George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to John Churchman, 10 September 1791

Tobias Lear to John Churchman

Philadelphia Septr 10th 1791


I received your letter with its enclosure last evening, and agreeably to your request submitted them to the inspection of the President of the United States.1

There has ⟨been⟩ no other letter for you passed through the Presidents hands, except the one which you mention to have received.2

The manuscripts, pamphlets & Charts which accompany this, were received by the President some weeks ago, by a vessel from Hamburg—and as they treat of the subject of your Variation Chart &ca—I send them to you by the Presidents order3—and wishing you such success in your pursuit as may render it useful to Mankind & beneficial to yourself—I am, with due respect Yr most Obedt Servt

Tobias Lear.

ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

For background to the navigational work of John Churchman, see Thomas Ruston to GW, 20 Mar. 1789, and Churchman to GW, 7 May 1789, 9 Aug. 1790. For Rodolph Valltravers and his association with Churchman, see Valltravers to GW, 20 Mar., 21 July 1791.

1The letter of John Churchman to Tobias Lear, dated “South second Street No. 183 [Philadelphia] September 8th 1791,” reads: “Having taken the Liberty of addressing to the President of the United States, a Variation Chart &ca of the Northern Hemisphere, I am thankful for his favourable acceptance expressed in a letter by his direction, which I received in due time, dated the 28th of August 1790. Nor can I well help expressing myself under many obligations to the President & his Secretary, for their care in forwarding to me a Letter from Baron Vall-Travers of Hamburg, which came to my hand through the Channel of the Post office. As the Baron makes mention of the President in this Letter, together with the motives for sending it to his care, I make bold to enclose a Copy; be assurd that it was with difficulty that I prevailed upon myself to be the cause of this additional trouble, Bu⟨t⟩ in the Beginning of the Barons Letter, he gives me to understand that he wrote to me another of an earlier date which I have not received, & after making diligent enquiry at every other place which I could think likely, I was at a loss to know whether Baron Vall-travers might not have sent his former one likewise to the care of the President; as I expected a little Book with his first Letter both of which may be very useful to me, I hope to be pardoned for this freedom of enquiry. As I have heretofore had a hope that the Legislature would view this question of so much national consequence, as to forward a thorough investigation of the principles of the Variation Chart, & considering the President of the United States a branch of the Legislature, whose Character is universally established as the patron of useful Arts & Sciences, I was encouraged to hope it would not be disagreeable to him to know how this publication has been received in Europe, hence I make bold to Copy also a Letter from the Princess of Daschkaw, President of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St Petersburg, & one from the Royal Academy at Lisbon. Notwithstanding my application to Congress was negatived in the House of Representatives last session, I have understood (’tho not officially) that the British had or were about to fit out two Ships to Baffins Bay last Spring, to prove the truth of this Scheme, altho a Letter of thanks which I received from the Royal Society of London, acknowledging the receipt of the Chart Book &c., makes no mention of this expedition. After requesting the favour that this Letter & the other Copies may be presented to the president for his perusal. I beg leave to make an humble offering of my service & esteem” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The texts of the enclosed letters of Ekaterina Romanovna Dashkova, née Vorontsova, to Churchman, 27 Feb., and Joseph Corrèa de Serra, secretary to the Royal Academy of Sciences at Lisbon, to Churchman, 19 May 1791 (both in DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters), appear in CD-ROM:GW.

2The enclosed copy of Valltravers’s letter of 2 April to Churchman reads: “Since my last, having applied to my Friend The Kings principal Astronomer, Mr Bernoully [Johann Bernoulli] at Berlin, for a more exact Note of the Memoirs of the Swedish royal Academy at Stockholm, relative to your object; particularly those of Mr Wilke: I received the inclosed Answer; by which means, I soon got sight of them. They are many, very instructive, & peculiarly interesting, for establishing your Theory; being the Result of many thousand Observations, carefully made by several Members & Sea Captains, both in regard to the Magnetic Needles Declinations, as Inclinations, at various times and places, both regular & irregular; accounting, very minutely, for the Effects of Electricity, Thunder, Lightning, Tempests & Hurricans; & still more for those of the frequent Aurora borealis, visible & invisible, happening in the Day-Time, as well as at night, & much stronger towards the Poles, than towards the Equator, to a far greater Extent. To collect all these, and to translate them into English with the necessary Maps & Figures, would take up at least six months close Application; but would furnish you with a rich supply of new & very useful materials for your work in Hand—The magnetic Almanac. The german Edition made by Professor Kastner [Abraham Gotthelf Kästner] at Leipzig, containing the Philosophical Transactions of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, with many Copper Plates, and two copious alphabetical Indexes, consists of about 50 Vols, octavio & costs at Leipzig, a Dollar each volume in Sheets. Perhaps your philosophical Society is already furnished with a complete copy? & understanding, either the Swedish original, or the german learned Translation of Mr Kastner, with his remarks, stands in no need of English Extracts from the same. But should it be otherwise, & my further Assistance, on this and other Occasions, prove acceptable to the Congress, or to any of the confederated States, or their learned & patriotic Societies, or to your self Friends & Patrons in particular: You may freely command, & dispose of my time & Labour, whilst living and unengaged; for whatever Compensation of unavoidable expences and Trouble, that shall be thought adequate & equitable; It being still (tho far advanced in age, born in 1723.) my utmost Ambition, as it was that of my deceased Friends Dr B. Franklin, Thos Hollis, Gen. H. Laurens of Charles town &c. to promote even in my (narrow) Sphere every philanthropic Pursuit; agreeable to the duties of our various Powers & Destinations in Life. These were the motives, which prompted me, to direct the whole of my present Communication to your great Protector Genl Washington: with an Intimation of my readiness of chearfully obeying any commands of his excellency: and of doing you also, what further Services, you may wish for within the reach of Sir Yr obedt hble Servant” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

3The enclosures have not been found. Valltravers wrote of them to GW from Rotterdam on 6 June 1792: “The Packet, with instructive Materials, collected from the Academies of Berlin, Leipzig, Petersburg and Hamburg, in Aid of Mr John Churchman’s, your ingenious Countryman’s, Labors, towards an experimental very interesting Theory of magnetical Motions and their Variations, transmitted to Your Excellency, by Captn Bell, from Hamburg, in March 1791 hav[e] been kindly received & forwarded to that worthy Gentleman, by Tobias Lear, Esqr. your Exccy’s Secretary, the 10th of Septembr following, to his very great Joÿ” (DLC:GW).

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