From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Apart from slaves, Thomas Jefferson referred to Africa a number of times. There were trade routes from Africa to America. He also owned books on the geography and history of Africa, mainly focusing on Northern Africa. During his presidency, he sent a small naval force to fight the Barbary Pirates who came from Northern Africa.

Jefferson was interested in the rice grown there, hoping to find a hardier variety for the southern states, and sheep from Northern Africa also interested him, as well.

Primary Source References[1]

c. 1781. (Notes on the State of Virginia). "That the last part of it [Buffon's assertion] is erroneous, which affirms that the species of American quadrupeds are comparatively few, is evident from the tables taken all together. By these it appears that there are an hundred species aboriginal of America. Mons. de Buffon supposes about double that number existing on the whole earth. Of these Europe, Asia, and Africa, furnish suppose 126; that is, the 26 common to Europe and America, and about 100 which are not in America at all."[2]

c. 1781. (Notes on the State of Virginia). "1675 Oct. 1. 27. Car. 2. A proclamation for prohibiting the importation of commodities of Europe into any of his majesty's plantations in Africa, Asia, or America, which were not laden in England."[3]

1783-1784. (Jefferson's Notes on Sheffield's Observations on the Commerce of the American States). "Seven eighths of the Spermaceti candles made, go to the W.I. where the heat of the climate renders them cheaper than tallow. The other eighth supplies Europe, Africa, and America."[4]

1784 November 11. (Jefferson to Jacob Read). "You will have heard of some little affairs between France and Portugal on the coast of Africa. They will have no ill consequences. Portugal was building forts to appropriate to herself a part of that coast and thus narrow the field of general commerce. France interfered in the common cause, destroyed the forts, and thus placed that part of the coast again in statu quo."[5]

1785-1786. (Estimate of American Imports). This lists imports from Europe and Africa.[6]

1787 August 10. (Jefferson to Peter Carr). List of recommended readings that include, "Bruzen La Maretiniere, Introduction a l'Histoire de l'Asie, de l'Afrique, et de l'Amerique.[7]

1788 July 19. (Jefferson to Rev. James Madison). "He [John Ledyard] went to London, engaged under the auspices of a private society formed there for pushing discoveries into Africa, passed by this place [Paris], which he left a few days ago for Marseilles, where he will embark for Alexandria and Grand Cairo, thence explore the Nile to it's source, cross to the head of the Niger, and descend to it's moth. He promises me, if he escapes through this journey, he will go to Kentucky and endeavour to penetrate Westwardly from thence to the South sea."[8]

1790 November 27. (Jefferson to Samuel Vaughan). "About two months ago I was fortunate enough to receive a cask of mountain rice from the coast of Africa. This has enabled me to engage so many persons in the experiment as to be tolerably sure it will be fairly made by some of them. It will furnish also a comparison with that from Timor. I have the success of this species of rice at heart, because it will not only enable other states to cultivate rice which have not lands susceptible of inundation but because also if the rice be as good as is said, it may take the place of the wet rice in the Southern states, and by superseding the necessity of overflowing their lands, save them from the pestilential and mortal fevers brought on by that operation."[9]

c.1800. (A Memorandum Services to My Country). "I got a cask of heavy upland rice, from the river Denbigh, in Africa, about lat. 9 degrees, 30' North, which I sent to Charleston, in hopes it might supersede the culture of the wet rice, which renders South Carolina and Georgia so pestilential through the summer."[10]

1800 September 23. (Jefferson to Benjamin Rush). "I have not seen the work of Sonnoni, which you mention, but I have seen another work on Africa, Parke's, which I fea will throw cold water on the hopes of the friends of freedom."[11]

1808 December 1. (Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse). Jefferson learned from the works of De Porpre fo upland rice growing "...all along the coast of Africa...I found there {Havre] Captain Nathaniel Curring, who was the ensuing spring to go on a voyage along the coast of Africa. I engaged him to inquire for this; he sent me a thirty-gallon cask of it. It arrived in time the ensuing spring to be sown."[12]

1812 June 11. (Jefferson to John Adams). "But unluckily Lafitau had in his head a preconceived theory on the mythology, manners, institutions and government of the ancient nations of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and seems to have entered on those of America only to fit them into the same frame, and to draw from them a confirmation of his general theory..."[13]


  1. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  2. Notes, ed. Peden, 58.
  3. Ibid, 188.
  4. PTJ, 19:129.
  5. Ibid, 7:516.
  6. Ibid, 19:135.
  7. Ibid, 12:18.
  8. Ibid, 13:382.
  9. Ibid, 18:97-98.
  10. Peterson, Writings, 703.
  11. PTJ, 32:168.
  12. Peterson, Writings, 1197.
  13. Cappon, Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2:305.