President of the United States.
Autograph Letter Signed, full page quarto, Washington, January 8, 1801. Thomas Jefferson. Written as Vice President (soon to be President) to Richard Richardson, his overseer at Monticello.
“I received a few days ago your letter of Dec. 22. and on the 5th. inst. I wrote to Mr. [George] Jefferson [his cousin who had his power of attorney in financial matters] and now inclose you an order on him for 550.16 D say £165-1. To be applied as follows.
for Henry Duke for Simon £21-10
Edmd.Goodwin admr. John 16-16
of Dickeson’s estate Isaac 16- 1
the widow Duke for Mat 20- 0
Hendrick’s estate for Moses 20- 0
yourself for Joe 19- 0
do. on account 31- 4
165- 1 = 550.16 D
the last sum was intended to have been £30. exact as you desired: but a mistake in addition made me state £165-1 to Mr [George] Jefferson so that your part became £31-4 to be credited in our account. I do not recollect whether I was to pay you or not for Mr Duke. so you can either receive & pay him the £42. or give him an order for it on Mr [George] Jefferson. As it is hasardous to send money by the post, I procured an exchange of money here with a person who was to receive money there. tho I believe there is no doubt of it’s being paid on demand, yet I have desired Mr [George] Jefferson if there is any delay to let me know by return of post, and I will instantly send [on] bank bills to him. this would occasion a delay of 10. days, which however I am confident will not be necessary.”
“I am very sorry indeed to hear of so poor a chance for hiring laborers. It will be a serious embarrassment to me. I am in hopes you will have been able to procure me some. I have not yet heard of Powell’s going up to stay: but have written to Mr Eppes to press him off. I am not yet able to give you information as to Journey work here.”
Though a great statesman, the same could not be said of Thomas Jefferson as a businessman. More than twice he had to sell his library to keep Monticello afloat. The running of Monticello (and Jefferson’s other business affairs) was dependent on slavery, on which Jefferson had conflicted attitudes which he never successfully resolved though he thought and wrote about them.
During his lifetime, Jefferson owned over six hundred slaves. He inherited 175 of them (40 from his father’s estate in 1764 and 135 from his father-in-law’s estate). Most of his slaves were acquired through the natural increase of enslaved families whose offspring were considered Jefferson’s property. He bought fewer than twenty slaves generally to unite spouses or to satisfy labor needs at Monticello.
The present letter involves one of those labor needs. The soon-to-be President had rented a house and land to John G. Craven and his family for five years without making adequate provision to have the house repaired and the land cleared in time for their arrival. A letter from Thomas M. Randolph dated January 3rd informed Jefferson about the work that had been done on the house but expressed the great difficulty in finding laborers to clear the land. Correspondence during the preceding month reinforces this assessment as the local talk was of the great scarcity of slaves that could be rented from their owners.
Without slaves to rent, Thomas Jefferson requested that his overseerer look into buying them. This is a rare instance of Jefferson buying slaves. As this letter indicates, the overseerer found what they needed locally. The sellers were local landowners or their agents who Jefferson would have known and whose slaves might have been familiar with Monticello, perhaps with ties to some of the slaves already there.
As a statesman and as a national leader, Jefferson wrestled with the issue of slavery. He was an opponent of the slave trade and disliked the effects of slavery on society, believing slavery was harmful to both slave and master. He worried that slaves were incapable of supporting themselves in freedom and that they would be a burden to society. He believed in gradual measures operating through the legal processes of government. He only freed a handful of his slaves. (George Washington freed all of his slaves.)
Personally Thomas Jefferson regarded himself as enlightened in regard to his slaves and he had warm feelings toward some of his slave families, especially the Hemings family. His private relationship with his mulatto slave Sally Hemings is now well-known. At the time of this letter, she would have been pregnant with his fourth child by her. The ideals of a great statesman, the business needs of a Virginia landowner, and the personal feelings of a widower collided. For all his brilliance, Jefferson wrestled with rather than resolved the complexities of slavery.
At the time of this letter, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were tied (in the electoral college) for President. During a six day period in February, the outgoing House of Representatives voted 36 times before finally choosing Jefferson on February 17, 1801. He was sworn in on March 4th.
Published in Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, et al, eds., Princeton University Press. Framed (with an engraving) dimensions: 23 inches wide by 18 1/8 inches high.
This item is associated with these categories in our inventory:
- American Revolution