The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear H

I expect to start for home tomorrow and be with you the next day. The weather since I left home has been delightful and I have been quite well. In comming down the Bay on saturday night I was a little sea sick and the disturbance of my stomache did not entirely leave me all day sunday.
I informed you in my letter of yesterday[1] which I was obliged to stop short by the closing of the mail that I came on to Washington with a Dr Blake who brough letters for me from England.[2] He and his new wife are going to Texas to settle in matrimonial quiet—a strange determination of which I think he and she will repent but they are at present quite sanguine inreference to the pleasure they are to enjoy in the wilderness. I say they though I should say he because I have not met the lady. He left in the cars last night to return to Phild and thence to proceed by the way of Cincinati to the west.
I have taken up my lodgings at Gadsbys and find this the most plesant house I have yet been in at Washington. The vice President is here and I am near my business— The affairs at Washington appear at this time in a more plesant condition than at any previous period. Col Totten who is on both the executive and Building committee has returned and under his direction things will go on properly. He looks remarkably well and appears highly pleased with the result of the attack of Vera Cruse you will see by the papers that he was one of those who agreed on the terms capitulative.[3]
I have had three interviews with Mr Walker who at my suggestion has appended to the geological surveys which have been ordered by government magnetic observations on the dip and intensity of the magnetic forces— One set of instruments I am to purchase from the funds of the Smithsonian Institution and the ↑an↓ other to be paid for by Government. All the expense of the observations will be paid out of the public Treasury and the results will be given to the Smithsonian for publication.[4]
The Commissioner of the Land officce[5] with whom I had an interview will also instruct the public surveyors or those engaged in surveying the lands of the Government to make observations on the variation of the compass so that without expending but little of the funds of the Smithsonian I find I can here do a good deal for the cause of american science.[6]
Mr Owen is about starting for home[7] his brother has been appointed to make a geological survey of Wisconsin territory and will thus be employed for some years independent of the Smithsonian.[8]
I have to day drawn 500 dollars and can at any time get what I wish on my salary[9] so that with what I have done yesterday and to day in the way of science and the receipt of the money has made me feel more than any thing which has happened since I became connected with the affair. Having the money in my pocket makes me feel that I am really the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and come what will I shall not be without a small pecuniary compensation for my trouble.
I have not as yet seen the Frost family although I intend to call on them. Bache had left before I got on— He received however my letter[10] and appears to have reported that my mind is full of the subject of extending knowledge.
I feel considerable encouraged to think that my situation in Washington after I am once fairly settled will be one in which I shall be able to do considerable good— They will I think be inclined to put confidence in my suggestions and knowing that I have no other interests to serve than those of truth and science I think my influence will be of some importance to the country. The readiness with which my suggestions were complied with in the cases I have mentioned has given me this encouragement.— McPeak is very anxious to be employed and the committee have concluded to retain him at the rate of one dollar per day[11]—
Tell Mr Mclean[12] that I shall be home on Thursday and ready to take the class or classes next week and also the latter part of the present week— Tell Carry that Tom Thumb is on a visit to Washington.[13] His carriage has been driving about the streets with an immense crowd of boys around it. The General himself was not in. The carriage is about the size of the fireboard of the dining room and is drawn by two ponies which together would not weght as much as Push. They are just about the size of Alfred Woodhulls[14] dog or the one he used to have. The ponies[A] are driven by a boy of about the size of Carry dressed in the style of the old English drivers with a great profusion of lace a three cocked hat and silk breeches with knee buckles. On behind is a footman dressed in the same costume the whole affair making one of the most curious little equipages which can be immagined. As I went up to the War department I saw the little carriage drive up to the Presidents House. The General was making a call on the great man of the White House.[15]
Perhap I will call to see the little General this evening he holds his court at 7 o'clock and then I can give the children a full account of the little gentleman when I return or in my next letter.

