Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Caruthers, 29 July 1801

From William Caruthers

Lexington 29th July 1801


Although I have not been in the habit of Troubling You or any Other person who has better and more important business to attend to than my Nonsence perhaps it may with propriety be Called Yet in this instance I have taken that liberty—The object of this letter is to comminicate to You an Oppinion I have for some time entertained though Never Communicated to any person before in Order to be corrected, if eronious for this reason amongst others that if the thing Should ever be found practicable it will be of most Service to the County who may first put it into practice—as many things have been found easy to immitate after the first hint Which were not before thought of—It is my Oppinion Sr. that at Some period of Time if mankind Continue to progress in liberty and improvement that the Electric flued as it is Called Will by some nation be made use of as a means of Anoying thier enemy—Yet it may be altogethe a Chimerical notion of mine Taken up for Want of more information on the Subject for I have never had either time or Opportunity to make any experiments on the Subject either to Establish the hypothesis or prove its absurdity but Will here mention a few that I Would make if leisure And Opportunty Served first What effect a Receiver highly Charged hermetically Sealed and Violently projected so as to Break Or Discharge itself against an object Would have—Whethe the Violent Motion and mode of Dischage Would increase the Shock more than the Common mode of Discharging a Phial—if it Should be found to be the Case Shells in the form of Boms might be Constructed of a Size perhaps to answer the purpose Mentioned in the first of this letter but their Will be Considerable Diffiquilty in enclosing the Charge so that None Escape untill the time Designed—

Your Being no doubt Thoroughly acquainted With this branch of Science so far as it is Discovered can at Once Determine Whether any experiment of this Kind is Worth Trial—Or perhaps Similar Exper. may have been made by Some person before Now for I have read very little On the Subject—I have thus Written to You On a Subject I dared Not to mention to One of my equals for fear of ridicule Should You think it Worth any Attention drop me a line On the Subject and if Not Just Commit this to the flames and Give Yourself no Trouble of Answering

I have Some money in my hands of Yours arising from the Sale of Salt petre made from Your Cave at the Natural Bridge the reason I have not remitted it is one of the felowes ran away Without Paying his rent and I expect to recover it as he is only about 40 Miles off and send all at once—

With the highest Consideration I am Your Obt Humbl Sert

Wm Caruthers

RC (MHi); at head of text: “Honble Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 8 Aug. and so recorded in SJL.

William Caruthers (d. 1817) was a merchant in Lexington, Virginia, who was interested in a variety of subjects and became, in 1808, a trustee of a female academy in the town. His earlier correspondence with TJ, which is recorded in SJL but has not been found, consisted of letters from Caruthers to TJ of 14 July, 4 Nov., and 8 Nov. 1796, received on 26 July, 7 Nov., and 12 Nov., respectively, and one letter from TJ of [22?] Oct. 1796. In that correspondence they apparently made an arrangement for the extraction of saltpeter from TJ’s property in Rockbridge County and agreed that Caruthers would be TJ’s agent in paying taxes on the tract, which included the natural bridge. After the letter printed above, they did not correspond again until July 1809, when Caruthers reminded TJ that he still had the money, totaling about $90, from the saltpeter mining (RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004– , 3 vols. description ends , 1:367–8; 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 , 2:1262, 1283; Vol. 25:299; Vol. 28:408, 410).

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