Thomas Jefferson Papers

George W. Erving to Thomas Jefferson, 29 January 1811

From George W. Erving

Boston Jany 29–1811

Respected Sir

When I had the honor to be with you at Monticello, I mentioned the means which I had taken of forming an opinion, upon the long disputed point, viz whether the quality of the merino wool deteriorated out of spain; which is connected with that other interesting Enquiry, viz the effect of transhumation on the quality of the wool. I requested permission to send to you the specimens which I had taken from Danl Parkers sheep, & afterwards from those of the Duke of Infantado;—I have hitherto been disappointed in this respect, because my correspondent in London having sent my baggage to this port instead of that of Phila, I have not ’till now been able to get at the specimens referred to;—these I take the liberty of transmitting herewith.—In a seperate paper is a specimen of wool taken from some of Infantados sheep lately exported from Cadiz for the United States; this I have just received from Mr Hackley;— to these inclosures I add some of the silk, as well as the seed of, the “silk plant” of Africa which I procured when in Morocco;—I coud not find that the moors make any use of it, it is as you will perceive the flour (female part of) of a species of thistle.

I propose to leave Boston in a few days to proceed on the mission to which the President has been pleased to appoint me;—I trust that the objects of it may be completed in the course of a year or 14 Months;—if any thing shoud occur to you in which I can be useful to you during my residence abroad, or if there be any thing which you desire to have from Paris, & which I can bring to you on my return home, I entreat you Sir to afford me an opportunity of manifesting in some small degree my grateful sense of the very many & great obligations which I am under to you, & that sincere & entire respect & attachment with which I am always your most obedient & faithful Servant

George W Erving

P.S. I have taken the liberty of sending to you (under seperate cover by this post) Mr Bowdoins translation of Daubentons work on sheep; Mr B— is preparing a more perfect edition with plates &c, which he will have the honor of presenting to you himself.

RC (DLC); at head of text: “To Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Mar. 1811 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) wool sample (DLC: TJ Papers, 235:42263); labeled by Erving: “Specimen of Mr Bowdoins wool, from American Sheep raised on his Island of ‘Nanshaw.’” (2) wool sample (DLC: TJ Papers, 235:42262); labeled by Erving: “sent to me by Mr Hackley.” Plant sample not found.

The duke of infantado had the largest flock of merino sheep in Spain in 1810, numbering forty thousand out of a national population of more than four million (Washington National Intelligencer, 19 Oct. 1810). In April 1811 TJ sowed the seeds of the silk plant, also known as China grass, Chinese silk plant, or ramie (Boehmeria nivea). The silk plant was cultivated for its long fibers or ramie, which could be woven (Betts, Garden Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766–1824, 1944 description ends , 447; Hortus Third description begins Liberty Hyde Bailey, Ethel Zoe Bailey, and the staff of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium, Cornell University, Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada, 1976 description ends , 168–9). Erving sent TJ the first edition of Louis Jean Marie Daubenton’s work on sheep, Advice to Shepherds and Owners of Flocks, on the Care and Management of Sheep, trans. James Bowdoin (Boston, 1810; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 794; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library [1829] description ends , 6 [no. 263]). TJ received a second edition from James Bowdoin’s widow in 1812 (TJ to Sarah Bowdoin [Dearborn], 24 June 1812).

Most likely either during his visit to Monticello or as an enclosure to this letter, Erving gave TJ some notes on sheep reading as follows:

“Note. Pastoral terms

The Ram lamb 1 year old is called ‘Borro’ or ‘Borrego’;—he is called ‘Primalo’ just when at about two years old he seeks the female;—‘Endoro’ when he has become a father; & ‘Morueco’ when he has been repeatedly a father.

The three ‘Moruecos’—ya cerrados, but of different ages;—means they are ‘aged’ as is said of an horse, when it can no longer be discovered by the teeth of what age they may be” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 235:42264); undated; in Erving’s hand; endorsed by TJ: “Agriculture Sheep.”

Index Entries

  • Advice to Shepherds (Daubenton; trans. Bowdoin) search
  • Bowdoin, James (1752–1811); Advice to Shepherds search
  • Cádiz; U.S. consul at search
  • Daubenton, Louis Jean Marie; Advice to Shepherds search
  • Dearborn, Sarah Bowdoin (James Bowdoin’s widow; Henry Dearborn’s third wife); and L. J. M. Daubenton’s work on sheep search
  • Erving, George William; letters from search
  • Erving, George William; sends wool specimens search
  • Erving, George William; visits Monticello search
  • Hackley, Richard Shippey; consul at Cádiz search
  • merino sheep; books on search
  • merino sheep; in Spain search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Erving, George William search
  • Parker, Daniel (of Paris); and merino sheep search
  • Pedro Alcántara de Toledo y Salm-Salm (Duke of Infantado) search
  • silk plant search
  • Spain; merino sheep and wool from search
  • textiles; silk manufacturing search
  • wool; samples of search