Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Peter Legaux, 22 January 1798

To Peter Legaux

Jan. 22. 1798.


I have to acknolege the favor of your’s of the 8th. inst. I took the first occasion in my power of calling at No. 71. Chesnut street in hopes of finding you there & discussing more fully than can be done by letter, the subject of yours to me, and the way in which I might be useful. not finding you there, I still deferred answering in hopes of meeting you at the Philosophical society on Friday last but failed in that also. the difficulty which your proposition presents arises from this, that there has never, that I know of, been an application to Congress to take on itself the introduction of any new branch of agriculture or of any new art. whether they have such a power given them by the constitution, is therefore a question on which they have never decided, and it is the opinion, of some at least, that they have no such power. should you however chuse to propose to them the taking your enterprize under their patronage, it would be better that it should be done by petition to the House of representatives. in this case the representatives of this state, wherein the work is going on, would of course be the most able to represent it’s situation & prospects, and previously to counsel you whether it would be proper or not to make the proposition. I sincerely regret the crisis in which this enterprize is placed, as I should consider the culture of the vine as an useful introduction to a certain degree. with every wish that you may still be enabled to prosecute it to a final establishment, I am with great esteem Sir

Your most obedt. & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (Charles Tome, Wilmington, Delaware, 1944); at foot of text: “M. Legaux.”

Peter (Pierre) Legaux (1748–1827), born and educated in Lorraine, France, came from a prominent family, practiced law, and held government positions in the French West Indies before emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1785. At “Mt. Joy,” his estate at Spring Mill on the Schuylkill River thirteen miles from Philadelphia, he operated a ferry, produced lime and glass, had a joinery, raised bees and livestock, and planted vineyards in which he cultivated European and American varieties of grapes. In 1793 the Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized the incorporation of a company to promote Legaux’s vineyard by subscription, but most of the vines did not thrive. In 1806 the General Assembly tried unsuccessfully to implement a lottery to help the Vine Company recover its debts, and the vineyard project became defunct by 1812. Legaux made an important contribution to American horticulture by spreading the cultivation of a few hardy varieties of grapes, which although he did not call them such have been identified as strains native to America, and some of which he sent to TJ for planting at Monticello. In 1787 Legaux, who for a number of years made regular meteorological observations at Spring Mill, was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society (S. Gordon Smyth, “Peter Legaux, A Noted Frenchman who Settled at Spring Mill in 1786,” Historical Sketches: A Collection of Papers Prepared for the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 2 [1900], 92–125; Stevenson Whitcomb Fletcher, Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life 1640–1840 [Harrisburg, 1950], 223–5; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 162, 172, 371; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1072).

Legaux’s letter OF the 8th. inst. is recorded in SJL as received on 15 Jan. 1798 but has not been found. Also recorded in SJL but missing are letters from Legaux to TJ of 4 May 1798 and 26 and 29 Mch. 1800, received respectively on 4 May 1798 and 27 and 30 Mch. 1800, and one from TJ to Legaux of 8 May 1798.

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