Thomas Jefferson Papers

Caspar Wistar to Thomas Jefferson, 9 October 1815

From Caspar Wistar

Philada Octobr1 9–1815—

My Dear Sir,

My last letter was So long & multifarious that Mr Correa would Say it was “de Omnibus Rebus, & quibusdam aliis.” I ought not to intrude upon you So Soon with another epistle, but I have lately returned from a journey, during which I thought of you very frequently, & determined to write as Soon as I had leisure—I spent a few days in Centre County in this State, where Logan once resided—His name remains to designate a Gap, a Path, & a stream, a branch of the Bald Eagle Creek—A Few white persons resided in that district while he lived there; almost all of them are gone, but those who knew him were accustomed to mention him often, & very respectfully—A Mr Boggs, one of the Judges of the Inferior Court, was well acquainted with him & regarded him as a very Superior man—Logan was So expert a hunter that Mr Boggs Supposed he derived about $600 Pr Ann: from the Sales of the skins &[c.] to the whites—These negociations Some times Compelled him to have recourse to law, to recover what was justly due to him—His first application to a Magistrate was in these words—

Are you a Justice? yes, was the reply—

Are you a strong Justice? Yes was also replied—Then you Can make A.B. pay me what he owes me. The magistrate Satisfied that the Claim was just, & the Debtor able to pay—answered he shall pay you in three or four months—

Tell me rejoined Logan when I shall Come for it. The Magistrate Soon understood his2 man, & as he often did business for Logan, when he found it necessary to grant a further delay to the Debtor, he advanced the money to Logan at the time appointed—

They mention, as an instance of Superstition, a practice of this interesting Savage which was very intelligible—When he had determined to hunt—On the morning of the day appointed, he used to shoot at a mark, after making the requisite preparation of his gun—If it was a good shot, he would proceed immediately to the hunting ground. If it was a bad shot, he gave up his design for that day—If it was an indifferent shot, he used to fire a Second time, & unless he then did very well, he also postponed it—

Logan was still So much of the Indian, that he often used Spirits to excess—

I wished very much to hear more of him, & have obtained a promise from Dr Dobbins, an ingenious & respectable young Physician at Bellefont, the Capital of Centre County, that he would Collect the materials, & give us a Biographical account of him—

During this tour I met with a very amiable & interesting man, Mr Jno Heckewelder of Bethlehem. This Gentleman has passed many years of his life with the Lenni Lenapi or Delaware Indians as a Missionary from the Moravian Society. He appears to be very intimately acquainted with their language & habits, & I hope we Shall be able to procure from him an account of them for the Historical department of our Society. Dr Barton has directed Mr Heckewelder’s mind to the Contemplation of the Indian Subject generally, & I therefore will be Cautious not to interfere with the Doctors views of publication; but the Account of the Lenni Lenapi Seems necessary to our history of Pennsylvania—Their Language is very interesting. The long words in it, which I have wondered at indolen[t] Savages for adopting, seem to be compounds derived from many primitive words—thus Monongahela Signifies the “river with high banks that often fall in.” Mr Heckewelders Conversations lead me to a belief that a great deal of intellectual talent has been exerted upon their language—

The Moravians have more knowledge of the Indians of this3 part of N. America than any persons I have met, with—Mr H. tells me that in the Archives of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania there is a memorandum (by a Mr Pyleus one of their former missionaries) which states that the Confederacy of the Six Nations was formed about4 forty or fifty years before the foundation of Albany.

Their Federal Constitution was agreed upon by five or Six Delegates whose names are also mentioned. Mr Heckewelder Says one fundamental regulation was that the road or path to the great Council House should always be Sacred, & no one molested upon it, whatever was his crime.

The Word Tyoga which you [know]5 is the name of a point at the forks of the north branch of Susquehannah, near the line which divides N. York from Pennsylvania implies “the Gate of the Path to the great Council House.6 He deplores the corruption of Indian names; many words as pronounced by him are very pleasing that are the reverse in our present pronunciation. Some of the readings of Indian Words are very whimsical—Yellow Breeches the name of a creek that flows I believe into the Potowmack is the pronunciation of an Indian name which when pronounced by him Sounds as much like any other Garment.

Coquannock we are told was the name of the Spot occupied by Philadelphia—according to Mr H. it is Qué qué ná ku the Grove of lofty Pines.

Menahachtang, the word from which Manhattan is derived, originates from Menathey an Island & another term which implies drinking, the Signification is “The Island on which we got drunk.”

