Campus News

On War and Wool: Correspondence Between James Bowdoin III and the Nation's First Presidents

Story posted February 13, 2010

Dozens of letters between James Bowdoin III and the nation's first presidents have been digitized and are available on the Library of Congress Web site.

Much of the correspondence between Bowdoin and George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson occurred during the Revolutionary War, and addresses strategies and other wartime concerns.

Read the Letters
Detail: Letter from George Washington to James Bowdoin III, dated August 1, 1780, from the Library of Congress.

To view the letters click here, then enter in the search field the desired pair of correspondents ("James Bowdoin and George Washington").

George Washington to James Bowdoin, June 14, 1780, excerpt:

Our character, our interest, our all that is dear demand, that the States should without the least delay, fill their Battallions according to their established complement. If this is not done, we cannot cooperate with the force so generously coming from our Ally on any large scale, and may, however flattering our views of success may be thought by many, easily become a ruined and an undone people. You cannot, My Dear Sir, render a more essential service to your Country, than to promote as far as it may be in your power, this desirable and all interesting work.

Amid other correspondence is discussion between Bowdoin and Jefferson about sheep raised on Naushon Island, off Cape Cod, once owned by Bowdoin.

Bowdoin is said to have been among the earliest and largest importers of pure Merino sheep stock.

Jefferson's interest in the sheep's wool is evident in an undated note that included an actual sample of merino wool.

Bowdoin wool200.jpg
The undated note, written by Thomas Jefferson, reads, "Specimen of Mr. Bowdoin's wool, from American sheep raised on his Island of 'Nanshaw,'" from the Library of Congress.

The undated note reads, "Specimen of Mr. Bowdoin's wool, from American sheep raised on his Island of 'Nanshaw.'"

Images of the letters, and in some cases their transcriptions, are part of the Library of Congress American Memory collections database.

James Bowdoin III was involved in Massachusetts politics from 1786 to 1796 and was Jefferson's Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Spain, and Co-commissioner to France from 1805 to 1808.

The College, named for Bowdoin's father, a governor of Massachusetts, was greatly enriched by his gifts and bequests, which included funds, 6,000 acres in Maine, and his significant book, scientific and art collections.

Naushon Island, part of the Elizabeth Islands chain, has been owned by the Forbes family for more than 150 years.

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