Thomas Jefferson Papers

Henry Hiort to Thomas Jefferson, 11 May 1809

From Henry Hiort

City of Washington 11th May 1809.


Knowing that you are a Patron of every useful invention, I take the liberty to enclose to you, a statement of Mr Morneveck’s very valuable Patent impenetrable Stucco, as a substitute for Slate, Shingles and Tiles.

The Certificate of The Justices of the Supreme Court of The United states, who were witnesses to the experiments on a shingle covered with the same Stucco, would be a sufficient apology for obtruding it on your Attention; but a greater inducement bears with me, which is, your well known Zeal to promote works of Public Utility. To enlarge upon its merits, would be an Offence to your discernment and judgment; suffer me therefore merely to urge your consideration of it, satisfied that your sanction & influence exerted in its support, will raise it in the public estimation, to the Acme of the Wishes of The Inventor,—which is the safety and happiness of The United states.

I have the honor to be with sincere wishes for an uninterrupted enjoyment of your health & with the greatest respect
Your most obdt servt

Henry Hiort

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thos Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 14 May 1809 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Description of Morneveck’s impenetrable stucco, reporting that James Madison had awarded a patent to the stucco; that Morneveck had succeeded where all ancient and modern efforts had failed; that his stucco was far superior to slates, tiles, and shingles, being far lighter and harder, “and not in the least fragile being elastic, and will not crack by a blow from a hammer, nor the strongest frost, and also resists a brand of fire”; that the inventor is too modest to say much more, and therefore adding a 28 Feb. 1809 testimonial by United States Supreme Court justices John Marshall, Bushrod Washington, William Livingston Jr., and Brockholst Livingston that they had witnessed a demonstration in which the stucco withstood intense flame, that the inventor asserted that it was “equally secure against the heaviest rains,” and that he therefore deserved “the patronage of the public for so useful a discovery”; with a fuller description on verso indicating that the stucco’s color was “a dark and brilliant slate, which is the prevailing taste”; that roofs covered with it would be safe from firebrands from nearby blazes; that the stucco can be used to treat wood from trees not otherwise useful for building, such as Lombardy poplar, gum, and willow; that it can be prepared throughout the year in towns and on farms and plantations at a cost of only one cent per square foot; that it is best applied in “serene weather, from the spring to the fall,” but that the trial on a shingle before the Supreme Court succeeded even in a stormy season; that those wanting to make and use the stucco were encouraged to apply to the patentee in Baltimore or to his agent Hiort in Washington; and that American printers were urged to insert this notice in their publications as a public service (printed broadside in DLC: Rare Book and Special Collections, addressed by Hiort: “Thos Jefferson Esqr”; partially printed in Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 19 May 1809).

Henry Hiort practiced law in Norfolk, 1790–1802, and then moved to Washington, D.C. He unsuccessfully sought a position as federal marshal during TJ’s administration and later returned to his native Great Britain (“The Willis Family,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , 1st ser., 6 [1897]: 27–8; Hiort to TJ, 9 Nov. 1807 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1801–09]).

Charles Morneveck of Baltimore received a patent on “cement intended as a substitute for slates, tiles, &c. for covering houses” on 13 Mar. 1809 (List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 71).

Index Entries

  • building materials; stucco search
  • Hiort, Henry; and C. Morneveck’s stucco search
  • Hiort, Henry; identified search
  • Hiort, Henry; letters from search
  • inventions; impenetrable stucco search
  • Livingston, Brockholst search
  • Livingston, William, Jr. search
  • Marshall, John; witnesses stucco demonstration search
  • Morneveck, Charles; patent of search
  • Morneveck, Charles; stucco of search
  • patents; of C. Morneveck search
  • stucco search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; justices examine invention search
  • Washington, Bushrod search