Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to William Thornton, 9 June 1814

To William Thornton

Poplar Forest near Lynchburg. June 9. 14.

Dear Doctor

Your kindness has emboldened me, whenever I want information of what relates to the arts, to apply to you, and especially when for an object deposited in your office. the inclosed description of Janes’s improvement of the loom has excited my attention. that the force of the stroke of the batton should also move the shuttle and treadles is certainly practicable by proper machinery; but we who live in the country where we have only common workmen have other questions to ask, and I address them as usual to your friendship. does the stroke of the batton in Janes’s1 loom competently work the shuttle and the treadles? is it of such simplicity as that it can be made by our country workmen, and kept in order by the common ingenuity in our families? can the machinery be affixed to a common loom, or does it require a new loom of special construction? if applicable to a common loom, can the apparatus be made in Washington, & within the volume which the stages would undertake to bring? what the price of the apparatus separately, or of loom & apparatus together2 if both must be had together, and what the volume of both together? this letter is written at a place 2. or 3. days distant from Monticello, to which I pay 3. or 4. long visits a year, but I will ask your answer to be addressed as usual to Monticello. After trying several spinning machines, I have settled down with the antient Jenny, because it’s simplicity is such that we can make and repair it ourselves. mr Randolph & myself have four of these at work in our family, 3 of them of 24. spindles each and one of 40. but there is an improvement of Dr Allison’s enabling them to spin from the roll, without previous roving, which, when I have leisure I shall try to make, having obtained the Doctor’s permission. he has given me some directions additional to those in Cooper’s Emporium, which render the executing of the machine quite easy.

at the return of peace I think Gr. Britain will find that the country demand for her coarse goods is for ever lost to her: at least if I may judge from the houshold establishments of this state.

with respectful compliments to the ladies of your family accept the assurance of my great esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Thornton Papers); addressed: “Doctr William Thornton Washington, Columbia”; franked; postmarked. PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ.

The inclosed description of janes’s improvement of the loom was probably a brief article published in the Washington Daily National Intelligencer on 11 May 1814 under the heading “The Useful Arts,” which notes that an improved loom has been on display “in an apartment of the capital” for two or three weeks; describes the invention as smaller than a common loom but constructed so that when a person uses one arm to operate the batten or slay “in the common manner, motion is given to a spring shuttle, works the treadles, and, at proper times, lets out the warp and winds up the cloth, keeping the whole well tightened and in proper order”; asserts that the shuttle can be thrown two-hundred times per minute, that an average day’s work yields thirty yards of common cloth, and that “two inches of ordinary size have been woven in one minute”; indicates that the writer has witnessed its operations himself; names the inventor as Walter Janes, of Connecticut; and concludes that the loom is suitable for the manufacture of any fabric, “from the finest silk to the coarsest bagging; and from its cheapness and superiority for family use will prove a benefit to the community, as we hope of wealth to the inventor and proprietors.”

1TJ here canceled “mach.”

2Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Allison, Burgess; spinning machine of search
  • Cooper, Thomas; and Emporium of Arts & Sciences search
  • Emporium of Arts & Sciences; mentioned search
  • Janes, Walter; loom of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; domestic manufacturing search
  • looms search
  • manufacturing, household; TJ on search
  • patents; of W. Janes search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); mentioned search
  • spinning machines; TJ on search
  • textiles; home manufacture of search
  • Thornton, William; as patent office superintendent search
  • Thornton, William; letters to search