Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Peter S. Du Ponceau, 26 January 1817

To Peter S. Du Ponceau

Monticello Jan. 26. 17.

Dear Sir

I promised you in my letter of Jan. 22. 16. to make enquiry on the subject of the MS. journal of the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina, run in 1728. of which you have a defective transcript. I have since been able to obtain the original for perusal, and now have it in my possession. I call it original, because it is that which has been preserved in the Westover family, having probably been copied fair1 by the Amanuensis of Dr Byrd from his rough draught. that it was written by him is proved as well by the family tradition, as by passages in the work where the author speaks of other Commissioners calling on him at Westover, of his return to his family at Westover Etc. in one place the writer identifies himself with the person whom he calls Steddy, and from other passages it is sufficiently evident that

Meanwell  is  Fitzwilliams
Firebrand Dandridge
Astrolabe Irving
Orion Mayo
Dr Humdrum. non constat.

the work shews too that Steddy, Meanwell and Firebrand were all members of the king’s Council. the N. Carolina commissioners, John Lovich, Christopher Gale, Edward Moseley, and Wm Little, are designated in the Journal by ‘judge Jumble, Shoebrush, Plausible, and Puzzle cause,’ and the two surveyors by ‘Plausible and Bo-otes.’ but nothing in the journal enables us to ascribe to each his respective fictitious appellation. the MS. is of 162. pages small 8vo is entitled ‘the secret history of the line,’ begins with the words ‘the Governor and Council of Virginia in 1727. recieved’ Etc. and ends it’s narration with the words ‘for which blessings may we all be sincerely thankful,’ and then subjoins a list of the Commissioners and Surveyors under feigned names, the Virginia attendants by their real names, and a statement of expences and distances. this MS. wants pages 155. & 156. the 154th page ending with the words ‘our Landlord who,’ and the 157th beginning with the words ‘fortify’d ourselves with a meat breakfast.’ you say that your copy wants the first 24. pages, and about a dozen more pages in the middle of the work. let us concur then in making both compleat. send me from your’s a copy of the two pages this wants, as before described, and designate to me those you want, by quoting the final & initial words of the text, between which your chasms are, and I will supply them from the original. I shall thus be able to restore to the Westover family their original made perfect, and your copy compleated will give double security against the loss of the work by accident. I salute you with great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (PPAmP: Thomas Jefferson Papers); addressed: “Peter S. Du Ponçeau esq. Philadelphia”; franked; postmarked Charlottesville, 29 Jan.; endorsed by Du Ponceau and an unidentified hand; with related notes in pencil, possibly by Du Ponceau, on address cover. PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ.

For the variant versions of the ms. journal, see note to TJ to Wilson Cary Nicholas, 16 Oct. 1816. In William Byrd’s second description of his expedition to survey Virginia’s southern boundary, he gave the major participants aliases. Despite TJ’s conjectures, more recent scholarship has identified meanwell as William Dandridge, firebrand as Richard Fitzwilliam, astrolabe as William Mayo, orion as Alexander Irvine, and dr humdrum as Peter Fontaine (Louis B. Wright, ed., The Prose Works of William Byrd of Westover: Narratives of a Colonial Virginian [1966], 27, 41, 49).

non constat: “it is not settled” (Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Bryan A. Garner and others, eds., Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed., 1999 description ends ). judge jumble was Christopher Gale, shoebrush was John Lovick, “Plausible” was Edward Moseley, and puzzle cause was William Little. TJ mistakenly listed “Plausible” a second time, as a surveyor, but Alexander Irvine (“Orion”) joined Mayo as Virginia’s second surveyor, while Samuel Swann (bo-otes) represented North Carolina in this capacity (Wright, Prose Works of William Byrd, 28, 41–3, 49, 55).

1Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society, Historical and Literary Committee; and W. Byrd manuscripts search
  • American Philosophical Society, Historical and Literary Committee; TJ sends works to search
  • American Philosophical Society; collections of search
  • Byrd, William (1674–1744); The History of the Dividing Line search
  • Byrd, William (1674–1744); The Secret History of the Line search
  • Dandridge, William; as boundary commissioner search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; and Historical and Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; letters to search
  • Fitzwilliam, Richard; as boundary commissioner search
  • Fontaine, Peter; as boundary commissioner search
  • Gale, Christopher; as boundary commissioner search
  • Irvine, Alexander; as boundary commissioner search
  • Little, William (1692–1734); as boundary commissioner search
  • Lovick, John; as boundary commissioner search
  • Mayo, William; as surveyor search
  • Moseley, Edward; as boundary commissioner search
  • North Carolina; boundary with Va. search
  • Swann, Samuel; as boundary commissioner search
  • The History of the Dividing Line (W. Byrd [1674–1744]); manuscript of search
  • The Secret History of the Line (W. Byrd [1674–1744]) search
  • Virginia; boundary of with N.C. search