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From Smallpox Inoculations to Farm Threshing Machines:
A Declaration Signer Discusses Cutting-Edge Technologies
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George Clymer emphasizes revitalizing the nation’s first agricultural society and reports the technological innovations the forthcoming secretary was observing in his effort to rebuild the organization.

GEORGE CLYMER. Autograph Letter Signed “GC.” to Harry C?. No place, January 5, 1805. 4 pp., 6½ x 8 in.

Inventory #22748       Price: $2,350

Complete Transcript

Dear Harry

I take up my pen today, because I have not had it in my hands in a letter to you, for a long time—for I consider some weeks, so—I think my last was accompanied by the vaccine matter from Dr. Cone, for poor Tom, but you have said nothing about your administration of it—perhaps you took it for granted that I would look upon the inoculation as having taken place, and well got over. Indeed I hope so—but you might as well have said it.

Dr Mease is very ardent in the revival of the old agricultural society, and speaking to me about it, we called on Major Hodgdon who possesses the old minutes for the names of the members. And when the Major is more at leisure we can proceed with his help—I make no doubt but the regenerative spirit of it would be better than the original. There being now so many more intelligent people than formerly, who have got their hands into the farming business, and have been made to understand the important difference between systems—The society was born under the auspices of town ignorance and country prejudice, and will be revived when both these are pretty well subdued—The Doctor would make an exceedingly good secretary—for he has turned his attention to such subjects, and no doubt expecting fame from the office, would endeavor to exercise it so as to merit it—

The Doctor called upon me yesterday to tell me of a journey he has just made in the cold, expressly to view a new made thrashing machine—It seems there it is an Englishman settled on the Schuylkill mouth at the Mouth of Perkiomin [Perkiomen Creek], named Bakewell and a relation of the great breeder, who has this machine. The Doctor saw it in operation, the power two, oxen - the work 18 bushels pr. hour  The cost $200—The workman a man in town named Prentiss from England or Scotland—this was connected with with in connection was [with] a fan but the fan was hastily made and did not succeed as it ought to have done—The Doctor thinks it is too large to carry about, but agreed with me in thinking that a lighter one, equal to 40 or 50 bushels a day, should be encouraged if of correspondent cheapness.

The Doctor has seen a lately invented instrument something like a screw worked with a winch, that most effectually grinds up all manner of Indian corn cobs. A very important thing! A saving to man, and a new food to animals.

I dare say upon further tapping the Doctor would give more out—and so I suppose you think, who have a good opinion of his late work—but enough for the present-and indeed more could not be got in [the space] further than my sencere [sic] love to all of you.—

                                    GC—

                                                January 5, 1805—Saturday

Historical Background

The Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform was founded in 1785 and was the first organization in the United States dedicated to reforming farming methods and agriculture. The society was organized by 23 leading Philadelphia merchants and landowners and modeled upon European learned societies. Maryland farmers John Beale Bordley and John Cadwalader and Philadelphia mayor Samuel Powel began the discussions that would eventually establish the society. George Washington was an honorary member, and George Clymer and Benjamin Rush were among the founding members. James Mease, mentioned here, was a student of Rush.

The society’s goals were to improve conditions and output on American farms and establish scientific methods of agricultural production such as fertilizer use, crop rotation, and improved husbandry. As is clear from this letter, technological advances were especially important. 

The society suffered from a number of deficiencies, including lack of funds, the inability to dispense the information and improvements they advocated, as well as the reluctance of many farmers to abandon customary farming methods in favor of the new ways. After Powel’s death in 1793, the society fell apart. Members ended regular meetings in 1793 and did not meet at all between 1795 and 1805. According to John Beale Bordley’s daughter, informal meetings were held at his home during this time, maintaining, at least, the idea of the society until founder Bordley’s death in 1804. The following year, the society was revived and in May 1805, Mease was indeed named secretary. 

George Clymer (1739-1813) a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, represented Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress (1776-1777, 1780-1782). He was born in Philadelphia and as a prosperous merchant, he was an early supporter of independence. He helped underwrite the war effort by exchanging his hard currency for the much less stable Continental paper money. He was a volunteer captain and served on the Committee of Public Safety. While in the Continental Congress, he sat on the Board of War and Treasury Board. After the war, he served in the Pennsylvania legislature and argued for a bicameral legislature. He was delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and later served in the House of Representative of the First Congress. In 1791, Washington named him Supervisor of Internal Revenue for Pennsylvania, but he resigned as collector of excise duties in 1794 at the start of the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1796, he helped negotiate a treaty with the Cherokees and the Creeks. Upon retirement, he was the first president of both the Bank of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the vice president of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society. Clymer was known for brevity and spoke little, but was nonetheless a major influence on important committees of state and finance.

James Mease (1771-1846) studied medicine under Benjamin Rush and was a prominent Philadelphia doctor and scientific thinker. He helped develop a scientific vineyard, was a member and curator of the American Philosophical Society, was a founder and the first vice president of the Philadelphia Athenaeum. He served as surgeon during the War of 1812. He devoted considerable time to correspondence among other scientifically-minded individuals around the United States and the world on subjects of horticulture, geology, penal and criminal reform, technology, and medicine. He wrote a book, The Picture of Philadelphia, Giving an Account of its Origin, Increase, and Improvements in Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, Commerce and Revenue (1811), that charted the city and its inhabitants’ rise to prominence in American life.

Condition

Good. Weakened folds have been repaired with some minor loss of paper, especially at the edges. Toning along the folds.

Sources

Lucius F. Ellsworth, “The Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform, 1785-1793” Agricultural History 42 (July 1968) pp. 189-200 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3741696

The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture http://pspaonline.com/

Rodney H. True, Sketch o the History of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, (1935). https://archive.org/details/sketchofhistoryo00true


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