Thomas Jefferson Papers

Burgess Allison to Thomas Jefferson, [3 November 1813]

From Burgess Allison

[3 Nov. 1813]

[. . . .] It is now a year since I have had a letter from Mr Hawkins; he was then, and had been some time engaged as an Engineer, had undertaken two very stupendous works: one of them the constructing a Tunnel under the River Thames about eleven miles below London, which he had nearly compleated. The other was a Tunnel through Shuters hill, about eight miles from London, to level the eastern road. He had brought his Claviol to great perfection, so as to be pronounced one of the most delightsome Instruments ever exhibited in England: but for want of a more perfect knowledge of mankind, he was cheated out of the advantages of that and some other ingenious inventions. By the small Catalogue, which I enclose herewith, you will see the nature of an Institution [he] was about establishing; but being engaged by Govern[ment] in these publick works as an Engineer, he gave up all other pursuits. He still stiles himself an American, and always writes about coming home as soon as he possibly can.—

With sentiments of sincere Esteem, I remain: your Obedt Hbl Set

B Allison

RC (DLC: TJ Papers, 199:35498); incomplete text consisting of last page and address verso; mutilated at seal; addressed: “Thos Jefferson Esqr Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Burlington, N.J., 4 Nov.; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 3 Nov. 1813 received seven days later from Burlington and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: John Isaac Hawkins, Catalogue of Hawkins’s Museum of Useful and Mechanical Inventions (London, 1810).

Although Hawkins failed in his attempt to construct a tunnel under the river thames, his successor Marc Isambard Brunel built one that opened to the public in 1843 (Henry Howe, Memoirs of the Most Eminent American Mechanics [1856], 428–41; ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends , 8:358). shuters hill: Shooters Hill, now located within the London borough of Greenwich. In 1800 Hawkins patented a claviol (claviole), a kind of compact, portable, upright pianoforte (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 ; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 21). TJ bought one that same year from the inventor for $264, but he returned the instrument two years later because it would not stay in tune (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 32:xxxv; 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 , 2:1014, 1016, 1018; TJ to Hawkins, 13 Apr. 1802 [DLC]).

Index Entries

  • Allison, Burgess; and J. I. Hawkins search
  • Allison, Burgess; letters from search
  • Catalogue of Hawkins’s Museum of Useful and Mechanical Inventions (Hawkins) search
  • claviole (pianoforte) search
  • Hawkins, John Isaac; as tunnel engineer search
  • Hawkins, John Isaac; Catalogue of Hawkins’s Museum of Useful and Mechanical Inventions search
  • Hawkins, John Isaac; inventions of search
  • London; tunnels near search
  • music; claviole (pianoforte) search
  • Thames River (England); tunnel under search