Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Woodhouse, 27 April 1801

From James Woodhouse

Philadelphia April 27th, 1801.

Respected Sir,

In the month of June 1799, my brother Samuel Woodhouse, a well educated lad, about seventeen years of age, sailed as Midshipman, on board of the Constillation, and was present during the ever memorable action between that frigate and the Vengeance, and has since continued in the service of the United States. Owing to some cause, of which I am ignorant, he never recieved his warrant, from the Navy Office.

As one hundred and fifty Midshipmen are to continue in service according to a late act of Congress, the object of this letter is to request, that he be placed among them, and should this be granted, you will confer an obligation on me, which shall be remembered with gratitude.

My anxiety for the wellfare of a brother, is my only apology, for troubling you upon a business to you of a trifling nature, but I am fearfull he may be neglected, unless I apply to the fountain head.

I have just recieved from a French Gentleman, an extract from a work, on the species of Quadrupeds, whose bones have been found in the interior of the earth. As it is probable, you may not have seen this work, I inclose it in my letter.

May science become fashionable, during your administration of the Fœderal Government. I say fashionable, for I believe there is no other method of making it attended to, by the generality of mankind.

It will never do to establish Seminaries of learning, in which the Professors are to enjoy handsome salaries, for whereever this is the case, they become drones.

Swift and Gibbon speak with contempt, of the University of Oxford, and to this we may add that of Pennsylvania, which has degenerated so much, that it is now merely a nursery for children.

That health and happiness may ever attend you, and that your administration may unite the people of the United States, is the fervent wish of

Respected Sir, your most obedient, & most humble servant

James Woodhouse

RC (CSmH); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 1 May and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: “Extrait d’un ouvrage sur les espèces de quadrupèdes dont on a trouvé les ossemens dans l’intérieur de la terre, adressé aux savans et aux amateurs des sciences,” a paper given by Georges Cuvier to the French National Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1800 and printed in Paris; see Martin J. S. Rudwick, ed., Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations & Interpretations of the Primary Texts (Chicago, 1997), 42–58.

A midshipman’s warrant for Woodhouse’s brother was issued on 2 May, the day after TJ received the letter above (NDBW description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, Washington, D.C., 1939–44, 6 vols. and Register of Officer Personnel and Ships’ Data, 1801–1807, Washington, D.C., 1945 description ends , Register of Officer Personnel, 61).

Thirty-year-old James Woodhouse had been professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania since 1795. He held B.A., M.A., and M.D. degrees from the university. In 1792 he gave TJ a copy of his doctoral dissertation on the chemistry and medical properties of the persimmon tree, to which TJ responded with interest (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Vol. 23:621).

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