George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jacob Isaacks, 17 August 1790

From Jacob Isaacks

Newport [R.I.] August 17th 1790

Sir

The inclosed copies of certificates1 Signed By Several Gentlemen of this Town Will Inform You Respecting a discovery that I have Recently Made, and which if encouraged will I flatter myself be highly beneficial to Mankind, and Particularly to those concerned in navigation, As the apparatus is so simple, that an extraction can be performed on board any Vessell at a very trifling expence.

A Bottle of the water2 extracted agreeably to the last Certificate, I am emboldened from the Regard You have ever Shewn to the usefull discoveries of Americans to have presented to You, and ardently wish it may Meet your approbation and patronage. I have the honor to be Sir Your most Obedient Humble Servant

Jacob Isaacks

L, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Jacob Isaacks (born c.1719) was a poor and infirm Newport, R.I., Jew who may have been introduced to GW by Moses Seixas on 17 Aug. 1790. In the spring of 1791 he traveled to Philadelphia to seek federal support for his desalinization experiments and later corresponded with the secretary of state about the process (see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 27 Mar. 1791, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, and Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 19:608–24, 626).

1Isaacks enclosed copies of two certificates, both in the same unidentified hand of his letter to GW. The first, dated 8 April 1790 at Newport and signed by Caleb Gardner, Moses Seixas, William Ellery, George Sears, and Samuel Vernon, Jr., reads: “We the subscribers having attended a process made by Mr Jacob Isaacks of extracting fresh water from salt water, do thereon certify, Report, and declare that notwithstanding the apparatus by which the process was effected was of a bad construction, Yet in the Course of one and an half Hour, he extracted from Ten pints of Salt water, Eight pints of fresh water” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

The copy of the second certificate, dated 22 July 1790 also at Newport and signed by Isaac Senter and Nicholas P. Tillinghast, reads: “We the Subscribers do Certify that we have seen Mr Jacob Isaacks of this town distill by a very Simple apparatus, Nine pints and half of fresh water from ten pints of Ocean water, and that it was freed from the ill taste and disagreeble Marine Qualities of sea water so as to answer either at Sea or on the land for all the Common and Culinary Purposes of fountain or River water” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

2The 19 Aug. 1790 issue of the Newport Herald reported that GW “was pleased to express himself satisfied” with the bottle of water Isaacks presented to him at Newport. Persisting in his fund-raising efforts a year later, Isaacks wrote that he still had some of the desalinated seawater that he “distill’d the 22d. July 1790, and [it] is now clean and sweet without any Settlement in it. There is some gone forward to Europe, doubt not but it will meet with approbation” (Isaacks to Jefferson, 1 Nov. 1791, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 19:622–23).

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