Thomas Jefferson Papers

Felix Pascalis to Thomas Jefferson, 15 December 1819

From Felix Pascalis

Newyork, Decemb. 15th 1819.


With a view to public good and with the desire of serving a worthy stranger, I beg leave to submit the following statement to your attention.

A large Collection of natural curiosities, has been some time ago imported in this City for exhibition. It is composed of Shells, Crustacea, fishes, Minerals, Birds;—some living animals,—&c. The three first divisions are admirably selected and well preserved. Professor Mitchill has several times recommended the collection to the attention of the public and I have done the same. These specimens are the more interesting that they were in a great proportion and by the Labour of many years, collected in the tropical Regions of America.

It is the wish of the proprietor to sell this museum or to pack it and Carry back, before he encounters the severities of our winter and would make great sacrifices, considering the expences of transportation of nearly 40 or 50 large and heavy packages. I have no doubt but he would have already found purchasers in this City, if the difficulties of monied men were not still very great. at Present the collection, with the Glazed boxes in which genera and species are distributed might be obtained at a very low price and perhaps less than 2000 Doll!

in this Circumstance and regretting very much that this precious museum, also very instructive, should be suffered to be carried away, I have felt it a matter of duty to offer it to your excellency as a trustee of the University of Abermale which, I am informed, is established under your Patronage, in the best and the most extensive plan; and would be happy to contribute by further trouble to a great acquisition for your institution and to the relief of a worthy man.

Permit me, Greatly honoured sir, in this particular occasion, when, with good motives, I take the liberty of addressing you, to subjoin my fervent wishes for the preservation of your life, under the smiles of Providence for the Comforts of health, and the applauses of the mind and the Conscience.

I have the honor to be with a profound respect
Sir, Your most obedie[nt] & Humble Servant

Felix Pascalis M.D.

RC (CSmH: JF); dateline between closing and signature; torn at seal; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson. Monticello Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Dec. 1819 and so recorded in SJL.

Felix Pascalis (1762–1833), physician and cleric, was christened Felix Alexandre Ouvière in Aix-en-Provence, France, where he studied natural history and medicine and subsequently prepared for the clergy. After relocating to Marseille, his polemical writings and political sympathies led to his excommunication from the church and departure from France for Saint Domingue in 1790. Ouvière attempted to establish a newspaper and a boarding school there and spoke out against slavery. Returning to France as a representative of Haitian interests, he found himself at risk during the Reign of Terror and fled, first to London and then to Jamaica, where he was arrested for treason but acquitted. Ouvière ultimately immigrated to the United States, arriving in Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. His treatment of the sick and belief that yellow fever was not contagious soon won him a place among the city’s medical practitioners. Presumably in order to distance himself from his political past, he adopted the professional surname “Pascalis,” a French homophone of “Pascally,” his mother’s family name. By 1801 he was vice president of the Chemical Society of Philadelphia, and two years later he was chosen secretary of the city’s Board of Health. In 1805 Pascalis traveled to Spain to observe the yellow fever epidemic raging there, and on his return the following year he settled permanently in New York City. From 1812 to 1817 he edited The Medical Repository with Samuel L. Mitchill and Samuel Akerly. Pascalis also served as censor of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York (later merged with Columbia University). He was a founder and president of New York City’s branch of the Linnaean Society of Paris and a member of many other scientific institutions. Late in life Pascalis became a strong supporter of American mulberry cultivation with a view toward sericulture. His publications include An Account of the Contagious Epidemic Yellow Fever, which prevailed in Philadelphia in the Summer and Autumn of 1797 (Philadelphia, 1798); “Observations on the Yellow Fever,” Medical Repository 4 (1801): 8–17, 121–30; A Statement of the Occurrences During a Malignant Yellow Fever in the City of New-York, in the Summer and Autumnal Months of 1819 (New York, 1819); An Exposition of the Dangers of Interment in Cities (New York, 1823); and Practical Instructions and Directions for Silkworm Nurseries, and for the Culture of the Mulberry Tree (1829) (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Samuel L. Knapp, American Biography [1833], 263–7; Terry Rey, The Priest and the Prophetess: Abbé Ouvière, Romaine Rivière, and the Revolutionary Atlantic World [2017], esp. 73–90; marriage record of Pascalis’s parents and Pascalis’s birth record [FrAP]; Philadelphia Repository, and Weekly Register, 30 Apr. 1803; New York Medical Inquirer 4 [1813]: 105; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 43 vols. description ends , 41:221–3; Pascalis to TJ, 31 July 1806 [ViW: TC-JP]; TJ to Pascalis, 16 Aug. 1806 [Lloyd W. Smith, Madison, N.J., 1946]; New-York Spectator, 25 July, 1 Aug. 1833).

Early in September 1819 the proprietor, Jacques Perdiguier, of Marseille, had opened his “Grand Museum of Natural History,” which charged twenty-five cents admission. He soon offered to sell half or all of the collection (New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, 9 Sept. 1819; New York Mercantile Advertiser, 3 Nov. 1819).

Index Entries

  • Mitchill, Samuel Latham; and natural history search
  • museums; in New York search
  • natural history; collections search
  • Pascalis Ouviere, Felix Alexander; and natural-history specimens for University of Virginia search
  • Pascalis Ouviere, Felix Alexander; identified search
  • Pascalis Ouviere, Felix Alexander; letter from search
  • Perdiguier, Jacques; museum of search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; natural-history specimens for search