Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Charles Willson Peale, 21 January 1802

From Charles Willson Peale

Museum Jany. 21st. 1802.

Dear Sir

Receive my assurances of obligation for the politeness and punctuality with which you have answered my question.—Altho’ I conceived it proper, without any loss of time, to make such applications as might insure the preservation and advancement of the Museum, particularly as at the present moment many of the articles are piled in confusion on each other for want of Room; Yet I have determined that it may not be prudent too hastily to bind myself to this residence without sufficient advantages. With respect to an Application to Congress, your communication has satisfied my mind, that at least from the diversity of opinion, if not from the present nature of the constitution, it would be an unproductive one.

Perhaps it will not be possible for me to obtain any permanent establishment, before such a state of affairs shall arrive as would insure success to the grand plan you have in contemplation for your native State. In the mean time I shall propose to our Legislature a plan by which they may possess themselves of more handsome property at the same time that they without expence advance the Interest of Science. I shall ask nothing more than that they authorize a Lottery, the profits of which shall defray the expences of an Ornamental Building to be erected on the South of the State house garden. This building, to contain my Museum while ever it shall remain in Philadelphia—and as the property of the House and land would be theirs, afterwards to be retained for a Museum, or otherwise as they chuse.

I am highly gratified that my success with the Mammoth excites such general approbation, and shall receive your intended visit with the greatest pleasure.

The whole of the upper part of the Head I am in want of, the deficiency of which I supplied by modelling from the Elephants head. But a Gentleman who lives near the Salt licks on the Ohio, (Doctr Jno. Sellman) visited me the other day, who informed me he was in possession of the Skull, which he promised to send me by the first Conveyance. I wish to know whether that to which you allude can be the same. At any rate your assistance, which may the more certainly and expeditiously procure it for me, will be thankfully acknowledged by your friend

C W Peale

RC (DLC); on same stationery as Peale’s letter of 12 Jan.; at foot of text: “Mr. Jefferson.” Dft (Lb in PPAmP: Peale-Sellers Papers).

answered my question: TJ to Peale, 16 Jan. 1802. Peale originally intended to respond to TJ on 20 Jan. On that day Peale drafted a letter in which he stated that his mind was “wavering” about whether to ask the Pennsylvania legislature for a grant for the museum. He doubted that the state would make any large appropriation for that purpose, and he worried that the construction of a building for the museum might oblige him to keep it in Philadelphia “when very probably a better establishment may be had for it” elsewhere, especially with TJ’s assistance. “Perhaps it will be best to delay for the present my application to the Legislature of Pennsyl. for any particular grant,” Peale wrote, “And only intimate them that I am willing to place my Museum in any situation that can be devised to insure a general & lasting benefit to my Country.” Peale struck through his draft of that letter without finishing it, and composed the letter above as a substitute (Dft in Lb in PPAmP: Peale-Sellers Papers; Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:391–2n).

In February, Peale submitted a memorial to the legislature of Pennsylvania. He also obtained resolutions of support from the American Philosophical Society and the Philadelphia Common Council. In March, the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives agreed to allow him the use of the east end of the first floor of the State House and the entire second floor of the building (Philadelphia Gazette, 19 Feb. 1802; Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:393–401).

The part of a skull found in Kentucky several miles from Big Bone Lick proved to be from a large extinct bison rather than a mastodon. Dr. John Sellman, whose name was also sometimes written “Sillman,” was a native of Maryland who in 1792 had been appointed a surgeon’s mate in the army for service on the frontier. In 1807, he sought to become the register of the land office at Cincinnati (Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:392n, 435n; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:117; Sellman to Gabriel Duvall, 4 Oct. 1807, RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR, with note by Duvall, endorsed by TJ; Howard A. Kelly and Walter L. Burrage, Dictionary of American Medical Biography [New York, 1928], 1092; Peale to TJ, 10 June 1802).

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