Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Davis Robinson to Thomas Jefferson, 28 December 1820

From William Davis Robinson

Washington December 28th 1820—


Permit me to request your acceptance of my Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution—

Should I learn that any thing therein containd, compensates you for the trouble of perusing the book, it will afford me much pleasure—

The rules of literary composition I am unacquainted with—my habits and career have afforded me only casual opportunities of making a few gleanings in the field of literature, but as I disclaim all pretensions to the character of a professional author, I trust my fellow Citizens will overlook any inaccuracies in point of style—

Respectfully I have the honor to be

Your obedt Servt

William Davis Robinson

RC (MHi); dateline at foot of text; endorsed by TJ as received 28 Jan. 1821 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to William J. Coffee, 5 Mar. 1821, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr.” Enclosure: Robinson, Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution: including a Narrative of the Expedition of General Xavier Mina. with some observations on the Practicability of Opening a Commerce between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans … (Philadelphia, 1820; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 4 [no. 118]).

William Davis Robinson (1774–1824), merchant, was a native of Philadelphia. From 1799 he operated out of Caracas, in what became Venezuela, where he traded extensively with Spanish authorities. Robinson began to oppose them, however, following a trade dispute over poor-quality tobacco, and in 1806 he and other foreigners were forced to leave the Spanish colonies in America. Between 1810 and 1814 he returned to South America, using his status as a neutral merchant to trade with and support members of various revolutionary movements in the region. In the latter year Robinson went to Washington, D.C. He soon published A Cursory View of Spanish America, particularly the neighboring vice-royalties of Mexico and New-Granada, chiefly intended to elucidate the policy of an early connection between the United States and those countries (Georgetown, D.C., 1815). Bearing a passport from Secretary of State James Monroe, in 1816 Robinson went via New Orleans to Mexico. There royalists turned him over to Spanish officials, who imprisoned him for two-and-a-half years as a revolutionary spy. Robinson wrote to the United States Department of State several times during his captivity, seeking aid in obtaining his release and sharing information on Spanish activities in Mexico. He finally escaped and returned to the United States late in 1819, publishing his Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution the following year. In 1821 Robinson unsuccessfully requested a federal appointment to South America or Florida. The next year, after moving to Colombia to pursue mercantile activities in Cartagena, he fruitlessly sought an appointment at that port city. Robinson visited New York briefly in 1824 before traveling to Caracas, where he died (Eduardo Enrique Ríos, Robinson y su Aventura en México [2d ed., 1958], esp. 5–41; Robinson, Memorias de la Revolución Mexicana, trans. and ed. Virginia Guedea [2003], esp. vii–xxiii; City of Washington Gazette, 24 Sept. 1818; Robinson to Monroe, 2 Oct. 1816, and Robinson to John Quincy Adams, 6 Oct. 1817 [DNA: RG 59, MLR]; New-York Evening Post, 1 Dec. 1819; DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1817–25; New York National Advocate, 8 July 1824; Portland, Maine, Eastern Argus, 6 Jan. 1825).

On this date Robinson sent James Madison a similar letter and enclosure (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:196).

Index Entries

  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); works sent to search
  • Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution (W. D. Robinson) search
  • Mexico; works on search
  • Robinson, William Davis; identified search
  • Robinson, William Davis; letter from search
  • Robinson, William Davis; Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution search