Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Andrew Ellicott, 28 May 1800

From Andrew Ellicott

Philadelphia—May 28th. 1800

Dear Sir

I arrived in this City a few days ago after an absence of three years and eight months: On my arrival I immediately enquired for you, but had the mortification to find you had been gone some days.

You are not unacquainted with the difficulties I had to encounter in executing the trust reposed in me by my country, but owing to a good constitution, and perseverance, have succeeded.

My astronomical observations are uncommonly numerous, and generally interesting; the greater part being either made for the determination of the boundary, the geographical positions of important places, or to detect the errors in the Lunar theory, and those of the satellites of Jupiter.—I find that the Lunar theory used by the computers of the Nautical Almanack is so perfect, that with a well regulated time-piece, and a good Hadley’s Sextant, the longitude at land may be determined with as much, if not more accuracy, in one lunation, than by the eclipse of Jupiters satellites in three months.—

The report respecting the boundary was handed to the Executive immediately upon my arrival. It is very lengthy, and contains to the best of my recollection upwards of 400 Astronomical observations, with a number of Mathematical deductions, together with plans, charts, &c.   I requested Mr. Lee who acts as secretary of State pro. temp. to indulge me with the privilege of copying some parts of the report, with the plans, charts, &c.—Mr. Lee observed “that he could not see what use copies could be of to me”.—Altho I did not consider this answer as a denial, it appeared so much like one that I pushed the request no further: since that time I have heard nothing from the President, or either of the departments of State, which is perhaps owing to their speedy removal to the City of Washington.—

I have the honour to be with great respect and esteem your friend and Hbl. Serv.

Andw. Ellicott.

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Vice President of the U.S. and President of the Senate”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 June and so recorded in SJL.

Ellicott surveyed the boundary between Spanish West Florida and U.S. territory; see Ellicott to TJ, 25 Sep. 1797. He arrived in Philadelphia from Savannah on 18 May (Philadelphia Gazette, 19 May 1800).

Nautical Almanack: The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris, published annually by the British government. TJ regularly sought to acquire each year’s volume. In 1803, before Meriwether Lewis set off with the “Corps of Discovery,” TJ called on Ellicott and Robert Patterson to instruct Lewis on how to calculate longitude using astronomical tables and observations of the moon’s position (Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science [New York, 1990], 274, 342, 360; 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 , 2:883, 955, 998; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3810).

President Adams did nothing with Ellicott’s Report, thereby blocking any appropriation to pay the surveyor and feeding Ellicott’s belief that he was the victim of political intrigue. He submitted his “Astronomical and Thermometrical Observations” to the American Philosophical Society in August 1800, and those data appeared in the next volume of the society’s Transactions. He published his detailed record, The Journal of Andrew Ellicott, Late Commissioner on Behalf of the United States during Part of the Year 1796, the Years 1797, 1798, 1799 and Part of the Year 1800, for Determining the Boundary between the United States and the Possessions of His Catholic Majesty in America, in Philadelphia in 1803 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, 5 [1802], 162–311; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 301; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 657, 4086; Ellicott to TJ, 17 Oct. 1800).

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