Thomas Jefferson Papers

John S. Skinner to Thomas Jefferson, 30 January 1820

From John S. Skinner

Washington Jany 30th 1820.

Dear Sir—

Observing on the part of our countrymen a disposition to abandon visionary & profitless speculations, for the cultivation of more certain and solid sources of social comfort & happiness; it struck me that a publick journal, which should afford the means of promulgating scientific researches, and of recording the results of actual experiment; as connected with Agriculture and Internal Improvements, would facilitate improvements in these two great objects, and would, of course, prove highly beneficial to the best interests of society. Accordingly in April last I projected a weekly publication, and, without concert or cooperation, sent it forth under the title of The American Farmer. The flattering manner in which it was greeted, by Gentlemen of judgment and distinction in all the States at once convinced me, that I had awakened hopes of usefulness, which it would require all the zeal I could exercise, and all the aid I could command, to justify & realise—Happily for my undertaking, the liberal & communicative spirit of my subscribers, and friends, has enabled me to embody a mass of facts and of information, more useful and various, than could have been supplied by the researches and experience of an Individual Editor—In truth my chief participation has been merely that of selection & arrangement—

The two accompanying papers which I find on the table of my friend, Com Porter, to whom (with Mrs S) I am now on a visit, will give you an idea of the form and plan of my Humble labours in the cause of Husbandry—I should not have ventured to tresspass upon you in your present retreat, where you have a right to appropriate to yourself, in ease, and tranquil enjoyments, the remnant of a life which has been devoted with so much effect, to the glory and happiness of your country; if the enclosed letter had not encouraged me to hope that you would not think it too troublesome to give the information of which it speaks—

Mr Pickering was amongst my earliest subscribers, & promises to communicate under the sanction of his name, well known & respected in Agricultural annals, such facts & experience as may appear to be useful and connected with the leading objects of the American Farmer—

I feel the more solicitous to obtain your recollections of the process of making cheese of the kind mentioned—because in Maryland, there is not, to my knowledge, more than one man who has ever undertaken to make cheese at all; and it is believed that in all the more southern states, where my paper is in very general circulation; Agriculturists are as utterly ignorant of the whole process as in Maryland—and, assuredly it is highly, disreputable to our countrymen, to remain thus uninformed, about the manufacture of an important and wholesome article of daily consumption,—for the making of which the materials, at hand, are so abundant!

The previous communication to which Mr Pickering refers is principally on the subject of the comparative value of Irish Potatoes & ruta=baga—as food for live stock—

If Sir you should kindly spare as much time as to give the desired information, your letter addressed to me at Washington, will find me there at any time within the next twelve days—with sincere respect your Obt St

J S Skinner

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 4 Feb. 1820 and so recorded in SJL.

John Stuart Skinner (1788–1851), agricultural and sporting editor, was born in Calvert County, Maryland, and graduated in 1806 from Charlotte Hall Academy in Saint Mary’s County in that state. He was an assistant to the county court clerk before relocating to Annapolis, where he read law and was appointed reading clerk for the Maryland legislature. Skinner was admitted to the Annapolis bar in 1809. President James Madison appointed him inspector of European mail for that city during the War of 1812, and he soon also became an agent for British prisoners of war. Moving to Baltimore in 1813, Skinner was made a purser in the United States Navy the following year. He was with Francis Scott Key during the events leading to the composition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and arranged for the poem’s initial publication. From 1816 to 1839 Skinner served as postmaster of Baltimore, and between 1841 and 1845 he was third assistant postmaster general. In 1819 he began editing and publishing the weekly American Farmer, the first lasting, successful periodical on agriculture in the United States, and he served simultaneously as corresponding secretary of the Maryland Agricultural Society and secretary of the Maryland Society for Internal Improvement. Through his interest in promoting agriculture, Skinner became a correspondent of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle County. That society resolved to use the American Farmer to publish its proceedings, and he was made an honorary member in 1820. Skinner sold the periodical in 1830. He also began and published the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine from 1829 to 1835, and through this and other periodicals he helped develop sporting journalism in the United States. Skinner was hired as editor of the New York City-based Farmers’ Library and Monthly Journal of Agriculture in 1845. He continued in that role for three years before starting his own publication in Philadelphia entitled The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil, which he edited from 1848 until his death. In addition to his postal employment and his work as a publisher, Skinner authored The Dog and the Sportsman (1845), wrote or edited numerous works on agriculture, and contributed many articles to a wide variety of publications. He also imported and distributed agricultural samples and livestock through his naval connections. Skinner met TJ at Monticello in September 1820 while returning from a visit to the Virginia springs. He died during a visit to Baltimore (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 ; Benjamin Perley Poore, “Biographical Notice of John S. Skinner,” The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil 7 [1854]: 1–54; Baltimore Patriot, 26 Mar. 1813; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:514, 515 [25, 26 Mar. 1814]; Callahan, U.S. Navy description begins Edward W. Callahan, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900, 1901, repr. 1969 description ends , 500; Lucretia Ramsey Bishko, “The Agricultural Society of Albemarle and John S. Skinner: An Enduring Friendship,” MACH description begins Magazine of Albemarle County History, 1940–  (title varies; issued until 1951 as Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society) description ends 31 [1973]: 76–111; True, “Agricultural Society” description begins Rodney H. True, “Minute Book of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1918 (1921), 1:261–349 description ends ; DNA: RG 29, CS, Md., Baltimore, 1820, 1840; Richmond Enquirer, 14 June 1839; Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Advertiser, 22 Mar. 1851; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 22 Mar. 1851; The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil 4 [1851]: 348–50).

The two accompanying papers were most likely issues of the American Farmer. The enclosed letter was Timothy Pickering to Skinner, Salem, Mass., 7 Jan. 1820, in which Pickering described a conversation with TJ about parmesan cheese twelve or more years earlier and suggested that Skinner should publish in the American Farmer TJ’s own observations on the process by which such cheese was made in Italy. In that letter Pickering referenced his previous communication to Skinner of 4 Jan. 1820, which dealt mainly with rutabagas and potatoes, but he also cited TJ as his source for asserting that parmesan cheese was colored with carrot juice and made by mingling “the night’s milk skimmed” of its cream with “the new milk of the morning” (American Farmer 1 [1820]: 357, 364).

Index Entries

  • American Farmer; establishment of search
  • American Farmer; prints TJ’s writings search
  • American Farmer; sent to TJ search
  • cheese; parmesan search
  • food; cheese search
  • livestock; feed for search
  • Pickering, Timothy; andAmerican Farmer search
  • Pickering, Timothy; correspondence of search
  • Porter, David; friendship with J. S. Skinner search
  • potatoes search
  • rutabagas (Swedish turnips) search
  • Skinner, Elizabeth Glenn Davies; visits D. Porter search
  • Skinner, John Stuart; andAmerican Farmer search
  • Skinner, John Stuart; and parmesan cheese search
  • Skinner, John Stuart; identified search
  • Skinner, John Stuart; letters from search
  • Skinner, John Stuart; sends works to TJ search