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To Thomas Jefferson from Elbridge Gerry, 12 November 1798

From Elbridge Gerry

Cambridge 12th Novr 1798

Dear Sir

Mr Otis, secretary of the Senate, was kind eno’ to take four letters, of which two were for yourself, & a small box with one or more Watches; & to promise a delivery of them, into your hands. the box, & some of the letters, were committed to my care by Mr Short; who accompanyed me to Havre, with an intention to embark in the Sophia, for the U States. he had provided every article for the Voyage, & sent his baggage to that place; but Madam Ro—f—lt,’s irrisistible letters, pursued him there, & changed his resolution. I presume he is now, in holy unison with her. he also delivered to me two books, & some papers of Mr Skipwith’s, for yourself: & Monsr Latude delivered to me his memoirs, relative to his thirty five years confinement in the Bastile, with his best respects, for you. I send you the whole of these by Mr Binney: a young gentleman, who is studying law at Philadelphia. I understood, that Mr Skipwith’s papers were for recovering about £8, or 900 sterling due to him from the UStates: that he advanced the money for them: & that the detention of it, is a hard case. of this, I presume you will be able to judge; & of the proper measures & time, for obtaining justice for him—Doctor Gemm, who is no longer in the practice of physic, but still a very respectable character in Paris, presents his best respects to you. I shall be much obliged to you, for the yeas & nays of my appointment, as Envoy; & for such political information, as may be interesting to myself, in regard to the embassy. during my absence I find that I have been abused alternately by both parties: but for what, I am yet to learn. send the letter by a private hand. I remain dear Sir

Your friend & very hume Sert

E Gerry

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Honble Mr Jefferson Vice President of the U States”; endorsed by TJ as received 28 Dec. 1798 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in DLC: Gerry Papers); in Gerry’s hand.

For the letters that Samuel A. Otis evidently handed to TJ on the vice president’s arrival in Philadelphia on 25 Dec., see William Short’s letter of 6 Aug. 1798. On 13 Apr. 1800 TJ informed Short that the watches had been safely conveyed to Short’s sisters in Kentucky. He sent the timepieces in the care of John Fowler, although the SJL entry for a 6 Feb. 1799 letter to Peyton Short, which has not been found, notes that it was carried “by mr Clay with a watch” (TJ to Peyton Short, 16 Oct. 1799; Peyton Short to TJ, 5 Dec. 1799).

Madam ro—f—lt: the Duchesse de La Rochefoucald. The two books, which TJ acknowledged in that letter of 13 Apr. 1800, were the edition of Virgil (see Short’s letters of 27 Feb. and 15 Apr. 1798) and a work on pisé construction, a building method in which earth or clay was packed between forms to create walls. That book was very likely École d’Architecture Rurale (Paris, 1791) by François Cointeraux; see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 1177.

Monsr latude delivered to me his memoirs: Henri Masers de Latude, previously known as Jean Danry, was first imprisoned in 1749 for pretending to reveal a plot to poison the Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV. A perpetually difficult prisoner, he escaped from French jails several times and was eventually deemed insane by prison authorities. Attaining celebrity after the fall of the Bastille in 1789, he told the tale of his 1756 escape from that prison as Mémoire de M. Delatude, ingénieur. The book handed to Gerry may have been Le despotisme dévoilé ou Mémoires de Henri Masers de Latude, détenu pendant trente-cinq ans dans diverses prisons d’État, first published in Paris in 1790. There were other purported memoirs that Latude disavowed as apocryphal. As TJ mentioned in his famous “Head and Heart” letter to Maria Cosway on 12 Oct. 1786, Latude dined with him on occasion in Paris and regaled the American minister with stories of his imprisonment and escapes (Claude Quétel, Escape from the Bastille: The Life and Legend of Latude, trans. Christopher Sharp [Cambridge, 1990], 3–6, 11, 43–5, 62–4, 73–7, 95–6, 153–7; see also Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 219; and, for Latude’s enigmatic persona, André Nos, Jean-Henri Masers de Latude (1725–1805), ou Le fou de la liberié: Enquête historique et psychologique [Pézenas, France, 1994], 317–59).

Eighteen-year-old Horace Binney had graduated from Harvard College in 1797, entering Jared Ingersoll’s office in the fall of that year to read law (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

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