Thomas Jefferson Papers
Note: this document has content that may require expanded/print view for best results (icons above right)

To Thomas Jefferson from Robert Patterson, 12 April 1802

From Robert Patterson

Philada. April 12th. 1802


I have been honored with your favour of the 22d Ult. and feel, with a lively sense, the obligation I am under for the interest you were pleased to take in behalf of my friend, though the appointment has fallen on another worthy gentleman of the same name. I am not a little flattered with the notice you have taken of my cypher—Your alteration will certainly very much facilitate the labour of the Principal, without greatly increasing that of the copyist. There is yet another alteration, relative to the Key, which, I conceive, would be of considerable advantage—Instead of expressing it by figures, which are so liable to be forgotten, it may be expressed by a single word or name, which may always be remembred, without committing it to writing. For example, suppose the key-word Montecello—the letters of this word are to be numbered according to their place in the alphabet, any letter repeated, being referred to a second, or third alphabet—thus the letters in the above word be numbered as follows

M o n t e c e l l o
4, 6, 5, 7, 2, 1, 8, 3, 9, 10.

the second e, l, and o being referred to a second alphabet, and according numbered 8, 9, 10. This key-word will then signify that there are ten vertical lines in the section, which are to be transcribed, in horizontal lines in the order of the above figures viz. 4th. 6th. 5th. &c The same word may also be used to signify the number of supplementary or insignificant letters at the beginning of the respective lines, as 4 at the beginning of the first, 6, at that of the second &c Or two key-words may be used; the first to signify the number and order of lines in the section, and the second, the supplementary letters. When the two words do not consist of an equal number of letters, then so many of the first letters of the least word may be subjoined to the end of it, as to make their number equal—Thus James Maddison, as a key, would be written and numbered in this manner

J a m e s j a m M a d d i s o n
3, 1, 4, 2, 5, 7, 6, 8; 4, 1, 2, 8, 3, 7, 6, 5.

There is but one wooden Sextant, that I can find, to be disposed of at present in this city. It is a very good one—with telescopes, tangent and adjusting screws, and every other appendage complete—the price 45 dollars. A stand might be made for it at no great expense. A very little practice, however, would render the use of the instrument, both in measuring vertical and horizontal angles, without a stand, as easy as with one. The Thermometers are ready, but as I have not yet seen or heard from Mr. Barnes, I must request you to send me such further directions, relative to the purchase of the sextant, and sending on the instruments, as you may think proper

An experiment which Mr. Raphael Peale lately exhibited before a number of citizens, at the Coffeehouse, has excited a good deal of attention. It is a complete depuration of even the foulest water, by causing it to pass through a filter composed of successive strata of sponge, sand, & charcoal—He succeeded with water taken from Dr. Wistar’s mascerating-tub, so putrid that the smell of it could scarcely be borne by the company. He has since extended his experiment, and, as he conceives with success, to the separating of fresh water from salt—not indeed by simple filtration, but by previously mixing with the salt water a certain substance, which he says is cheap and of small bulk comparatively. I fear however, that [he may] have been deceived, in these latter experiments—but as [he is?] preparing to repeat them with true sea water, the result, which I shall take the liberty of communicating as soon as known, will determine.

I have the honour to be with the most perfect respect & esteem Sir, your most obedient servant

Rt. Patterson

RC (DLC); torn; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson President of the United States city of Washington”; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 13 Apr.; endorsed by TJ as received 15 Apr. and so recorded in SJL.

The problem of purifying WATER, especially drinking water for ships at sea, received much attention. Raphaelle Peale learned to use sand, sponges, and charcoal as filtrates after seeing a demonstration of a device that had been patented in France. After he built and demonstrated his apparatus in Philadelphia, he wrote to his brother Rubens, who was in New York City exhibiting a mastodon skeleton. From Raphaelle’s instructions, Rubens built one of the filtering devices using stacked flowerpots that held sand and charcoal, with sponges in the pots’ drain holes, all enclosed in a tin casing. Rubens then put on a public demonstration in New York as his brother had in Philadelphia. Charles Willson Peale, who also experimented with water clarification, implied that carbonic acid played a role in Raphaelle’s system. A French author writing in 1801 asserted that if filtration proved inadequate, one could employ “albuminous and gelatinous matter,” acids, fats, lime, cream, or blood as agents to help purify water (Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:426, 427n, 508–9, 512–13n; M. N. Baker and Michael J. Taras, The Quest for Pure Water, 2d ed., 2 vols. [Denver, 1981], 1:38–40; Jean-Pierre Goubert, The Conquest of Water: The Advent of Health in the Industrial Age, trans. Andrew Wilson [Cambridge, 1989], 53–4).

DR. WISTAR’S MASCERATING-TUB: Raphaelle Peale exhibited his filtration device before merchants and ship captains at the City Tavern in Philadelphia. “The experiment proved to be a simple and easy mode of purifying the most offensive water, which came out perfectly pure and bright, and was tasted by all the company,” reported the Gazette of the United States. “Dish water, water from a stagnant pool, and water from the anatomical hall were used.” The latter was apparently water from a receptacle that Caspar Wistar used to soak soft tissue from bones in the preparation of anatomical samples. Wistar, who taught at the University of Pennsylvania, earned a reputation for the quality of his lectures on anatomy and his use of visual aids. He later wrote the first American textbook of anatomy (Gazette of the United States, 7 Apr. 1802; Aurora, 5 Apr.; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; John B. Blake, “Anatomy,” in Ronald L. Numbers, ed., The Education of American Physicians: Historical Essays [Berkeley, Calif., 1980], 33; OED description begins J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, 1989, 20 vols. description ends , s.v. “maceration”).

Index Entries