Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, 10 March 1809

To Charles Willson Peale

Washington Mar. 10. 09

My dear Sir

Being just on the eve of my departure for Monticello I must write you a short letter returning you a thousand thanks for the portrait of my grandson, which is indeed inimitably done. I do not know whether age impairs the faculties of your art, but I am sure it would do honor to any period of life. it will be a treasure to his parents & not less so to me. as he wished to see them & had a month to spare, he sat out two or three days ago for Monticello; and will be with you again before the commencement of the botanical lectures. I now inclose you an order of the bank of the US. here on that at Philadelphia for an hundred & fifty dollars, which I imagine will carry him through that course of lecture, when he will return home. I believe you never ramble for the purposes of looking out subjects for your Museum. were a ramble to lead you to Monticello, we should all recieve you with open arms & hearts. God bless you & give you many & happy years.

Th: Jefferson

RC (Anonymous, 1948); at foot of text: “Mr Peale.” PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ. Enclosure not found.

Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), inventor, artist, and founder of the Philadelphia Museum, was a lifelong friend and frequent correspondent of TJ. Peale began his career as a saddler and sign painter but soon began painting portraits and studied in London under Benjamin West. In 1776 Peale moved his family from Annapolis to Philadelphia, where his portraits of officers and their wives included one of his seven life portraits of George Washington. Peale began the museum in 1782 as a portrait gallery in his home. Expanded to include natural history and art, the Philadelphia Museum was housed at the American Philosophical Society starting in 1794 and from 1802 at the Philadelphia State House (Independence Hall). A principal attraction was the skeleton of a prehistoric mastodon. Peale worked with John Isaac Hawkins and TJ himself to develop the polygraph, a machine using two pens writing simultaneously that TJ used to keep copies of his correspondence beginning in 1805. Peale retired in 1810 to his farm in Germantown, Pennsylvania (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Peale, Papers, esp. autobiography in vol. 5; Silvio Bedini, Thomas Jefferson and His Copying Machines [1984]).

Peale had sent his portrait of TJ’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph on 21 Feb. 1809. Peale painted the likeness, now at Monticello and reproduced elsewhere in this volume, while the youth was attending Benjamin Smith Barton’s botanical lectures in Philadelphia and boarding at TJ’s expense with the Peale family (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 , vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 1183; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1243).

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; and Philadelphia Museum search
  • Bank of the United States; drafts on, by TJ search
  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; botany lectures search
  • Hawkins, John Isaac; and polygraph search
  • machines; polygraph search
  • mastodon (mammoth, Ohio); at Philadelphia Museum search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); portraits and paintings at search
  • museums; Philadelphia Museum search
  • Peale, Charles Willson; and expenses for T. J. Randolph search
  • Peale, Charles Willson; identified search
  • Peale, Charles Willson; letters to search
  • Peale, Charles Willson; portrait of T. J. Randolph search
  • Philadelphia; Museum search
  • polygraph; description of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); C. W. Peale portrait of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); expenses paid by TJ search
  • Washington, George; portraits of search
  • West, Benjamin; students of search