Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Morgan Brown, 1 October 1799

From Morgan Brown

Palmyra October 1st. 1799


I have in my possession two stone or Marble Statues, taken out of the ground within a few miles of this place which I suppose are the largest which have ever been discovered in North America that were really made by the Original inhabitance—one is the likeness of a very old man from the waist upwards and the other a woman—they are about the size of children of eight or ten years old and weigh nearly 70 ?. each—

They were found on a high bluff on the north side of Cumberland river standing side by side faceing to the East, the tops of their heads about six inches under the surface of the earth; there ware two large mounds a little to the West of them and a quantity of human bones under and near them—

A Farmer discovered them as he was Ploughing the land—and they were some what injured by the plough as also by the rustic inhabitance who first came to see them, but they are still sufficently entire to shew the degree of knowledge in sculpture the Aborigins had Attained to,

If you concieve Sir that they will be mat[ters] of Curiosity to you, or worth your Acceptance; they are at your service: I can send them to Natchez or New Orlans if you will direct what shall be done with them there—

I have the Honor to be with the highest respect & Esteem your Unknown Humble Servt.

Morgan Brown

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. Vice President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Dec. and so recorded in SJL.

A native of North Carolina, Morgan Brown (1758–1840) moved his family to Tennessee in 1795 and settled on the Cumberland River, where he laid out the town of Palmyra. In 1797 the town became a port of entry and Brown was appointed U.S. collector for the District of Tennessee and inspector of the revenue at Palmyra. Later Brown, who was a doctor and sold medicines, also kept a store, built a mill, established an iron-smelting furnace, and presided over a county court. He moved to Kentucky in 1808, later returning to Tennessee (American Historical Magazine and Tennessee Historical Society Quarterly, 7 [1902], 98–9, 148; JEP, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends 1:226–7).

A work on Tennessee’s antiquities first published in 1823 stated that the two statues described above by Brown were “found by ploughing the ground near a very large mound below Clarksville‥‥ One represented an old man with his body bent forward, and head inclined downwards, exceedingly well executed. The other represented an old woman.” Brown shipped the stones downriver and they went around the coast by sea from New Orleans in 1801. When they were on display among other art and artifacts in the Entrance Hall at Monticello, TJ described the sculptures as “two busts of Indian figures male & female, by Indians, in hard stone. 18. I. high,” mistaking their origins somewhat by cataloging them as “dug up at a place called Palmyra, on the Tennissee.” An 1807 notice in an English magazine, which also called the site of the discovery “Palmyra, on the river Tennessee,” described the carvings: “The human form extends to the middle of the body, and the figures are nearly of the natural size. The lineaments are strongly marked, and such as are peculiar to the copper-coloured aboriginal inhabitants of America: among others, is one of them representing an aged savage, in which the wrinkles and look are very expressive.” The magazine praised the statues’ creators for “executing such a good resemblance of the human head, face, neck, and shoulders.” It is not known what became of the two sculptures after TJ’s death (John Haywood, Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee, ed. Mary U. Rothrock [Jackson, Tenn., 1959], 141; The Monthly Magazine, 24 [1807], 74; Susan R. Stein, The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello [New York, 1993], 410, 458n; Catalogue of Paintings, undated MS in ViU: McGregor Library; 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 2:1058).

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