J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

President Jefferson’s Flock

Thomas Jefferson was always interested in improving American agriculture, and his own farming enterprises, though he wasn’t always successful.

In 1794, after stepping down as Secretary of State, Jefferson had his managers at Monticello buy a flock of forty ewes. Robert Morris gave him a ram smuggled from Spain. On becoming President, Jefferson gained access to other exotic sheep—a Bengal ewe in 1805, a Barbary Broadtail ram and ewe in 1806.

In June 1807 a man named James D. Barry offered the President a ram of the Shetland breed (also found in other parts of northern Europe). Jefferson replied:
Th: Jefferson presents his compliments and thanks to mr Barry for his offer of the ram which he accepts, not from personal motives, but merely with a view to secure the breed to our country, of which another chance might not happen in a century.

he is sending off the ram which runs at present with his ewes, and is engaging a person to attend the flock constantly as a shepherd, to secure them against accident, and he counts on producing the breed of the ram pure & full-blooded in four generations, according to the common estimation.

should mr Barry hereafter wish for the breed Th:J. will feel a duty & pleasure in furnishing him. he will send for him tomorrow morning with mr Barry’s permission.
Barry replied on 25 June:
James D Barry presents his compliments to the President of the U.S.

it has been his wish ever since he got the ram to give him to some gentleman who would attend to propagatg. the breed which he thinks will be a useful one and will suit the soil & Climate of this Country.

it is with pleasure he sends him by the bearer, Knowing that there is no person in this Country who would be more disposed or who has it more in his power to secure the breed than the President—
Four days later, President Jefferson wrote to his granddaughter Ellen Wayles Randolph, then ten years old, about his growing flock:
I am now possessed of individuals of four of the most remarkeable varieties of the race of the sheep. if you turn to your books of natural history, you will find among these
1. the Spanish sheep or Marino.
2. the Iceland sheep, or Ovis Polycerata.
3. the Barbary sheep, or Ovis laticunda &
4. the Senegal sheep, or that of Bengal which is the same.

I have lately recieved a ram of the 2d. kind, who has 4. horns, a round & beautiful animal, rather small.

the 3d. or broadtailed is remarkable for it’s flavor. I lately had a quarter sent me which I found the highest flavored lamb I had ever tasted. the 4th. or Senegal is supposed to be the original stock of the sheep. it’s flavor is said to be equal to that of Venison.

tho’ I possess individuals of one sex only of the 2d. 3d. & 4th. kinds, yet 4. crossings are understood by naturalists to produce the true breed. I mean to pay great attention to them, pro bono publico. (call on [your older brother] Jefferson to translate your Latin)
While Jefferson talked about breeding these sheep for the public good, he accepted the gifts as his own property. He expected to make money from his flock first and ultimately to benefit the country by providing a stock of well-bred sheep and an example for other farmers.

He didn’t know that his new ram would be a killer.

TOMORROW: “The concise history of a monster.”


Marilou said...

Did Mr. Jefferson really put an apostrophe in "its"?

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, and he did so consistently in his writing. I call it “the Jefferson possessive.”