Thomas Jefferson Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Jefferson, Thomas" AND Period="Jefferson Presidency" AND Project="Jefferson Papers" AND Starting date=5 March 1802
sorted by: editorial placement

From Thomas Jefferson to Elizabeth Leathes Merry, 26 December 1803

To Elizabeth Leathes Merry

Washington Dec. 26. 03.

Th Jefferson presents his respects to Mrs. Merry, and sends her a few seeds of the Dionaea muscipula, or Flytrap, so much celebrated as holding the middle ground between the animal & vegetable orders. tho’ a native of Carolina, this is the first he has been able to recieve after a course of six years efforts & all the interest he could make there. he recieved it the last night by post & sends mrs Merry the half of what he recieved. the plant will be best in pots because it will need some shelter in winter.

RC (C. N. McLean, Binghamton, New York, 1947). Not recorded in SJL.

Elizabeth Death Leathes Merry (d. 1824), a wealthy widow, became the wife of career diplomat Anthony Merry on 21 Jan. 1803. Soon thereafter, her husband learned of his appointment as British minister to the United States. In late November, the couple arrived in Washington with a large retinue of servants and luggage and resided at the three-story brick British legation on the south side of K Street. Aaron Burr remarked that the intelligent Englishwoman, who had lived in Paris and whose acquaintance he wished his daughter to make, was “tall, fair, fat,” but full of grace, dignity, and sprightliness. Margaret Bayard Smith described her as “so entirely the talker and actor in all companies that her good husband passes quite unnoticed.” She had “at times overbearing spirits,” commented Augustus John Foster, the secretary to the British legation: “Think of a fine woman accustomed to adulation.” Manasseh Cutler reported that Elizabeth Merry was “quite a botanist” who maintained a fine collection of books and specimens and had an interest in American plants. Foster, however, declared that she “lives on conversations and would never look into a book if she had any body to talk to.” Critical of her new surroundings, she lamented Washington’s “uncultivated state” and lack of gardens as well as an undeveloped horticultural appreciation among American women. Although Anthony Merry was recalled in late 1806, Elizabeth’s ill health delayed her return to England until June 1807 (Malcolm Lester, Anthony Merry Redivivus: A Reappraisal of the British Minister to the United States, 1803-6 [Charlottesville, 1978], 10, 22, 119; William P. Cutler and Julia P. Cutler, Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL.D., 2 vols. [Cincinnati, 1888; repr. Athens, Ohio, 1987], 2:190; Marilyn K. Parr, “Chronicle of a British Diplomat: The First Year in the ‘Washington Wilderness,’” Washington History, 12 [2000], 85; Margaret Bayard Smith, The First Forty Years of Washington Society, ed. Gaillard Hunt [New York, 1906], 46; Charles O. Paullin, “Early British Diplomats in Washington,” RCHS description begins Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1895-1989 description ends , 44-45 [1942-43], 245-8; Matthew L. Davis, Memoirs of Aaron Burr: With Miscellaneous Selections from His Correspondence, 2 vols. [New York, 1836-37], 2:269; Vol. 41:387-8).

For TJ’s receipt of seeds of the Venus flytrap, see the letter from Timothy Bloodworth of 12 Dec.

Index Entries