Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Richard Claiborne, 22 August 1802

From Richard Claiborne

Washington City, 22. Augt. 1802


The success of my experiments has been such as to induce me to publish my invention, as you will see in the newspapers. I conceive that I have made a considerable improvement as to the Flaps in simplifying them, and in increasing their effect by accelerating the power applied. I have besides, invented a method of working the setting poles, to be operated in conjunction with the paddles, or separately as occasion may require. These remain however to be tried, but I have no doubt of their success; and I expect they will be proved shortly. Thus then I may venture to hope for a complete system of inland navigation, as far as my humble abilities can go. I am endeavoring to get a steam engine brought forward, where the great advantage lies. My knowledge of your favorable disposition towards the arts I trust will be an apology for my intruding this information on you.

Now, Sir, permit me once more, to submit my application to you for some situation of public service, when ever an occasion may offer. My present circumstances require it—yet I would by no means excite your benevolence, but in compatibility with the public interest. Nor would I be intrusive in frequent repetitions—only that I feel it my duty to revive the intimation amidst your various concerns. Delicacy would forbid my pointing at any particular situation, except that the one my mind leads me to, might not strike your attention. It is the “Commissioner of Loans” for the state of Virginia, whenever that office may become vacant, and it should be kept up.

The present Commissioner told me, last winter, that he expected it would be the last dividend he should make—and Mr. Giles informed me that the office would, in more than probability, be continued under a new arrangement that the suceeding Congress might adopt. But, Sir, as this is a remote subject, I will rest on any intermediate appointment that may offer. I left Mr. Beckley’s department the 1st. of July last, to give way to a previous promise he had made, but I have no doubt of his approbation and sanction.

I am, Sir, With the highest personal and political respect—Your most obedient, and most humble servant—

R Claiborne

RC (DLC); addressed: “The President of the United States”; franked; postmarked 24 Aug.; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Aug. and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “office.”

Richard Claiborne and TJ corresponded often during the Revolution when TJ was governor of Virginia and Claiborne was deputy quartermaster for the state, and later when TJ was living in Paris and Claiborne in London. TJ had last written Claiborne in 1795, after Claiborne’s return to the United States (Vol. 28:273–4). A letter from Claiborne, dated 1 Jan. 1801, has not been found but was recorded in SJL as received 22 Apr. 1801 with the notations “Mononga. glades” and “Off.”

Having been an associate of steamboat pioneer James Rumsey, Claiborne worked for many years to perfect his INVENTION of a mechanical boat propulsion system. He advertised his design, which was eventually termed the “hinge or duck-foot paddle,” as adaptable to manual, horse, or steam power, and touted the “constant effect” created by its “double or successive stroke.” At an unknown time, but almost certainly before the letter above, TJ participated in a demonstration of the invention when he and members of his cabinet, including Henry Dearborn who operated the device, crossed and recrossed the Anacostia River on a boat powered by Claiborne’s system. In October, TJ gave $50 to Claiborne. Although Claiborne never profited from his invention, he continued to refine it and in 1818 was granted a monopoly by the Louisiana state legislature (Washington Universal Gazette, 16 Sep. 1802; Curtis Carroll Davis, “ ’A National Property’: Richard Claiborne’s Tobacco Treatise for Poland,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , 3d ser., 21 (1964), 94–6, 111–17; 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 , 2:1083; Claiborne to TJ, 12 Dec. 1802).

COMMISSIONER OF LOANS: John Hopkins (see Thomas Underwood, Jr., to TJ, 25 July 1802).

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