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Virginia Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge

The Virginia Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge was established at Williamsburg, "under the Patronage of His Excellencey the Governour," in May 1773.1 The founding officers were John Clayton, President; John Page, Vice President; the Reverend Samuel Henley, Secretary; St. George Tucker, Assistant Secretary; and David Jameson, Treasurer. Thomas Jefferson was no doubt a charter member.

The society's aims were to study nature using empirical methods and thus to promote science "by collecting, preserving, and reasoning from Discoveries and Experiments."2 The ultimate goal was completely practical — to gather scientific knowledge in order to "discover what we may farther need and the proper means of supplying our wants."3 In 1774, John Page became President of the Society, George Wythe became Vice President, and several corresponding members were chosen, including Benjamin Rush and David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia.4

Apparently, the activities of the society declined with the coming of the American Revolution. In 1785, Page wrote Jefferson of his interest in reviving the organization, but the matter went no further.5

- Alana Speth, 7/11/07

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