James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Jethro Wood, 2 March 1820

From Jethro Wood

Poplar Ridge Cayuga County 3 mo 2, 1820

Esteemed Friend

Amongst the materials for domestic manufactures flax occupies an important place. The manner of preparing it however, in this Country is very imperfect; and inconsequence the value of the Crop is variable and uncertain. The process of water roting whether it has been owing to the great care which is necessary both in respect to time and the manner of handling it in that soft state or whether it has been owing to other Causes, has never been generally introduced; and from that of dew rotting, the fibre is not only often obtained harsh and weak, but sometimes it is totally lost in the snows of winter.

Impressed by these Considerations the President of the Cayuga County Agricultural Society has requested me to ask for such information as thou may possess on the subject of dressing flax without roting.1 We have seen specimens which were prepared in this manner, much superior in both softness and strength to the Common material; but the result of our enquiries into the minutia of the process has not been satisfactory. Every detail relative to this business will be interesting. Please direct to Poplar Ridge Post Office. I am very respectfully thy friend

Jethro Wood2
Corresponding Secretary of said Society

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Retting flax stalk is the process by which the flax fiber is separated from the woody material and softened, usually by steeping in water (John Warnes, On the Cultivation of Flax; The Fattening of Cattle with Native Produce; Box-Feeding; and Summer-Grazing, 2d ed. [London, 1847], 116–18).

2Jethro Wood (1774–1834) was a New York farmer and inventor who is best known for his improvements to the cast-iron plow, which were widely adopted.

Index Entries