Thomas Jefferson Papers

James B. Pleasants to Thomas Jefferson, 28 November 1816

From James B. Pleasants

Brookeville Novr 28 1816

I have been informed that the State of Virginia is about to improove the facility of intercourse between1 its Citizens, on this subject I have spent much thought & should give the preference to roads over canals. I do not mean to dogmatise; & I know my name will give no sanction to my theory, if I do not give rational conclutions, from clear facts, I do not call for attention, the expence however of testing the experiment is trifling and I want nothing for it.

I find that many well informed persons are of opinion that double force will give double velosity through2 the water; I find it takes four times the force to give double the velosity, if the force of one pound propel a boat two yards in ten seconds it will require four pounds to propel a Boat 4 yards in the same time and so on in the same ratio, being 120 times more force to carry a Boat 5⅙ miles pr Hour, than it would have required3 if double force produced double velocity, this loss is so important that at the rate of 200 Miles pr hour, land carriage is superior to water, through bad roads,

Under certain circumstances increas’d velosity on land requires4 less force, as any person may know by drawing a Gigg by hand

The Boats in Holland are drawn by a Horse from Amsterdam to the Hague in 10½ Hours, a distance of 30 miles, (being something less than 3 miles an hour), with 60 passengers, which at an average of 150 ℔ for each5 person will make for each boatload 9000 ℔6 so that if

1 Horse will carry 9000 ℔  3 miles Pr Hour
1 do do only  2222.  6  do   do
1 do do only  555 12  do   do

But it is probable the Horse would not stand the severe exercise of troting at the rate of twelve miles pr Hour (, applying the same force as when he only traveled three), more than half an hour in forty eight, Indeed it is believd no horse, or very few, could do as much, which would require 42 Horses to perform this service, but at the rate of 3 miles pr Hour one Horse is sufficient, it therefore appears that the loss of force is great, and a rapid passage through the water unattainable but to a great disadvantage

On turnpike roads four Horses will draw 4800 ℔ 20. Miles pr day, load and unload, which in favor of Boating (say 10 to one) it is believ’d that the sum of the actual resistance overcome by a waggon at 3 miles pr Hour,7 and the resistance that a Boat meets with at the same rate, is not materially different, I say the sum, because the turnpike not being a plain, the resistance is unequal, if there were no hills I think there would be a practical equality, however the result of our enquiries will not depend on this assumption

On a fine surface of Iron it is beyond a doubt true that a Cylinder with a good Iron surface, with 40 Tons burden, can be propeled by one horse at the rate of 2 miles pr Hour, I think I might say 100 Tons, for a loaded Cylinder is not obstructed by friction, A Cylinder sufficiently large to carry 40 Tons would soon make a turnpike road nearly if not quite equal to an Iron surface, for so large a surface to act on

If one Horse give 28 miles, 4 Horses will give 8, & twelve 24 miles pr Hour, for 40 tons, this will be equal to twenty tons, carried by 6 Horses, 24 miles pr Hour,

A Horse cannot travel more than 6 miles Pr Hour without any Burthen, but 6 Horses can give velosity to machenery, walking at the rate of 2 miles pr Hour, equal to 24 miles.

These observations are made on the supposition that the country is perfectly level, as this is out of the question, we must either make great allowance for unequal ground, or by other means cause the effect in another way, this effect may be nearly produced9 by Either steam, or Horse power, if in either case, the force applied shall opperate decending, asscending, on even ground, & the velosity Gained in the descent, will be nearly sufficient to gain10 the next assent, it will be perciev’d that the Horse traveling on the road could not give the necessary11 velosity, his force must be applied by means of cog wheels, to give 12 times his motion, which will be 24 miles pr Hour, for 6 Horses, with 20 Tons,

A Cylinder is a bad form to pass rapidly through the Atmostphere, it must therefor have a light inclosure suspended on its axis, to which you may give the form12 best adapted to pass through the air, and a Wheel to direct its course,

