Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Samuel K. Jennings to Thomas Jefferson, 30 October 1813

From Samuel K. Jennings

30th Octor 1813

Dear Sir,

I have satisfied myself, by a great number of experiments, that the influence of cold upon the skin, is the most universal cause which places the system in a state of predisposition to disease. I have also ascertained by experiment hundreds of times repeated, that a timely application of intense heat to the surface, will correct the predisposition, and prevent disease, even when sternly threatened. I have also further ascertained, that the same application, with the addition of some evacuations when necessary, will produce the same effect, in all seasons of the year. Indeed I hesitate not to say, that, heat may be used in this way to prevent Pleurisies and Rheumatisms in the Winter and Spring, and Intermittent, Remittent and continued fevers in the Summer and Autumn. I will include also every grade of bilious fever, which is not excited by an agent of power sufficient to destroy before it gives an alarm. I will not except typhus or Slow-fever as it is commonly called in this country.—

After fever is formed, so as to make regular medical attention necessary, I have also ascertained by experience, that heat may be used in the intermission and remission of the paroxisms, as a safe tonic agent.—that it may be so managed as commonly to supercede the necessity of blisters—And that in all cases, by judicious application, the course of disease may be shortened, and convalescence made more speedy and safe.

Your own experience in preventing the accession of threatening disease, by living abstemiously, and covering yourself warmly in bed, will evince to you the practicability of this plan. In your case the skin is warmed, and a balance regained in the course of two or three days—Upon my plan, the same object can be accomplished in one night.

Having ascertained that so much could be effected by the application of heat, I have taken pains to invent some appropriate method for its performance. And have succeeded1 in the device of a stove by which the heated gas, escaping from burning ardent spirit, may be conveniently and safely conveyed into the patient’s bed &c &c. Doctor Hall will give you an exhibition of the apparatus, and the process for using it.

I have thought fit to call it a “portable warm and hot bath.”

It would be a valuable acquisition to the Army and Navy of the U States. [Would?] you be so obliging, as to give it a [letter?] of introduction to the Government? If you think well of it, Doctor Hall will be the bearer. He is authorized to transact the business for me. Hoping you will excuse this liberty

I am Dear Sir Your most Obedt friend & Hum Servt

Saml K Jennings

RC (MHi); dateline beneath signature; mutilated at seal; addressed: “The Honl Thomas Jefferson Esqr Montecello” by “Doctor Hall”; endorsed by TJ as received 6 Nov., but recorded in SJL as received 5 Nov. 1813.

Samuel Kennedy Jennings (1771–1854), physician, teacher, and Methodist minister, was born in Essex County, New Jersey, and graduated from Queen’s College (later Rutgers University) in 1790. He taught school in New London, Virginia, was ordained a Methodist deacon in 1805 and an elder in 1814, and edited the Lynchburg Press from 1809 until at least October 1813. In January 1814 Jennings received a patent for his “portable warm and hot bath” (renewed by Congress in 1843), which was said to relieve those suffering from rheumatism and other complaints. Later in 1814 the secretary of war ordered him to exhibit his invention in Norfolk, where he apparently remained until moving to Baltimore in 1817. In the latter city Jennings served as president of Asbury College for a number of years and taught at Washington Medical College, 1827–45. He left the Methodist Episcopal Church for the breakaway Methodist Protestant Church in 1828. Jennings’s published works included The Married Lady’s Companion, or Poor Man’s Friend (New York, 1808) and A Compendium of Medical Science (1847). He moved to Alabama in 1845, later suffered a debilitating stroke, and returned to Baltimore about a year before his death (Thomas H. Stockton, A Discourse on the Life and Character of the Rev. Samuel K. Jennings, M.D. [1855]; Sprague, American Pulpit description begins William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, 1857–69, 9 vols. description ends , 7:279–81; A General Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Rutgers College [1855], 18; Margaret Anthony Cabell, Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg by the Oldest Inhabitant (Mrs. Cabell) 1858 [1858; repr. with additional material by Louise A. Blunt, 1974], 209–10; Ruth H. Early, Campbell Chronicles and Family Sketches Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia, 1782–1926 [1927], 436; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 2:1120; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 135; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 38:137, 565–6 [4 Jan., 3 Mar. 1843]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 29 July 1814; Norfolk American Beacon and Commercial Diary, 11 Mar. 1817; Salem [Mass.] Gazette, 16 Apr. 1824; Harold J. Abrahams, The Extinct Medical Schools of Baltimore, Maryland [1969], 20, 22; Nathan Bangs, A History of the Methodist Episcopal Church [1840], 3:74–5; Baltimore Sun, 20 Oct. 1854).

The bearer may have been Daniel Hall, who lauded Jennings’s invention as “the happiest discovery of the age” in a letter written at Baltimore on 20 July 1814 and printed by Jennings in A Plain, Elementary Explanation of the Nature and Cure of Disease, predicated upon facts and experience; presenting A View of that Train of Thinking which led to the invention of the patent, portable Warm and Hot Bath (Washington, 1814), 111–2.

1Manuscript: “succeeeded.”

Index Entries

  • bath; portable search
  • Hall, Daniel search
  • health; blisters search
  • health; fever search
  • health; pleurisy search
  • health; rheumatism search
  • health; typhus search
  • Jennings, Samuel Kennedy; identified search
  • Jennings, Samuel Kennedy; letters from search
  • Jennings, Samuel Kennedy; portable bath of search
  • machines; portable bath search
  • medicine; use of heat in search