John Ledyard to Thomas Jefferson



Sir Saint Germain Feby. 7th 1786

A gentleman in this town informs me that the Indians who have been asked their opinions about those large bones found in America, say, that tho they had never before seen such bones or an Animal large enough to have them, yet all the indians knew their fathers had seen such bones & the very animal itself but that it had always been found dead. They called it the mole because like the common little animal of that [nam]e it resides in the earth, [...] operations and movements we [...] mole differing only as the great m [...]id from the other in magnitude: that these operations had been but rarely seen & the perfect form of the animal still more rarely, but when seen was found to resemble the little mole in its form.

Perhaps I was wrong, but I observed to Mr. de Carel who gave me this account, that I had frequently observed that when an European queried a Savage about a circumstance that perhaps he was totaly ignorant of that he was nevertheless unwilling that the European should know it or even think that he was ignorant & to divert his suspicions would make use of the most wily arts & rather than appear to be less informed of the common affairs of his country than the European would say any thing to make the European think favourably of him by thinking otherwise.

But whether the asserted fact exists in nature, or whether it is only the tale of superstition or craft I thought it worth communicating to you; but whether true or false the savage has been more modest than Count Buffon for in accounting for the phenomenon he has not denied its present existance.

I have the honour to be with the warmed esteem & respect ...obliged ...Servant, J[oh]n Ledyard





MS Jefferson Papers, DLC. Manuscript has a destroyed section in the center of the sheet. Endorsed by Jefferson: "Ledyard, John."











John Ledyard to Thomas Jefferson



Sir St. Germain en Laye July 7th. 86

It is with great defference that I write you a letter of this kind; & yet was you a king or the minister of a king I should not have wrote it had the access been the same.

Attraction appears to be the first natural cause of motion in all bodies: I suppose the whole system of modern natural philosophy rests upon it whenever it respects motion. This being the case that particular motion which respects magnetism becomes a part of this universal cause. As motion is as universal as existance so it is as various as universal: to assign reasons therefore for the motion of a part and not the whole is partial.

If the Sun is the center of attractive motion why is it not also the center of that motion we observe in the magnetic needle: if it is, it immediately follows that as the central cause, it is the greatest cause: if it is the greatest cause in what manner as such does it operate on the magnetic needle to produce the motion which we call the variation of the needle.

If the Sun has an effect upon the motion of the magnetic needle, those motions can be made a matter of calculation & reducable to rule.

I only offer one reason why I can suppose the Sun to operate on the motion of the magnetic needle, which is that the greatest variation of the needle seems to be when at the greatest distance from the Sun & that variation an inclination to the Sun.

This Idea of the Sun having the particular influence just mentioned struck me as new, rational & worthy communicating to you. If it should appear so to you I shall be exceedingly honoured.

The letter left for me at your address was from a Gentleman at Edinburgh concerning my affair with the Marquis of Buckingham from whom I expect some intelligence in about a week.

In returning from Paris as I was walking on the skirt of a wood by the Side of the high road about ten o'clock I heard a horse stumble & fall & a Person give one groan. I sprang into the road to see what was the matter & found a Man under his horse & both so entangled together that neither could rise: in making a suden strong effort to disengage the Man I so much strained my loins that I have been ever Since Confined to my room-but am better. The Man was much hurt.

I have the honour to be Sr. Your much obliged, most respectfull & most humble servt., J Ledyard



MS Jefferson Papers, DLC. Endorsed by Jefferson: "Ledyard, J."









Thomas Jefferson to John Ledyard





Sir Paris July 27. 1786.

The Baron de Grimm spoke to me on Sunday last on the subject of your affairs. He said you had desired him to transact with you thro' me, to which he should have had no objection, but that he had informed the Empress from the beginning that it was with the M. de la fayette he was negotiating the matter & that therefore he should not be justified in treating it with any other person. On the receipt of your letter this morning, knowing that the Marquis would leave town tomorrow for two months, I instantly wrote to him to let him know nothing would be done with any other person during his absence, & prayed him to see Baron Grimm before he left town as well to get for you a present supply as to know explicitly whether you are to look for a continuance of it. As soon as I receive this reply I will send it to you. I am sorry it is not in my power to send you your book. Very soon after I received it from you I lent it to Madame de la fayette, who has been obliged to lend it from hand to hand & has never returned it. I am Sir your very humble servt.

