Thomas Jefferson Papers

Bela Fosgate to Thomas Jefferson, 13 December 1813, with Note from David Holt to Thomas Jefferson, [ca. 13 December 1813]

From Bela Fosgate, with Note from David Holt

Herkimer 13th 12 mo 1813—

Respected Sir

Altho I am an enemy to those wars which destroy the human race and desolate the earth yet I am friendly to the principle implanted with in us of self-preservation from which arises that of self defence. I am a friend1 to Civil liberty and have long been pained in witnessing the violations of the rights and liberties of my fellow citizens. The estimation in which I hold thy charactir yeields an asurence that I may address thee in thy retirement with out being deemed an intruder. I have been grieved to find that the hostile ships of England those ingines of tyranny have been enabled to hover upon our Coast and remain in our water’s unmolested and that the means hitherto used for their expulsion or destruction have proved abortive.—

My reflections upon the failure of sub-marine experiments have led me to imagine that the difficulty hitherto experienced in affixing torpedoes to the objects intended may be removed. I have supposed that the bodies to be operated upon posess with in themselves the power of attraction to such a degree that a loadstone may be connected with a torpedo. and answer the effect intended by being drawn (independent of or aside from the current) into contact with a ship of war that necssarily from the nature of her armamint caries with her the attractive power.—I am not suffiently versed in either philosophy or Chemistry to satisfy my own mind upon this subject and my situation in Society forbids my taking any active part in the struggles between nations altho I trust I Shall ever be found a true friend to my native and beloved Country.

If the ideas I have intertained respecting an improvment upon torpedoes be by thee considered visionary still my motives in making them known to thee are pure—I hope thou wilt so far indulge me as to inform me whether thou thinkest that the appendage I have suggested can be applied with a prospect of sucess—Should my notions be chemerical I do not wish to expose myself to the sneers of little minds and I have therefore ventured to address thee asured that with thee my motives will be duly appreciated—

with much esteem I am thy frie[nd]

Bela Fosgate


Permit me to inform you, that the writer of the foregoing letter is a very respectable member of the society of Friends,—a druggist, in this place, a warm friend to the republican administrations, and incapable of harboring a wish to trifle with you. Knowing your liability to be imposed upon by unknown enemies, I have deemed it incumbent on me to make this addition, for a part of which I have the permission of Mr. Fosgate. The knowledge of his having written at all is confined, I believe to himself and,

Your obedient servant,

David Holt, P. Master

RC (DLC); torn at seal; in Fosgate’s hand, with subjoined note in Holt’s hand; adjacent to Fosgate’s signature: “To Thomas Jefferson Late President”; endorsed by TJ as a letter from Fosgate and Holt received 24 Dec. 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

Bela Fosgate (ca. 1775–1830), druggist, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and moved to Montgomery County, New York, by about 1800, when he reputedly developed an anodyne cordial medicine. After 1810 he relocated to Herkimer County, where he resided until at least 1819. In the latter year Fosgate ran unsuccessfully for the state assembly. He moved by 1822 to Auburn, New York, and died there (Cynthia L. Fosgate-Swan, “Family history of the Swan and Fosgate families” [undated typescript at TxH], 3–4; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., Montgomery Co., 1810; Cherry-Valley [N.Y.] Gazette, 1 Apr. 1819; New-York Evening Post, 6 Jan. 1820; Utica, N.Y., Western Recorder, 26 Jan. 1830).

David Holt (1779–1853), printer, postmaster, and magistrate, was a native of New London, Connecticut. He learned the craft of printing from his brother Charles Holt, who also corresponded with TJ. During his long publishing career Holt printed a number of newspapers, including the Farmer’s Monitor, 1805–07, Bunker-Hill, 1809–10, and the Republican Farmer’s Free Press in 1830, all in Herkimer, New York. He also served as Herkimer’s postmaster, 1812–20, collector of direct taxes and internal revenue during the War of 1812, and county judge, 1817–23. Financial difficulties induced Holt to relocate by 1840 to Albany, where he continued to work as a printer. By 1850 he had moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he died (Daniel S. Durrie, A Genealogical History of the Holt family in the United States [1864], 256–7; Lorraine Cook White, ed., The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records [1994–2002], 3:12; Nathaniel S. Benton, A History of Herkimer County [1856], 221, 222, 321–2, 484; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:580; Washington National Intelligencer, 22 Feb. 1812; Cooperstown, N.Y., Otsego Herald, 4 Dec. 1813; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:455, 465 [18, 31 Jan. 1814]; Palmyra [N.Y.] Register, 7 June 1820; Saratoga Sentinel, 21 Feb. 1821; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., Albany, 1840, Wis., Madison, 1850; Albany Journal, 19 Jan. 1853).

1Manuscript: “fiend.”

Index Entries

  • Fosgate, Bela; and torpedo search
  • Fosgate, Bela; D. Holt recommends search
  • Fosgate, Bela; identified search
  • Fosgate, Bela; letters from search
  • Holt, David; identified search
  • Holt, David; note from search
  • Holt, David; recommends B. Fosgate search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • machines; torpedo (mine) search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Quakers; and military service search
  • torpedo (mine) search
  • War of1812; weapons search