James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Tatham, 10 March 1810 (Abstract)

§ From William Tatham1

10 March 1810, Norfolk. Transmits enclosures for JM’s perusal but reminds him that “these uncountenanced pursuits” cannot continue “unless some respectable appointment in the power and inclination of the executive can afford me means wherewith my leisure hours may be thus employed.” A plan to present JM with “some very extensive results of my topographical researches” is in abeyance for lack of funds, “an irrecoverable loss to the community.”

RC and enclosures (DLC). RC 2 pp. Printed in Elizabeth Gregory McPherson, ed., “Letters of William Tatham (Second Installment),” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 2d ser., 16 (1936): 387–88. Enclosures are a description of a variety of engineering and optical devices, headed “Inestimable Apparatus” (7 pp.), and a prospectus for a manuscript entitled “Lessons in Public administration” (13 pp.). JM forwarded the enclosures for evaluation to Secretary of War Eustis, who reported that he had examined Tatham’s “philosophical apparatus” and was “of opinion that it is not expedient to purchase them” for the War Department (Eustis to JM, 12 Apr. 1810 [DLC]).

1William Tatham (1752–1819), who was to conduct a largely one-sided correspondence with JM, was born in England and immigrated to Virginia in 1769. He entered into mercantile ventures, fought in the Revolution, and moved to North Carolina where he served in the legislature in 1787. He returned to England in 1796 where he was employed as superintendent of the London docks, but he came back to the U.S. in 1805, at which time James Monroe gave him a letter of introduction to JM. As part of an endless quest for office and patronage, Tatham wrote and published extensively on canals, irrigation, agriculture, commerce, and topography, and he briefly held the position of military storekeeper at Richmond in 1817. His last years were spent in poverty. He was killed when passing (possibly intentionally) in front of a cannon during the celebration of Washington’s birthday in 1819 (Monroe to JM, 25 Sept. 1804 [DLC, series 7, container 1]; see also G. Melvin Herndon, William Tatham, 1752–1819: American Versatile [Johnson City, Tenn., 1973]).

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