James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Peter Minor, 12 January 1822

From Peter Minor

Ridgeway Jan. 12. 1822

Dear sir,

I have had the pleasure to receive your letter, enclosing one from Monsr. Thouin1 at Paris. The Box you mention I have not yet sent for, but can get it at any time from Monticello. This is quite a flattering present to our Society—but I am at a great loss to know what we shall do with the seeds. The intention of this letter is, to request some instructions & suggestions from you on the subject.2

As our society does not regularly convene untill may, it will be necessary to have an early extra meeting to dispose of these seeds, before the proper time of sowing them passes by—& as the power of convening such meetings is vested exclusively in the Prest. or 1st Vice President, I ask the favour of you to authorise such a call. Say the 1st. Monday in Feb. If I may be excused for expressing the opinion, I doubt much the propriety of making a general distribution of these seeds among our members, particularly among those who will be most likely to attend a meeting at this season of the year. With the exception of a very few, who live dispersedly, there are none who have an inclination, or who think they have leisure for experiment, or innovation upon the beaten tract. I am inclined to think that a more useful disposition of them could be made by yourself among the intelligent amatuers of this & the other States, than to commit them to the society at large. Or suppose a part of them are placed in the hands of Mr Skinner3 the Editor of the Am. Farmer for distribution? He is zealous in this sort of business—besides he is a member of our Society & might be considered in the light of a committee for turning them to the most useful account.

I presume the packages of seeds are labeled in their Botanical names. This will be a difficulty with us who know nothing of that science, & this with other considerations renders it desirable that you would attend our meeting, if yr. health & leisure will permit. If not, I hope you will forward us some plan or proposition for disposing of them.

If it is your wish & intention to reciprocate the present of Monsr. Thouin according to his request, it will give me great pleasure to assist you as far as I am able during the ensuing Summer. I presume it would be most acceptable to him, to receive not only the seed, but a sample of the plant in flower, in a Herbarium. I could merely make the collection, as my knowledge of Botany is neither sufficient to class or name them. With very great respect yr. Frd. & Sert.

P Minor

RC (DLC). Addressed by Minor to JM, and franked; postmarked 15 Jan. at Charlottesville. Docketed by JM.

1The letter has not been found, but for the box of seeds, see Eyrien Frères & Cie. to JM, 2 Apr. 1821, and Jonathan Thompson to JM, 14 June 1821. The noted botanist André Thoüin (1747–1824) was head gardener of the Jardin des Plantes (after 1792, the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle) in Paris from 1764 until his death (Looney et al., Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 1:202 n.).

2A special meeting of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle was held on 4 Feb. 1822 in which “a letter was received and read from Mr. Madison [not found] … enclosing one addressed to him from Monsr. Thouin of The Museum of natural History at Paris, and accompanied by a box of seeds presented by the said Museum to this Society.” A committee was then formed to investigate the seeds, provide them with their common names, separate useful from ornamental plants, and to disseminate the seeds to the members of the society (True, “Minute Book of the Albemarle Agricultural Society,” in Annual Report of the American Historical Association for … 1918, 1:296).

3John Stuart Skinner (1788–1851) was a Maryland lawyer who JM appointed U.S. agent at Annapolis for dealing with the British mail-packets under flags of truce, and also agent for the exchange of prisoners, soon after the War of 1812 began. In 1813 JM appointed him U.S. Navy purser at Baltimore, and in 1816, postmaster of that city, a position he held for twenty-three years. Skinner was editor and publisher of several magazines that promoted agricultural improvements, including the American Farmer, which he founded in 1819 (Benjamin Perley Poore, “Biographical Notice of John S. Skinner,” the Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil 7 [1854]: 1–20).

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