Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Darby to Thomas Jefferson, 12 June 1817

From William Darby

New York, June 12th 1817.


Being uncertain whether you have received a Copy of my Map and Statistical tracts of Louisiana, I am under considerable embarrassment in addressing, to you, this note. From your character, as the head of the Literature of your country, I should deem no apology necessary in soliciting your opinion of a work, upon a country towards the incorporation of which, into the U.S. your personal exertions contributed so much;—but not having myself remitted you a copy, I am at a loss to know whether the production has met your eye or not. When at Richmond in April last I sold a copy to Col. Lindsay, who informed me that, he expected Mr Melish sent you a copy of mine with some of his own. I would have done myself the honor of sending one, but the first Edition was hurried, and published under many very serious disadvantages; I was therefore anxious to give the work more perfection before giving you the trouble of perusal.

I am now on the eve of entering upon a second edition, wherin I hope to retrench many of the defects, and add much useful matter respecting the regions contiguous to Louisiana, not embraced in the present work.

I met in this City Mr Isaac Briggs, to whom I exhibited the map and Book, and red a very flattering certificate expressing his opinion of its correctness; an opinion the more gratifying because rd from a man whose personal knowledge of the country, and whose respectability of character, will give weight to any work, to which his name is attached

I have taken the liberty to enclose you a copy of the Book, with a reduced Map; a copy of the second Edition and Large Map I hope in a few months to have the pleasure of presenting in person.

Should you deem it worthy your attention to give the work a perusal and remit your opinion in reply to this, the favor will be very gratefully received by

Sir. Very respectfully Your Obt sert

William Darby

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esq.”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 June 1817 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Darby, A Geographical Description of the State of Louisiana … being an accompaniment to the Map of Louisiana (Philadelphia, 1816; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 [no. 369]).

William Darby (1775–1854), surveyor and geographer, was born in Hanover Township in what is now Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. He moved with his family to Ohio in 1781, and after educating himself he began teaching school at the age of eighteen. About 1799 Darby took up cotton farming in Natchez, and he served as a United States deputy surveyor from about 1804 to 1809. Soon thereafter he began working on his map and statistical account of Louisiana. Darby served as a topographer for Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812, after which he went to Philadelphia. There, with the aid of John Melish, he published the first edition of A Geographical Description of the State of Louisiana in 1816. Melish incorporated Darby’s work into his own map of the United States, which was used by the federal government in setting boundary lines with Spain under the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty. Darby spent many years attempting to procure government compensation for his mapping of Louisiana, finally succeeding in 1854. He was also one of the surveyors of the United States border with Canada in 1818, and he wrote numerous geographical publications. Later in life Darby lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Montgomery County, Maryland, before moving to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a clerk in the General Land Office. He died in Washington (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; “Autobiographical Letter of William Darby,” in William Henry Egle, ed., Notes and Queries Historical and Genealogical chiefly relating to Interior Pennsylvania, 1st and 2d ser. [1894–95], 1:33–41; Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers description begins Walter W. Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers: Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century, 1985, repr. 1986 description ends , 142–5; Darby to James Monroe, 27 Feb. 1819 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1817–25]; DNA: RG 29, CS, Washington, D.C., 1850; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , esp. 49:1246 [1 Aug. 1854]; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States description ends , esp. 45:613 [1 Aug. 1854]; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 10:805; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 10 Oct. 1854).

Darby published a letter from isaac briggs praising the accuracy of his map in the second edition of A Geographical Description of the State of Louisiana (New York, 1817), 335–6.

Index Entries

  • A Geographical Description of the State of Louisiana (W. Darby) search
  • Briggs, Isaac; map praised by search
  • Darby, William; A Geographical Description of the State of Louisiana search
  • Darby, William; identified search
  • Darby, William; letter from search
  • Darby, William; map of La. by search
  • Lindsay, Col. search
  • Louisiana (state); maps of search
  • maps; of Louisiana search
  • Melish, John; works of search