As ever your

Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [2] Possibly James Blake, who received an M.D. from the University of London in 1846. In his letter of April 12, Henry wrote that Blake gave him a letter of introduction from Thomas Graham, professor of chemistry there. University of London: The Historical Record (1836–1926), 2d issue (London, 1926), p. 323.
    [3] Joseph Gilbert Totten was chief of the Army Corps of Engineers and a Smithsonian regent. He had returned the day before from Mexico where he helped plan the siege of Veracruz, Mexico's chief port and a gateway to Mexico City, to force an end to the war. He also negotiated the terms of surrender, which occurred on March 29, and carried General Winfield Scott's official announcement of the capitulation to the United States. Henry Papers, 4:320; K. Jack Bauer, The Mexican War, 1846–1848 (New York, 1974), chapter 13.
[4] Public land policies dating from 1785 required that land in the public domain be surveyed before settlement and classified as to whether or not it contained minerals. The mineral lands were to be reserved by the federal government, the non-mineral lands sold. In March 1847, Congress transferred authority over the reserved mineral lands from the War Department to the Treasury Department, established a Lake Superior Land District (Michigan) and a Chippewa Land District (Wisconsin Territory), and authorized the sale of the mineral lands to the public. Prior to sale, the federal government was to conduct surveys to distinguish areas rich in mineral resources from agricultural areas. Treasury Secretary Robert J. Walker chose Charles Thomas Jackson (Henry Papers, 3:60n–61n; DAB; DSB) to conduct the Lake Superior survey and David Dale Owen to survey the Chippewa region. Walker's instructions to Jackson and Owen, written three days after this letter, incorporated Henry's suggestion: “it is highly important that a series of observations be made on the dip and intensity of the needle, as intimately connected with the geological and mineralogical character of that region of country, and as likely to lead to results interesting to the cause of general science. [U.S. House, 30th Congress, 1st Session, Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, Transmitting His Annual Report on the State of the Finances, House Executive Documents, No. 6 (1847), pp. 8, 9, 131–139 (quotation on both pp. 132 and 136.)]”Combined with magnetic variation (declination) data produced by the routine land surveys, dip and intensity readings would constitute a full measurement of the earth's magnetic field. Jackson's magnetic instruments were to be provided by the Treasury Department, Owen's by the Smithsonian.
Jackson chose John Locke (Henry Papers, 3:420n), a veteran of several magnetic surveys, to make magnetic observations in addition to his duties as an assistant geologist. After a change of administration and a decision that Locke's work was government property, his observations were published in Jackson's Report on the Geological and Mineralogical Survey of the Mineral Lands of the United States in the State of Michigan . . . (U.S. Senate, 31st Congress, 1st Session, Senate Executive Documents, No. 1, Part 3 [1849], pp. 588–603). The tables were printed improperly, however, and Locke republished the data, along with earlier 1845 and 1846 observations, in Observations on Terrestrial Magnetism, 1852, SI Contributions, vol. 3 (Washington, 1852). The report on Owen's survey did not include any data on terrestrial magnetism although Locke was advised by Walker at one point to make observations in Owen's district also and Locke was interested in doing so (Jackson, p. 440; see Docs. 129 and 145).
Mary C. Rabbitt, Minerals, Lands, and Geology for the Common Defence and General Welfare, 3 vols. (Washington, 1979– ), 1:83–85; Dupree, Science in the Federal Government, pp. 91–92; Smithsonian Report for 1847, pp. 189–190; Jackson, especially pp. 371, 394, 563–572; D. D. Owen, Report of a Geological Reconnoissance of the Chippewa Land District of Wisconsin, U.S. Senate, 30th Congress, 1st Session, House Executive Documents, No. 57 (1848). For the dependence of geomagnetics on other disciplines and the Smithsonian's role as a catalyst in lending instruments to surveyors, see Gregory A. Good, "Geomagnetics and Scientific Institutions in 19th Century America," Eos, 1985, 66:521–526.
    [5] Richard Montgomery Young (1798–1861), a lawyer and former senator from Illinois (1837–1843), was commissioner of the General Land Office from 1847 to 1849. BDAC.
    [6] Henry was referring here to the routine surveying of the public lands. The surveyors used a solar compass to determine true north-south lines by measuring the sun's position. Invented by surveyor William A. Burt, it was especially useful in areas where iron deposits caused erratic readings from a standard surveyor's compass and gave readings of magnetic variation within a quarter of a degree. As the readings were numerous, Henry thought lines of declination could be drawn from the data with reasonable confidence. Charles Whittlesey later summarized variation observations in the Michigan and Wisconsin area in J. W. Foster and J. D. Whitney, Report on the Lake Superior Land District. Part II. The Iron Region Together with the General Geology, U.S. Senate, 32d Congress, Special Session, Senate Executive Documents, No. 4 (1851), chapter 20; Smithsonian Report for 1848, p. 16; William A. Burt, Description of the Solar Compass, Together with Directions for Its Adjustment and Use (Detroit, 1844); a copy is in the Henry Library.
    [7] Robert Dale Owen attended building committee meetings through April 20 and then returned to Indiana to campaign for his reelection. Rhees, Journals, pp. 674–679.
    [8] David Dale Owen had advised the Smithsonian without charge on plans and materials for the building. Henry may have feared, as others did at the time, that his goal was to get a Smithsonian position, presumably as assistant secretary in charge of the natural history collections, through the influence of his brother. See, for example, G. P. Marsh to Mary Baird, February 10, 1847, Baird Papers, Smithsonian Archives; James Hall to E. N. Horsford, March 27, 1847, Horsford Papers, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Archives; J. B. Rogers to W. B. Rogers, April 5, 1847, W. B. Rogers Papers, Archives, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rhees, Journals, pp. 3–4, 5, 6, 604–610, 612–614, 664–667.
    [9] Although Henry's salary was $3,500 a year, he drew only $1,750 from the Smithsonian in 1847 as he was still receiving a salary from Princeton for teaching there. Smithsonian Report for 1847, p. 156.
    [10] Doc. 37.
    [11] On April 14, 1847, the building committee rehired William McPeake as a messenger, a function he had performed earlier. A native of Ireland, McPeake (ca. 1792–1862) remained at the Smithsonian as a messenger, doorkeeper, and janitor until his death. Sometimes referred to as "McFuss," McPeake was described by Caspar Wistar Hodge as "the most exalted dignitary" connected with the Smithsonian and "a character worthy of a novel." Smithsonian Report for 1847, pp. 122, 123; Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, District of Columbia (NARA microfilm M653, reel 104, frame [935]); Washington Evening Star, December 1, 1862; C. W. Hodge to Charles Hodge, November 11, 1848, Charles Hodge Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Libraries.
    [12] John Maclean, vice-president of Princeton. Henry Papers, 1:433n.
    [13] Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838–1883), better known as "General Tom Thumb," was a midget under the artistic management of P. T. Barnum. At nine years of age, Stratton was only the size of a small toddler but was already a veteran of a three-year European tour during which he performed for the crowned heads of Europe. Stratton's visit to Washington consisted of three days of public appearances at Jackson Hall. DAB; National Intelligencer, April 14, 1847. Neil Harris, Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum (Boston, 1973), pp. 50–52, 99–102, 215.
    [14] Alfred Alexander Woodhull (1837–1921), a young Princeton resident. DAB.
    [15] In his diary, Polk mentioned adjourning a cabinet meeting to meet Tom Thumb, "a most remarkable person." Allan Nevins, ed., Polk: The Diary of a President, 1845–1849 (New York, 1968), pp. 216–217.
    [A] Altered from pony