Th: Jefferson



MS Jefferson Papers, DLC. Addressed: "Mr. Ledyard."









Thomas Jefferson to John Ledyard



Sir Paris Aug. 16. 1786.

I saw Baron de Grimm yesterday at Versailles, and he told me he had received an answer from the Empress, who declines the proposition made on your account. She thinks it chimærical. I am in hopes your execution of it from our side of the continent will prove the contrary. I thought it necessary to give you this information that you might suffer no suspence from expectations from that quarter. I wish you success in whatever enterprize you adopt and am Sir Your most obedt. humble servt., Th: Jefferson





MS Jefferson Papers, DLC. Addressed: "Mr. Ledyard"











John Ledyard to Thomas Jefferson





Sir [Ante July 3, 1788]

When men of genius want matter of fact to reason from it is bad, though it is worse to reason without it: it is the fate of genius not to make, or to misapply this reflexion, and so it forms theories: humble minds admire these theories because they cannot comprehend them, & disbelieve them for the same reason.

Simplify the efforts & attainments of all the antient worlds in science & it amounts to nothing but theory: to a riddle: the sublime of antient wisdom was to form a riddle: & the delphic god bore the palm. Men had then great encouragement to do so: they were made priests, phrophets, kings & gods: & when they had gained these distinctions by riddles it was necessary by riddles to preserve them.

Men have since tho but very lately & not yet universaly sought impartialy for truth & we now a days seek truth not only for its own enchanting beauty, but from a principle tho not more valuable yet more generous viz. the pleasure of Communicating it to one another. The soothsayers, magicians, phrophets, & priests of old would thinks us as errant fools as we think them knaves.

In my travels I have made it my rule to compare the written with the living history of Man, & as I have seen all kinds of men so I have not hesitated to make use of all kinds of history (t[ha]t I am acquainted with) in the comparison: & I give in many cases as much credit to traditions as to other history: implicit credit to none nor implicit credit to inferrences that I myself draw from this comparison except rarely; & then I am as sure as I want to be. Thus I know & feel myself above prejudice. Moses, Albugassi & the writers of the last 20 years are all alike to me as to what I am seeking for: I would only understand if I could what man has been from what he is: not what he may be hereafter tho all mention the tale. I would also know what the earth has been from observing how it is at present: not how it may hereafter be tho all mention also this tale. You know how ignorant & plain a Man I am, but I declare to you that in this temper of mind & from the information incident to the extent & nature of my travels I find myself at my ease concerning things which some cannot & others will not believe that are of considerable importance; & I will tell you in a very few words what some of them are. I wish I had time to mention them all, or if I do that it was more in detail.

Sir I am certain (the negroes excepted because I have not yet personaly visited them) that the difference in the colour of Men is the effect of natural causes.

Sr. I am certain that all the people you call red people on the Continent of America & on the Continents of Europe & Asia as far South as the Southern parts of China are all one people by whatever names distinguished & that the best general one would be Tartar.

I suspect that all red people are of the Same family. I am Satisfied myself that America was peopled from Asia & had some if not all its animals from thence.

I am satisfied myself that the great general analogy in the customs of Men can only be accounted for but by supposing them all to compose one family: & by extending the Idea & united Customs, traditions & history I am satisfied that this common origin was such or nearly as related by Moses & commonly believed among all the nations of the earth. There is a transposition of things on the globe that must have been produced by some cause equal to the effect which is vast & curious: whether I repose on arguments drawn from facts observed by my self or sending imagination forth to find a cause they both declare to me a general deluge.

I am yr. Excellencys most humble & most grateful friend, Ledyard





MS Jefferson Papers, DLC. Addressed by Ledyard: "To his Excellency thomas Jefferson Esquire Embassador for the United States of America." Endorsed by Jefferson: "Ledyard John. recd. July 3. 1788. Paris."