Thomas Jefferson Papers
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José Corrêa da Serra to Thomas Jefferson, 12 February 1816

From José Corrêa da Serra

Philadelphia 12. Feby 1816

Dear Sir

I have found at my return in Philadelphia near a month ago, your kind letter for which i would have immediately returned my most grateful thanks, if it did not contain two articles to which it was my duty to answer, viz. the cements for cisterns, and the papers of Captain Lewis. As to the first, the books containing the prescriptions were not at hand, and i could attain them with some difficulty, but having after unavoidable delays had sight of them, i am able to send you the contents.

1. Cendrèe de Tournay, ciment qui a La proprieté de se consolider dans L’eau et de devenir au bout de quelques annèes plus dur que Les pierres auxquelles il sert de Liaison.

Melez de la chaux pure avec La cendre du charbon de terre, jusques a ce que Le melange pese ¼ de plus qu’un egal volume de chaux pure—Il est necessaire d’ecraser La cendrèe jusques a ce qu’elle fasse une pâte unie et douce, et par La seule force du frottement, et sans y mettre plus d’eau qu’il n’en faut pour L’eteindre

2o Imitation de pouzzolane dont L’efficace est prouvèe—Prenez une moitiè chaux, un quart brique pilée bien pulverisée et passée au tamis, un quart machefer egalement bien pulverisé.

3o Ciment pour Les jointures des citernes particulierement de celles destinèes a garder du vin—Prenez une pierre de chaux, que vous Laisserez et etendre1 a L’air prenez du sang de boeuf, avant qu’il ait caillè, c’est a dire encore chaud; melez ces deux substances, en Les fouettant Longtems ensemble, jusques a ce qu’elles aient La consistance d’une colle epaisse, enduisez en toutes Les jointures.

General observations for the construction of good cisterns—1o to avoid any gravel or stony nucleus of any size whatever in the cement—2o to spread the cement which must cover all the inside (l’enduit) in thin strata successively and equally. It is a work of patience and attention, which is well repaid by the excellence of the cistern.

I am sorry the cisterns of Charleston did not occupy my attention, but i have strong reasons to suspect, they are not well constructed. The water of Charleston is far from being so good as rain water generally is, and differs from it so much in taste and in salubrity, that it is more than probable that in so low a situation and so surrounded by water as Charleston is, the cisterns admit by filtration other waters Now what they take in there, would be Let out if they were situated in a high and dry ground.

Now for Captain Lewis’s papers, i have found it a difficult work, but you may rely on my zeal and assiduity to fulfil your wishes. Several times have i called on Mrs Barton and twice on Mr Pennington her brother, who has great influence on her, and assists her in the arrangement of her affairs, but i am not more advanced than in the beginning. The Dr has Left such an immense heap of papers, and in such disorder; the reclamations for papers and books are so many, that i conceive how the poor Lady is embarrassed how to do. It seems that for a great number of years the Drs Library and cabinet followed the same Law that Dante has inscribed on the gate of hell

Uscite di speranza o voi che entrate.

But i hope there will be an end to this suspence; you will know the result.

The Letters you directed to Knoxville i have also received here, and cannot but blush at the excessive praises, which your goodness bestows on me, but as to the danger of Mr Gilmer catching from me an immoderate taste for ornamental Knowledge, you may well change your opinion, and he will tell it himself—Curious and strange as it may seem, he has received from me during all the voyage more hints and dissertations about what i conceive to be the real interests of his country and the means of her reaching the high destinies to which it seems destined by nature, than even about the plants we were meeting. He must have wished to find many of his countrymen so zealous on that subject as his european companion; as i Love the country and Like his mind and his heart, my grand point was to help him with whatever was in my power to do that good which i myself would have attempted, and fit him to se mergire civilibus undis with glory to himself and his country.

I come Lastly to the Kindness you show to me, in the interest you take in the future steps of my Life. As Long as i Live will i feel your goodness, and keep a grateful sense of so much kindness. Your judgement of European present and future affairs, is what myself think; but i see Little chance of escaping the necessity of returning there. What i can do is not rashly to chuse Paris for my residence, till i see the turn things take. As Long as i shall remain on this continent i will perform with devotion and gratitude my annual pilgrimage to Monticello, and when in Europe i will turn very often my eyes to the West and think of the real greatness and dignity of the man who has Laid such a claim to my respect and heartfelt gratitude.

I am most feelingly and sincerely yours

J. Corrèa de Serra

RC (DLC); dateline at foot of text; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esq Monticello Albemarle County Virginia”; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 13 Feb.; endorsed by TJ as received 21 Feb. 1816 and so recorded in SJL; with TJ’s notation: “Cement.” Translation by Dr. Genevieve Moene.

