James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Mr. Smith, [ca. 1 May] 1786

To Mr. Smith

[ca. 1 May 1786]1

J.M. Jr. asks the favor of Mr. Smith to procure & send him the following articles.

About 200 Paccan Nuts, or as they are frequently called, Illinois Hickory Nuts.2 If there should be any danger of their rooting on the way it will be proper to pack them in dry sand.

Some of the seed of the Sugar Tree.

Some of the seed or nuts of any other new or curious plants or trees; to be wrapped up carefully, and accompanied with a short description of the Tree or Plant, and of the soil & situation in which it grows.

A Wild Cat Skin entire,3 remaing to the skin of the feet with the fangs. Also the upper and under Jaw bones containing all the teeth.

A black fox skin in the same manner, & as much of the head bones as will shew the teeth fully.

One or two of the Stones with the figure of the shells on them4 and a memorandum of the situation of the ground on which they are found [and] their distance from the nearest water courses and whether they are frequently met with in similar or in different situations, and of the largest & smallest sizes

Draft (DLC). A single sheet, prepared by JM in memorandum form. Possibly intended for Jeremiah Smith, an Orange County neighbor of JM. JM’s notations for page references to an unidentified work, including “6. & the example of his own govt. before his eyes” are on the verso.

1The Ms was dated by an unidentified archivist who wrote “[1786, ca May]” on the mounting. The material is germane to JM’s current interest in the flora and fauna of Virginia, as evidenced in his letters to Jefferson of 12 May and 19 June 1786.

2American naturalists, and Jefferson in particular, were intrigued by the omission of pecans from the botanical works of Linnaeus and Buffon. Jefferson repeated his requests for pecans to several American friends and JM sent him at least two packages of Carya olivae formis (JM to Jefferson, 19 Mar. 1787; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (19 vols. to date; Princeton, N. J., 1950——). description ends , XI, 561).

3JM deleted six words here, “with that of the feet and.”

4The presence of fossilized marine life puzzled men of JM’s generation as they questioned the biblical explanation of a worldwide flood. For several theories on these dry-land findings see Jefferson’s views, wherein JM’s friend concluded “that this great phaenomenon is as yet unsolved” (Notes on Virginia [Peden ed.], pp. 31–33).

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