Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John McAllister (1753–1830), 24 December 1814

To John McAllister (1753–1830)

Mon[t]i[c]ello Dec. 24. 14.


I inclose you a pr of spectacle frames with their compleat set of glasses, which is one of 3. or 4. sets you were so kind as to furnish me with several years ago. it is lately only that I have called them into use. I found the glasses actually in them render a perfect vision: but on changing them for any of the other numbers, the object is entirely confused. I know I have not mismatched the other numbers because, for fear of that, I have made it a point never to take out two numbers at the same time, but always to put up one pair before I took out another. I am obliged therefore to ask your rectifying hand to them, and when you shall have put them to rights, to return them to me by mail, by which conveyance I send them to you. I occasionally have to remit small sums to Philadelphia for books, newspapers Etc. and will take care to add your bill to my first remittance. Accept the assurance of my esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

PoC (MoSW-M: Bernard Becker Medical Library); on verso of reused address cover of Francis W. Gilmer to TJ, 13 Nov. 1814; dateline faint; at foot of text: “Mr John McAlister”; endorsed by TJ.

John McAllister (1753–1830), optician and craftsman, was born in Glasgow and apprenticed there as a turner, spinning-wheel maker, carpenter, and joiner. He immigrated to America in 1775 and worked in New York City until 1781, when he moved to Philadelphia. During the decades that followed, McAllister specialized in the production of walking sticks, riding whips, and spectacles. TJ purchased glasses from him, both for himself and others, in 1800, 1804, 1806, and 1808. After partnering briefly with James Matthews, 1800–03, McAllister operated on his own until he brought his namesake son into the firm in 1811. John McAllister & Son remained in business until the elder McAllister’s death, when its name changed to John McAllister, Jr., & Company. The younger John McAllister (1786–1877), who had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1803, retired in 1836 and spent the rest of his life pursuing various historical and literary interests and amassing a thirty-thousand-volume personal library (Henry Simpson, The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians [1859], 731–3; Association of Centenary Firms and Corporations of the United States [1916], 71–2; General Alumni Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania [1917], 25; 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 , 2:1017, 1193; TJ to McAllister, 5 June 1804 [MHi]; McAllister to TJ, 25 Nov. 1808 [DLC]; Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 17 May 1803, 8 Apr. 1811, 20 May 1830; Philadelphia Inquirer, 18 Dec. 1877; Philadelphia North American, 19 Dec. 1877).

Index Entries

  • eyeglasses search
  • household articles; eyeglasses search
  • John McAllister & Son (Philadelphia firm); identified search
  • McAllister, John (1753–1830); and eyeglasses search
  • McAllister, John (1753–1830); identified search
  • McAllister, John (1753–1830); letter to search
  • McAllister, John (1786–1877); identified search