Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Philip Puglia, 9 November 1793

From James Philip Puglia

Philadelphia Coomb’s Alley no. 8 Novr. 9th. 1793


Wiewing with sorrow the large number of victims in all ranks and professions fallen by the late distressing desease, I suppose that some vacancies have taken place amongst the persons employed in public Offices. In this conception I take the liberty of adressing your Honour with the offer of my best services in that line, wishing (if agreeable and possible) to be admitted as a Clark in your Office.

I had several times the honour of presenting my self to you Sir, and did some translation by your command: I do not presume it to be any merit in my favour for deserving your generous protection, however should I luckily obtain it, I shall incessantly endeavour to preserve it by discharging my duty with honour and activity.

I inclose my proposal which you may intirely rely upon—for the Three languages I mean the Spanish, French, and Italian. I was the Book-keeper of the late Partnership of Willing, Morris and Swanwick from whom information may be had respecting my Caracter &c. Mr. George Meade can give it likewise, and (if required) I am confident that several other respectable Merchants will favour me with their recomendations. May this letter attain your kind remembrance, wishing to know when and where I am to appear on your return to this City; meanwhile I constantly pray the Almighty for your health, exaltation and happiness. With the greatest respect I am Sir Your most obedient humble Servant

James Ph. Puglia late Sworn
Interpreter of the Spanish Language for the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

RC (DLC: Washington Papers, Applications for Office); at foot of text: “Honble. Thomas Jefferson Esquire Secretary of the United States German town” endorsed by TJ as received 11 Nov. 1793 and so recorded in SJL; endorsed by a clerk: “Jas. Ph. Puglia wants employment.” Enclosure: Puglia’s Proposal for Employment, Philadelphia, 31 Oct. 1793, stating that he is an able bookkeeper and accountant and “speaks and writes correctly three of the principal European languages,” that he has given his employers entire satisfaction, and that he can produce recommendations of his “caracter, secrecy and activity” (MS in same; in Puglia’s hand).

James Philip Puglia (1760–1831), a Genoa-born author, language teacher, and translator who formed an undying hatred for Spanish despotism when his career as a merchant at Cadiz ended with imprisonment in 1787, emigrated to Philadelphia in 1790, took the oath of allegiance to the United States a year later, and held an appointment as Pennsylvania’s Spanish interpreter from August 1792 to April 1793. His earlier work doing translation by your command is not otherwise documented, but the State Department hired him to translate another Spanish document in December 1793. TJ was one of the few subscribers to El Desengaño del Hombre (Philadelphia, 1794), Puglia’s pioneering, Enlightenment-based critique of Spain’s system of government, which was underwritten largely by French minister Edmond Charles Genet as part of his efforts to undermine Spanish rule in America, and subsequently condemned by the Mexican Inquisition. Puglia wrote a pro-Federalist pamphlet in 1795, but followed it with two pseudonymous attacks on Federalist William Cobbett a year later, and in 1808 he sent TJ copies of two unpublished and unperformed plays including “The Embargo,” a defense of Jeffersonian trade policy. Reduced to a marginal existence and impoverished, Puglia committed suicide a decade after publishing, among other works, a Spanish translation of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man (Merle E. Simmons, Santiago F. Puglia, An Early Philadelphia Propagandist for Spanish American Independence [Chapel Hill, 1977]; Pa. Archs., 9th ser., i, 438, 566; Vol. 17: 375; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 2333, 4600).

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