Thomas Jefferson Papers

Ferdinando Fairfax to Thomas Jefferson, [ca. 20 January 1812]

From Ferdinando Fairfax

[ca. 20 Jan. 1812]

Dear Sir,

I comply the more readily with Doctor Thornton’s request (that I would express to you my opinion of Barret’s machine for Roving and Spinning) from knowing your desire to patronise and promote the Useful Arts, and the readiness with which you communicate information of their improvements. As I know, and have every year occasion to observe, how many unimportant Patents are obtained, and how many empty pretenders are employ’d in puffing their merits, I am cautious of deciding in favor even of those that I wish to adopt and best understand. Of Barret’s machine, which I have seen in operation, I may with propriety say, that it deserves high commendation, for simplicity of combination, ease of movement, and efficiency of its objects; which are the most desirable of all that belong to the art of Spinning—namely, to prepare the roving with great nicety, to spin the threads (of yarn as well as cotton, which few machines can do) of exact size, evenness, and equality of twist (depending on a measured number of revolutions) and to untwist again each of those threads, and draw them as fine by successive operations of the same kind, as may be required. It consists of as few parts, simply combined & easily made and repair’d, as I can conceive possible, to effect those objects; and any ingenious Woman can learn in a day its use: but I would recommend to any gentleman, not having a regular factory, to have it worked pretty much under his own eye, and kept in a locked apartment when not in use; knowing that the fingers of the prying & curious are hardly less injurious to a nice machine, than those of the wilfully mischievous. Indeed the common Spinning-wheel must be kept with care: and how much better will the one in question repay every care!

With very high consideration Dr Sir,—&c

F: Fairfax


The model of the machine of which you wrote to Doctor T. being in itself imperfect, may give me a less favorable opinion of its merits than it deserves: But being so cheap, it may be worthwhile to procure one for Experiment (ie Hearrick’s).

RC (DLC: TJ Papers, 194:34602); undated; on verso of last page of RC of William Thornton to TJ, 20 Jan. 1812; at head of text: “The Honble Thos Jefferson Esq.”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Jan. 1812 and so recorded (as a letter of 20 Jan. 1812) in SJL.

Ferdinando Fairfax (1769–1820) was born in Fairfax County and soon became a godson of George Washington. As the heir of his uncle George William Fairfax, he inherited large tracts of land in the Northern Neck of Virginia and what is now West Virginia in 1787. He endeavored to expand an iron-ore mining operation into a large foundry, established a ferry service at his property fronting the Shenandoah River, and in 1810 unsuccessfully sought federal office. Fairfax was a proponent of African colonization, a founding trustee of the Charlestown Academy in 1797, and a justice of the peace (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 , 24:368–9, 28:12–3; Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington [1976–79], 2:154; William D. Theriault, “Shannondale Springs,” West Virginia History Journal 57 [1998]: 1–3, 21–3; Fairfax, “Plan for liberating the negroes within the united states,” American Museum, or, Universal Magazine 8 [1790]: 285–7; Fairfax to TJ, 9 Sept. 1804 [DLC], 20 Apr. 1818; 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., 3:79; Charles Town, Va. [now W.Va.], Farmers’ Repository, 27 Sept. 1820; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 28 Sept. 1820).

Index Entries

  • Barrett, Oliver; spinning machine of search
  • Fairfax, Ferdinando; and spinning machines search
  • Fairfax, Ferdinando; identified search
  • Fairfax, Ferdinando; letters from search
  • Herrick, Ebenezer; and Domestic Spinner (spinning machine) search
  • machines; spinning search
  • machines; spinning wheel search
  • spinning machines; described search
  • spinning wheels search
  • Thornton, William; and spinning machines search