David Thomas
Papers, 1818-1828

SC12671

Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Purchase: Mrs. L.W. Drumheller, May 1953
Processed By: Fred Bassett, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections, February 2014

View catalog record

Biographical Note:

David Thomas, a self-taught engineer and later botanist, was born in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, June 6, 1776.  About 1790, he moved to Cayuga County, New York, settling near Aurora. During the time he lived there, he was primarily engaged in farming, studying land surveying in his spare time. Eventually he acquired the knowledge and expertise to pursue a career in the field.

In the summer of 1816, he traveled to Indiana, and did a comprehensive study of the natural history, antiquities, topography, agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing of the state.  His observations, published in 1819, attracted the interest of New York State Governor DeWitt Clinton. This led to Thomas being appointed, in the spring of 1820, superintendent and chief engineer of construction of the Erie Canal between Rochester and Buffalo, New York. After the completion of the Erie Canal in the fall of 1825, he supervised the construction of the Cayuga and Seneca Canal, which connected to the Erie Canal at Montezuma. When the Cayuga and Seneca Canal was completed in November 1828, he took up a one year contract with the Welland Canal. 

During the 1830s Thomas shifted his interest from canal engineering to horticulture and botany.  Eventually, he purchased a farm near Union Springs, Cayuga County, New York, where he devoted most of the last three decades of his life researching horticulture, floriculture, and pomology. He wrote numerous articles for the Genesee Farmer, an agricultural periodical, and frequently gave speeches at agricultural society meetings. He died November 5, 1859.

Scope and Content Note:

These papers consist chiefly of letters addressed to Thomas in regards to his work related to the construction of the Erie Canal and the Cayuga and Seneca Canal from 1818 to 1828. Also included is a notebook on the theory of canal cutting, reports to the New York State Canal Commission regarding the proposed route of a canal between Bath and Penn Yan, and the canal route between Geneva and Lyons, New York. The papers also include a report, by Thomas, to the New York State Legislature related to the draining of the Cayuga marshes. Correspondents represented in the papers include DeWitt Clinton, Myron Holley, Henry Seymour, and Benjamin Wright.

Box and Folder List:


Box Folder Description
1 1 Letters to David Thomas, 1818-1819
  1. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], June 10, 1818
  2. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], January 19, 1819
  3. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], September 15, 1819
1 2 Letters to David Thomas, 1820
  1. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], March 7, 1820, with enclosed copy of the resolution of the Canal Commission appointing Thomas as engineer of the western section – signed by Henry Seymour, Secretary of Canal Commission, March 7, 1820
  2. Myron Holley, Albany, [N.Y.], April 1, 1820
  3. Benjamin Wright, Pittsford, [N.Y.], June 30, 1820
  4. Benjamin Wright, Rome, [N.Y.], August 19, 1820
  5. Benjamin Wright, Rome, [N.Y.], October 16, 1820
  6. Myron Holley, Canandaigua, [N.Y.], October 20, 1820
  7. Benjamin Wright, Rome, [N.Y.], November 16, 1820
1 3 Letters to David Thomas, 1821
  1. Benjamin Wright, Rome, [N.Y.], January 4, 1821
  2. Myron Holley, Albany, [N.Y.], February 8, 1821
  3. Myron Holley, Albany, [N.Y.], March 10, 1821
  4. Benjamin Wright, Rome, [N.Y.], July 2, 1821
  5. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], September 26, 1821
1 3 Letters to David Thomas, 1822
  1. DeWitt Clinton, Albany,[N.Y.], March 16, 1822
  2. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], July 25, 1822
  3. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], September 4, 1822
  4. Myron Holley, Lyons, [N.Y.], September 8, 1822
  5. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], September 10, 1822
1 5 Letters to David Thomas, 1823
  1. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], March 18, 1823
  2. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], June 28, 1823
  3. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], July 25, 1823
  4. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], August 22, 1823
  5. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], September 7, 1823
  6. Charles E. Dudley, Albany, [N.Y.], September 29, 1823
  7. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], December 5, 1823
1 6 Letters to David Thomas, 1824
  1. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], January 7, 1824
  2. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], April 9, 1824
  3. Davis Hurd, Lockport, [N.Y.], May 31, 1824
  4. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], June 15, 1824
  5. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], July 11, 1824
  6. Henry Seymour, Utica, [N.Y.[, August 2, 1824
  7. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], August 7, 1824
  8. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], November 10, 1824
  9. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], December 23, 1824
1 7 Letters to David Thomas, 1825
  1. Henry Seymour, Albany, [N.Y.], April 25, 1825
  2. Henry Seymour, Utica, [N.Y.], May 12, 1825
  3. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], June 17, 1825
  4. Henry Seymour, Utica, N.Y.], July 2, 1825
  5. Henry Seymour, Utica, [N.Y.], September 10, 1825
  6. Davis Hurd, Farmington, [N.Y.], September 11, 1825
  7. Henry Seymour, Rochester, [N.Y.], October 27, 1825
  8. Henry Seymour, Lyons, [N.Y.], October 27, 1825
  9. Henry Seymour, Syracuse, [N.Y.], November 9, 1825
1 8 Letters to David Thomas, 1826
  1. Henry Seymour, Albany, [N.Y.], March 8, 1826
  2. Henry Seymour, Albany, [N.Y.], March 22, 1826
  3. Henry Seymour, Albany, [N.Y.], April 17, 1826
  4. Henry Seymour, Utica, [N.Y.], May 20, 1826
  5. Henry Seymour, Utica, [N.Y.], June 15, 1826
  6. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], September 8, 1826
  7. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], September 23, 1826
  8. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], October 27, 1826
  9. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], November 19, 1826
1 9 Letters to David Thomas, 1827-1828
  1. DeWitt Clinton, [Albany, N.Y.], [January 22, 1827]
  2. C. Mowry, Pennsylvania Canal Office, Harrisburg, April 17, 1827
  3. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], May 18, 1827
  4. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], June 10, 1827
  5. DeWitt Clinton, Albany, [N.Y.], January 8, 1828
  6. Charles Whippo, Wilkes-Barre, [Pa.], April 25, 1828
  7. Charles Whippo, Berwick, [Pa.], May 22, 1828
1 10 Drafts of letters, reports, etc. ca. 1820-1828
  1. Proposed routes for Bath and Penn Yan Canal
  2. Report relative to canal route between Geneva and Lyons
  3. Report relative to draining the Cayuga marshes, April 1824
  4. Letter to Myron Holley in regards to Black Rock and Buffalo
  5. Draft of a letter concerning the Erie Canal, March 15, 1828
  6. Memorandum regarding a location along the canal that is suitable for establishing a woolen mill.
  7. Tables of excavation and embankment
  8. Land survey field note
1 11 Note book relative to the theory of canal cutting, ca. 1820 (42 p.; 16 cm.)
Last Updated: May 13, 2014