José Correia da Serra
From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
Jose Correia da Serra (1750-1823) was a Portuguese naturalist. Early in 1812, the Portuguese abbé renowned for his universal learning and epigrammatic wit arrived in the United States. José Correia da Serra was a brilliant member of the international brotherhood of scientific philosophers Jefferson so valued. One American admirer called him "the most extraordinary man now living, or who, perhaps ever lived."
Correia was born in Serpa, Portugal, and educated in Italy, where he took holy orders and received a law degree. He established a reputation as a botanist, was an enthusiastic geologist, and helped to found the Academy of Sciences in Lisbon. Forced to leave Portugal in 1795, he settled in London and then Paris, associating with figures like Sir Joseph Banks and the Barons Cuvier and von Humboldt. When Napoleonic France also proved uncongenial, Correia embarked for the United States in 1811.
Bearing letters of introduction from Lafayette, Dupont de Nemours, and von Humboldt, the Portuguese abbé first met Jefferson on a visit to Monticello in the summer of 1813. His host was captivated by the learned foreigner, calling him "the greatest collection, and best digest of science in books, men, and things that I have ever met with; and with these the most amiable and engaging character." A mutual friend reported that Correia "was enchanted with Monticello and delighted with its owner."
Correia's combination of learning and amiability caused Jefferson to wish for more of his company. "Come and make [Monticello] your home," he wrote in 1816. In his nine years in America, Correia visited Monticello seven times, making what he always called his annual "pilgrimage." Books and botanical "rambles," often in the company of Thomas Mann Randolph, were his main amusements. Correia's curiosity about American natural history caused him to travel north to the Canadian border, west to Kentucky, and south to Georgia. He left the United States in November 1820.
In 1816 Correia was appointed Portugal's minister plenipotentiary to the United States. Although diplomatic disagreements somewhat soured his last American years, his friendship with Jefferson was unaffected. After his "farewell visit" to Monticello in 1820, Correia wrote a friend that its residents were "the family I am most attached to in all America."
--Original author: Lucia C. Stanton, Monticello Research Department, October 1991