Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840) was a botanist and professor. Originally born in Turkey, he came to Philadelphia in 1802. He met Thomas Jefferson in July 1804 while traveling through Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to study the local flora. Although this was their only meeting, Rafinesque and Jefferson corresponded sporadically for the next twenty years.

During their first round of correspondence, Rafinesque expressed keen interest in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Jefferson suggested that he might prove useful in a proposed expedition along the Red River.[1] Rafinesque did not join this expedition, having left the country for Italy before receiving the letter. He remained there for the next ten years.

Rafinesque returned to the U.S. in 1815, and accepted a position as a botany professor at Transylvania University in 1819. Rafinesque wrote to Jefferson after a silence of nearly fifteen years to inquire after a professorship at the University of Virginia.[2] Jefferson promised to lay the letter "before the board in due time."[3] Rafinesque was ultimately unsuccessful in securing a position at the new university, despite applying to Jefferson several more times over the next few years.[4]

Rafinesque remained at Transylvania University and did extensive archaeological and linguistic work on the early people in the Ohio Valley. In 1826, he moved to Philadelphia where he continued to write until his death by cancer.


Further Sources


  1. ^ Jefferson to Rafinesque, December 15, 1804, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ Rafinesque to Jefferson, September 16, 1819, in PTJ:RS, 15:39-41. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ Jefferson to Rafinesque, November 7, 1819, in PTJ:RS, 15:184. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ See Edwin M. Betts, "The Correspondence Between Constantine Samuel Rafinesque and Thomas Jefferson," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol. 87, no. 5 (1944): 368-80. Transcriptions of the Jefferson-Rafinesque correspondence are available at Founders Online.