James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William D. Peck, 21 May 1805

From William D. Peck

Boston. 21st. May 1805.


By the munificence of Individuals a professorship of Natural History has recently been established in the University of Cambridge in this vicinity. The Pamphlet which I do myself the honour to enclose contains the Constitution of this establishment & the steps which have hitherto been taken respecting it.1 As it is a new thing in this part of America & as it is probable much benefit may be derived from observing the manner in which similar institutions are conducted abroad it has been thought proper that I should pass a year in visiting several parts of Europe for this purpose. The Friends of this Institution are of opinion that a certificate from You under the seal of the United States, stating the objects of my pursuit & declaring my citizenship will not only prove a personal protection, as the traveller in Europe in the existing state of affairs has many difficulties to apprehend; but will also facilitate the progress of my enquiries.

Permit me, Sir, to sollicit such a certificate & to request that it may be forwarded to this place.

It may not be improper to inform You that I am a native of this town & that I was born in the year 1763. I am with great respect & consideration, Sir, Your very obedient servant

Wm. D. Peck2

RC (DNA: RG 59, ML). For enclosure, see n. 1.

1Peck undoubtedly enclosed The Foundation of the Massachusetts Professorship of Natural History, at Harvard College, in Cambridge. With Documents, relative to its Establishment (Boston, 1805; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 8591).

2Massachusetts naturalist William Dandridge Peck (1763–1822) graduated from Harvard in 1782 and spent a short time in business before joining his father in Kittery, Massachusetts, where he passed the next twenty years making zoological observations, collecting specimens, and establishing his reputation. The professorship of natural history at Harvard was established by a subscription among his friends. In addition to visiting various scientific institutions in Europe to gather information, he also collected books for the library of the department as well as natural history specimens.

Index Entries