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William Thornton to Thomas Jefferson, 11 December 1814

From William Thornton

City of Washington 11th Decr 1814—

Dear sir

I have long owed you a Letter, relative to Clopper’s Looms: but I wished to see him or hear from him before I should write again. I wrote but received from him no Answer. I wrote to his Brother to enquire where he was, & the proprietor of the Patent right called on me. I said so much to him on the Subject, that he1 acknowledged he had done wrong in holdg his rights in Virga at such a price: but he seemed not much disposed to alter now, his mode of vending them, which was by Counties. He told me he had corresponded with you, and I think he said he had seen you.—A manufactury is now establishing here, at the mill Seat in Virga just over the little Falls Bridge to which I shall pay some attention, and inform you how it progresses. It belongs to Charles Goldsborough & Co

I saw, since I wrote last, the proprietor of the Patent Loom for Baltimore County. He was here, & told me he had written & promised you a compleat loom.—

What dreadful scenes we have witnessed here! but all may be repair’d, and in some respects we shall be benefitted: for if the Buildings should be repair’d, we shall never hear any more of the removal of Congress: and I have congratulated the members on the loss of their Library, since you offered yours on such generous Terms.—I advised them to offer you $50,000 at once: for I had seen the Books, & knew them to be very valuable: that they ought not therefore to value them as Books in a common Library; for, beside the learning & ability it would require to select the Books, they were not to be obtained but at very great trouble, great expense, great risk, & many of them not to be had at all: but I fear they will not give half the value.—

I have a very great favor to ask of you.—Stewart (the Painter) painted a very beautiful Bust of you, on a blue ground—in Chiaroscuro. He offered to paint my portrait in the same manner; but I did not sit. I wish much to copy your Head, and also the Piece painted for you by mr West.—If packed up in a small well made Box, and covered with silk paper, before they be pressed down, so as not to rub; or put first into a port folio, they would come safely, and might be sent with the Books. I would take of them the utmost care, and return them in the safest manner, as soon as I had copied them; and I would not keep them long.—I admired them both, and if you would grant me this favor I should be very much obliged.—The Piece of West’s to which I allude, is Hector taking leave of Andromache, in Chiaroscuro.2

I am, dear Sir, with the highest respect & consideration Yrs

William Thornton—

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 16 Dec. 1814 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to John Garnett, 4 Jan. 1815, on verso; addressed: “Honorable Thomas Jefferson—Monticello”; franked; postmarked Washington, 12 Dec.

No retirement-era correspondence has been found between TJ and Francis C. Clopper, the proprietor of the patent right in Virginia for Walter Janes’s loom. The little falls bridge was located on the Potomac River a few miles upstream from Georgetown (Baltimore Patriot & Evening Advertiser, 8 May 1816). George Greer, the proprietor of the patent loom for baltimore county, wrote TJ on 9 Aug. 1814. After receiving Gilbert Stuart’s 1805 medallion-style bust from TJ, Thornton made at least three copies, one of which he presented to the Library of Congress in 1816 (Bush, Life Portraits description begins Alfred L. Bush, The Life Portraits of Thomas Jefferson, rev. ed., 1987 description ends , 62–3). In June 1797 Benjamin West had given Tadeusz Kosciuszko his drawing of The Fright of Astyanax, which is also known as hector taking leave of andromache. TJ received this artwork from Kosciuszko prior to the latter’s departure for Europe in the spring of the following year (Stein, Worlds description begins Susan R. Stein, The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, 1993 description ends , 150–1; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 37 vols. description ends , 30:xli–xlii).

1Reworked from “I.”

2Manuscript: “Chiarosuro.”

Index Entries

  • Capitol, U.S.; construction and repair of search
  • Clopper, Francis C.; patent agent search
  • Goldsborough, Charles Washington; manufactory of search
  • Greer, George; as patent agent search
  • Janes, Walter; loom of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; G. Stuart’s paintings search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; W. Thornton’s profile bust search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; and B. West’s The Fright of Astyanax search
  • Library of Congress; TJ sells personal library to search
  • looms search
  • machines; loom search
  • paintings; by B. West search
  • paintings; lent by TJ search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; “Medallion” profile of TJ by search
  • The Fright of Astyanax (B. West) search
  • Thornton, William; and sale of TJ’s library search
  • Thornton, William; and W. Janes’s loom search
  • Thornton, William; borrows paintings from TJ search
  • Thornton, William; letters from search
  • Thornton, William; portrait of TJ by search
  • War of1812; British destruction in Washington search
  • Washington, D.C.; British destruction in search
  • Washington, D.C.; proposed removal of U.S. capital from search
  • West, Benjamin; The Fright of Astyanax search