Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to William Thornton, 14 January 1812

To William Thornton

Monticello Jan. 14. 12.

Dear Doctor

We are all busied in the country with our houshold manufactures of clothing. I do not believe one fifth of the coarse clothing has been bought this year from the importers which has been heretofore bought, and the next year nobody counts on wanting a single yard of coarse goods (blankets excepted) & but little will be wanted of goods of midling qualities. for the fine we must depend on the town manufactories. most of us are still however at the old spinning wheel & hand cards. a few neighbors of us are setting up some spinning jennies, next in simplicity to the spinning wheel. but I have seen in the hands of a friend an advertisement of a machine much simpler than the jenny, & which will do about 6. times the work of a spinning wheel. it’s price, 15. Dollars shews there cannot be much work about it. this promises to be exactly what we want. but does it answer what is announced of it? this question I have presumed your friendship would induce you to answer for me, to give me your opinion of the machine & some idea of it, that I may know if it is worth the trouble of sending for it. if we could but have as simple a carding machine we should be fixed. why would not 2. circular cards in peritrochio, fixed thus, answer? one turned by each hand in the same or opposite directions ad libitum? or plain cards on 2. cylinders, one to be turned by each hand? or 2 cards on plain surfaces, & prone, shoved backwards & forwards as in polishing marble? I copy the advertisement on the other side & tender you the assurances of my continued friendship & respect

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Thornton Papers); with 1st Tr of enclosure on verso; addressed: “Doctr William Thornton Washington Col.” PoC (DLC); with PoC of 1st Tr of enclosure on verso; endorsed by TJ. Enclosure: description of Ebenezer Herrick’s machine: “The Domestic Spinner. Ebenezer Herrick of West Stockbridge county of Berkshire, Mass. has lately recieved a patent for an invention greatly improving the art of spinning wool & cotton. the machine is called the Domestic Spinner. it will spin from 6. to 8. threads at a time. the expence of one machine together with the right of using the same, will not exceed 15. Dollars. mr Herrick says any person can spin one run & a half per day on each spindle, with the same labour requisite to spin 2. runs on a common wheel” (1st Tr in DLC: Thornton Papers, in TJ’s hand, partially dated, at head of text: “Extract from the Delaware Watchman. Wilmington Mar. 16.,” on verso of RC of covering letter; PoC in DLC, on verso of PoC of covering letter; PoC of 2d Tr in DLC, in TJ’s hand, subjoined to PoC of TJ to Ebenezer Herrick, 20 Feb. 1812; 3d Tr in DLC: TJ Papers, ser. 10, in TJ’s hand; printed in Wilmington American Watchman and Delaware Republican, 16 Mar. 1811, with one minor variation in wording; see also Herrick to TJ, 24 Mar. 1812).

James Hargreaves patented the spinning jenny in England in 1770 (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 ). An axis in peritrochio is another way to describe the mechanical power or elementary machine called the wheel and axle (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 ).

Index Entries

  • carding machines; TJ seeks advice on search
  • Hargreaves, James; and spinning jenny search
  • Herrick, Ebenezer; and Domestic Spinner (spinning machine) search
  • household articles; wool cards search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; domestic manufacturing search
  • machines; carding search
  • machines; spinning search
  • machines; spinning jenny search
  • machines; spinning wheel search
  • manufacturing, household; spinning jennies search
  • manufacturing, household; TJ on search
  • patents; of E. Herrick search
  • patents; of J. Hargreaves search
  • spinning jennies search
  • spinning machines; described search
  • spinning wheels search
  • textiles; home manufacture of search
  • Thornton, William; and spinning machines search
  • Thornton, William; letters to search
  • wool; cards search
  • wool; spinning of search