Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 17 March 1810

To William Johnson

Monticello Mar. 17. 10.

Dear Sir

I recieved by mr Mitchell your letter of Sep. 20. and the favor of the Benni seed, Egyptian grass and the Acacia seeds a journey immediately succeeding took off my attention from the subject in the moment, and it was not till overhauling my seeds for the operations of the present season that I was reminded of the duty and pleasure of the acknolegement still due for your kind attention. all of these articles are highly acceptable. they bring nourishment to my hobby horse: for my occupations at present are neither in reading nor writing. the culture of the earth in the garden, orchard & farms engage my whole attention. two essays of the last year & year before with the Benni have failed. the first by the earliest frost ever known in this country, which killed the plants before maturity, and the last by as extraordinary a drought. I raised however the last year1 about as much as I sowed, & shall make another effort this year, & not without good hopes. I have provided myself with a press of cast iron, to wit, a cylinder holding half a bushel with an iron lid moving within it, and a screw to force that. it has not yet however been tried. I am very thankful for the Egyptian grass, having long heard of it & wished to try it. I have not been able to find the term Popinaque which distinguishes the species of Acacia you have been so kind as to send me, nor do I recollect the occasion of my mentioning it to you. being a great admirer of the two species Nilotica & Farnesiana, I suspect it must be one of these, & probably the latter which is a native of the W. India islands. I shall however cherish it. some two or three years ago, among other seeds I recieved from Malta, was that of the Winter melon. I gave it to two or three gardeners near Washington. only one of them succeeded in raising it, on account of the criticalness of the time of planting. he raised a few, of which he sent me one on Christmas day. he planted on the 15th of July. the fruit is gathered before the danger of frost. the planting must have been so timed that when gathered in autumn, and put away in a warm dry place, it will go on mellowing as an apple. it is eaten through the months of Dec. Jan. & February. it is a very fine melon. I inclose you a few seeds, as I think it will be more likely to do well with you than here; and shall be happy to administer to your taste for the care of plants in any way you can make me useful, as well as in every other opportunity of proving to you my high esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Judge Johnson”; endorsed by TJ.

TJ received winter melon seeds in 1805, not two or three years ago, and he planted seeds in 1809. William Hamilton and Margaret Bayard Smith were among the gardeners near washington to whom TJ gave its seeds (TJ to Hamilton, 6 Nov. 1805 [DLC]; Smith to Jane Kirkpatrick, 4 May 1806 [DLC: Margaret Bayard Smith Papers]; Betts, Garden Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766–1824, 1944 description ends , 391, 393).

1Preceding three words interlined.

Index Entries

  • agriculture; and cast-iron presses search
  • crops; benne search
  • food; winter melon search
  • gardens; TJ spends time in his search
  • grass; Egyptian search
  • gum arabic tree search
  • Hamilton, William (ca.1746–1813); and seeds of Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • Johnson, William (1771–1834); letters to search
  • Johnson, William (1771–1834); sends seeds to TJ search
  • machines; cast-iron press search
  • Mitchell, Thomas Rothmaler; visits Monticello search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); cast-iron press at search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); gardens search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Mitchell, Thomas Rothmaler search
  • presses, cast-iron search
  • seeds; Egyptian grass search
  • seeds; sent by TJ search
  • seeds; sent to TJ search
  • seeds; sesame search
  • seeds; sweet acacia search
  • seeds; wintermelon search
  • sesame (benne; benni); TJ receives seeds of search
  • Smith, Margaret Bayard (Samuel H. Smith’s wife); TJ gives seeds to search
  • sweet acacia search
  • trees; gum arabic search
  • weather; cold search
  • weather; drought search
  • weather; effect on crops search
  • winter melon; TJ on search