Steam will be equally convenient for this purpose, and perhaps more so

A Horse can carry 400 ℔s on a common road, what can he carry on smooth road, firm, & level, certainly the difference must be very great, on the proposed plan the effect is the same as if there were no hills,

To carry 9000 ℔ three miles an Hour, is equal only to the carriage of 1125 ℔ 24 miles an Hour, our calculation is more than three Tons or 60 Hundred, suppose we have not the practical result, and you can only carry 1000 ℔ 24 miles per Hour, the difference of cost between canals & roads, together with the many advantages attending quick conveyance, especially for persons, will make very decidedly in favour of roads

There is however another method, or rather an improovement on this method, that would be worth trying, and I believe would be found much superior, which I can on some future occation Explain,13

If thou should think any thing useful to the community might be produced,14 Thou art at liberty to use the above15 in any way thou may think most conducive to that end

James B Pleasants

I think that turnpike Roads may be made at one half the expence they are made by any method nowe in use and much better

RC (ViW: TC-JP); composed in two sittings; dateline between signature and postscript; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Dec. 1816 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph (1792–1848), 16 Dec. 1816, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jafferson Near Charlottsville Montecello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Baltimore, 28 Nov.

James Brooke Pleasants (ca. 1762–1847), inventor, was born and raised a Quaker in Goochland County, but he relocated to Maryland by the mid-1780s. He wrote to Benjamin Franklin on the subject of balloons in 1788 and to George Washington and TJ two years later about Englehart Cruse’s patent pretensions. In 1819–20 Pleasants forwarded to James Madison his thoughts on improving the navigation of the James River. Although a Maryland resident for about sixty years, at the time of his death he owned more than 775 acres in the county of his birth. Pleasants died at his son’s home near Brookeville, Montgomery County, Maryland (Lawrence Buckley Thomas, The Thomas Book [1896], 219, 222; William Wade Hinshaw and others, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy [1936–50; repr. 1969–77], 6:264; Pleasants to Franklin, 1 Oct. 1788 [PPAmP: APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends Archives]; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser., 5:384–6; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 39 vols. description ends , 16:412–3, 17:320; Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 1:445–6, 586–7; Clayton Torrence, ed., The Edward Pleasants Valentine Papers [1927; repr. 1979], 2:1006–7; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 6 Nov. 1822, 2 Mar. 1847).

On 5 Feb. 1816 the virginia General Assembly passed “An Act to create a Fund for Internal Improvement,” which was “to be applied, exclusively, to the purpose of rendering navigable, and uniting by canals, the principal rivers, and of more intimately connecting, by public highways, the different parts of this Commonwealth” (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1815–16 sess.], 35–9).

1Manuscript: “btween.”

2Manuscript: “throagh.”

3Manuscript: “requred.”

4Manuscript: “requirs.”

5Manuscript: “eact.”

6Preceding two words interlined.

7Preceding nine words interlined.

8Reworked from “4.”

9Manuscript: “poduced.”

10Preceding three words interlined in place of “equal th.”

11Manuscript: “necessasary.”

12Manuscript: “fom.”

13Remainder of letter written in a different ink.

14Manuscript: “produed.”

15Pleasants here canceled “observations.”

Index Entries

  • An Act to create a Fund for Internal Improvement (1816) search
  • boats; cost of transportation by search
  • canals; and transportation costs search
  • canals; in Va. search
  • carriages; gigs search
  • horses; as draft animals search
  • horses; provide power for machinery search
  • iron; and surface resistance search
  • machines; horses provide power for search
  • machines; steam engine search
  • Pleasants, James Brooke; identified search
  • Pleasants, James Brooke; letter from search
  • Pleasants, James Brooke; on superiority of roads to canals search
  • roads; and transportation costs search
  • roads; cost of constructing search
  • roads; in Va. search
  • steam engine search
  • The Netherlands; canal transportation in search
  • Virginia; canals in search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; internal improvements in search
  • Virginia; roads in search
  • wagons; mentioned search