Louis Leschot (1779-1838) was a Swiss watchmaker, born in the village of Les Brenets in the canton of Neuchâtel. He immigrated to the United States around 1815 and settled in central Virginia early in 1817.1
Prior to Leschot's arrival in America, Thomas Jefferson had been actively seeking a watchmaker for the town of Charlottesville. He sent inquiries to Philadelphia clockmaker Thomas Voigt in 1813 and continued the search with Charles Willson Peale three years later.2 Voigt meanwhile had passed along the inquiry to Robert Patterson, who introduced the name of Louis Leschot in December 1816. Patterson's informant described the Swiss craftsman as "as good a watchmaker in every part as may be found in their Country, the mountains of Neufchatel."3
By March 1817, Leschot was established in Charlottesville and earning Jefferson's praises.4 At Leschot's shop on the east side of Court Square, Jefferson purchased watches and watch parts and delivered timepieces in need of repair. To examine large clocks, Leschot himself would travel to Monticello.5
Though no specifics are known of the personal relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Louis Leschot, the connection was strong enough that Leschot and his wife are two of the few unrelated individuals buried in the Monticello Graveyard. Leschot and his wife both died well after Jefferson had passed away, in 1838 and 1853 respectively.
- Nancy Verell, 1/25/17
Primary Source References
1816 December 2. (Ferdinand R. Hassler to Robert Patterson). "In Elisabethtown is a Swiss gentleman, with whom I got acquainted in London on his passage here, where he was made prisoner of war with all his family, being taken on the passage, his name is Montandon he has several sons, daughters, & a son in Law [Leschot] with him, all working in the watchmaking line, from its first till the boxes, which they are now since their arival in this country, engaged very assiduously to make and of all forms & fashions, gold & Silver &c to the great number of movement which he has brought with him. They are properly intended to settle on Land in the Interior, after being well acquainted with the country & language, & having realised the stock of watches &c which they brought with, they are a very industrious and agreable family; the old gentleman says his son in Law is as good a watchmaker in every part as may be found in their Country, the mountains of Neufchatel. As he would have sufficient means to begin an establishment, if he could find a good locality for so doing, and is desirous of it, he would be a man suitable and well recomandable for a situation like mentioned, but would of course wish some nearer particulars & need some direction for the begining upon the proper place of his settlement & the Kind of work or comerce in his line which he would have provide with particularly; if the place You have mentioned is not yet occupied You would oblige me by more particular informations upon the Subject which I would communicate to him."6
1817 March 16. (Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale). "[W]e have had the good fortune to get a Swiss from Neufchatel, inferior, I think, to no watchmaker I have ever known. sober, industrious, and moderate. he brought me recommendations from Doctr. Patterson & mr. Haslaer [Ferdinand Hassler]. he compleatly knocks down the opposition. ... brought up among the mountains of Switzerland, he is delighted with ours."7
1817 June 6. (Jefferson to William Lee). "[We] have there a fine watchmaker, a Swiss from Neufchatel, finding much more work than he can do, and taking in money as fast as he can earn it. he finds himself peculiarly happy and delighted with the country & his own situation."8
1817 October 26. (Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes). "I have procured from Leschot for mrs. Eppes a very elegant watch and of the very best construction being of the kind called a cylindre horizontal, the only inconvenience of which is that they require being touched with oil a little oftener than the others. he had no watch of the common construction which was proper for a lady. he required 40.D. boot, allowing only 30.D. for the gold of the old watch, the works being entirely past use. I hope you will never put her into any hands but his when she wants anything. I know that the Richmond watchmakers are as absolute murderers of a watch as your neighbor watchmaker."9
1818 January 24. (Jefferson to Jonas Keller). "[N]o industrious, sober & skilful individual, possessing an art useful to the country, has ever failed of success as far as I have seen. we have an instance in our little village of Charlottesville in a watchmaker of your country, a Swiss from Neufchatel. he came & settled there a twelvemonth ago, & every one pronounced that he could not find business enough to give him bread. on the contrary he finds twice as much as he can do, and is making money with a rapidity beyond all his wishes. every neighborhood can furnish demand for a single workman in any useful art ...."10
1819 January 1. (Jefferson to Francis Wayles Eppes). "Leschot has repaired mrs Eppes’s watch and changed the pipe of the key, but the watch was so short a time in his hands that she could not be well regulated. she will therefore probably need further regulation to make her keep good time."11
1819 April 8. "Drew on Jas. Leitch in favor of Louis Leschot for 165.64 for watches."12
1819 December 25. (Jefferson to Ferdinand R. Hassler). "I have been on a former occasion indebted to you for being instrumental in furnishing our neighboring town with the most skilful artist I have known in the line of watchmaker. mr Leschot is perfect in that art, is a most correct and excellent citizen, and I am glad to be able to assure you he is doing as well as himself wishes."13
1820 September 30. "Paid Lewis Leschot for spoons 10.D. watch acct. 4.25."14
1821 July 30. "Pd. Leschot for a watch &c. in full 71."15
1822 February 15. "Pd. Leschot for spectacles for Mrs. Marks 5.D."16
1822 March 26. "Pd. Leschot cleaning 3. clocks 3.D."17
1822 November 11. "Leschot rectifying clocks 1.D."18
1823 August 15. "Pd. Leschot garters and chrystal .75."19
1824 September 23. "Leschot repairing clocks 1.D."23
1825 March 31. "Gave Leschot ord. on do. [Raphael] for watch &c. 82.56."24
1825 July 19. (Jefferson to Leschot). "Th:Jefferson sends his watch to mr Leschot to be put to rights. she goes 12 or 15. hours after being wound up and then stops—he is always sorry to give mr Leschot the trouble of coming here. The large clock has never gone right since the last repairs because the hands will not stand in place. in the kitchen ... the hour hand will not stand. if mr Leschot can come up some cloudy cool day Th:J. will be thankful to him, and will send a horse for him if he will permit him."25
1827 January 5. (Joseph Coolidge to Nicholas Philip Trist). "As for the clock [Jefferson's astronomical clock], it is larger than is used with us, (where the small french clocks are the only ones seen,) and the danger and expense of getting it to Boston will be great; nevertheless if Leschot, upon examination, pronounces it unworn and first rate, let me have it: for this purpose I must beg of you to contrive to get Leschot to go [to] Monticello before the sale, and thoroughly satisfy himself of its value[.]"27
1. Leschot is identified in the editorial note following Jefferson to Leschot, May 18, 1817, in PTJ:RS, 11:365-66n.
2. Jefferson to Voigt, April 9, 1813, in PTJ:RS, 6:61 (transcription available at Founders Online); Jefferson to Peale, May 8, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 10:33 (transcription available at Founders Online).
3. Patterson to Jefferson, December 13, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 10:578 (transcription available at Founders Online), with Enclosure: Ferdinand R. Hassler to Patterson, December 2, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 10:578-79 (transcription available at Founders Online). See also Jefferson to Patterson, January 1, 1817, in PTJ:RS, 10:630-31. Transcription available at Founders Online.
4. See, e.g., Jefferson to Peale, March 16, 1817, in PTJ:RS, 11:198. Polygraph copy available at the Library of Congress.