Thomas Jefferson Papers

John H. James to Thomas Jefferson, 13 June 1820

From John H. James

Cincinnati 13th June 1820


You will no doubt be much surprized at being addressed by one totally unknown to you—It was with reluctance that I prevailed on myself to take this step, as I feared and do still fear that it can be viewed in no other aspect than that of an intrusion on your retirement and leisure. Be assured Sire, it is not to gratify the vanity of a young man that incites me to address one so distinguished as yourself, but the humble desire of acquiring knowledge for which I knew not elsewhere to apply—

For a year past I have been engaged at intervals in collecting materials and composing memoirs of Kosciusko. My success has not been commensurate with my desires. Notwithstanding all my exertions, I have been unable to discover in the American Histories & Journals any thing of value or interest relative to his services in this country.1 Disappointed in my first exertion I was near abandoning it altogether—It however occurred to me that2 many valuable and interesting facts might possibly be obtained from individuals,3 which if not collected now, would in a few years be entirely lost. Several hints gleaned from newspapers and conversations have induced me to believe that you were personally acquainted with Kosciusko. I have therefore made my first and principal application to you, in hopes that you would be able to furnish some facts with regard to him or to direct me to other sources of information—

The amount of the information I possess relative to that part of his life spent in America is this. That he arrived in America about the commencement of the revolution, volunteered his services to Genl Washington and received a Colonel’s commission: and that after the conclusion of the war he returned to France with Fayette. That after his liberation by the Emperour Paul, he made a second voyage to America and after a short sojourn returned again to Europe—

The points on which I solicit information are these 1. the year and place of his first arrival in America. 2. In what section of the country he was employed during the war—in what battles he fought—and in what year and from what place he took his departure for Europe—3. In what year he landed in America the second time—how received—and at what time and from what port he took his passage on returning to Europe—

These are points on which I have no information whatever. I have looked the American Histories over in vain to receive some account of his services—Judge Marshall as well as I recollect does not mention him once—Mrs Warren notices him very slightly—I think his memory has been treated with unmerited neglect.—indeed I am certain of it:—for all who speak of him say that he was serviceable to our cause.—and Dr Franklin declared in Paris that the Americans stood highly indebted to him for their independence.4 And that man would never have made such a declaration had such not been the fact—

It is the consciousness5 of this unjust neglect that urges me (weak as I am in abilities, poor in resources of intelligence and fettered by my studies) to attempt to put in practice that design so long conceived. If I succeed in collecting materials I shall at some future period present them to the public in the form of a Biography. And6 should I be unable to compose a work capable of me[riting?] the rigid Critic’s “Bene et Recte” at the least I can produce one that will be useful to the future Historian & Biographer—

Should it agree with your leisure, your pursuits, or what in this case must be more powerful your inclinations, to give me any information on the above points, or to direct me in making further applications, I shall esteem it a great favour as well as a condescension. And any additional anecdotes and facts will increase my obligations the more.—My thanks and my Gratitude will be but a poor recompense for your trouble: yet they are the only one I can make, which you can receive.7 And those I can now only declare—tho believe me distance and length of time shall never make me cease to feel them—

I am Sire with the most profound Respect yours

John H James

RC (DLC); torn at seal; addressed: “Hon. Thomas Jefferson Monticello Va”; franked; postmarked Cincinnati, 15 June; endorsed by TJ as received 6 July 1820 and so recorded in SJL.

John Hough James (1800–81), attorney, businessman, and public official, was born in Virginia and moved with his family to Cincinnati in 1813. He matriculated at Cincinnati College (later the University of Cincinnati) when it was founded in 1819, and he graduated in 1821. Over the next four years, James tutored students at his alma mater, passed the bar, and established a law office. He relocated his legal practice permanently in 1826 to Urbana, Ohio, where he also served as a militia colonel, bank president, and railroad director. A political ally of William Henry Harrison and Henry Clay, James supported both internal improvements and, after 1836, the reestablishment of the Bank of the United States. He held a seat in the Ohio senate, 1835–39, and he helped found a Swedenborgian school, Urbana University, around 1850. James’s net worth, much of it in real estate, was estimated to be $267,500 in 1860 and $212,000 a decade later (William E. Smith and Ophia D. Smith, A Buckeye Titan [1953]; OOxM: James Papers; W. E. Halley and John P. Maynard, comps., Legislative Manual of the State of Ohio, 1919–1920 [1920], 80, 82; DNA: RG 29, CS, Ohio, Urbana, 1830–80; gravestone inscription in Oak Dale Cemetery, Urbana).

fayette: the marquis de Lafayette.

While James seems never to have published his research on Tadeusz Kosciuszko in the form of a biography, his “Life of Thaddeus Kosciusko,” appended to his “Retrospective View of Poland,” survives in manuscript (OhCiUAR).

bene et recte: “good and correct.”

1Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

2Manuscript: “me that <my> me that.”

3Manuscript: “indiviuals.”

4Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

5Manuscript: “consciusness.”

6Manuscript: “And And.”

7Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • American Revolution; books on search
  • books; biographical search
  • books; on American Revolution search
  • books; on history search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; on T. Kosciuszko search
  • History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution (M. O. Warren) search
  • James, John Hough; and proposed biography of T. Kosciuszko search
  • James, John Hough; identified search
  • James, John Hough; letter from search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; B. Franklin on search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; proposed biographies of search
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de; mentioned search
  • Life of George Washington (J. Marshall); and T. Kosciuszko search
  • Marshall, John; Life of George Washington search
  • Paul I, emperor of Russia search
  • Warren, Mercy Otis; History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution search
  • Washington, George; as army commander search
  • Washington, George; biographies of search