Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from John Southack, 10 May 1801

From John Southack

Roxbury near Boston massa. May 10. 1801—

Respected Sir

As I am one of a Company forming to endeavour to Make plaster of Paris Serviceable to the United States in the growth of Corn & other things & hearing of your politeness & Candour in giving An Answer Upon Any Subject to those Who had the honour of addressing you I have took the Liberty to address you in this way & Ask you how Plaster Answers on the Grounds in Virginia being Sensible that if Any has been Used there & accquired Any Reputation—your excellency Would Know it—I am Now onto Phila. on the Business & find it Answers Very well here—Also in the Back part New York. I Shall Return to Roxby to Morrow.—I have dated the Letter Roxbury being my place of residence—if your excellency Would be So very Kind As to Answer this letter it shall be acknowledged with gratitude by your excellencys Very Huml Servt.

John Southack

RC (MHi); at foot of text: “Excellcy Thos. Jefferson—Presdt Ustates”; endorsed by TJ as received 19 May and so recorded in SJL.

Merchant John Southack (b. 1774), a native of Boston, shipped plaster of paris out of Passamaquoddy Bay and gambled with less legitimate forms of income, including insurance fraud, before he was imprisoned in Charlestown, Massachusetts, according to a brief published account of his life (The Life of John Southack, written by Himself. Containing an Account of the Sinking of the Brigantine Hannah [Boston, 1809]).

TJ’s opinion on the use of plaster of paris or gypsum as manure at this time is unknown. In 1803, he endorsed a book by a farmer in Loudon County, Virginia, who claimed success in the use of plaster of paris for soil regeneration (John Alexander Binns, A Treatise on Practical Farming [Frederick, Md., 1803]; Sowerby description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends , No. 721).

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