Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to William Thornton, 24 April 1812

To William Thornton

Monticello Apr. 24. 12.

Dear Sir

On the reciept of your letter of Jan. 26. recommending Barrett’s Spinning machine, I wrote to him for one; but not knowing his particular address, my letter was long getting to him; so that within this day or two only, instead of a machine I have recieved only a letter from him. in this he informs me you have the exclusive right to make and sell them to our state; and adds that if you wish it he will furnish me with a machine of 12. spindles (the size suiting me best) as soon as he gets your orders to that effect. I had before ordered a spinning Jenny, but on the reciept of your letter countermanded it: in consequence my establishment remains suspended until I can get Barrett’s machine, and in the mean time1 a man and his wife whom I hired to conduct it, and who have themselves been brought up to the business, as well as my other subordinate hands are idle. I am very anxious therefore to recieve a machine as early as possible. if you have one ready made, and which you can recommend as well made, you will relieve me much by having it well packed and sent to Messrs Gibson & Jefferson, my correspondents at Richmond, who will forward it to me. if you cannot speedily furnish one, will you be so good as to order one from Oliver Barrett himself. he knows how to forward it. in either case, as soon as it is ready & notified to me I will forward the whole or the divided price to yourself or mr Barrett as you shall direct me. can you do me the favor of informing me immediately2 when & from whom I may expect one?

Your description of the plant, a substitute for hemp & flax, for the exclusive use of which mr Whitlow has a patent, has thrown all the boys of our neighborhood into great alarm, lest they should not be allowed hereafter to make their trap strings of what they call Indian hemp, which, boys have been in the practice from time immemorial, of applying to their purposes; of this I can give testimony for near 70. years back when I was a boy myself. one of them, in the name of his companions brought me his trap string, to be lodged in the patent office as a caveat against mr Whitlow’s claim, if this be the plant he claims. I send a piece only of the string, supposing it sufficient. it is made of the Apocynum Cannabinum of Clayton & Linnaeus.

On the subject of the price of a patent right for a county for mr Barrett’s machine, I think he mistakes his interest greatly in asking so much. at 500.D. he will never sell two county rights in this state; whereas at 100.D. he would probably sell from 50 to 100. if the machine be found in practice to answer well. Accept the assurance of my great esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Thornton Papers); addressed: “Doctor William Thornton Washington Columb.”; franked; postmarked Milton, 30 Apr. 1812. PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ.

Thornton’s letter of jan. 26. was actually dated 20 Jan. 1812. TJ had hired William McClure and his wife to manage his spinning operations at Monticello (TJ to McClure, 10 Sept. 1811). apocynum cannabinum: Indian Hemp (Edmond Charles Genet, “On the economical utility of the Apocinum Cannabinum, or Indian hemp, and the Asclepias, or Milkweed, natives of the State of New-York,” Transactions of the Society for the Promotion of Useful Arts, in the State of New-York 3 [1814]: 152–4).

1Preceding four words interlined.

2TJ here canceled “what.”

Index Entries

  • Albemarle County, Va.; cloth factory in search
  • Barrett, Oliver; spinning machine of search
  • Clayton, John; and Indian hemp search
  • crops; hemp search
  • flax; substitutes for search
  • Gibson & Jefferson (Richmond firm); and textile machinery acquired by TJ search
  • hemp; Indian search
  • Indian hemp search
  • Linnaeus, Carolus (Carl von Linné); and Indian hemp search
  • machines; spinning search
  • machines; spinning jenny search
  • manufacturing, household; Albemarle Co. cloth factory search
  • McClure (McLure), Mrs. (William McClure’s wife); and Albemarle Co. cloth factory search
  • McClure (McLure), William; and Albemarle Co. cloth factory search
  • patents; of C. Whitlow search
  • patents; of O. Barrett search
  • spinning jennies search
  • spinning machines; TJ orders search
  • Systema Naturæ (C. Linnaeus) search
  • Thornton, William; and C. Whitlow’s botanical discoveries search
  • Thornton, William; and spinning machines search
  • Thornton, William; as agent for O. Barrett search
  • Thornton, William; letters to search
  • Whitlow, Charles; patents substitute for flax and hemp search