Tag Archives: astronomy

Not enough paper to write to his wife!

I have the pleasure to inform you that mr Briggs & his companion were in good health at Colo. Hawkins establishment near the Talapousee river, which place they left on the 3d. of Oct. and expected to be at Fort Stoddart in a week from that time. mr Briggs having been able to procure but a single half sheet of paper, which he was obliged to fill with a report to me, had no means of writing to you. the Indians had recieved & treated him with great kindness. we may shortly expect to hear of his arrival at New Orleans.
Thomas Jefferson to Hannah Briggs, December 5, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders keep wives informed.
Isaac Briggs, Surveyor General of the Mississippi Territory, was traveling between Washington City and New Orleans to make astronomical observations for the development of a new southern postal road. He reported to the President on October 2 about their arduous progress.

He did not have enough paper to write both his boss and his wife. He put his job first, concluding his report with a request that the President inform his wife of his well-being.

In a reply two weeks later, Hannah Briggs thanked the President, claiming this was the first word she’d had about her husband in three months. She begged any further information he might receive,  good or bad.

On January 2, Thomas Jefferson wrote again to Mrs. Briggs about her husband’s safe arrival in New Orleans.

“We received a number of compliments
for adding a unique element to the conference program.”
Co-Conference Coordinator, Natural Areas Association, Bend, OR
Try something out of the ordinary … unique! … to enliven your conference program.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Clouds and and a crummy clock compromised this 1778 eclipse!

We were much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse [June 24, 1778], which proved to be cloudy. In Williamsburgh, where it was total, I understand only the beginning was seen. At this place which is in Lat. 38° 8′ and Longitude West from Williamsburgh about 1° 45′ as is conjectured, eleven digits only were supposed to be covered. It was not seen at all till the moon had advanced nearly one third over the sun’s disc. Afterwards it was seen at intervals through the whole. The egress particularly was visible. It proved however of little use to me for want of a time peice that could be depended on;
To David Rittenhouse, July 19, 1778

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
On this day when the solar eclipse crosses the United States, this is young Jefferson’s (age 35) comment on the 1778 eclipse, which darkened the southeastern portion of the country three weeks before. Monticello was north of the zone of totality, perhaps in the 90% range. The presence of clouds and the absence of a reliable clock thwarted his ability to make scientific observations.

Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was a famed American astronomer, mathematician and clockmaker. Two of his many accomplishments were recording the transit of Venus across the face of the sun in 1769 and the creation of an orrery, a mechanical representation of our solar system.

Jefferson reminded his friend of his offer to make for him “an accurate clock,” essential for astronomers, and asked when that clock might arrive.

“Your performances … were exactly what our conference needed
to take it over the top.”
Director of Member Services & Education, Minnesota Rural Electric Association
Mr. Jefferson will add greatly to the success of your conference!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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