Thomas Jefferson Papers

Alden Partridge to Thomas Jefferson, 6 September 1815

From Alden Partridge

West Point (New york) Sept 6th 1815


Although I have not the honor of any personal acquaintance with you, yet a perfect conviction that nothing which can tend in the smallest degree to add to a knowledge of our Country would be unacceptable to you, emboldens me to address you. I accordingly take the liberty, Sir, to enclose you the Altitudes of the most elevated Mountains in the northern Section of the Country which I calculated several years ago from Barometrical observation. Of these, the white Mountains are probably the most elevated, of any this side the Missisippi. The Height of those mountains however I am convinced has been greatly overrated. Their real height I think is very little if any greater than I have found it. I would now take the liberty, Sir, to enquire of you whether any Actual measurement of the Altitude of the Alleghany mountains has ever been made, except that made by Col Williams in 1791, and published in the transactions of the American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia. Should any such measurement have been made, you would confer a great obligation on me, by informing me of the results. I am desirous of receiving the information, and1 know of no one so able as yourself to give it. I have several tables, containing the results of a Series of meteorological observations2 made by me during and subsequent to the year 1810. Should you consider those as worthy your attention, it will afford me great pleasure to send them to you. I must beg, Sir, you will excuse the liberty I have taken in writing to you. A desire to receive information upon the subject I have mentioned is perhaps the only reasonable apology I can offer—

I have the honor to be with the highest respect and esteem Sir your most obedt and humble Servant
A Partridge
Capt of Engs—

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esquir Late President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 3 Oct. 1815 and so recorded in SJL.

Alden Partridge (1785–1854), soldier and educator, was a native of Norwich, Vermont. He studied at Dartmouth College before being appointed a cadet at the United States Military Academy in 1805. The following year Partridge was commissioned a first lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and he remained at West Point as a faculty member, teaching mathematics and engineering. Early in 1815 he became acting superintendent, but he proved unpopular and, after an unsuccessful power struggle with his replacement, he resigned his commission in 1818. After working briefly surveying the northeastern boundary of the United States, Partridge founded the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy (later Norwich University) in 1819 and spent the next twenty-four years as the institution’s president. He started mostly short-lived military schools in a number of states and advocated a model of citizen-soldiery intended to avoid the evils of a standing army and address the lack of training he observed during the War of 1812. In 1834–35 Partridge taught a subscription course on military science at the University of Virginia. In addition to his educational endeavors, he served as surveyor general of Vermont in 1822–23, lost three congressional elections, and was a Vermont state legislator in 1833, 1834, 1837, and 1839 (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 ; VtNN: Partridge Papers; General Catalogue of Dartmouth College and the Associated Schools, 1769–1925 [1925], 114; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, 2 vols. description ends , 1:773; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:52, 53, 169, 173 [25, 27 Feb. 1807, 27 Feb., 1 Mar. 1811]; Lester A. Webb, Captain Alden Partridge and the United States Military Academy, 1806–1833 [1965]; Montpelier Vermont Patriot & State Gazette, 21 Jan. 1854; New York Independent, 26 Jan. 1854).

Jonathan williams published his own observations, along with TJ’s comments, as “Barometrical Measurement of the Blue-Ridge, Warm-Spring, and Alleghany Mountains, in Virginia, taken in the Summer of the year 1791,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions 4 (1799): 216–23 (see also PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 38 vols. description ends , 29:139–41).

1Manuscript: “an.”

2Manuscript: “obsevations.”

Index Entries

  • Allegheny Mountains; altitude of search
  • altitude; barometers used to calculate search
  • American Philosophical Society; Transactions search
  • barometers; altitude calculated with search
  • Blue Ridge Mountains; altitude of search
  • meteorological observations; by A. Partridge search
  • New Hampshire; mountains in search
  • Partridge, Alden; and calculation of altitude search
  • Partridge, Alden; identified search
  • Partridge, Alden; letters from search
  • Partridge, Alden; meteorological observations search
  • physics; barometric calculation of altitude search
  • Williams, Jonathan; and altitude calculations search