Thomas Jefferson Papers

Francis W. Gilmer to Thomas Jefferson, 26 November 1818

From Francis W. Gilmer

Richmond. Nov. 26. 1818.

Dear Sir.

I have heard with great pleasure of your convalescence. by winter you will be quite well to enjoy the triumph of the university which is now beyond all danger.

It is highly probable that you will be consulted by friends from Philadelphia as to a successor to Dorsey & our excellent friend Doctr Wistar. Should you be—I must beg of you to converse with Colo: Randolph on the pretensions of Doctr: Watson of this place. He knows him as well as I do—& as a physician & anatomist better than I can. He is every way superior to Smith of Williamsburg who was spoken of in preference to Dorsey.

Watson is so modest, & so little known that I have felt the liberty I take with you in some degree due to him—& extorted from me. The motive I am sure will excuse me to you.

most respectfully yours &c.

F. W. Gilmer.

RC (MoSHi: Gilmer Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 6 Dec. 1818 and so recorded in SJL. RC (ViU: TJP-CC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Wilson J. Cary, 4 May 1819, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson esqr Monticello Albemarle”; franked; postmarked Richmond, 27 Nov.

George Watson (ca. 1784–1853), physician, attended the College of William and Mary, obtained medical training in Edinburgh and Paris, and received an M.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1809, after which he practiced medicine in Richmond. He was a militia surgeon during the War of 1812 and a founding member of the Medical Society of Virginia in 1824. His brother David Watson sat on the first board of visitors of Central College. Watson bought a Richmond residence designed by Robert Mills and also owned an estate in Louisa County, at which he died (Valentine Museum, Richmond Portraits … 1737–1860 [1949], 202–3; ViHi: Watson Family Papers; William and Mary Provisional List description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. From 1693 to 1888, 1941 description ends , 43; Catalogue of the Medical Graduates of the University of Pennsylvania [2d ed., 1839], 82; Wyndham B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Nineteenth Century [1933], 76, 238, 320; Richmond Daily Dispatch, 14 Oct. 1853; Louisa Co. Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery Wills [1828–1901], 89–90).

TJ did not write in support of Watson, but other prominent Virginians did, including John Marshall, who on 11 Dec. 1818 commended him as “a man of science a physician, and a gentleman” who “stood high in the public Opinion.” He was not, however, offered the vacant anatomy chair at the University of Pennsylvania (Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 8:401–2).

From Fredericksburg on 12 Oct. 1818, Gilmer wrote a letter to TJ’s nephew Dabney Carr that, among other things, encouraged him to begin work on a biography of TJ: “what would you say to edifying the world by a chaste, elegant, and philosophical life of Citn Thomas your Uncle? He is in my judgement the best subject for biography after Gen: Washington which our country has afforded. This is a question worthy of consideration. It would be a great thing for a profound & eloquent writer to give an ample & rich portrait of the old Philosopher & present the proceeds of the work to the Central College—or what perhaps would be as wise—put them in his pocket—to buy Christmas plums for his children. I fear unless the old man has a hint about this matter he will leave his papers to some quack or impostor (for you know how easily he is duped) who will disgrace his subject, himself & his country. He cannot in nature live long, & that the work may appear soon after his death it should be speedily begun” (RC in Vi: Gilmer Letters to Carr; addressed: “The Honble Chancellor Carr. Winchester Va”; stamped; postmarked Fredericksburg, 13 Oct.; endorsed by Carr).

Index Entries

  • anatomy; chair of, at University of Pennsylvania search
  • Carr, Dabney (1773–1837) (TJ’s nephew); as proposed biographer of TJ search
  • Central College; as state university of Va. search
  • Dorsey, John Syng; as university professor search
  • Gilmer, Francis Walker; and proposed biography of TJ search
  • Gilmer, Francis Walker; letters from search
  • Gilmer, Francis Walker; recommends G. Watson search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; biographies of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; good health of search
  • Marshall, John; recommends G. Watson search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Pennsylvania, University of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); as reference for G. Watson search
  • schools and colleges; University of Pennsylvania search
  • Watson, David (1773–1830); family of search
  • Watson, George (ca.1784–1853); identified search
  • Watson, George (ca.1784–1853); seeks position at University of Pennsylvania search
  • Wistar, Caspar; as university professor search