Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Andrew Ellicott, 7 February 1802

From Andrew Ellicott

Lancaster Feby. 7th. 1802

Dear Sir

Your favour of the 29th. Ultimo has been duly received, and the proposition which it contains, I consider as one of the most honourable, and flattering incidents of my life; and was my own feelings, and inclination, alone concerned, I should not hesitate one moment in accepting the place you offer: but as there are some other considerations to be brought into view, and duly weighed, before I can give a definitive answer, I wish the subject to be suspended for a few days.—I should have replied to your favour immediately, but the multiplicity of business before the Board of Property, which is now sitting, and of which, (as Secretary of the Land office,) I have to do the duty of President, has prevented my paying immediate attention to other objects.

I have enclosed an extract from M. Depuis’s Memoire on the origin of the constellations &c. which I suspect you must have seen before this, but if not, I presume it will be considered as a curiosity,—Your understanding the language in which it is written, so much better than myself, has rendered an attempt to translating it unnecessary.—

I am sir with the greatest respect, and esteem, your sincere friend, and Hbl. Servt.

Andw; Ellicott

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thos. Jefferson President U.S.”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Feb. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Extract from Charles François Dupuis’s Mémoire sur l’origine des constellations, stating that according to Charles Marie de La Condamine, the name given to the constellation Taurus by the people of the Amazon is “Ox Jaw,” and according to Joseph François Lafitau, the Iroquois Indians call the constellation Ursa Major the female bear; Dupuis arguing that since the two groups of stars do not actually resemble the animals they are named for, the similarities in the names of those constellations is evidence of communication between the hemispheres in ancient times (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 120:20781; in Ellicott’s hand; in French).

Dupuis’s Mémoire sur l’origine des constellations et sur l’explication de la fable, par le moyen de l’astronomie appeared in the fourth volume of Joseph Jérôme Le Français de Lalande’s Astronomie, a book that TJ owned and recommended to others. The volume appeared in 1781, and the Mémoire was also published separately that year (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3796; Vol. 25:490; Vol. 32:180).

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