Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Robert H. Saunders to Thomas Jefferson, 9 May 1817

From Robert H. Saunders

Short pump May 9th 1817

Dear Sir,

Having met with considerable losses from the fall of lightning upon several species of1 property at my plantation in the County of Goochland and to guard as much as possible against such an occurrance at this place have come to a resolution of Erecting one or more Franklins as I Shall be advised by You, to my present dwelling,—After giving you a description of the house you perhaps may be the better able to Judge correctly.—my house is 32 feet long two stories high and Twenty feet wide, the whole Altitude 34. feet, it has a wing at each end, one of which is thirty two feet long the other 16 makeing the whole length of the building 80 feet.

There stands at the west end of the house three oak trees one a little N. of west,—from, the chimney 39 feet, one west 40 feet, the other s. west 39 feet all of which projects one or two feet above the top of the Chimney and none of which exceeds the distance of 24 feet from the end of the wing.—At the E. end there stands about 12 or thirteen lofty trees; all of which are several feet higher than the chimney which is at that end.—one of which stands about 15 feet from the chimney & three others in different directions not exceeding thirty feet.—Having now given you the length, breadth, & height; of the house, and the contiguity of a number of trees;—You will be so good as to answer the following questions,   First is it necessary for the safety of a house that there should be a Franklin or Franklins attached to it

2ly If necessary; will my house require one or more if the latter where ought they to be put.
3ly will not the trees above spoken of in some measure superceed the necessity of a Franklin by the aptitude the Lightning has of striking the most elivated objects.
4ly If necessary to set up one or more conductors, shall I make them fast to polls set up for that purpose or shall I fix them to some of the trees nearest to the house.
5ly Shall I use any precaution where the conductor passes through the iron boults, to prevent its flying off from the Franklin
6ly Is it necessary that the rod should go to any debth in the Earth, or is it material that it Should be inclosed with plank or otherwise.—

You will be so good as to pardon me for giving you so much trouble, nothing but the necessity of the case would have made me presume so much upon your Goodness.   Be pleased to accept of a sincear tender of my best wishes, for your health, happiness, & prosperity while you are permited to stay in this World.

I am with great respect your most Obt Hble Sert

Ro. H. Saunders

RC (MHi); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqure Monticller To the particular care of Mr Wells”; endorsed by TJ as received 15 June 1817 and so recorded in SJL.

Robert Hyde Saunders (ca. 1758–1833), innkeeper and farmer, enlisted in 1775 in a militia company from Cumberland (later Powhatan) County and became a sergeant in the 7th Virginia Regiment the following year. He was appointed an ensign in the 1st Virginia Regiment in 1777, rose to lieutenant later that same year, and resigned in 1778. Saunders afterwards served as an adjutant in 1781. By 1814 he was living at his Henrico County property called Short Pump, where he operated a tavern that catered to traffic between Richmond and Charlottesville and functioned as a health resort. Saunders also owned coal-producing land on Tuckahoe Creek and property in Goochland County. He was postmaster at Short Pump from 1819 until about 1826 and was appointed again in 1828. When Saunders died in Henrico County, his Short Pump property consisted of 741 acres (James Edmonds Saunders and Elizabeth Saunders Blair Stubbs, Early Settlers of Alabama [1899], 461; Petition by Saunders, 12 Nov. 1791 [Vi: RG 78, Legislative Petitions, Miscellaneous]; DNA: RG 15, SRRWPBLW; Vi: RG 3, Governor’s Office, Bounty Warrants; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Public Lands, 7:360; The Pension Roll of 1835 [1835; indexed ed., 1992], 3:791; Vi: Business Records Collection, Mutual Assurance Society Declarations, nos. 476, 1322, 1323, 1327; Richmond Enquirer, 20 Nov. 1821, 28 May 1830, 12 Nov. 1833; Axelson, Virginia Postmasters description begins Edith F. Axelson, Virginia Postmasters and Post Offices, 1789–1832, 1991 description ends , 94; VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893–  description ends 35 [1927]: 450; Henrico Co. Will Book, 8:377–9).

Saunders owned a plantation called Bradford in Goochland County (Mutual Assurance Society Declarations, no. 1323). Lightning rods were called franklins in honor of Benjamin Franklin, their inventor (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Preceding three words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Franklin, Benjamin; inventions of search
  • household articles; lightning rods search
  • lightning rods search
  • Saunders, Robert Hyde; and lightning rods search
  • Saunders, Robert Hyde; identified search
  • Saunders, Robert Hyde; letter from search
  • Saunders, Robert Hyde; property of search
  • weather; lightning rods search