Thomas Jefferson Papers
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William Johnson to Thomas Jefferson, 4 March 1817

From William Johnson

Washington March 4. 1817

My dear Sir

I have committed to the Care of my young Friend Mr Todd a small Present of which I must solicit your Acceptance not from any intrinsic Value in the thing itself, but as an Expression of my grateful, respectful and affectionate Recollection.

It is a walking-Stick which appears to be of Tortoise shell but it is in Fact only that Substance moulded over a hickory Rod by a simple but ingenious Process which will immediately occur to you. I hope you will find it somewhat of a Rarity.

But Sir the Head of it is in my Eye & I hope it will be in yours more an Object of Interest. It is taken from the Root of an Oak under which your venerable Friend Gadsden assembled the first little Band of Conspirators that convened in our Country. The Place where it stood was remote and retired from Observation. About thirty of them met of whom but one is now living. After solemnly deliberating on the interesting Subject which brought them together, with Hands crossd and united round the Tree, they took the dangerous Resolution which you will read on the Scroll which encircles the Oak engraven on the Head of this walking Stick. “We will resist” I believe it to be a Fact that not an Individual Swerved from this Resolution;—With regard to their Leader no one knows better than yourself with what Energy & Firmness he adhered to it. The Tree was cut down by the British, but I took up the Root and have made use of it in various Ways to keep alive the Sacred Flame of —76.

I have also taken the Liberty to send you a Copy of an Essay which I delivered not long Since to a Society which we have established in Charleston for the Purpose of drawing together the little Science that our Country can boast of. I must solicit much Indulgence for this humble Effort not to satisfy Enquiry but only to excite it. On the Subject of the Olive our Prospects begin to brighten, and I had some of my own raising cured which I intended to send on to you, had I been able to obtain an Opportunity. I have a great Wish that you should eat of the Trees introduced by yourself.

With the sincerest Wishes for your Happiness I subscribe myself

With the profoundest Respect & Esteem

Your very hle St

Willm Johnson Jr

P.S. Since the Commencement of the severe Cold of this Winter the Tortoise-Shell has shrunk from the Head exhibiting a neat little Instance of relative contractibility or perhaps of relative [Speci]fic Heat. I expect it will return in the Summer & force [out] the Wax

RC (DLC); edge chipped; postscript written perpendicularly along left margin of final page; beneath signature: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as a letter received 4 May 1817 from “Johnson Wm (judge).” Recorded in SJL as received 3 May 1817. Enclosure: Johnson, Nugæ Georgicæ; An Essay, delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Charleston, South-Carolina, October 14, 1815 (Charleston, 1815; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 [no. 303]; TJ’s copy in MBPLi, inscribed on title page: “To Thomas Jefferson Esqr With a Tender of the Veneration of the Author”).

Christopher gadsden organized the Sons of Liberty in Charleston (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

In the enclosure Johnson quoted from TJ’s observations on European olive cultivation in his letter to William Drayton of 30 July 1787 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 40 vols. description ends , 11:644–50, esp. 648) and asserted that TJ had erred in stating that a tree produces a good crop of fruit at twenty years old, contending instead that “This may be true when raised from the seed; and it may also be true that it is continually improving until that age. But I have eaten olives from my own trees in six years after I commenced to propagate them, and by raising them from scions, cuttings and root-grafting, the production is materially expedited” (pp. 28–9).

Index Entries

  • agriculture; TJ on search
  • American Revolution; relics of search
  • Charleston, S.C.; learned societies in search
  • Charleston, S.C.; Sons of Liberty search
  • clothing; walking sticks search
  • Drayton, William; and olive cultivation search
  • Gadsden, Christopher; organizes Sons of Liberty search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Johnson, William (1771–1834); gives walking stick to TJ search
  • Johnson, William (1771–1834); letters from search
  • Johnson, William (1771–1834); Nugæ Georgicæ; An Essay, delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Charleston, South-Carolina, October 14, 1815 search
  • Nugæ Georgicæ; An Essay, delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Charleston, South-Carolina, October 14, 1815 (W. Johnson) search
  • olives; cultivation of search
  • Todd, John Payne; and walking stick for TJ search
  • trees; olive search