Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Sylvanus McLean to Thomas Jefferson, [21 May 1809]

From James Sylvanus McLean

[21 May 1809]


The result of calm reflection this morning is a conviction of the impropriety of intruding myself further on your attention, & indeed of having at all attempted it; & also of the propriety of apologizing for the intrusion—Apology will be in part suggested by the inclosed, to which I propose the honour of adding personal acknowledgement at my departure—Accept my sentiments of due respect

James Sylvanus McLean

RC (MHi); undated; at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 21 May 1809 and so recorded in SJL; notation by TJ: “(written at Monto).” Enclosure not found.

James Sylvanus McLean, a native of York, Pennsylvania, received a patent for an improvement in pianofortes on 27 May 1796 and wrote TJ about his ideas for using steam engines to power agricultural machinery. He apparently spent the night of 20 May 1809 at Monticello. In 1812 McLean was acquitted due to insanity in a trial for conspiracy to extort money from Stephen Girard, a wealthy merchant and philanthropist in Philadelphia. Witnesses then described McLean as educated, well read, and a talented musician, but also as a paranoiac man who claimed that he had “been educated in the family of General Washington, been ill treated by Mr. Jefferson, and had lost his fortune by col. Burr.” They also reported that he was once “prevented from murdering his wife and children in a fit of madness” (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 , 11; McLean to TJ, 30 Sept. 1802 [DLC]; A Report of the Trial, of James Sylvanus M’Clean, alias J. Melville, and William L. Graham before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [Philadelphia, 1812]; quotations on pp. 8, 18).

Index Entries

  • Burr, Aaron (1756–1836); and J. S. McLean search
  • Girard, Stephen; extortion plot against search
  • health; mental illness search
  • McLean, James Sylvanus; apologizes to TJ search
  • McLean, James Sylvanus; identified search
  • McLean, James Sylvanus; letters from search
  • McLean, James Sylvanus; visits Monticello search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; McLean, James S. search