Thomas Jefferson Papers

Anthony Dey to Thomas Jefferson, 20 November 1821

From Anthony Dey

New York 20 November 1821


Altho’ you have retired from public life, yet I have supposed, the great interests of our Country are very near your heart & that you would be gratified with hearing of the success of American Agriculture—& the native genius of our Country men in Mechanism—

under those impressions I have taken the liberty of enclosing you a Sample of flax—the plant of which grew upon my farm in New Jersey, which consists principally of reclaimed Salt Meadow—& was dressed in an unrotted State in a Machine invented by a Native American.

The machine is Constructed to go by animal or water power & is Estimated to dress one Ton of the stem or plant in the ten ordinary working hours of the day—The Expence of breaking & cleaning the flax & bringing it into the State in which I Send it you will not exceed 2 Cents per pound

The Information we have from England is that it cost 6d Stg near 11 Cents our Money to produce the Same result—

There is a great saving—more than 100 pr Cent in the fibre & the machine is equally as well calculated for Hemp as well as flax—With my Sincere wishes for your health1 & happiness

I remain Sir very Respectfully
Anthony Dey.
Corner Nassau & Cedar St.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 1 Dec. 1821 and so recorded in SJL; with FC of TJ to Dey, 8 Dec. 1821, beneath endorsement. RC (DLC); address cover only; with FC of TJ to John Griscom, 12 Mar. 1824, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esq Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked New York, 21 Nov.

Anthony Dey (ca. 1777–1859), attorney, was born in Bergen County, New Jersey, and studied law in New York City, where he was practicing his profession by 1799. From 1801 to 1803 Dey served as the first attorney of the city corporation. Granted a partial interest in a large tract of land in Texas, he was an attorney for the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company. Dey invested his earnings in New Jersey real estate and was a director of the New Jersey Railroad, but in 1842 he filed for bankruptcy. He continued working as an attorney in New York City until at least 1854. Dey was living in New Jersey by 1850 and owned real estate valued at $6,000. He died in Hudson City (later Jersey City), New Jersey (George H. Farrier, ed., Memorial of the Centennial Celebration of the Battle of Paulus Hook. August 19th, 1879; With a History of the Early Settlement and Present Condition of Jersey City, N. J. [1879], 154–5; New York Commercial Advertiser, 18 Feb. 1799; Longworth’s New York Directory description begins Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory, New York, 1796–1842 (title varies; cited by year of publication) description ends [1799]: 209; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., New York, 1800–40, N.J., Hudson Co., North Bergen Township, 1850; John H. Greener, comp., History of the Office of the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York [1907], 35–6; New York Chronicle Express, 27 Feb. 1804; Dey to Andrew Jackson, 22 Jan. 1830 [DLC: Jackson Papers]; Mary Virginia Henderson, “Minor Empresario Contracts for the Colonization of Texas, 1825–1834,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 31 [1928]: 305–6; New York Herald, 12 Dec. 1842; H. Wilson, comp., Trow’s New-York City Directory for 1854–55 [1854], 200; New York Evening Post, 10 Oct. 1859).

Unretted (unrotted) flax or hemp has not undergone the maceration process by which fibers are separated from the woody stem (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 ; American Farmer 3 [1821]: 301).

Dey was a partner and backer of James Macdonald, who invented the flax-processing machine described here. In 1822 the pair petitioned the United States Congress for a patent lasting twenty years, rather than the standard fourteen. After a favorable report from the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, the petition was referred to the Judiciary Committee along with a competing claim. Following a report from that committee, the matter was tabled. In the spring of 1822 Dey donated his right to the machine to Auburn Theological Seminary in Auburn, New York. Macdonald was granted a standard patent for the invention that August (American Farmer 3 [1821]: 301, 305–6; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 15:294, 386, 511 [28 Feb., 25 Mar., 29 Apr. 1822]; ASP, Miscellaneous, 2:928–9; New-York Evening Post, 10 Apr. 1822; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 242).

1Manuscript: “heath.”

Index Entries

  • Congress, U.S.; and patents search
  • crops; flax search
  • crops; hemp search
  • Dey, Anthony; and flax search
  • Dey, Anthony; identified search
  • Dey, Anthony; letter from search
  • flax; preparation of search
  • Great Britain; agriculture in search
  • hemp; preparation of search
  • Macdonald, James; flax-processing machine of search
  • machines; flax and hemp preparation search
  • patents; of J. Macdonald search
  • patents; sought by A. Dey search