Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 18 November 1792

To George Washington

Nov. 18. 1792.

Th: Jefferson has the honor to inform the President that the papers from Monsr. Cointeraux of Paris contain some general ideas on his method of building houses of mud, he adds that he has a method of making incombustible roofs and cielings, that his process for building is auxiliary to agriculture, that France owes him 66,000 livres, for so much expended in experiments and models of his art, but that the city of Paris is unable to pay him 600. livres decreed to him as a premium, that he is 51. years old has a family of seven persons, and asks of Congress the expences of their passage and a shop to work in.

Th: Jefferson saw M. Cointeraux at Paris, went often to examine some specimens of mudwalls which he erected there, and which appeared to be of the same kind generally built in the neighborhood of Lyons, which have stood perhaps for a century. Instead of moulding bricks, the whole wall is moulded at once, and suffered to dry in the sun, when it becomes like unburnt brick. This is the most serious view1 of his papers. He proceeds further to propose to build all our villages incombustible that the enemy may not be able to burn them, to fortify them all with his kind of walls impenetrable to their cannon, to erect a like wall across our whole frontier to keep off the Indians, observing it will cost us nothing but the building, &c &c &c.

The paper is not in the form of a petition, tho evidently intended for Congress, and making a proposition to them. It does not however merit a departure from the President’s rule of not becoming the channel of petitions to that body, nor does it seem entitled to any particular answer.

Th: Jefferson

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by Tobias Lear. PrC (DLC). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, SDC). Recorded in SJPL.

Earlier this day Tobias Lear had transmitted papers, not found, that had been received from the French architect François Cointeraux with a brief covering letter in which he asked TJ to advise the President “if he should meet with anything in them worthy of attention” (RC in DLC; note at foot of text in TJ’s hand: “Cointeraux’ proposition to come over with his family of 7. persons to shew us how to build houses with mud walls and incombustible roofs and cielings, if we would pay their passage and give him a shop”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Nov. 1792). For a discussion of TJ’s indifference to Cointeraux’s architectural ideas, see note to Cointeraux to TJ, 16 June 1789.

1Word written over “part,” erased.

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