Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to David Hosack, 3 May 1815

To David Hosack

Monticello May 3. 15.

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to Dr Hosack and his thanks for his very instructive pamphlet on yellow fever. without competence to decide the question which ha[s] so much divided the Medical faculty here, Whether that fever is produced by an atmosphere specially vitiated solely or with the aid of infection from a diseased body, in other word[s] whether it originates here, or is imported, Dr Hosack has undoubtedly thrown great light on the question by the facts he adduces and his reasonings on them. Th:J. salutes him with great respect & consideration.

PoC (DLC); dateline at foot of text; edge trimmed; on verso of reused address cover to TJ; endorsed by TJ.

David Hosack (1769–1835), physician, medical educator, and botanist, was a native of New York City who studied at Columbia College (later University) before receiving an A.B. degree from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1789. He received an M.D. from the University of the State of Pennsylvania in 1791 and began a medical practice in Alexandria. From 1792–94 Hosack pursued further studies in medicine, botany, and mineralogy in Edinburgh and London. Thereafter he practiced medicine in New York City, where he numbered many prominent citizens among his patients. He was Alexander Hamilton’s surgeon at the latter’s fatal 1804 duel with Aaron Burr. Success in 1797 treating victims of a New York City yellow fever epidemic contributed greatly to Hosack’s standing in the medical world. His theory that the disease was a contagious tropical import put him in direct opposition to his former teacher Benjamin Rush. Hosack’s long and often contentious work as a medical educator included terms as professor of botany, 1795–1811, and materia medica, 1796–1811, at Columbia College; professor of botany and materia medica, 1807–08, and the theory and practice of physic, 1811–26, at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (later part of Columbia University); and service as president of Rutgers Medical College from its founding in 1826 until its dissolution in 1830. He was a founder of the American Medical and Philosophical Register and presented some of his publications on medical theory and practice to TJ. Hosack was also noted for his botanical expertise. He acquired duplicate specimens from Linnaeus’s herbarium during his European sojourn, and in 1801 he founded the Elgin Botanic Garden in New York City, which he sold in 1810 to the state of New York with the ill-founded hope that it would endure as a public institution. Hosack’s extensive involvement in scientific, civic, and cultural organizations included helping to found the New-York Historical Society in 1804, service as its president, 1820–28, and election to the American Philosophical Society in 1810 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Princetonians description begins James McLachlan and others, eds., Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary, 1976–90, 5 vols. description ends , 1784–90, pp. 402–12; Christine Chapman Robbins, David Hosack: Citizen of New York [1964]; Hosack to TJ, 10 Sept. 1806 [MHi], enclosing his Catalogue of Plants Contained in the Botanic Garden at Elgin, in the Vicinity of New-York, Established in 1801 [New York, 1806]; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 5 [nos. 165, 173, 182, 190, 191, 199]; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 20 July 1810 [MS in PPAmP]; Hosack, A Statement of Facts Relative to the Establishment and Progress of the Elgin Botanical Garden [New York, 1811]; New York Herald, 24 Dec. 1835; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 28 Dec. 1835).

The instructive pamphlet was Hosack’s Observations on the Laws Governing the Communication of Contagious Diseases, and the Means of Arresting Their Progress (New York, 1815; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 [no. 304]).

Index Entries

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  • yellow fever; works on search