Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Joel Barlow, 13 January 1807

Washington 13 Jany. 1807.

Dear Sir

Is there any cogent reason for continuing to call the Columbia River by that name? If not I should propose to name it Lewis, & one of its principal branches Clarke.

We have so many towns, districts & counties, & I believe some smaller streams, called Columbia, besides its being the general name of the Continent, that it will tend to run our geography into some confusion, which may as well be avoided.

Should this suggestion meet your approbation & that of the two houses of Congress, would it not be proper that they should so establish these names in the same act by which they grant a reward to those meritorious discoverers; a measure which I understand is now in contemplation.

You will percieve I had the thing in view, with regard to Lewis, when I wrote the verses of which I enclose you a copy.

The world has justly given the name of Mackenzie to the great river of the north for the same obvious reason, the merit of discovery. The names of these western rivers & their branches will probably be unchangeably fixt in Captain Lewis’s map; and nothing short of some public authorisation will reconcile it with his modesty to give his own name to so great a river.

Your very obet sevt

Joel Barlow

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

Index Entries