Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Smith Barton, 13 March 1802

From Benjamin Smith Barton

Philadelphia, March 13th, 1802.

Dear Sir,

I am informed, that a Marine Hospital is about to be established, at the expence of the government of the United-States, in the city of New-Orleans. Should this be the case, permit to observe, that I think Mr. Oliver H. Spencer, a young man who has just completed his studies in our University, would be a very proper person to serve in the capacity of a physician to the institution. Mr. Spencer served, for some time, as a surgeon in the army of the United-States. He has spent two winters in Philadelphia, in attendance on the medical lectures, and acquired and deserved the character of a man of talents, very correct knowledge, and fair and amiable character. He has already formed the resolution of settling at N. Orleans, for which place he is to sail, in a day or two.—

In consequence of the very declining state of my health, I have formed the resolution of spending a part of the ensuing spring and summer in the country of the Cheerake-Indians. As I am obliged to leave the city, I am anxious to derive as much advantage as I can, from my absence. My objects; next to my health, in the Cheerake-country, will be the collecting of specimens of the Indian languages, materials for the natural history of the country, &c. It has occurred to me, that these latter objects might be very essentially advanced, could I be properly introduced to some of the more influencial agents in the country. I shall esteem myself under a very particular obligation to you, Sir, if you can conveniently furnish me with a letter, or with letters, to any of the respectable characters to whom I allude, mentioning to them the particular objects of my journey.

I have the honor to subscribe myself, Dear Sir, with the highest respect,1 Your very humble and obedient servant, &c.

B. S. Barton

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); addressed: “To The President of the United-States”; endorsed by TJ as received 20 Mch. and “Oliver H. Spencer to be Surgeon of Marine hosp. N.O.” and so recorded in SJL. Probably enclosed in William Jones to TJ, 19 Mch., not found (recorded in SJL as received 20 Mch., with notation “Spencer to be Surgeon Marne. hosp. N.O.”).

Barton’s letter printed above was enclosed in one of 15 Mch. from Joseph Strong of Philadelphia to Congressman William Jones. Strong said that he had personal acquaintance with OLIVER H. SPENCER, whose “talents & acquirements plead eloquently in his favor.” Strong had been told that American merchants in New Orleans were “much pleased” with Spencer’s decision to move there. Spencer, who combined “acknowledged abilities” as a doctor with “admirable humanity of heart,” had sailed for New Orleans on the 15th. The UNIVERSITY of Pennsylvania awarded him an M.D. degree in 1803 (RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR; W. J. Maxwell, comp., General Alumni Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania: 1917 [Philadelphia, 1917], 566).

1Preceding four words interlined.

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