Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William H. Anderson, 25 June 1821

To William H. Anderson

Monticello June 25 21.


A long absence from home has been the principal cause of my delay in answering your letter. I now inclose your prospectus with my name to it and 3. dollars, the price of the copy subscribed for; and with my wishes for the success of your work I tender you the assurance of my respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (MHi); on verso of a reused address cover from Thomas Mann Randolph to TJ; at foot of text: “Mr Wm H. Anderson”; endorsed by TJ. Enclosure not found.

William H. Anderson (b. ca. 1785), sailor and adventurer, was a native of Winchester. By his own account, he departed from Virginia in 1802, traveling with his partner, George Johnson, from Pittsburgh down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. In that city, the pair purportedly purchased a brig, sailed for Brazil, and traveled widely until they were captured and sold to an Arab pirate who traded them to a neighboring prince. They allegedly rose to high rank and found themselves engaged in battles with the British East India Company. After Johnson’s reputed death in action, Anderson claimed to have escaped from India on a British vessel and arrived in the autumn of 1820 in London, making his passage back to Norfolk in 1821. By early the following year newspapers were reprinting reports that he was in fact a swindler obtaining loans and subscriptions by inflating or inventing accounts of his travels (DNA: RG 36, USCA, New Orleans, 7 Aug. 1806, Philadelphia, 22 May 1807; Curtis Carroll Davis, “‘Anderson’s Narrative!’—A Lost American Travel Book,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893–  description ends 69 [1961]: 80–2; Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 18 Jan. 1821; New-York Evening Post, 26 May 1821; Salem, Mass., Essex Register, 10 Jan. 1822).

No letter from Anderson is recorded in SJL, and none has been found. On this day TJ recorded sending “Wm. H. Anderson of Balt. 3.D. sbscrptn. to his Travels” (MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1376). Anderson’s intended publication seems never to have appeared.

Index Entries

  • Anderson, William H.; identified search
  • Anderson, William H.; letter from accounted for search
  • Anderson, William H.; letter to search
  • Anderson, William H.; sends prospectus search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; subscriptions search