Thomas Jefferson Papers

Robert Mills to Thomas Jefferson, 16 June 1820

From Robert Mills

Baltimore June 16. 1820

My dear Sir

May I be permitted to present myself to your remembrance,—and in the first place enquire respectfully after your health?—It is now some years since I had the pleasure of seeing you, but have frequently had the satisfaction of hearing of your welfare—

The activity of your valuable life displays itself in the great work you are now engaged in, to found a seat of learning in the center of your native state—I trust that its success will exceed your most sanguine expectations, and that this institution will remain to future ages a monument of the wisdom & philanthropy of the mind that projected and has carried it into execution—May this institution be famed for the correctness of its principles, as well in morals as physicks, and the light of its knowledge spread its influence thro’out our country—

Since your kindness first directed me in my professional pursuits, I have been aiming to advance as far as lay in my power the interests of my country in the useful arts—For the sixteen years that I have been in the exercise of my profession, both as an Engineer & Architect, I have (thank God) been scarcely a moment idle—Since I removed to Baltimore (where I was invited to put my design for the Washington Monument into execution) I have been engaged in various public works especially in the Engineering department.—Being under the impression from the circumstance of the disposition of our people, and the local situation of our country that a better prospect opened for the encouragement of the Engineer than the Architect, I have since my engagements in the Delaware & Chesapeake Canal with Mr Latrobe, turned my studies & practice particularly to this branch of my business, and as I have nearly completed my engagements here I would wish to look forward in time to some situation in this department—Finding that the state of Virginia is making considerable exertions towards improving their internal navigation, I would take the liberty, my dear Sir to interest your good opinion in my favor—& to request you to mention me in nomination to the Governor for the situation of Engineer when any such business should require the appointment of one and no appointment being already made.

I have a preference to Virginia from my having married there—Should there be no prospect of an engagement in this state soon, and you should become acquainted with any works of this nature intended to be prosecuted by either the general government or any neighboring1 state or Company, I should be much indebted to your attentions in a remembrance of me.—I wish not to be idle whilst there is so much to be done, & the prospects here, from the great depression of commerce leads me to anticipate, comparatively, nothing to do soon—

I hope from the experience I have had in my profession that I should be able to do justice to whatever business is put into my hands, and I trust that in every other respect I shall not be found wanting to secure the confidence you may please to honor me with.—The kindness you have already manifested to me induces me to hope you will excuse this intrusion—

I h[a]ve directed my attention also a good deal to the subject of Bridges, and was fortunate enough to have a design of mine executed of a single arch of the greatest chord line in the world, being 340 feet & upwards—versed sine only 19 feet. you will find a brief notice of it in the last edition of Gregory’s Encyclopedia under the head of Schuylkill—with a plate.

It has been my intention for some time to send you a drawing of the Washington Monument as executing,—the undecission respecting the character of the decorations has occasioned a delay—this will be determined soon, and if acceptable I will send you a view of this Colossal Column, which, without having a reference to others executed, happens to be the greatest in the world, and differs entirely in the style of its design from either Trajans, Antoninus’ Pompeys, the National Column at Paris or the London Monument.—In making the design originally, I had a reference rather to the character of a Monument than simply to a Column.—The proportions of the Column are purely of the greek Doric

Excuse the length of this letter, and permit me to salute you with sentiments of the highest respect & esteem

Robt Mills

Will you allow me to ask if the professors chairs of the University are filled?—There is a Gentleman here (G. Blackburn Esqr professor of Mathematics2 &c) whose talents are no doubt well known to you—he has an intention of leaving this City—Such are his acknowledged merits as a teacher that I believe he would prove a valuable acquisition to any literary institution—he has some peculiarities, but these appear to be generally allied to genius.—He is much attached to Virginia, & would prefer an engagement there—His daughters too are well qualified to educate young ladies—I have not mentioned the subject to him. I thought I would take the liberty of making this N.B—

RC (DLC); mutilated at seal; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Albemarle Co Virginia” by “Mail”; stamp canceled; franked; postmarked Baltimore, 16 June; endorsed by TJ as received 21 June 1820 and so recorded in SJL.

In bridge building, a versed sine is “the rise of an arch” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). The brief notice and plate of the “Upper ferry or Lancaster Schuylkill Bridge,” which was designed by Mills and constructed by Lewis Wernwag in 1812–13 just above the city of Philadelphia, were printed in George Gregory’s New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (Philadelphia, 1819), vol. 3. The national column at paris is located in the Place Vendôme, and the london monument commemorating the Great Fire of 1666 is near the northern end of the modern London Bridge.

1Manuscript: “neghboring.”

2Manuscript: “Mathmatics.”

Index Entries

  • Antoninus Pius (Roman emperor); column of search
  • Baltimore, Md.; financial distress in search
  • Baltimore, Md.; Washington Monument in search
  • Blackburn, George; and University of Virginia search
  • Blackburn, George; family of search
  • books; encyclopedias search
  • canals; Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Co. search
  • Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company search
  • Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (G. Gregory) search
  • Gregory, George; Dictionary of Arts and Sciences search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • Lancaster Schuylkill Bridge search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; and Chesapeake and Delaware Canal search
  • London; Monument to the Great Fire search
  • Mills, Robert; and Chesapeake and Delaware Canal search
  • Mills, Robert; and Lancaster Schuylkill Bridge search
  • Mills, Robert; and TJ’s health search
  • Mills, Robert; and University of Virginia search
  • Mills, Robert; and Washington Monument (Baltimore) search
  • Mills, Robert; letters from search
  • Mills, Robert; seeks office search
  • Paris; Place Vendôme column search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Pennsylvania; bridges in search
  • Pompey’s Pillar (Alexandria, Egypt) search
  • Trajan (Roman emperor); column of search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opinions on search
  • Virginia; internal improvements in search
  • Washington, George; monuments commemorating search
  • Wernwag, Lewis search