Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Count Rumford, 1 June 1800

From Count Rumford

Royal Institution, Albemarle Street,
London, 1st June, 1800.


By direction of the Managers of the Royal Institution of Great Britain I have the honour to transmit to the President of the American Philosophical Society the enclosed Publication, in which an Account is given of an Establishment lately formed in this Metropolis for promoting useful Knowledge.

I have likewise the honour, in conformity to the Instructions I have received, to request that the Society may be assured of the sincere desire of the Managers of the Royal Institution of Great Britain to cultivate a friendly Correspondence with them, and to cooperate with them in all things that may contribute to the Advancement of Science, and to the general Diffusion of the Knowledge of such new and useful Discoveries, and mechanical Improvements, as may tend to increase the Enjoyments, and promote the Industry, Happiness, and Prosperity of Mankind.

I have the honour to be, with much Respect, Sir, Your most Obedient Humble Servant,


RC (PPAmP); at foot of text: “To the Honble. Thomas Jefferson, President of the American Philosophical Society Philadelphia”; endorsed by TJ as received 28 Nov. 1800 and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by an officer of the American Philosophical Society. Enclosure: The Prospectus, Charter, Ordinances and Bye-Laws of the Royal Institution of Great Britain: Together with Lists of Proprietors and Subscribers (London, 1800).

Benjamin Thompson (1753–1814), a native of Massachusetts, was made a count (graf) of the Holy Roman Empire in 1790 and took as his title Rumford, the original name of Concord, New Hampshire, where he had lived as a young man. Although TJ was interested in Rumford’s designs for fireplaces and chimneys (see Vol. 29:605), the letter above was the only correspondence between the two men. While teaching school in Concord in the early 1770s Thompson had improved his station in life by marrying a wealthy widow from whom he separated after three years. An unabashed Loyalist, he provided General Thomas Gage with information about American military capability, and early in the American War for Independence removed to Britain, where he became a protégé of Lord George Germain. During the latter part of the war, after the battle at Yorktown, he served in America as a lieutenant colonel of the King’s American Dragoons. He was knighted by George III and became an adviser to the elector of Bavaria, in which role by energetic efforts toward military and social reform he attained his title. Interested in technological innovation, he made improvements to the designs of both fireplaces and oil lamps, and endowed medals to be given by the Royal Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to promote scientific research. Mindful of Rumford’s service for the British during the American Revolution, John Adams turned down the count’s proposal to establish a military academy for the United States. In 1799 Rumford was the prime mover in the creation of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. From 1805 to 1809, when they separated, he was married to the widow of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier. On Rumford’s death his estate formed the endowment for a Harvard University professorship in science and mathematics (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

On 16 Dec. 1800 TJ sent both Rumford’s letter and the Royal Institution’s Prospectus to Caspar Wistar. The American Philosophical Society received the letter and the publication on 16 Jan. 1801. The society sent a set of its published Transactions to the Royal Institution and early in 1803 elected Rumford to membership (APS, description begins American Philosophical Society description ends Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 308–10, 332, 362).

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