1. cendrèe de tournayenduisez en toutes les jointures: “1. Tournay ashes, cement that has the property of solidifying in water and becoming after a few years harder than the stones it bonds. Mix pure quicklime with coal ashes until the mixture weighs ¼ more than an equal volume of pure lime. It is necessary to crush the cinders until they form a smooth and soft paste, only by rubbing it, and without adding any more water than necessary. 2. Imitation pozzolana whose efficiency is proven. Take a half measure of lime, a quarter of crushed brick, well ground and put through a sieve, and a quarter of clinker also well ground. 3. Cement for joints in cisterns, particularly for those made to hold wine. Take limestone that you will spread out in the open air; take some ox blood, before it coagulates, that is to say while it is still warm; mix these two substances by whipping them together for a long time, until they have the consistency of a thick glue, and smear over all the joints.”

At some point Corrêa also sent TJ a similar note containing directions for cistern cement, which states that “In the Cours complet d’Agriculture edited by the Abbé Rozier and written by the Frenchmen the more deeply versed in each of the branches, in the second edition, in the article Citerne, and in the articles Tonneau and Foudre, in which all the details are given for building the cisterns for the keeping and conservation of wine, the following cements are described: 1º Brique pilée et tamisée fine melée a la chaux vive au lieu de gravier 2º What they call ‘Cendrèe de Tournay’ ciment de chaux et cendres de charbon de terre, bien melees ensemble jusques a ce que le ciment pese un quart de plus que la chaux simple—Il durcit sous l’eau et devient plus dur que les pierres qu’il lie 3. Dans les angles et dans les jointures du mur, ou les crevasses sont plus aisement faites, on employe pour les lier davantage et les rendre impermeables, le ciment suivant—Eteignez une pierre de chaux vive, avec du sang de boeuf chaud, avant d’avoir caillè, melez et fouettez longtems jusques a consistance de colle epaisse [‘1. Pounded and finely sifted brick, mixed with quicklime instead of gravel 2. What they call “Tournay ashes,” cement made of lime and coal ashes, mixed together well until the cement weighs a quarter more than the plain lime. It hardens under water and becomes harder than the stones it holds together 3. In the angles and joints of the wall, where cracks are more easily made, the following cement is used to connect them better and make them waterproof. Turn some quicklime into slaked lime, add warm ox blood, before it coagulates, mix and whip for a long time until it has the consistency of thick glue’]. By all the details given in this book, it seems that every cement employed in cisterns must be employed in slight layers successively patiently and carefully applied with the aim of making them a solid and tight body without any the slightest vacuity” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 206:36691; in Corrêa’s hand; undated and unsigned; endorsed by TJ: “Recipe. Cement.” Translation of French section by Dr. Genevieve Moene). François Rozier edited the Cours Complet d’Agriculture until his death in 1793. The first volume of the series, which consisted of an alphabetically arranged collection of essays by different authors, was published in Paris in 1781, with a total of twelve volumes published by 1805. The articles “Citerne” (“Tank”), “Foudre” (“Cask”), and “Tonneau” (“Barrel”) appear in vols. 3:366–73, 5:16–8, and 9:419–36, respectively.

l’enduit: “the coating.” The text inscribed above the gate of hell in Canto 3 of Dante’s Inferno includes the phrase “Lasciate ogne speranza, ch’entrate” (“Abandon every hope, you who enter”) (Maria Picchio Simonelli, ed., Inferno III [1993], 10, 17). For the letters you directed to knoxville, see TJ to Corrêa, 1 Jan. 1816. se mergire civilibus undis: “Now I become all action, and plunge into the tide of civil life” (Horace, Epistles, 1.1.16, in Fairclough, Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica description begins H. Rushton Fairclough, trans., Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, Loeb Classical Library, 1926, repr. 2005 description ends , 252–3).

1Manuscript: “eteindre.”

Index Entries

  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; and journals of M. Lewis search
  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; library of search
  • Barton, Mary Pennington (Benjamin Smith Barton’s wife); and journals of M. Lewis search
  • building materials; bricks search
  • building materials; cement search
  • building materials; lime (mineral) search
  • Charleston, S.C.; cisterns in search
  • cisterns; at Monticello search
  • cisterns; in Charleston, S.C. search
  • coal; and cement production search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and journals of M. Lewis search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and TJ’s cisterns search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; letters from search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; proposed visit of search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; U.S. travels of search
  • Cours complet d’agriculture, théorique, practique, économique, et de médicine rurale et vétérinaire … ou dictionnaire universel d’agriculture (F. Rozier) search
  • Dante; Inferno search
  • Gilmer, Francis Walker; U.S. travels of search
  • Horace; quoted by J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Inferno (Dante) search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; and publication of journals search
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition; publication of journals search
  • lime (mineral); as building material search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); cisterns at search
  • oxen; blood of search
  • Pennington, Edward; and journals of M. Lewis search
  • Rozier, François; Cours complet d’agriculture, théorique, practique, économique, et de médicine rurale et vétérinaire … ou dictionnaire universel d’agriculture search
  • water; quality of search
  • wine; cisterns for storage of search