Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Walker, [ca. October 1775]

From John Walker

[ca. Oct. 1775]

Dear Sir

I am thus far on my way to attend the Business of my Indian department at Salisbury and have just recollected a duty I owe a very worthy Man; the case in short is this. Mr. John Gibson a very worthy and clever Man, the man thro’ whom Lord Dunmore hoped to have carryed on a Correspondance with the Indians in the middle district and who nobly disdaining any such dirty business immediately delivered up his Letters &c. unasked. This man is for the present appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by the Commissioners of the middle district and must request your Interest in his behalf in Case the Congress should interfere in that business. I really think he is the best and ablest man in those parts. As a specimen of his abilities I can tell you h[e h … m?]ore1 of this. You are very unkind in never writing to me. As I am in great haste I shall say nothing of news but shall refer you to the Doctr. I hope to see you shortly after my return. Meanwhile Adieu,

Jn. Walker

RC (MHi); MS mutilated; at foot of text is the following pencilled note: “Must have been torn by me in rearranging papers, as torn margin evidently new. No trace of fragments. S. N. Randolph.” The Editors accept the view that the fragments are gone irretrievably, but they are obliged by overwhelming evidence on the MS itself to reject the implied accidental cause of the loss. There are two tears on the sheet, one at the upper right and one at the lower right corner, each measuring about three inches in length and tapering off toward the center of the page, being about three-quarters of an inch wide at the point of maximum width; the paper is strong rag paper. To assume that the tears were accidental would require acceptance of the very implausible fact that two accidents happened to the same sheet of paper, or that both mutilations occurred at the same time from the same cause. The latter explanation would require (1) that the two corners be juxtaposed at the time the accident occurred; (2) that the tears be almost if not quite identical in configuration; and (3) that the paper be folded horizontally instead of vertically. None of these conditions is met, for the vertical fold-mark is plainly discernible showing that in this case as in almost if not quite all others of TJ’s papers the sheets were folded for easy filing and docketing—that is, so that the upper right and lower right corners were never in juxtaposition. In view of the fact that the act of rearranging papers, especially in the hands of an amateur inspired by filial devotion, is not likely to result in two such accidents to a sheet of paper still strong and otherwise well-preserved, the Editors must reject the explanation. The fact that the words lost by these two mutilations constitute a single sequence, that they relate to a specimen of John Gibson’s abilities, that no more than ten or twelve words were involved, and that, save for the dateline, no other words in the letter are missing, also points conclusively to mutilations that were not accidental or casual. The missing words, clearly, were both succinct and offensive to the sensibilities of the agent of the loss. The loss is less important than the implications of the act causing the loss, particularly in view of the relations between TJ and Walker and the political use later made of one aspect of that relationship (see note to Donald to TJ, 1 Mch. 1787).

John Walker was appointed a commissioner of Indian affairs for the southern department on 19 July 1775. The commissioners for the middle department were appointed on the 13th of the same month, and Dr. Thomas Walker (the doctr.) was named one of them on 15 Sep. 1775. The date of Gibson’s appointment as superintendent has not been established, but on 24 Apr. 1776 it was reported in Congress that he was owed £141 14s. “for sundry services in the middle department by order of the commissioners” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937, 34 vols. description ends , ii, 183, 192, 251; iv, 304). Hence the present letter was probably written ca. Oct. 1775.

1Ten or twelve words lost by mutilation.

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