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Monticello researchers have compiled the following primary source references to insects in Thomas Jefferson's writings.
Primary Source References
ca. 1781. (Notes on the State of Virginia). "Of our fish and insects there has been nothing like a full description or collection. More of them are described in Catesby than in any other work. Many also are to be found in Sir Hans Sloane's Jamaica, as being common to that and this country. The honey-bee is not a native of our continent. Marcgrave indeed mentions a species of honey-bee in Brasil. But this has no sting, and is therefore different from the one we have, which resembles perfectly that of Europe. The Indians concur with us in the tradition that it was brought from Europe; but when, and by whom, we know not. The bees have generally extended themselves into the country, a little in advance of the white settlers. The Indians therefore call them the white man's fly .... How far northwardly have these insects been found? That they are unkown in Lapland I infer from Schefer's information .... Kalm tells us the honey bee cannot live through the winter in Canada."1
1793 May 16. (Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson). "My garden is in good order and would really cut a figure but for the worms and catipillars which abound so every where this year that they destroy the seed before it comes up and even the Leaves of the trees."2
1793 June 13. (Thomas Mann Randolph to Jefferson). "Our young vegetables have been separated from the root under ground by grubs, or eaten in the seed-leaf by a very minute tribe of grasshoppers and two species of still more minute volatile insects, or devoured in whole squares when farther advanced by immense swarms of insects resembling a good deal the fire-fly wanting its phosphorus. Having once had some little technical knowledge in Entomology I felt a curiosity to ascertain the families to which these different insects belong but from the insufficiency of Linnaeuses descriptions and the smallness of the subjects I have not been able to satisfy it. The earth is alive with these creatures this summer owing I suppose to their being spared by the frost last winter."3
1793 June 26. (Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson). "I am going on with such spirit in the garden that I think I shall conquer my oponents the insects yet, tho Hither to they have been as indifadigable in cutting up as I have been in planting."4
1793 July 21. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "We will try this winter to cover our garden with a heavy coat of manure. When earth is rich it bids defiance to droughts, yeilds in abundance and of the best quality. I suspect that the insects which have harassed you have been encouraged by the feebleness of your plants, and that has been produced by the lean state of the soil.—We will attack them another year with joint efforts."5
1796 January 16. (Jefferson to George Wythe). "But recurring to what we actually possess, the Question is What means will be the most effectual for preserving these remains from future loss? All the care I can take of them will not preserve them from the worm, from the natural decay of the paper, from the accident of fire ...."6
1798 May 9. (Notes on Insects). "The insect which lays it’s egg in the plumb, apricot, nectarine peach, &c. is a Curculio. ... probably the Curculio Cerasi ... that which destroys the Peach tree is an Ichneumon. ... it lays it’s egg in the peach tree a little within the surface of the earth soon after harvest. it hatches. the worm eats downwards, and becomes winged & escapes in May following. ... boxing round the root, with 4. shingles or boards staked down & filled with dung, prevents the insect."7
1806 March 10. (Jefferson to Patrick Gibson). "[T]hey [hams] had better come in tight hogsheads to prevent the fly getting on them."9
1806 July 1. (Jefferson to James Maury). "[W]e have been lately alarmed with the appearance of a caterpillar which at first threatened destruction to our small grain, Indian corn, tobacco & grasses. it has happily however disappeared after little injury."10
1806 July 5. (John P. Van Ness to Jefferson). "I take the liberty of sending you by the Bearer two worms which I took this afternoon on a lombardy poplar tree standing on dry ground that answers, I think, very well (although the colour of the same worm is variegated and the shades of the two are different from each other) the description of the reptile, said to be poisenous, which infests those ornamental trees.—As this subject has lately excited some speculation, I supposed it would be gratifying to you to observe the worm particularly ...."11
1806 July 10. (Jefferson to James Bowdoin). "Our crops of wheat are greater than have ever been known & are now nearly secured. a caterpillar gave for a while great alarm, but did little injury."12
1806 September 16. (Jefferson to Thomas Moore). "I have noted at the same time the state of the weather, the course of the wind, & occasionally the access & recess of frost, flowering & leafing of plants, ripening of uncultivated fruits, arrival of birds & some insects ...."13
ca. 1818 April 11. (Jefferson to Jacob Bigelow, Enclosure: Thomas Jefferson’s Summary of Weather Observations, 1810-1816, [ca. April 11, 1818]). "... the tick appears Mar. 15 to Apr. 2 ... fireflies appear May 8 ... Catydids or sawyers heard July 14 to 20."14
ca. 1811 February 1. (Jefferson’s Constitution for Proposed Agricultural Society of Albemarle, [ca. February 1, 1811]). "[W]e consider the following particulars among those most worthy the attention of the societies proposed. ... The care & services of useful animals for the saddle or draught, for food or cloathing, and the destruction of noxious quadrupeds, fowls, insects and reptiles."15
1820 May 3. (George Divers to Jefferson). "[M]y sea Kale plants are quite too small to transplant, they are however out of the way of the fly and if the worms dont destroy them I can supply you with as many plants as will make a pretty good bed in the course of ten or twelve days ...."16
1822 January 2. (Jefferson to Joel Yancey). "[Y]our endeavors to promote my interests ... were sometimes baffled by droughts the ravages of insects and other accidents not within human controul which have placed me under embarrasments for a while ...."17
1823 April 11. (Jefferson to John Adams). "[O]n the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it’s parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to percieve and feel a conviction of design ... insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth ...."18
1824 April. "Genl. Cocke says the Peach tree worm is hatching all July, Aug. Sep. and lays it's egg immediately on being hatched. it may be seen & taken out from Mar. to June. it should always be done before harvest."19
- 1. Notes, ed. Peden, 71-72.
- 2. PTJ, 26:54. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 3. PTJ, 26:278. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 4. PTJ, 26:380. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 5. PTJ, 26:546. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 6. PTJ, 28:583. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 7. PTJ, 30:340. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 8. PTJ, 40:178-79. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 9. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 10. Betts, Garden Book, 320. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 11. Betts, Garden Book, 320. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 12. Betts, Garden Book, 321. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 13. Betts, Garden Book, 325. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 14. Betts, Garden Book, 579. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 15. Betts, Garden Book, 641. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 16. Betts, Garden Book, 592. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 17. Betts, Farm Book, 158. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 18. Lester Jesse Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 2:592. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 19. Farm Book, 1774-1824, page 96, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition], Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003). See also Betts, Farm Book, 96.