Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Tatham, 9 February 1791

To William Tatham

Philadelphia Feb. 9. 1791.


I have not till now been able, since the meeting of Congress, to attend to my private correspondencies. I have forwarded to Mr. Short the subscription paper you sent for him, and should any opportunity occur of recieving subscriptions to the one you sent me, I will surely avail you of it, tho’ it is not probable. Indeed I have thought of putting it into the hands of Colo. Griffin the representative of your district who would be more in the way of doing this. I inclose you the map of the Holston country, and am Sir Your very humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (MHi). Enclosure: Tatham’s manuscript map of the “Holston, Wautauga, Nenoctuckie and Clinch Countries,” which TJ had seen as early as 1780 and regarded as “a pretty good map” (TJ to Greene, 27 Dec. 1780; Tatham to TJ, 1 Nov. 1790).

Early in 1790 Governor Randolph, influenced perhaps by Tatham’s zeal and his hope that Virginia would not much longer “yield the plaudit of foreign powers, to the industry of Her Eastern Sisters” in matters of improvement, granted him access to the public archives. In the ensuing months Tatham worked industriously at his task and late in September announced his proposals for publishing “a large and comprehensive map of the southern division of the United States” by subscription only. The announcement carried this impressive testimonial signed by Beverly Randolph, James Wood, James McClurg, John Tyler, William Nelson, Jr., William Hay, John Harvie, John Marshall, and Alexander Montgomery: “Being requested by Mr. Tatham, to view the Map … which he has begun, we attended at the mason’s Hall, and after examining the progress he has made, and being fully informed of the materials he has collected, and the assistance he will derive from both public and private sources, our opinion is—That Mr. Tatham is fully adequate to the work he has undertaken; that he has made considerable progress in the Map, in a very neat and correct manner; and that when finished, we believe it will be the most useful and valuable Map yet published of the Southern parts of the United States; and in such opinion have each subscribed for a copy” (Davis’ Virginia Gazette, 29 Sep. 1790; Tatham to Randolph, 8 and 24 Feb. 1790, 13 Apr. 1790, and 10 Aug. 1790, CVSP, v description begins William P. Palmer and others, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond, Richmond, 1875–93, 11 vols. description ends , 111–2, 118–9, 133–7, 196–7).

In his first brief glance among the archives, Tatham noticed that the records for TJ’s administration were far less full than they should have been. He thought some had perhaps been destroyed by Benedict Arnold, but, he added, “I would flatter myself it will appear they were preserved as your private Property, since I recollect some of them were so. My manuscript of the Holston, Wautauga, Nenoctuckie and Clinch Countries … would now be very usefull” (Tatham to TJ, 17 Feb. 1790). There is no evidence that TJ responded to this appeal. Some months later Tatham solicited a note from Governor Randolph to James Monroe, asking the latter to lend the map in TJ’s absence. Monroe declined and Tatham repeated his request of TJ, promising to return the map (Tatham to TJ, 1 Nov. 1790). Tatham’s unflattering assumption that TJ had converted public records to his own possession may in part account for the curt tone and the unresponsive nature of the above letter, so uncharacteristic of TJ’s usual manner of lending encouragement to useful improvements. The fact that TJ returned the map to Tatham, without comment, would seem to indicate that he regarded it as Tatham’s personal property—possibly as a loan that had been made to TJ as governor. But the real reason for TJ’s habitual attitude of aloofness to Tatham is that, far from sharing the confidence in his capacity expressed by Randolph, Marshall, and others, TJ regarded him as an enthusiast more ready at conceiving ambitious plans than in executing them. His attitude toward Tatham’s proposals should be compared with that expressed in his famous letter to Hazard of 17 Feb. 1791.

On this same day TJ did consult Colo. Griffin and then sent him the following note: “Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to Colo. Griffin and sends him the subscription paper for Mr. Tatham’s map which he was so kind as to say he would recieve and see if any thing could be done with it” (TJ to Samuel Griffin, 9 Feb. 1791; PrC in MHi).

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