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Rare Thomas Jefferson Letter Finds New Home At UC

This letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Hough James is being donated to UC.
This letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Hough James is being donated to UC.

Nearly 200 years ago, a student at Cincinnati College wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson asking about a particular Polish general from the Revolutionary War. Jefferson wrote back, and his response is being donated - along with that student's thesis - to the University of Cincinnati.Archivist Kevin Grace says the thesis written by John Hough James and the Jefferson letter will be some of the earliest in UC's collection. "The fact that it is a primary source document makes it very valuable."

He's particularly interested in what the letter, which dates to 1820, has to say about education and how Jefferson valued education. Grace says Jefferson symbolizes America's participation in the age of enlightenment.

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Credit Provided / University of Cincinnati
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"He took it upon himself to write back to this unknown student out in the boondocks in Ohio -  in the Northwest Territory - because he wanted to help him with his education. So, it's significant in that regard, in that it exemplifies Jefferson's whole spirit of creating a knowledgeable democracy."

Scans of the letter will be sent to the University of Virginia to verify its authenticity.

The documents will be available to the public in UC's  Blegen Library.

John Hough James

The University of Cincinnati began as Cincinnati College. John Hough James was its first graduate and valedictorian. Many years ago his family donated his diploma back to the university, but they hung onto his thesis and the letter from Jefferson. The documents were passed down through the family to James' great-great-grandchildren, Russell Eaton III, James M. Eaton, and Frances Eaton Millhouser. The siblings decided now was the time to gift the items to UC.

"My siblings and I are pleased to present to the University of Cincinnati our cherished family possessions," says Russell Eaton.

James wrote to Jefferson with a question about a Polish-Lithuanian military general named Thaddeus Kościuszko. General Kościuszko did not have a very good reputation, but James wanted to learn more about the man from someone who had known him personally. Jefferson served alongside Kościuszko during the American Revolutionary War.

James went on to become a lawyer, banker, and railroad builder along with many other jobs. He was friends with Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison, and served in the Ohio Senate. James was also a founding member of Urbana University.

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Credit Provided / University of Cincinnati
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