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Lurking mode off....
Some references on the recent discussion on early American paleontology:

Bedini, Silvio A. 1985. _Thomas Jefferson and American Vertebrate
Paleontology_.  Virginia Division of Mineral Resources Publication 61.
Charlottesville, VA.

Bedini, Silvio A. 1990. _Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science_. 
Macmillan Publishing Company, New York; also Collier Macmillan
Publishers, London.

Bedini, Silvio A. 1975. _Thinkers and Tinkers.  Early American Men of
Science_. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

In the first publication cited, I recall (I hope accurately) that the
first fossil described from North America was what we now call
_Chesapecten jeffersonius_, the Jefferson Scallop, and the date was 1687.
 It was named after Jefferson long after its initial description. I'm
home sick and the file is at work.

The second reference describes the incident about the ground sloth claw
in detail.  Jefferson did initially misidentify the bones as that of the
cat family.  But when he traveled to Philadelphia in 1797 with the bones
{for both his inauguration as Vice President and to deliver the bones to
the American Philosophical Society}, he browsed a bookstore and found an
article concerning Cuvier's description of the giant ground sloth
_Megatherium_. The engraving of the skeleton in the article made
Jefferson realize his error, and he revised his paper before submitting
it to the Society, referring to the article and that the bones needed
further study to truly identify them. 

Ironically, Jefferson had received a description and drawing of the
_Megatherium_ back in 1789 by William Carmichael, the charge d'affaires
in Madrid, and in the process of packing to come back to the US from his
ambassadorship, Jefferson must have forgotten he'd read it or had it. 
Had he remembered the picture and description, he could have proceeded
Cuvier in the identification and named & published first!  OOPS!

Just another example of how politics can screw up the progression of

Lurking mode on....
Judy Molnar
Education Associate, Virginia Living Museum
All questions are valid; all answers are tentative.