Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Silliman, 11 April 1818

To Benjamin Silliman

Monticello Apr. 11. 18.


The unlucky displacement of your letter of Mar. 3. has been the cause of delay in my answer. altho’ I have very generally withdrawn from subscribing to or reading periodical publications from the love of rest which age produces, yet I willingly subscribe to the journal you propose from a confidence that the talent with which it will be edited will entitle it to attention among the things of select reading for which alone I have time now left. be so good as to send it by mail, and the reciept of the 1st number will be considered as announcing that the work is commenced and the subscription money for a year shall be forwarded. Accept the assurance of my great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (MH; tipped into an extra-illustrated copy of George Birkbeck Hill, ed., Johnsonian Miscellanies [1897], 5:2); addressed: “Professor Silliman of Yale College”; franked; postmarked Charlottesville, 14 Apr.; endorsed by Silliman. PoC (MHi); on verso of reused address cover of William A. Burwell to TJ, 14 Feb. 1818; endorsed by TJ.

Benjamin Silliman (1779–1864), geologist and educator, was born in North Stratford (later Trumbull), Connecticut, and educated locally before entering Yale College (later Yale University) in 1792. After his graduation in 1796 he worked as a tutor there, 1799–1802, while studying law. Silliman was admitted to the bar in the latter year but decided against a legal career. Instead he joined the faculty of his alma mater as professor of chemistry and natural history and served from 1802 until his retirement in 1853, with his title changed in 1817 to professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. Having received additional training in science at the University of Pennsylvania and in London and Edinburgh, Silliman was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1805. He was instrumental in the founding in 1813 of the Yale Medical School and, concurrently with his college position, was its professor of chemistry. Silliman founded the American Journal of Science (later the American Journal of Science and Arts) in 1818, soon brought it to prominence, and owned and edited it, both alone and with others, for the rest of his life. He proved to be an able disseminator and popularizer of current scientific thought, both within the confines of his college and on the public lecture circuit. Silliman’s extensive publications included his own works and new editions of other scientific authors. In 1840 he became the first president of the Association of American Geologists (a predecessor of the American Association for the Advancement of Science), and he was a founding member in 1863 of the National Academy of Sciences. Silliman died in New Haven (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; DSB description begins Charles C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 1970–80, 16 vols. description ends ; Dexter, Yale Biographies description begins Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, 1885–1912, 6 vols. description ends , 5:220–7; George P. Fisher, Life of Benjamin Silliman, 2 vols. [1866]; Chandos Michael Brown, Benjamin Silliman: A Life in the Young Republic [1989]; Yale Catalogue description begins Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, 1701–1910, 1910 description ends , 9, 22, 79; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 18 Jan. 1805 [MS in PPAmP]; New Haven Daily Palladium, 25 Nov. 1864).

Silliman’s missing letter of mar. 3, recorded in SJL as received 13 Mar. 1818 from New Haven, was probably very similar to his brief letters of that date and place to John Quincy Adams (RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR) and James Madison (RC in DLC: Madison Papers; printed in Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 1:227–8) enclosing prospectuses for the American Scientific Journal (actually issued as the American Journal of Science) and asking for their “kind influence in favour of this first effort to concentrate American Science on a general plan” (quote from Madison text). Through their printed prospectus dated February 1818, James Eastburn & Company, of New York City, and Hezekiah How, of New Haven, announced that the new periodical would be edited by Silliman, with the assistance of “gentlemen of science and eminence” throughout the United States; declared that its first issue would come out the following spring, that each issue was expected to contain between sixty-four and eighty octavo pages, that the cost would not exceed seventy-five cents per issue, and that frequency of publication could vary but was hoped to be at least quarterly; stated that it was “intended to embrace the circle of the Physical Sciences with their application to the Arts, and, to every useful purpose”; and called for subscriptions (copy filed with covering letter to Adams).

Index Entries

  • Adams, John Quincy; andAmerican Journal of Science search
  • aging; TJ on his own search
  • American Journal of Science search
  • How, Hezekiah; andAmerican Journal of Science search
  • James Eastburn & Company (New York firm) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; reading habits of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; subscriptions search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; aging search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); andAmerican Journal of Science search
  • Silliman, Benjamin; andAmerican Journal of Science search
  • Silliman, Benjamin; identified search
  • Silliman, Benjamin; letter from accounted for search
  • Silliman, Benjamin; letters to search
  • subscriptions, for publications; journals search