Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Waterhouse to Thomas Jefferson, 18 June 1816

From Benjamin Waterhouse

Cambridge, 18th June, 1816


Finding that Mesrs. Rowe & Hooper are about sending you a copy of “a Journal of a young man of Massachusetts,” who was captured by the British, and confined during the war, at Halifax, at Chatham, and at Dartmoor, I cannot refrain, because I think it is proper, giving you more information relative to its publication than what appears on the face of the book—

This smart young man put his manuscript Journal into my hands, when I questioned him on each and every part of it, and felt satisfied of its authenticity. At his request, and at the request of the printers, I undertook to prepare this narrative for the eye of the American and British1 public. The raw material is here worked up into one uniform warp, woof and coloring; making, I hope, no bad specimen of American manufacture. Or to change the figure, the young surgeon brought me all the stones and the bricks, while I designed, and built up the structure, finding the mortar or connecting material. Alexander Selkirk, who resided several years on a desert Island, put his manuscript into the hands of the famous Danl De Foe, who out of it made the renowned history of Robinson Crusoe:This book may in some measure resemble it, provided De Foe never suppressed, or added any important facts. I believe every representation in this little book to be true; but the painter, aiming to make an agreeable picture, has used a free and rapid brush, which, now and then betrays marks of an incorrect manner, without ever once violating the truth of the story.

This production was the amusement of my lonesome evenings the past winter; and was sent to the press without ever reviewing a paragraph or line of it.

Sentiments of respect, and ideas of propriety forbad me to allow the book to be presented to you, without this explanation; although the public have no idea of the painter.

I remain, dear sir, with a high degree of respect, your obedient servant.

Benjn Waterhouse

RC (DLC); in an unidentified hand, signed by Waterhouse; at foot of text in Waterhouse’s hand: “Honorable Thos Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 10 July 1816 and so recorded in SJL.

The book being sent to TJ by the Boston publishing firm of rowe & hooper was Waterhouse, ed., A Journal, of a Young Man of Massachusetts, late a surgeon on board an American privateer, who was captured at sea by the British, in May, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, and was confined first, at Melville Island, Halifax, then at Chatham, in England, and Last, at Dartmoor Prison. Interspersed with Observations, Anecdotes and Remarks, Tending to Illustrate the Moral and Political Characters of Three Nations. To which is added, A Correct Engraving of Dartmoor Prison, representing the massacre of American prisoners. Written by Himself (Boston, 1816). The smart young man who wrote this journal was probably Amos G. Babcock, surgeon of the privateer schooner Enterprise at the time of its capture by British warships in May 1813 (Henry R. Viets, “‘A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts … written by Himself.’ Boston: 1816, and a Note on the Author,” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 12 [1980]: 605–22, esp. 608–9).

Waterhouse apparently reconsidered his decision against reviewing a paragraph or line of the Journal, because a second edition he published in Boston later in 1816 contained “considerable Additions and Improvements.”

1Preceding two words interlined.

Index Entries

  • A Journal, of a Young Man of Massachusetts (A. G. Babcock; ed. B. Waterhouse) search
  • Babcock, Amos G.; A Journal, of a Young Man of Massachusetts (ed. B. Waterhouse) search
  • Dartmoor Prison (England) search
  • Defoe, Daniel; Robinson Crusoe search
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia; prisoners of war at search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Robinson Crusoe (D. Defoe); mentioned search
  • Rowe & Hooper (Boston firm) search
  • Selkirk, Alexander search
  • War of1812; histories of search
  • War of1812; prisoners of war search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; editsA Journal, of a Young Man of Massachusetts (A. G. Babcock) search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; letters from search