Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Robert Patterson, 22 March 1802

To Robert Patterson

Washington Mar. 22. 1802.

Dear Sir

I recieved your favor by mr Engles. the place desired for him is not given by commission from me, but is a mere appointment by letter from the Secretary at war, and consequently rests solely with him, without my interposition. nevertheless I sent him your letter, and afterwards stated to him the weight of your testimony. you have no conception of the number of applicants for this office. the Secretary at war is making out a calendar of them, and consulting the members of Congress & others on their respective qualifications. the chance therefore of any single one is moderate.—I have thoroughly considered your cypher, and find1 it so much more convenient in practice than my wheel cypher, that I am proposing it to the Secretary of state for use in his office. I vary it in a slight circumstance only. I write the lines in the original draught horizontally & not vertically, placing the letters of the different lines very exactly under each other. I do this for the convenience of the principal whose time is to be economised, tho’ it increases the labor of a copying clerk. the copying clerk transcribes the vertical lines horizontally. the clerk of our correspondent restores them to their horizontal position ready for the reading of his principal.

There is no such thing as a meridian or any other means of keeping our clocks & watches right at this place. I have had recourse to the rising & setting of the sun, the only way of taking equal altitudes without an instrument: but these are not equal unless the eastern & western horizons are equal which is rarely the case. I have imagined the most convenient instrument I could get would be a good Hadley’s quadrant (as called, tho’ it be a sextant) and to set my clock by equal altitudes of the sun. I would prefer it also because I should be willing to possess this instrument, having at home a fine theodolite & Planetarium by Ramsden. I see in Jones’s catalogue (London) he states the Hadley’s quadrants with nonius & ivory arch from 2. to 3. guineas. one of the best of these I think would suit me. I am not at all used to this instrument, but I think they are sometimes made with a common stand (3. footed folding together as for the Surveyor’s compass) to be used with the stand or without it. this would be preferable. I must ask the favor of you to chuse a good one for me, and direct the person to have it well packed and ready to deliver to such person as mr Barnes shall direct to call & pay for it. I would trouble you to select for me at the same time 2. good Farenheit thermometers. those you chose for me before suited perfectly. I must throw myself on your goodness for an apology for the trouble I give you, and assure you of my friendly esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); in ink at foot of first page: “Patterson Rob.”; endorsed by TJ in ink on verso.

YOUR FAVOR BY MR ENGLES: on 12 Mch., Patterson wrote TJ a letter that has not been found. According to TJ’s notation in SJL, the communication, which he received on the 14th, recommended Silas Engles as the public storekeeper at Philadelphia. A letter from Engles to TJ, dated 2 June 1808 and received from Frederick, Maryland, on 5 July of that year, is recorded in SJL but has not been found. In May 1801, Patterson and Andrew Ellicott had recommended George Ingels for the storekeeper’s job, which involved the management of military stores at the Schuylkill Arsenal. Ingels received the appointment by mid-April 1802 (Ingels to War Department, 16 Apr. 1802, in DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; Vol. 34:69).

YOUR CYPHER: see Patterson to TJ, 19 Dec. 1801.

The method of EQUAL ALTITUDES would allow TJ to regulate his clock by the sun, using observations of the sun’s position before and after noon to find the exact time the sun reached its zenith (Richard S. Preston, “The Accuracy of the Astronomical Observations of Lewis and Clark,” APS, Proceedings, 144 [2000], 171–2). A Hadley’s reflecting QUADRANT, also known as an octant, was an instrument for measuring the altitudes of celestial bodies in degrees above the horizon. A THEODOLITE measured the angle between two points and was commonly used for triangulation by surveyors and mapmakers. In 1778, TJ acquired a theodolite made by Jesse Ramsden, a well-known English maker of optical and scientific apparatus. TJ, who visited Ramsden’s shop in London in 1786, also owned instruments made by Ramsden’s brother-in-law, Peter Dollond. The term PLANETARIUM was used for models that showed the positions and orbits of the planets around the sun, such as mechanical orreries. Among the items in TJ’s household in France in 1793 was “une machine qui est la boule du monde” (“a machine that is the ball of the world”). TJ bought an orrery from the Jones firm, but it was shipped directly to Virginia from London and was never among his possessions in France. Perhaps the “boule du monde” packed up in Paris was a planetarium by Ramsden (Bedini, Statesman of Science description begins Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science, New York, 1990 description ends , 78, 151, 342, fig. 11; Maurice Daumas, Scientific Instruments of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Mary Holbrook [New York, 1972], 116, 174, 179, 181, 186, 234, illus. 104; Stein, Worlds description begins Susan R. Stein, The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, New York, 1993 description ends , 351, 356–7; Robert Bud, Deborah Jean Warner, and others, eds., Instruments of Science: An Historical Encyclopedia [New York, 1998], 429–30, 465–7, 613; Gloria Clifton, Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550–1851 [London, 1995], 227–8; 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 , 1:456, 614; Vol. 14:411–12; Vol. 24:726–7, 790; Vol. 25:341, 485; Vol. 26:20; Vol. 27:64; Vol. 34:272).

JONES’S CATALOGUE: William and Samuel Jones, who had taken over their father’s instrument-making business in London in the early 1790s, published annual catalogues of their wares. A NONIUS was a device on an octant or sextant that showed units of arc smaller than the divisions on the instrument’s main scale. IVORY was sometimes used for the scale, which was curved to fit an arc-shaped piece of the octant or sextant. The Joneses’ catalogues listed Hadley’s quadrants of mahogany, “with ivory arch and nonius” and fitted for “double observation”—to find the angle between two celestial bodies—for £2.2.0. The price for a Hadley’s quadrant made of ebony wood, fitted with the “best” optics and a scale engraved on brass by a machine called a dividing engine, was £3 (A Catalogue of Optical, Mathematical, and Philosophical Instruments, Made and Sold by W. and S. Jones [London, 1799], 6; same [London, 1800?], 4; Bud and Warner, Instruments of Science, 420, 532; Thomas Dick, The Practical Astronomer [New York, 1846], 353–4; John FitzMaurice Mills, Encyclopedia of Antique Scientific Instruments [New York, 1983], 164; Daumas, Scientific Instruments, 181, 194–204, illus. 110, 113; OED description begins J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, 1989, 20 vols. description ends , S.V. “nonius”; Vol. 25:342–3n).

1Word interlined in place of “consider.”

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