 1:283–4, 296–7, 323–4, 2:118–9).

Index Entries

  • Burr, Aaron (1756–1836); treason trial of search
  • Clarke, John (1766–1844); and silk-manufacturing project search
  • Europe; and silk manufacturing search
  • manufacturing, household; silk manufacturing in Va. search
  • McRae, Alexander; and silk-manufacturing project search
  • silk manufacturing; in Europe search
  • textiles; silk manufacturing search
  • Wirt, William; endorses silk-manufacturing project search
  • Wirt, William; identified search
  • Wirt, William; letters from search