Thomas Jefferson Papers

Elijah Griffiths to Thomas Jefferson, 28 January 1822

From Elijah Griffiths

Philadelphia January 28: 1822

Dear sir,

I address you a line, not to repeat my former1 request, but to say, that if the Bankrupt bill now before Congress should become a law, I will still be a petitioner to be a commissioner under it’s provisions, in that event I will be much obliged by your interposition in my behalf in the way you were so kind as to propose formerly.

A very painful event took place here last thursday morning the 24 Inst. About 3 oclock A.M. the Orphans Asylum was discovered to be on fire in the kitchen & hall, which were in the cellar of the building; there was no man about the place, only 2 women, & 87 children, many of them very young, the Asylum stood at the corner of Schuylkill 5th & cherry streets, consequently there was very few dwellings near it; the body of the population were half a mile distant & the distance to where the fire engines were generally located was from three quarters of a mile to a mile & a half: the cold was extreme, I think the cry of fire rang through the streets near an hour before the engines were maned & able to move.2 the distance was great, the road very rough off the pavements, & when they arived the cold was so severe that the water was hardly manageable, the building was enveloped in one body of flame, the roof of the widows Asylum adjoining it was on fire, & the poor little children were in the open Street naked as they were dragged out of their beds, except twenty three3 who are mising, & whose remains have been partly found amongst the ruins & cinders: the fire is supposed to have originated from clothes hung about the stove to dry at night.4 Public sympathy has been awakened to a very great extent by this fire; indeed it has revived in my mind many of the feelings experienced by that awful Calamity, the burning of the theatre in Richmond, when so many adults with interisting & endearing relations perishid; that event made such an impression on my mind as t[o] seriously affect my appetite & rest for some time.—

The past summer was unusually dry with us in the months of July & Augt followed by heavy rains & more sickness than has been ever known in the Surrounding country. This fever attacked people in the most high, dry & healthy situations, its cause was supposed by many to have been decomposing vegetables which had perished from the drouth & fermented by the subsequent5 great fall of rain, the fever shewed an early & strong tendancy to the typhoid type; this tendancy may be refered to the effects of the previous dry & hot weather on the human body. Our winter thus far has been very variable, some days extremely cold, but without snow enough to cover the ground, the grain & grass are consequently in a very suffering condition. The weather does not appear to have produced any very unfavourable effects on public health yet; I have experienced less inconvenience from this winter than usual; which I ascribe to an improvement I have made in protecting the feet against cold & damp, it consists in wearing a light fine pump, or shoe with a thin good sole, inside of a6 pair of boots made one size larger than is usually worn, this is far lighter & more commodious than over shoes, & will be a great convenience & comfort to infirm & delicate persons; it has exceeded my most sanguine expectations, & will I trust be the means of saving many delicate females from pulmonic complaints if they can be induced to adopt it.

I hope you have enjoyed your accustomed health since last I had the satisfaction of hearing from you

With sentiments of great respect I remain

Your freind & humble servt

Elijah Griffiths

RC (DLC); edge trimmed; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Virginia”; stamp canceled; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 28 Jan.; endorsed by TJ as received 3 Feb. 1822 and so recorded in SJL.

The fire that destroyed the orphans asylum in Philadelphia on 24 Jan. 1822 killed twenty-three of the ninety children residing in the building. An investigation concluded that the fire likely originated in the kitchen as a result of “the improper arrangement of the masonry, in which the boiler was placed” (Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 26 Jan. 1822; Thomas Porter, Picture of Philadelphia, from 1811 to 1831 [1831], 2:27–39, quote on p. 39). On 26 Dec. 1811 a fire at the theatre in richmond killed seventy-two people (Richmond Enquirer, 31 Dec. 1811; Meredith Henne Baker, The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America’s First Great Disaster [2012], 64).

1Manuscript: “fomer.”

2Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

3Word interlined in place of “two.”

4Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

5Word added in left margin: “subsquent.”

6Manuscript: “a a.”

Index Entries

  • bankruptcy; legislation on search
  • boots search
  • children; death of search
  • children; orphanages search
  • clothing; boots search
  • clothing; shoes search
  • Congress, U.S.; and bankruptcy law search
  • fevers; described as typhoid search
  • fire engines; in Philadelphia search
  • food; vegetables search
  • Griffiths, Elijah; letters from search
  • Griffiths, Elijah; on Philadelphia orphanage fire search
  • Griffiths, Elijah; on weather search
  • Griffiths, Elijah; seeks appointments search
  • health; of women search
  • health; pulmonary complaint search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; good health of search
  • Philadelphia; fires in search
  • Philadelphia; weather in search
  • Richmond, Va.; fires in search
  • shoes; improvements in search
  • weather; and clothing search
  • weather; cold search
  • weather; drought search
  • weather; effect on crops search
  • weather; effect on health search
  • weather; heat search
  • weather; rain search
  • women; asylums for widows search