James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Bassette, [ca. 1 July] 1810

From John Bassette

[ca. 1 July 1810]

Dear Sir,

At the instance of the Honorable Stephen Van Rensselaer1 and several individuals of the New York Historical Society, I have been induced to undertake, and have now compleated the Translation of Dr Van Der Donk’s Natural and Topographical History of New-Netherland.2 As that gentleman comprehends under the appellation of New-Netherland, the States, lying between the great South and North rivers, and consequently bounds that Country on Virginia.

I have therefore entertained thoughts of adding by way of an appendix a Translation of De Laet’s History of the originall Discoveries and settlements of the last mentioned Colony.3

The object of this Letter is, to beg the favor of you to inform me by post, whether the Virginians are in possession of any Dutch accounts relative to their Country; if so, it may be unnecessary to trouble myself or the Public with a Translation of De Laet. Being unacquainted with any gentleman in the Southern States who could give me any information on the subject; I hope it will not be considered as arrogant in me to request it from him, whom God has elevated to the most conspicuous and honorable station in our Country; and who being a native of Virginia, is best qualified to Answer me Satisfactor⟨ily⟩ on this head.

A line addressed to John Bassette DD. late a Minister of the reformed Dutch Church in Albany, will be gratefully acknowledged. I am with highest sentiments of respect, your very humble Servant.

John Basset⟨te⟩4

RC (DLC). Undated. Conjectural date assigned on basis of contents of JM to Jefferson, 7 July 1810, and Jefferson to JM, 13 July 1810. Docketed by JM.

1Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764–1839), eighth patroon of the Van Rensselaer family estates, was much respected for his devotion to agricultural, educational, and philanthropic causes in New York. As a New York Federalist leader and militia general, however, his public career was often controversial. He commanded the American forces during the unsuccessful invasion of Canada at the Battle of Queenstown Heights in October 1812, and he later served in the House of Representatives between 1822 and 1829. In 1825 he cast one of the crucial votes in the House election that made John Quincy Adams president (Harrison, Princetonians, 1776–1783, pp. 379–88).

2Adriaen van der Donck, Beschryvinge van Nieuvv-Nederlant … begrijpende de nature, aert, gelegentbeyt en vrucht-baerheyt van het selve land (2d ed.; Amsterdam, 1656), later translated as “Description of the New Netherlands” (Collections of the New-York Historical Society, 2d ser., 1 [1841]: 125–242). The preface (p. 128) to this translation mentioned that a text had been prepared by Bassette many years earlier but had not been published for want of funds. The translation published in 1841 was made by Jeremiah Johnson.

3Joannes de Laet, Nieuwe wereldt, ofte Beschryvinghe van West Indien (Leyden, 1625), later translated as “Extracts from the New World; or, A Description of the West Indies” (Collections of the New-York Historical Society, 2d ser., 1 [1841]: 281–316). From the editorial note accompanying this publication (pp. 287–88), it is evident that Bassette was not responsible for the translation of the text.

4John Bassette (or Bassett) (1764–1824), a graduate of the colleges of Columbia, Yale, and Williams, had been a minister in Albany between 1787 and 1804. After 1804 he taught theology at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and from 1811 to his death he served as minister to the congregation at Gravesend and Bushwick, New York (Peter N. VandenBerge, ed., Historical Directory of the Reformed Church in America, 1628–1978 [Grand Rapids, 1978], pp. 7–8).

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