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Thomas Jefferson - A Character Sketch
Jefferson as an Inventor
by Ellis, Edward S. (A.M.)


"He sometimes figured as an inventor himself, and on that subject let me relate to you an anecdote which vividly portrays the character of his mind. You know that he had perched his country seat on a mountain height, commanding a magnificent prospect, but exposed to the sweep of wintry winds, and not very convenient of access.

"Not far from Monticello, and within the bounds of his estate, was a solitary and lofty hill, so situated as to be exposed to the blast of two currents of wind, coming up through valleys on different sides of it.

"Mr. Jefferson thought this would be an admirable position for a wind-mill; and having recently invented a model for a saw-mill to be moved by vertical sails, he sent for an engineer and submitted it to his judgment. "The man of professional science examined his plan, and listened with profound attention and deference to Mr. Jefferson's explanations of it, and to his eloquent illustration of the advantages it would secure.

"He very attentively heard him through, but made no comment upon the plan.

" 'What do you think of my idea?' said Mr. Jefferson.

" 'I think it is a most ingenious one,' was the reply, 'and decidedly the best plan for a saw-mill I have ever seen.'

"Jefferson was delighted, and forthwith entered into a written agreement for the erection of such a mill on the neighboring height.

"The work went bravely on; the inventor very frequently mounting his horse, and riding over to see how it proceeded.

"When the frame was up, and the building approached its completion, the engineer rode over to Monticello to obtain a supply of money, and to get some directions about the saws.

"Jefferson kept him to dinner; and when the cloth was removed and wine sat upon the table, he turned to his guest, and with an air of much satisfaction, exclaimed,

" 'And so, Mr., you like my mill.'

" 'I do, sir, indeed, very much; it is certainly one of the greatest improvements in the construction of saw mills I ever witnessed.'

" 'You think the sails are so hung that it cannot fail to work?'

" 'Certainly; it must work, it cannot help it.'

" 'And there's always a wind upon that hill; if it does not come up one valley, it is sure to come up the other; and the hill is so high and steep that there is nothing to interrupt the full sweep of the wind, come which way it will. You think, then, on the whole, that the thing cannot fail of complete success?'

" 'I should think so, sir, but for one thing.'

" 'Ah! What's that?'

" 'I have been wondering in my own mind, how you are to get up your saw- logs.'

"Jefferson threw up his hands and eyes: 'I never thought of that!'

"The mill was abandoned, of course."

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