Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Jarvis to Thomas Jefferson, 20 January 1810

From William Jarvis

Lisbon 20 Jany 1810


It is so often suspected that marks of attention, in the way of trifling presents, to persons in high Official stations, have some sinister intention, that I have always hesitated to shew these marks of regard least, from these motives, they should be received with reluctance; but when presented to persons out of Office, from whom no advancement of personal interest is expected, it must certainly be set down to the purer motives of gratitude for benefits received or for the high respect entertaind1 for the person, to whom the compliment is paid. Both one & the other are my sentiments toward you; and now permit me to assure you that when I formerly took the liberty to offer you some trifles, it was not to the President I offered them, but to the Man who filled the station; and my veneration for you being in no wise lessened by your secession from Office, I hope you will allow me again to trespass on your goodness with a small present, which I trust, from your Patriotism, will not be unacceptable. After much exertion I have been able to obtain a few Merino Sheep warranted of the best breed in Spain, and, thinking the climate of Virginia more favourable for their propagation, as more resembling that of Spain than the Northern states, I cannot forbear sir making you an offer of a Ram & Ewe, both as a mark of my great esteem, & well knowing that the experiment cannot be in better hands; and I pray you sir to do me the honor of their acceptance. Least sir the idea of expense should deter you, allow me to say, that they did not cost me very much, having got them at a reasonable price by the assistance of a spanish Gentleman—There are two or three large vessels now bound to Alexandria (the only ones bound to Virginia) by one of which I shall try to forward them, with a pair more for Mr Madison. Please to give your directions regarding them.

Nothing is known here of the movements of the French in the North of Spain, beyond the surrender of Gerona to them. The head quarters of the British Army is at2 Coimbra & there advanced post at Viseu. The advantage of this position is not so visible unless as affording an easy retreat to Figueira, for embarkation, if necessary.

The late transaction with Mr Jackson is generally approved among our Countrymen here and they appear ready with firmness, to meet any event that may ensue from it.

With sentiments of profound respect—I am sir Yr Mo: Obliged & Mo: Hble svt

Wm Jarvis

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thos Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Mar. 1810 and so recorded in SJL.

William Jarvis (1770–1859), a merchant and trader in Boston, was appointed United States consul at Lisbon by TJ in 1802. While serving there he operated a profitable commission house and sometimes supplied TJ with Portuguese wine. Following Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808, Jarvis took advantage of the unsettled situation by purchasing and dispatching to America several thousand merino sheep, which had previously been jealously guarded against export by the Spanish monarchy. In addition to the two merinos he shipped to TJ at this time, he sent another pair later in the year. Jarvis distributed merinos to every state that he thought would benefit from their acquisition. Leaving William Jarvis & Company in the hands of his partners, he returned to the United States late in 1810, gave up his consulship, and raised sheep on a farm in Weathersfield, Vermont. There he became a staunch supporter of protective tariffs (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Mary Pepperell Sparhawk Jarvis Cutts, The Life and Times of Hon. William Jarvis, of Weathersfield, Vermont [1869; repr. 1991, ed. Edith F. Hunter]; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:406, 407 [2, 9 Feb. 1802]; 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 , 2:1115–6, 1259; TJ to Jarvis, 5 Dec. 1810).

In 1804 TJ declined Jarvis’s offer of two hogsheads of Portuguese wine, citing his policy against accepting gifts of value while in office (Jarvis to TJ, 26 Oct. 1803, and TJ to Jarvis, 19 July 1804 [DLC]). The Spanish city of gerona fell to the French in the middle of December 1809 (Napoleon, Correspondance description begins Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, 1858–70, 32 vols. description ends , 20:80–1). Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington had, in fact, recently shifted his headquarters in Portugal from coimbra to viseu (The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, 2d ed. [1844–47], 3:681).

Jarvis offered James Madison a pair of merinos the same day (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 29 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 7 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 2:199).

1Manuscript: “entertertaind.”

2Jarvis here canceled “Cintra.”

Index Entries

  • Alexandria, Va.; merino sheep shipped to search
  • France; military operations in Spain and Portugal search
  • Great Britain; military operations of in Spain and Portugal search
  • Jackson, Francis James; recall of search
  • Jarvis, William; and merino sheep search
  • Jarvis, William; and wine for TJ search
  • Jarvis, William; identified search
  • Jarvis, William; letters from search
  • Madison, James; and merino sheep search
  • merino sheep; procurement from Spain search
  • merino sheep; sent to TJ and J. Madison search
  • Portugal; military operations in search
  • Spain; climate of search
  • Spain; merino sheep and wool from search
  • Spain; resists Napoleonic rule search
  • Virginia; climate compared to Spain search
  • Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of (formerly Viscount); Peninsular campaigns of search
  • wine; Portuguese search