From Agricol Billion
at Mr James Mercier No. 15 North Water Street1
Philadelphia July 9th 1791
The satisfaction which the News of your return to Philadelphia2 has spread through the public mind manifested itself in such a manner that strangers,3 even those unacquainted with the english language, could not be ignorant of it; and altho I am of this last description, I have proved,4 as well as your Citizens, the sentiments of sensibility and admiration which all Europe expresses for your social & military virtues, and mingle my acclamations with those of this fortunate and grateful people whose fetters you have broken.
I had proposed, Mr President, before your arrival was announced, to invite, through the medium of the public papers, the Amateurs of the fine Arts, to make a purchase of three precious peices which I have brought here, They consist of two Busts of white marble as large as the life, one representing the effigy of John James Rousseau,5 and the other that of Montesque, and a small time piece for a Hall—supported by 4 Columns of white marble—covered by a Chinese canopy & gilt with gold in the manner of the famous Baillon.6 This Time piece is about 18 inches high and may be placed either on a Chimney Piece or on a Table, it has a glass case which wholly covers it.
The epoch of your return being indicated to me, I have therefore suspended the insertion of these things in the public Papers, flattering myself that you woud not dissapprove, Mr President, of my having the honor to offer them to you—in order that they might not be advertised in the papers until you had the refusal of them.7 I am, with Respect, Mr President, Yr most Huble & Obet Sert
Translation, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS, in French, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. The text is taken from a translation prepared for GW; the receiver’s copy, in French, appears in CD-ROM:GW.
The individual who signed "agricol Billion" later penned brief pamphlets concerning agriculture in southern France, which dated from Year II (1793-94). Among the manuscripts at the French Museum of Natural History, for instance, are memorials concerning the introduction of useful plants into France, in addition to a 10-page prospectus on the subject of the cultivation of indigo. In the latter work, Billion considered the cultivation of commodities such as indigo as potentially successful in the southern "territoires" of the French Republic, including Corsica, given "observations" of their similar climate to that of the Carolinas (Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France: Paris [2 vols., Paris, 1909-1914], 2:61). In March 1793, Billion even corresponded with French author and botanist Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) in order to solicit his opinion on the cultivation of indigo (see Jean M. Goulemot and Didier Masseau, "Lettres au grand homme ou quand les lecteurs écrivent," in La Lettre à la croisée de l’individuel et du social, ed. Mireille Bossis [Paris, 1994], 46. Though "Agricol" may indeed be the name of the author of the present letter, it is also possible that it may serve as a pseudonym, since "agricole" translates as "agricultural.
1. The translator misread the French text, which reads "Jos. Mercier," referring to Joseph Mercier, whose "lodging house" was located at 15 North Water Street in Philadelphia (Philadelphia Directory 1791 description begins Clement Biddle. The Philadelphia Directory. Philadelphia, 1791. description ends , 87).
2. GW returned from his nearly four-month tour of the southern states on 6 July (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:99, 169).
3. The term used in the French text is "étrangers," which can also translate as "foreigners."
4. Here, the author wrote "J’ai éprouvé," which translates as "I have felt" or "I have experienced."
5. The author is clearly referring to the celebrated author and political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
6. Before his death in the early 1770s, Jean-Baptiste Baillon of Paris was clockmaker to Marie-Antoinette.
7. After figuring on the cover of the original receiver’s copy the costs of the pieces, Tobias Lear noted that Billion’s offer was “Answered in the negative”; no reply has been found.