Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Samuel Brown, 17 March 1797

From Samuel Brown

Washington City March 17th. 1797—


I beleive I have obtained such information respecting the Freezing Cave as will enable you to find it. It is thirty miles from Winchester, two miles from the Road leading from that town to Romney, on the North River of Cape Capon.

Mr. White, who gave Mr. Strickland an account of this curiosity, says he has seen it and examined it with much attention. Impressed, however, with an Idea, that the Ice was formed by some Mixture of Salt petre, he does not appear to have been sufficiently careful in observing those facts upon which a more rational Theory could be formed. The Hill above the Cave is composed of loose stones thro which he says the air and water pass without meeting with any earth or leaves which could prevent their descent. From the mouth of the Cave (where the Ice remains until August) there is a constant cold blast of wind issuing. He was informed by the neighbours that when the Hill was covered with snow this blast of cold air was not perceptable. This circumstance is worthy of observation.

As it is your intention, soon to visit that part of the country I anticipate the pleasure of becoming better acquainted with the History and Theory of that singular Phenomenon. With the greatest respect I am Sir Yo. Mo. ob.

Sam Brown

RC (DLC: TJ Papers, 72: 12488); endorsed by TJ as received 24 Mch. 1797 and so recorded in SJL.

Samuel Brown (1769–1830) was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, the son of Presbyterian clergyman John and Margaret Preston Brown and younger brother of James and John Brown, both of whom served in the United States Senate. Graduating from Dickinson College in 1789, Brown went on to study medicine, receiving a degree from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. In 1797 he left the medical practice he had established in Bladensburg, Maryland, to join his brother James, first in Lexington, Kentucky, and then, in 1806, in New Orleans. Upon his marriage to Catherine Percy in 1809, Brown moved to Natchez, Mississippi, where he lived until his wife’s death four years later, after which he moved to a plantation near Huntsville, Alabama, to raise his young family. In 1819 he rejoined the faculty of the medical school at Transylvania University, in Lexington, where he had taught from 1799 to 1806, remaining there until 1825 when he retired to Huntsville. Elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1800, Brown sent the society papers and specimens, including saltpetre rock and mammoth bones from a Kentucky cave and minerals from Mexico. Brown’s 1806 letter describing a cave in Madison County, Kentucky, with “observations on Nitre and Gun-Powder,” was published by the Philosophical Society. Brown founded the Kappa Lambda Society of Hippocrates which began publication of The North American Medical and Surgical Journal in Philadelphia in 1826 (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Samuel Brown to TJ, 10 Nov. 1805, 25 May 1813; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, xii, pt. 3 [1884], 299, 322, 344, 374, 379, 390, 401, 599; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, vi [1809], 235–47; Greene, American Science description begins John C. Greene, American Science in the Age of Jefferson, Ames, Iowa, 1984 description ends [Ames, Iowa, 1984], 122).

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