Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John H. Purviance, 12 October 1801

From John H. Purviance

Baltimore, October the 12th. 1801.


On my return here a few days ago after an absence of several weeks I was concerned to find that uncertainty as to the package of books which I received from Mr Short had prevented its being sent on as soon as I had directed—I have embraced the earliest opportunity of remedying this delay and I have now the honor to inclose the receit of a waterman who was to deliver it to Rob. Smith Esqr;—that gentleman’s absence from Washington will I hope be my apology for troubling you with it.

I beg leave, Sir, to offer you the respectful assurances of my perfect respect & consideration

John H. Purviance

Tr (MHi); in an unidentified hand; at foot of text: “To The President of the United States.” Recorded in SJL as received 14 Oct. Enclosure not found.

John H. Purviance (ca. 1772–1820) came from a Baltimore family prominent in shipping, distilling, and privateering. His father, Samuel Purviance, was captured by Indians on the frontier in 1788 and never heard from again. The next year John Purviance applied unsuccessfully to be the surveyor of customs for Baltimore, auditor, or register of the Treasury. In 1791, James McHenry recommended him for the position of comptroller. Purviance’s uncle, Baltimore merchant Robert Purviance, and Samuel Smith supported his efforts to find public employment, and the young man became James Monroe’s secretary when Monroe was minister to France. Purviance was in France in June 1801, when John Dawson selected him to carry dispatches to the United States on the Maryland. Monroe commended Purviance’s abilities (see Monroe to TJ, 17 Nov.) and in correspondence with Madison, Monroe deemed Purviance “a man of great & rare merit.” Monroe described Purviance as “a meek character,” with a “delicate state of health” that imposed some limits on his employment. When Monroe went to London as minister in 1803, Purviance again became his secretary, and early in 1807, after Monroe and William Pinkney had negotiated a treaty with Britain, Purviance was the courier who brought the document to the United States. Later, he was a clerk in the State Department (New York American, 10 Nov. 1820; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 2:247, 375, 396; 3:10–11; 5:5–7, 535; Ammon, Monroe description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, New York, 1971 description ends , 143, 196, 233; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser. description begins W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Philander D. Chase, Theodore J. Crackel, and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, Charlottesville, 1983–, 48 vols.: Presidential Series, 1987–, 12 vols. description ends , 2:332–4; 3:369; W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, 6 vols. [Charlottesville, 1976–79], 5:407–8; Jerome R. Garitee, The Republic’s Private Navy: The American Privateering Business as Practiced by Baltimore during the War of 1812 [Middletown, Conn., 1977], 18, 43, 174–5; Gary Lawson Browne, Baltimore in the Nation, 1789–1861 [Chapel Hill, 1980], 41; Vol. 20:226; William Short to TJ, 9 June 1801; Samuel Smith to TJ, 29 Apr. 1802; TJ to Monroe, 21 Mch. 1807).

William Short had not yet advised TJ that he had sent some books to the United States with Purviance; see Short to TJ, 18 Oct. Purviance had written to TJ on 31 Aug., soon after his arrival in the U.S., but that letter has not been found.

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