Jefferson the Natural Scientist
In addition to his other scientific pursuits, Jefferson was fascinated with wild life, both natural and exotic. He was interested in tropical birds and owned twelve prints of parrots. He also owned a pet mocking bird named “Dick.” Jefferson made note of the weather and other indexes of climate, such as the migration of birds and the appearance of flowers, throughout his life. He shared his records with others in the hope of creating a national database of meteorological information.
In the spring of 1792 Jefferson was disparaged in a pamphlet probably written by British consul Sir John Temple, who called for his “speedy retreat” to Monticello. There he could “range the fields of science, and the natural history of his country” without doing “lasting harm” to the nation. Jefferson's response was predictable: “However ardently my retirement to my own home and my own affairs may be wished for by others as the author says, there is no one of them who feels the wish once, where I do a thousand times.”
His letters in this year are full of laments about being “shut up drudging within four walls” in Philadelphia and longing for the “tranquil” occupations of the fields and gardens at Monticello; and beyond Monticello, a whole unexplored continent to be enthusiastically studied. As president, Jefferson cheered on the new American naturalists to their goal of revealing to the world the rich flora and fauna of the young nation.