Thomas Jefferson Papers

Peter S. Du Ponceau to Thomas Jefferson, 22 January 1818

From Peter S. Du Ponceau

Philada 22d Jany 1818

Dear Sir

The Historical Committee met last night, when your Letter of the 30th ulto & my answers of the 5th & 6th inst. were laid before them. They have ordered me to reiterate to you the thanks which I had already anticipated for the many favors which they have received at your hands, & particularly for the Communications accompanying your last. Your Memoir on the boundaries of Louisiana was read, & the Committee did not See without astonishment the whole ground of Argument covered by a Simple but luminous statement of facts, made at a time when the Subject was entirely new, & before the least track had been made in that until then untrodden field. I assure you, Sir, that our Committee duly appreciates your valuable Communications. You would be pleased to see the Zeal which you have excited for the advancement of Literature & science. I have no doubt that it will in time produce good fruits; & thus in your retirement you will have contributed to the lasting honor of your Country.

The Volume of Transactions of the Society now in the press will be out in about three Weeks—The Historical Committee have materials on hand for Several Volumes of their own Separate Transactions, & contemplate publishing the first in the Course of the ensuing Summer.

The Vocabularies which you have been So good as to communicate to us, have already ascertained an interesting fact respecting Indian Philology. The late Dr Barton in his New Views Appendix, page 5. had asserted that the language of the Nanticokes, was an idiom Sui generis, & bore no resemblance or analogy to the Delaware. From the geographical situation of the Nanticoke tribe, I had always believed, notwithstanding Dr Barton’s assertion, that the Nanticoke was like the Delaware, a Dialect of the Algonquin, & I have had the satisfaction to be fully convinced of it by your Nanticoke Vocabulary & another furnished to us by Mr Heckewelder of Bethlehem, which agrees with yours. Indeed, in all the Country which lies between the Atlantic, the st Lawrence & the Lakes, the Mississipi & the Southern boundary of Virginia, I have not been yet able to discover traces of an Indian language that is not a Dialect either of the Algonquin or Iroquois, & the Dialects of the former are by far the most Numerous. South of Virginia, & perhaps of North Carolina, other Dialects commence, Such as the Creek, Cherokee &c, not connected in appearance either with the Iroquois or Algonquin. Your Vocabularies will enable the Committee with such further lights as they may obtain by a Correspondence with Indian Agents to pursue their enquiries further, & to trace the Grammatical forms as well as the words of those languages.

I am very Sorry to inform you that Dr Wistar lies very ill of the Typhus fever, combined with a pectoral affection. This is the eighth day since his attack; the Physicians expected a Crisis Yesterday which did not take place. Yet his Case is not considered desperate. But the greatest anxiety is felt for him. The Committee went last night in a body to enquire after his health. If we Should lose him, it will be a general misfortune.

I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Sir Your most obed hum servt
Peter S, Du Ponceau
Corresp. Secy

P.S. 3 o’clock PM. With great sorrow I am obliged to inform you that Dr Wistar’s life is now despaired of—It is feared he will not live over this day1—I shall leave this letter open ’till evening.

7 o’clock—He is very low; his pulse has already ceased to beat Several times—There is no hope.

I close this Sad letter.

RC (DLC); at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson, Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 27 Jan. 1818 and so recorded in SJL. FC (PPAmP: APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends Historical and Literary Committee Letterbook); in a clerk’s hand, with last two paragraphs of postscript added by Du Ponceau.

In the appendix of the second edition of his New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (Philadelphia, 1798; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3998; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 [no. 341]), p. 5, Benjamin Smith Barton admitted that “I have, indeed, been informed by an Indian of the Wunaumeeh tribe, that there are some words common to the Nanticock and Delaware languages,” but he continued to believe that “The resemblance, however, between these languages cannot be very great.”

1Remainder of paragraph not in FC.

Index Entries

  • Algonquian Indians search
  • American Philosophical Society, Historical and Literary Committee; activities of search
  • American Philosophical Society, Historical and Literary Committee; TJ sends works to search
  • American Philosophical Society; and C. Wistar search
  • American Philosophical Society; Transactions search
  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America search
  • Cherokee Indians; language of search
  • Creek Indians; language of search
  • Delaware Indians search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; and C. Wistar search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; and Historical and Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; letters from search
  • Examination of the Boundaries of Louisiana (Thomas Jefferson) search
  • Great Lakes search
  • health; typhus search
  • Heckewelder, John; and Indians search
  • Indians, American; agents for search
  • Indians, American; Algonquian search
  • Indians, American; Cherokee search
  • Indians, American; Creek search
  • Indians, American; Delaware search
  • Indians, American; dialects of search
  • Indians, American; Iroquois search
  • Indians, American; languages search
  • Indians, American; Nanticoke search
  • Indians, American; TJ’s vocabularies of search
  • Iroquois Indians search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; sends manuscripts search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Examination of the Boundaries of Louisiana search
  • language; Indian (American) search
  • Louisiana (Spanish and French colony); Examination of the Boundaries of Louisiana (Thomas Jefferson) search
  • Mississippi River; as geographical boundary search
  • Nanticoke Indians search
  • New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (B. S. Barton) search
  • philology; of Indian languages search
  • Saint Lawrence River; as geographical boundary search
  • typhus search
  • Wistar, Caspar; and American Philosophical Society search
  • Wistar, Caspar; death of search
  • Wistar, Caspar; health of search