George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 21 November 1791

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia, 21 Nov. 1791. Encloses a copy of his report of this day to the House of Representatives on the petition of Jacob Isaacks,1 noting: “it is printed on the back of a Permit in order to shew that the proposition therein made is perfectly practicable.”2

ALS, NUtM; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters.

For background to this letter, see Jacob Isaacks to GW, 17 Aug. 1790; editorial note and documents in “Experiments in Desalination of Sea Water to Test the Claims of Jacob Isaacks,” 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.

1On 25 Feb. 1791, a week before Congress adjourned, the House of Representatives read and referred to the secretary of state for his opinion “A petition of Jacob Isaacs, of Newport, in the State of Rhode-Island, . . . praying that some adequate reward or gratuity may be made to him, for the discovery of an art or secret which he possesses, of converting salt water into fresh, so as to render it proper for every purpose for which spring or fresh river water is wanted, by a process simple, easy, and unexpensive” (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:739). Jefferson concluded in his report of this day: “On the whole it was evident that Mr. Isaacks mixture produced no advantage either in the process or result of the distillation” (Report on Desalination of Sea Water, 21 Nov., enclosed in Jefferson to the Speaker of the House of Representatives [Jonathan Trumbull], 21 Nov., 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 , 22:318–22).

2In the last paragraph of his report, Jefferson proposed that the knowledge of distilling fresh water from sea water could be effectively disseminated to seamen by printing on the back of clearance papers required for every vessel sailing from American ports an “account of the essays which have been made for obtaining fresh from salt water, mentioning shortly those which have been unsuccessful, and more fully those which have succeeded; describing the methods which have been found to answer for constructing extempore stills of such implements as are generally on board of every vessel, with a recommendation, in all cases where they shall have occasion to resort to this expedient for obtaining water, to publish the result of their trial in some gazette on their return to the U.S. or to communicate it for publication to the office of the Secretary of state in order that others may, by their success be encoraged to make similar trials, and may be benefited by any improvements or new ideas which may occur to them in practice” (Report on Desalination of Sea Water, 21 Nov., 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 , 22:321).

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