I hope our Country will forgive the recent aggressions of the Indians—They may be Considered in Some measure as Children, who are not aware of the7 Consequences of their own actions; & they have been much misinformed & deceived by foreign Agents. Will not your benevolent plans of civilizing them be again taken up I hope Col: Hawkins is not discouraged.

Our Country is So happy that we ought to be good natured—I had no idea that the improvement of the old Settlements of Pennsylvania were what they are, although I have been constantly hearing of them. In the great limestone valley between the Blue Ridge & the South Mountains, or as we call them, the Lehi, the Oley & the Conewago Hills the price of limestone land is from $150 to $200 Pr Acre—I think that in sight of the great road which passes through this valley, from the Delaware to the Schuyllkill, there are at least 50 Stone Barns, from 80 to 120 feet long; most of them recently built. I believe there are two Causes for this—The long continued high price of grain, and the effects of Gypsum. I have made many inquiries of intelligent farmers in different parts respecting the amount of benefit derived from Gypsum and they agree that the agricultural product of Pennsylvania below the Blue Ridge has been doubled by it.

The primary effect of Gypsum in this important process is exciting the Growth of Clover & Indian Corn8 & from these all the other consequences result.

I pleased my self with the idea of paying my respects to you at Monticello about the middle of this month & returning with Mr Correa—My health was So much impaired by the heat of summer that I was forced to go immediately to our nearest mountains, & as I improved Slowly in Consequence, it Seemed most prudent to continue riding in that region, until my health was reestablished, accordingly I spent five weeks in that manner & am So happy as to have derived Considerable benefit from it, but it will deprive me of the immense gratification of visiting you—

Please to Communicate this to our very good friend. I hope my failure in this respect will not incommode him & that at any rate he will forgive it

Adieu my Dear Sir—

With the best wishes for your family as well as yourself I remain your most obliged friend

C Wistar

P.S. With my last I sent 2 Volumes of Anatomy did they Come to hand—

RC (DLC); edge chipped; endorsed by TJ as received 17 Oct. 1815 and so recorded in SJL.

de omnibus rebus, & quibusdam aliis: “concerning all things, and certain others.” The memorandum written by Moravian missionary Johann Christoph Pyrläus (pyleus) in the 1740s reported that the League of the Iroquois had been formed one generation previously by the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas (Pyrläus, “Lexicon der Macquaischen Sprachen” [MS in PPAmP]; William A. Starna, “Retrospecting the Origins of the League of the Iroquois,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings 152 [2008]: 282–7). As agent to the Creeks in Georgia, Benjamin hawkins encouraged them to rely on farming for their livelihood, change their gender roles so that men owned and cultivated the land, and restructure their tribal government (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

1Reworked from “Septr.”

2Wistar here canceled “client.”

3Wistar here canceled “neighbourhood.”

4Word interlined in place of “within.”

5Omitted word editorially supplied.

6Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

7Wistar here canceled what appears to be “nature.”

8Preceding three words interlined.

Index Entries

  • agriculture; use of gypsum in search
  • A System of Anatomy for the Use of Students of Medicine (C. Wistar) search
  • Boggs, Robert; on J. Logan search
  • clover; as crop search
  • corn; Indian search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; mentioned search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; visits Monticello search
  • Creek Indians; agents to search
  • crops; clover search
  • Dobbins, Daniel; and proposed biography of J. Logan search
  • gypsum (plaster of paris); used as fertilizer search
  • Hawkins, Benjamin; as Indian agent search
  • Heckewelder, John; and Indians search
  • Indians, American; and War of1812 search
  • Indians, American; Creek search
  • Indians, American; historical manuscript concerning search
  • Indians, American; languages search
  • Indians, American; Lenni Lenape search
  • Indians, American; TJ’s policies concerning search
  • Iroquois League; formation of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • language; Indian (American) search
  • Lenni Lenape Indians; and Moravian missionaries search
  • Logan, James (ca.1725–80) (Mingo Indian); anecdotes of search
  • Logan, James (ca.1725–80) (Mingo Indian); places named for search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Corrêa da Serra, José search
  • Moravians; missions to Indians search
  • Pennsylvania; improvements in search
  • Pyrläus, Johann Christoph; and Indians search
  • War of1812; and Indians search
  • Wistar, Caspar; and J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Wistar, Caspar; A System of Anatomy for the Use of Students of Medicine search
  • Wistar, Caspar; health of search
  • Wistar, Caspar; letters from search
  • Wistar, Caspar; on Indians search
  • Wistar, Caspar; proposed visit to Monticello of search