Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Willard, 20 May 1791

To Joseph Willard

New York May 20. 1791.


I have the honor to inclose you a packet which came from France under cover to me.

I recieved several times, while in France, two copies, in sheets, of certain books printed in the king’s press, and which had been procured from him as a present to two of our colleges by the Marquis de Chastellux. I knew from this gentleman himself that the college of Virginia was one to which such a present was ordered, but had no information as to the 2d. copy. I therefore forwarded it from time to time to Doctr. Franklin who had recieved and forwarded it while in France, taking for granted he knew it’s destination and would send it on from Philadelphia. At the time of his death however there remained one of these parcels in his hands, which was sent to me in Philadelphia by his family. I have some idea that yours was the college to which this 2nd. copy was given. However of this you Sir can give me information, as in that case you must have been in the course of recieving them, and I will thank you for that information. If it be to your’s that the present goes, it shall be forwarded as soon as I return to Philadelphia. I have the honor to be with great respect & esteem, Sir, Your most obedt. and most humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

TJ was mistaken in thinking that the parcel of books in Franklin’s custody at the time of his death was intended for Harvard College. It was destined instead for the College of Philadelphia. While in America the Marquis de Chastellux had been awarded honorary degrees by the latter institution and by the College of William and Mary. On his return to France, he was instrumental in persuading Louis XVI, through Vergennes, to present to these two colleges a number of works on history, science, geography, and exploration, among them many that were issued by L’Imprimerie Royale. Most of the 100 volumes given to the College of Philadelphia have survived and all of the works are listed in C. Seymour Thompson, “The Gift of Louis XVI,” University of Pennsylvania Library Chronicle, ii (1934), 37–48, 60–7. Only two of those given to the College of William and Mary remain (see Travels in North America … by the Marquis de Chastellux, ed. Howard C. Rice, Jr. [Chapel Hill, 1963], i, 310–311; ii, 606).

An entry in SJL shows that Willard answered the above letter on 15 Oct. 1791 (recorded as received 1 Nov. 1791), but his reply has not been found. Since none of the volumes given to the College of Philadelphia by Louis XVI was issued later than 1783 and since there is no record of any addition to the gift after the original shipment was received in 1784, it seems that the institution for which the parcel was intended was not the recipient.

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