Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to James Mease, 29 June 1814

To James Mease

Monticello June 29. 14.

Dear Sir

On my return home after an absence of five weeks, I find here your letter of May 24. of the history of the Hughes’s crab apple I can furnish nothing more than that I remember it well upwards of 60. years ago, & that it was then a common apple on James river. of the other apple after which you enquire I happen to know the origin. it is not a crab, but a seedling which grew alone in a large old field near Williamsburg where the seed had probably been dropped by some bird. Majr Taliaferro of that neighborhood remarking it once to be very full of apples got permission of the owner of the ground to gather them. from these he made a cask of cyder which, in the estimation of every one who tasted it, was the finest they had ever seen. he grafted an orchard from it, as did also his son in law our late Chancellor Wythe. the cyder they constantly made from this was preferred by every person to the Crab or any other cyder ever known in this state, and it still retains it’s character in the different places to which it has been transferred. I am familiar with it, and have no hesitation in pronouncing it much superior to the Hughes’s crab. it has more body, is less acid, and comes nearer to the silky Champaigne than any other. Majr Taliaferro called it the Robertson apple from the name of the person owning the parent1 tree, but subsequently it has more justly & generally been distinguished by the name of the Taliaferro apple, after him to whom we are indebted for the discovery of it’s valuable properties. it is the most juicy apple I have ever known, & is very refreshing as an eating apple.

Accept the assurance of my great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNGL, on deposit NHi); at foot of text: “Dr James Maese.” PoC (DLC); with unrelated words “Convention Guards” in TJ’s hand on verso; mistakenly endorsed by TJ as a letter of 30 June and so recorded in SJL.

Mease included this entire letter in his “Account of the Virginia Cyder Apple, called Gloucester White,” read at the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in July 1814 and printed in its Memoirs 4 (1818): 49–51. His preface to the letter stated that “Having heard from William Coxe, Esq. a very favourable account of a cyder apple in Virginia, which went by the name of Gloucester White, Robertson, or Taliaferro apple, and being told by him that Mr. Jefferson could give some information concerning its origin, I wrote to him for it; and deeming also the history of the Hugh’s crab (a cyder apple of more general note), well worthy of inquiry, I requested him to favour me with such facts as he possessed respecting it. The following was his reply.” Mease followed TJ’s letter with (1) a paragraph by Coxe commenting that the Taliaferro was an “immense bearer, a very fine cider apple, and by many, thought the finest table apple of the season, in Virginia,” and indicating that “Mr. Jefferson described it as much superior to the Hugh’s crab for cyder, as that is to any other fruit”; and (2) a brief covering letter from Coxe to Mease, Burlington, New Jersey, 21 May 1814, in which he stated that he supposed the Taliaferro to be “of Virginia origin, that is, first cultivated there, but cannot vouch for the fact.” The Hewes Crab and the Taliaferro (also called the Robinson) apples are described in Peter J. Hatch, The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello (1998), 74–6.

1Word interlined in place of “mother.”

Index Entries

  • alcohol; cider search
  • apples; Hewes Crab search
  • apples; Taliaferro (Robinson) search
  • cider; apple search
  • Coxe, William; as orchardist search
  • food; apples search
  • Hewes Crab apple search
  • Mease, James; letters to search
  • Mease, James; on apples search
  • Taliaferro, Richard; and apple cultivation search
  • Taliaferro apple (Robinson apple) search
  • trees; apple search
  • Wythe, George; apple trees of search