Envisaging the West: Thomas Jefferson and the Roots of Lewis and Clark


Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Caspar Wistar

Thomas Jefferson to Caspar Wistar, December 16, 1800
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress
Thomas Jefferson introduces Caspar Wistar to the work of William Dunbar, excited at the prospect of a scientific correspondent "on the very verge of the great terra incognita of our western continent."

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Washington Dec. 16. 1800

Dear Sir

Having lately received from Count Rumford, one of the managers of the Royal institution of Great Britain a prospectus of that institution, in the a letter expressing their desire to cultivate a friendly correspondence with the American Philosophical society, I have now the honor of forwarding them to the society. the application of science to objects immediately useful in life, which seems to be the principal end of that establishment must interest in its [unclear] every friend of human happiness, & I have no doubt the society will meet with cordiality the overture made to them, and add their example to the many existing proofs that the votaries of science, however widely dispersed, however separated by religion, by allegiances or vocation, form but one family.

I have received from one Wm. Dunbar, who is settled near the Natches Maps: [unclear] [unclear] observations, which I think worthy of being made to the society. Although the writer has not expressly authorised the laying them before the Society, yet if it should be thought desirable to give any part of them a place in their transactions, it could not be displeasing to him. so learned a correspondent, planted a thousand miles off, on the very verge of the great terra incognita of our western continent, is worthy of being cherished. he is easy in his fortune, master of his own time, and employed in science altogether.

I am with great esteem Dear Sir Your friend & sevt.
Th: Jefferson