Thomas Jefferson Papers

John R. Cotting to Thomas Jefferson, 20 January 1821

From John R. Cotting

Boston Jan 20 1821

Dear Sir

Your liberal mind and the high estimation in which you1 are held by the literary & philosophical World, and your great experience in scientific pursuits2 will I presume render an apology unecessary for troubling you with this address. Inclosed I send you a prospectus of a new work the only one of the kind ever proposed for publication in America. A work which has long been wanted by the scientific public, and is almost indispensable to the readers of modern travels and history. I have endeavoured to render it as perfect as the progressive state of chemistry and natural history will permit; in this I have been assisted by the excellant professor of chemistry in Harvard University. The work has already received considerable patronage by all classes of citizens in this section of the country. A specimen3 of the type, form and paper accompanies the prospectus. My object in writing to you, is to avail myself of your superior advice in regard to the manner of treating the subjects, and also of any information you may please to afford me with regard to the mineral productions of our own country especially in your section of it, concerning which, I know of no man so well calculated to gratify me. Any hints or observations you may see fit to furnish me will be gratefully received and shall be duly noticed in the work.

Wishing you every blessing and comfort to which a mind devoted to science and the good of his fellow citizens is entitled,

I am With sentiments of much esteem and respect Your most devoted and very humble Sirvant

J. R Cotting.

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 5 Feb. 1821 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Craven Peyton, 5 Mar. 1821, on verso; addressed: “Hon. Thos Jefferson Monticello. Virginia”; franked; postmarked Boston, 22 Jan.

John Ruggles Cotting (1784–1867), educator and geologist, changed his surname from “Cutting” early in adulthood. He was born in Acton, Massachusetts, and apparently attended Harvard University briefly before graduating from Dartmouth College in 1802. Cotting was ordained a Congregational minister in 1807 and pastored a church in Waldoborough (later Waldoboro), Maine, before resigning in 1811 and becoming an Episcopalian. He spent the next twenty-four years teaching in a number of different schools in Massachusetts and lecturing on the physical sciences. Cotting taught chemistry for one term at the Berkshire Medical Institution, 1824–25, and served as an instructor at Amherst Academy while editing the Chemist and Meteorological Journal at Amherst College in 1826. He published A Synopsis of Lectures on Geology in 1835, and later that year he moved to Augusta, Georgia, where he conducted a geological survey of Burke and Richmond counties. Cotting’s report on his survey having gained the attention of state authorities, in 1836 he was appointed geologist of Georgia and commissioned to conduct a survey of the entire state. Delays in the work and waning legislative support led to the termination of his official position in 1840, but the General Assembly allowed Cotting to retain the uncompensated title of state geologist. He published An Essay on the Soils and Available Manures of the State of Georgia … founded on a geological and agricultural survey in 1843 but never received enough support to publish the report of his full survey. Neither the report nor Cotting’s field notes survive. He moved permanently in about 1840 to Milledgeville, Georgia, where he operated a female academy beginning in 1842. Cotting was one of the first members of the Association of American Geologists in 1840 and of its successor, the American Assocation for the Advancement of Science, eight years later. He hosted the British geologist Charles Lyell during the latter’s 1846 visit to Milledgeville. In 1860 Cotting’s combined real estate and personal property were valued at $350 (Lester D. Stephens, “John Ruggles Cotting and the First State Geological Survey of Georgia,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 97 [2013]: 296–321; General Catalogue of Dartmouth College and the associated schools, 1769–1925 [1925], 108; DNA: RG 29, CS, Ga., Baldwin Co., 1850, 1860; Milledgeville Southern Recorder, 15 Oct., 5 Nov. 1867; gravestone inscription in Memory Hill Cemetery, Milledgeville).

The enclosed prospectus and accompanying sample have not been found. Late the previous year Mathew Carey & Son took subscriptions in Philadelphia for Cotting’s Dictionary of Chemistry and Mineralogy, which was projected to run to 750 pages and cost $3 for subscribers and $4 for nonsubscribers. The advertisement included the endorsement of John Gorham, Harvard’s professor of chemistry (Philadelphia Franklin Gazette, 30 Nov. 1820). The work seems never to have been printed, but Cotting soon published a 420-page volume entitled An Introduction to Chemistry, with Practical Questions designed for beginners in the science. from the Latest and Most Approved Authors. to which is added A Dictionary of Terms (Boston, 1822).

1Manuscript: “your.”

2Manuscript: “pusuits.”

3Manuscript: “speimen.”

Index Entries

  • An Introduction to Chemistry, with Practical Questions designed for beginners in the science (J. R. Cotting) search
  • books; on chemistry search
  • books; on mineralogy search
  • chemistry; books on search
  • Cotting, John Ruggles; An Introduction to Chemistry, with Practical Questions designed for beginners in the science search
  • Cotting, John Ruggles; identified search
  • Cotting, John Ruggles; letter from search
  • Cotting, John Ruggles; sends TJ prospectus of scientific work search
  • Gorham, John; professor at Harvard University search
  • Harvard University; faculty at search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Mathew Carey & Son (Philadelphia firm); and publication of books search
  • mineralogy; books on search
  • mineralogy; of Va. search
  • paper; for printing search
  • Virginia; minerals of search