Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Cooper to Thomas Jefferson, 10 May 1810

From Thomas Cooper

Northumberland May 10. 1810.

Dear Sir

On my coming from England in 1793 I brought with me a very good collection of minerals: the principal part of which were in some manner or other lost at the Custom house so that I never recovered them. The few remaining ores I possessed, I gave to Mr Thos Smith when he and Mr Maclure paid me a visit here many years ago. Mr Smith, a young man of much promise whom I dare say you knew something of, by character at least, died on his passage home. since that, I have given up all attention to Mineralogy till a short time ago.

I was lately in Philadelphia for about Six weeks, and I found with very great pleasure, that not only Chemistry but Mineralogy was becoming a very fashionable pursuit among the literary class of that City, and I saw the Commencement of some collections that promise to do honour to our State. I found too that the Science was attended to, with the advantage of all the modern improvements, which have converted mineralogy into a real science, which it hardly deserved to be called in my day when Kirwan first published his elementary work.

I have been tempted again to take up my favourite Study, and again to make collections, in hopes that my correspondents below and I may be of mutual use in helping each other to specimens and extending the knowledge of the Mineralogy of our Country.

Can you put me in the way of procuring mineralogical specimens from your quarter of the Country?I am not so anxious for Geognostic specimens, for with all my respect for Werner, I am not yet persuaded that his series of formations holds infallibly all over the Globe, or that the Geology of Germany must necessarily be that of America also; but of this, being as yet in doubt, I make no account. What we want here is the Oryctognosis of Mineralogy—the knowledge of the external Characters & the chemical composition of earths and stones; we want to know them at sight, and to name & class them so, that an european mineralogist will understand us; & then to form our collections of Economical Mineralogy, the only useful part of it: for I hold Knowledge of any kind rather cheap, that does not enable us to give an answer to the Question Cui bono?

If you can in any way assist me, by procuring me information how I can get at, mineralogical notices of the general features of any part of your Country—or mineralogical1 specimens of any description particularly such as are likely to be of use in the arts, I shall feel myself under another obligation added to those for which I am already indebted. I will most chearfully pay any expence of transportation for any thing of the kind sent for me to the care of Mr J Vaughan Philadelphia.—some Cornish and Derbyshire minerals that I gave formerly to Dr Priestley and some of his own, will enable me to begin, not quite destitute of a Cabinet.

While I was in Philadelphia, I printed2 an Argument which I delivered in the Court of Errors and Appeals, on the Question how far the Sentence of a foreign Court of Admiralty or Vice admiralty is conclusive evidence between the Insurer and the Underwriter. I stood alone in that Court; and the decisions of the Supreme Court of our own State and of the United States was against me: but the Bar of Philadelphia, having expressed a frequent wish for my argument, I printed it, and so soon as Mr Dallas can find time to finish a preface to it, it will be published. When it is I will transmit you a Copy.

I have undertaken to compile for Conrad this summer, a Volume of processes depending upon the manufactures of Iron, Copper, Lead and Tin; with the Chemical parts of the processes in Dyeing and Callico printing. It will of necessity be chiefly a Compilation, but I have much to add to what I have seen in books. Adieu. Believe me with sincere respect

Your obliged friend

Thomas Cooper

RC (MHi); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Monticello”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by TJ as received 21 May 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in TJ to Joseph C. Cabell, 27 June 1810, and Cabell to TJ, 23 July 1810.

Thomas Cooper (1759–1839), attorney, judge, scientist, and educator, was a native of London who left Oxford University without a degree because of his dissenting religious views. Along with his friend and mentor Joseph Priestley, he became disillusioned with political conditions in England, settled in 1794 in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, and became a United States citizen. Cooper opposed the Sedition Act of 1798 and in 1800 was himself fined and spent six months in prison for seditious libel. Cooper was TJ’s longtime friend and frequent correspondent. Beginning as a vocal supporter of Jeffersonian republicanism, he eventually became a leading spokesman for states’ rights and nullification. Cooper served as a state district judge in Pennsylvania, 1804–11, as professor of chemistry at Dickinson College from 1811 until it suspended activities in 1815, and as professor of applied chemistry and mineralogy at the University of Pennsylvania, 1815–19. At TJ’s strong urging, Cooper was successively elected to professorships in science and law at Central College in 1817 and its successor, the University of Virginia, two years later, but his Unitarian and materialist religious views made his appointment controversial. Because of a delay in the scheduled opening of the school, Cooper never taught in Charlottesville. He accepted the chair of chemistry at South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina at Columbia) in 1820 and served as its president, 1821–33. In his retirement Cooper edited five volumes of South Carolina statutes (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 ; DSB description begins Charles C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 1970–80, 16 vols. description ends ; Dumas Malone, The Public Life of Thomas Cooper, 1783–1839 [1926, repr. 1961]; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 26:715, 31:451–2; Sowerby; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library [1829] description ends ; Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , 6:264, 364–9, 376–80).

Thomas Peters smith was a chemist and member of the American Philosophical Society who died in 1802 (Wyndham Miles, “Thomas Peters Smith: A Typical Early American Chemist,” Journal of Chemical Education 30 [1953]: 184–5; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 848). William maclure, a prominent American geologist, questioned the theories of Abraham Gottlob Werner, who suggested that geological strata had successively precipitated out of an ancient sea. The elementary work of Richard Kirwan, Elements of Mineralogy (London, 1784), was the first systematic study of the subject in English (DSB description begins Charles C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 1970–80, 16 vols. description ends ). geognostic specimens would help explain either the earth’s structure or the natural position and grouping of minerals in rock (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

Cooper gave his dissenting opinion in the Pennsylvania court of errors and appeals in the case of Dempsey v. Insurance Company of Pennsylvania. He was opposing a recent ruling by the united states Supreme Court in Croudson et al. v. Leonard (1808), a lawsuit between the owner and insurers of the cargo of the American brig Fame. In that case, the federal supreme court admitted a decision by a British vice-admiralty court that the ship had attempted to evade the blockade of Martinique as conclusive evidence of this allegation (William Cranch, Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States [1804–17], 4:434–43 [United States Supreme Court Reports, vol. 8]). Shortly thereafter Patrick Byrne printed and Alexander dallas published The Opinion of Judge Cooper, on the Effect of a Sentence of a Foreign Court of Admiralty (Philadelphia, 1810; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 2120).

Cooper’s compilation did not appear at this time, but he later published A Practical Treatise on Dyeing, and Callicoe Printing exhibiting the processes in the French, German, English, and American practice of fixing colours on woollen, cotton, silk, and linen (Philadelphia, 1815).

1Manuscript: “mineroligal.”

2Word interlined in place of “published.”

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • A Practical Treatise on Dyeing, and Callicoe Printing (Cooper) search
  • Byrne, Patrick; prints work search
  • Central College (Charlottesville); professors at search
  • chemistry; scholars of search
  • chemistry; study of search
  • Conrad, C. & A., and Company (Philadelphia firm); publishes book by T. Cooper search
  • Cooper, Thomas; and Conrad & Co. search
  • Cooper, Thomas; and mineralogy search
  • Cooper, Thomas; A Practical Treatise on Dyeing, and Callicoe Printing search
  • Cooper, Thomas; identified search
  • Cooper, Thomas; letters from search
  • Cooper, Thomas; The Opinion of Judge Cooper, on the Effect of a Sentence of a Foreign Court of Admiralty search
  • copper; manufacture of search
  • cotton; books on search
  • Croudson et al. v. Leonard search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; publishes The Opinion of Judge Cooper on the Effect of a Sentence of a Foreign Court of Admiralty search
  • Dempsey v. Insurance Company of Pennsylvania search
  • Elements of Mineralogy (Kirwan) search
  • Fame (brig) search
  • geology; scholars of search
  • Germany; geology of search
  • iron; manufacture of search
  • Kirwan, Richard; Elements of Mineralogy search
  • lead; manufacture of search
  • Maclure, William; as geologist search
  • manufacturing, household; dyeing and printing search
  • manufacturing, household; use of iron, copper, lead, and tin in search
  • mineralogy; and T. Cooper search
  • Pennsylvania; supreme court of search
  • Philadelphia; science popular in search
  • Priestley, Joseph; mineral collection of search
  • Smith, Thomas Peters search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; and prize cases search
  • The Opinion of Judge Cooper, on the Effect of a Sentence of a Foreign Court of Admiralty (Cooper) search
  • tin search
  • United States; geology search
  • Vaughan, John; forwards packages to T. Cooper search
  • Virginia, University of (Charlottesville); professorships at search
  • Werner, Abraham Gottlob; mineralogical theories of search