Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Oliver Vaughan to Thomas Jefferson, 25 April 1819

From William Oliver Vaughan

Hallowell April 25. 1819.


Pursuant to directions from my father, I forward pr Mail a packet of Sweedish Turnip Seed. I believe it of a very good quality & hope it will be received uninjured.

The original Stock from which this seed was raised was given me by Mr Bordley of Philadelphia in the winter 1800–1801,—(he having first raised it in 1795,) he then gave it the name of Rota Baga or Ruta Baga, we have since that time received two parcels of the seed from different persons in England, one under the title of Sweedish Turnip, the other of Lapland Turnip. The name which has most prevailed in this part of the Country is Sweedish Turnip.

The season for sowing it is sometime in the month of May, though I have known a good crop follow the third renewal of the sowing, which took place on the 15 of Julyeven after that came up, many of the plants were transplanted.

The earlier the sowing the larger the turnip, but they do not keep so well when over grown. They appear to gain Size faster in the cold nights in October than at any other time, & are not injured by a degree of frost that would destroy most other vegetables.

We have raised them every year since we first received the seed, never less than 300 bush, or more than 1000—, & from the experience so gained, consider a black rich soil, rather moist than otherwise, as the most favorable, they will however grow on any good soil. The rows should not be less than 18 Inches apart, & the plants let to stand in the rows about 8 Inches from each other, at these distances the roots will in a good season touch each other in the rows, & the tops meet in the intervals of the rows. A pint of seed is enough (well sowed) for an acre. The fly frequently destroys it, in which case the land may be sowed over again with very little labor. Wood ashes strewed on the plants while wet with the dew often saves the crop. They should be hoed as soon as the plant is large enough to be seen without stooping, & a second time in a fortnight, after which it will be enough to go through & cut up any large weeds that may come up.

Manuring the same year is to be avoided if possible, as it is apt to produce maggots. An average crop may be considered 300 bush, but they often vary from 150 up to 500. The tops given gradually to the Cattle, form a considerable resource when the grass becomes short, & it appears too early in the season to begin the winter fodder.—It is one of the most valuable vegetables we have, & is fast gaining ground in this country. Though Mr Cobbet can have no claim to the original introduction, his exertions to spread the seed will be of considerable service to the country

I have the honor to be With great respect Yr Obed hum Sert

Wm Oliver Vaughan

My Mother says I have been guilty of an omission in not presenting her regards as an old friend, & I hasten by a postcript to repair my error.—

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 9 May 1819 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Nicholas H. Lewis [2?] June 1819, on verso; addressed: “Honble Thomas Jefferson Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Hallowell, 25 Apr.

William Oliver Vaughan (1783–1826), merchant and agriculturist, was probably born in England, the eldest son of TJ correspondent Benjamin Vaughan and his wife, Sarah Manning Vaughan. In the mid-1790s he evidently moved with his family from Europe to Hallowell, District of Maine, where he owned several ships, became heavily involved in the West Indies trade, ran a gristmill, and was widely known for his interest in the improvement of crops and livestock. Having served as a captain in the Maine militia during the War of 1812, Vaughan held the rank of lieutenant colonel until at least 1820. He was also an incorporator of the Agricultural Society of Maine in 1818 and a director of the Hallowell and Augusta Bank two years later. Vaughan died in Hallowell (John H. Sheppard, Reminiscences of the Vaughan Family [1865], 12, 26; Emma Huntington Nason, Old Hallowell on the Kennebec [1909], 91–3; MHi: Vaughan Family Papers; The Massachusetts Register and United States Calendar [1817]: 162; [1820]: 127; Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Passed by the General Court [Jan.–Feb. 1818 sess.]: 529–32; The Maine Register and United States’ Calendar [1820]: 154–5; DNA: RG 29, CS, Maine, Hallowell, 1810, 1820; Hallowell Gazette, 16 Aug. 1826; Portland, Maine, Eastern Argus, 18 Aug. 1826).

In his travel account, A Year’s Residence, in the United States of America (London, 1818), William Cobbett (mr cobbet) gave “An Account of the Author’s agricultural experiments in the Cultivation of the Ruta Baga, or Russia, or Swedish Turnip, which afford proof of what the climate and soil are.” This material was reprinted in the American Farmer 1, nos. 1–6 (Apr.–May 1819).

Index Entries

  • agriculture; and fertilization search
  • agriculture; and fodder search
  • agriculture; and insects search
  • Bordley, John Beale; and rutabagas search
  • cattle; fodder for search
  • Cobbett, William; and rutabagas search
  • crops; rutabagas search
  • fodder; for cattle search
  • grass; as fodder search
  • Hessian fly search
  • insects; maggots search
  • plants; eradication of weeds search
  • rutabagas (Swedish turnips) search
  • seeds; rutabaga search
  • seeds; sent to TJ search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and rutabagas search
  • Vaughan, Sarah Manning (Benjamin Vaughan’s wife); sends greetings to TJ search
  • Vaughan, William Oliver; and rutabagas search
  • Vaughan, William Oliver; identified search
  • Vaughan, William Oliver; letter from search
  • weather; frost search
  • wood; ashes used as fertilizer search