Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Isaiah Thomas, 14 October 1820

To Isaiah Thomas

Monticello Oct. 14. 20.

Th: Jefferson presents his thanks to mr Thomas for the copy of the Archaeologia Americana which he has been so kind as to send him, and his congratulations on the proof this volume affords that the American Antiquarian society will deserve well of their country. it is truly pleasing to hope that, by their attentions, the monuments of the character and condition of the people who preceded us in the occupation of this great country will be rescued from oblivion before they will have entirely disappeared. he prays for their success, and would gladly take a part in their labors, but nature had limited the term of his services to an earlier day. he salutes mr Thomas with great esteem & respect.

RC (MWA: Thomas Papers); dateline at foot of text. PoC (MHi); on verso of reused address cover of Samuel Adams Wells to TJ, 2 June 1819; mutilated at seal, with one word rewritten by TJ; endorsed by TJ.

Isaiah Thomas (1749–1831), printer and publisher, was born in Boston. At the age of six he was apprenticed to a Boston printer, with whom he remained until 1765. Thomas afterward worked successively in printing offices in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Boston; and Charleston, South Carolina. He returned to Boston in 1770 and partnered with his former employer to publish the Massachusetts Spy, which Thomas purchased outright three months later and continued alone. He used this newspaper to promote American independence and was active in the Sons of Liberty before being forced to move his printing operation in 1775 to Worcester when British forces occupied Boston. Thomas soon resumed publication of the Massachusetts Spy in Worcester and continued it, leasing it to others between 1776 and 1778, until he passed it to his son in 1801. After the Revolutionary War ended Thomas commenced publishing and selling books on a large scale, and he also expanded the geographical range of his printing and bookselling operations to Boston, Newburyport, and Brookfield, Massachusetts; Walpole, New Hampshire; Baltimore; and Albany, all of which were managed by partners, many of whom had previous experience as Thomas’s apprentices. With his associates he published more titles than any other contemporary American, including the Massachusetts Magazine, almanacs, works using a Greek typeface, musical scores, numerous books for children, and what has been called the first American novel, The Power of Sympathy: or, the Triumph of Nature, 2 vols. (Boston, 1789), attributed to William Hill Brown. Having achieved great financial success, Thomas retired from business in 1802. After he used his extensive private library to write The History of Printing in America, 2 vols. (Worcester, 1810), he was elected to most of the learned societies in the United States, including the American Philosophical Society in 1816. Thomas founded the American Antiquarian Society in 1812 and served as its president until his death in Worcester, with the bequest of his library forming the core of that institution’s collections (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 ; MWA: Thomas Papers; Clifford K. Shipton, Isaiah Thomas: Printer, Patriot and Philanthropist, 1749–1831 [1948]; Benjamin Thomas Hill, ed., The Diary of Isaiah Thomas, 1805–1828, 2 vols. [1909]; Thomas, History of Printing in America, esp. 1:368–85, 401–4; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, 1947, 2 vols. description ends ; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 18 Oct. 1816 [MS in PPAmP]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 11 Apr. 1831).

No letter from Thomas covering the American Antiquarian Society’s Archæologia Americana: Transactions and Collections 1 (1820; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 4 [no. 115]) is recorded in SJL, and none has been found. Around this time he also sent this work to James Madison (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:127–8).

Index Entries

  • American Antiquarian Society; Archæologia Americana: Transactions and Collections search
  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • Archæologia Americana: Transactions and Collections search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); works sent to search
  • Thomas, Isaiah; and American Antiquarian Society search
  • Thomas, Isaiah; identified search
  • Thomas, Isaiah; letter from accounted for search
  • Thomas, Isaiah; letter to search