Martha Jefferson Randolph to Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge, with Postscipt by Nicholas Philip Trist
|Monticello Apr. 5. 1826.—|
Your most affectionate and welcome letters, My ever dear Ellen, have been almost the only pleasures of this most afflicting winter. your separation from us has been a comfort even, as it has spared me the anguish of witnessing your sorrow and when I have been most oppressed I have looked to your sweet and cheerful home as the heaven where one of my hearts treasures was sheltered in happy ignorance of the misfortunes which threatened her family, but which in part are perhaps gone by. so far as relates to the pecuniary difficulties of your dear Grandfather this lottery will certainly relieve them for the present. it will pay his debts and leave him Monticello for his life, and the maintenance of his family, for which he says the crops of the year, great or small, must suffice. upon that subject I have my doubts. the mill, the only certain source of profit, will be given up at once, and if the whole did not suffice, how, with the same expensive establishment (for the negroes all remain) can a part only do it? but enough for the day are the evils there of. we have had for many years 5000 $ per annum, interest to pay, with out that, clear of debt, and a year before hand, which the am. of the lottery will give us, we will see what can be done—I am very sorry the girls did not mention this scheme to you; but it was put in execution as soon as conceived. and besides being that we were wholly engrossed by a more immediate and bitter cause of distress, we had [. . .] also but little confidence in any measure that was to change the steadily declining fortunes of our (seemingly) devoted family. without being sensible of it I believe we had all become fatalists. My father never speaks of his affairs and Jefferson being absent, the first hint excepted, we heard nothing more till we saw the petition in the papers. My last letter gave you some account of Your father’s affairs but in my anxiety about our immediate friends who were involved with and for him I omitted those circumstances which in justice to My dear and excellent son I ought to have mentioned. Your father’s creditors had become so dissatisfied at the repeated delays and disp disappointments which his too sanguine temper had occasioned, (for it was evident to every body else that he was totally ruined, and that the most fortunate sale in the present state of the country would only pay his debts) that that the most rigorous measures would immediately be resorted to were about to be enforced. mortgages and deeds of trust embraced the whole property, and forced sales would have swept the whole it all without discharging half of the debt upon it. at this Juncture My dear Jefferson was chosen by all parties, whose interest it was, that the property should fetch enough to pay as much as possible of the debts. the creditors gave him a year to wind up the affairs of the estate and sell the property it and such was their entire and absolute confidence in his honor that when from a most false and ill judged calculation your father obtained an injunction and prevented the sale at the appointed time, they remained quiet, relying upon his integrity and exertions to set the matter right. and he considered his honor so entirely pledged to them that if he had not succeeded in getting the injunctions raised, he would immediately have brought every atom of his own property to the hamm[er] and depended but upon his producing the documents the case was so plain that the chancellors did not hesitate a moment in releasing the property—he determined however instead of attempting to conduct the sale himself with his father, which would have saved the Marshall’s fees 2000$, to pay them, and give up the whole business in his hands. the land was so injudiciously divided in narrow slips from the mountain to the road that although some of them would have sold at 20 $ an acre yet the greatest part could neither have been sold or cultivated—under those difficulties it was cried 4 hours at 16 $ and finding it about to be knocked off at that, he (Jefferson) bid 17 and got it. a price which no one else would have given round for it, although although, but for his interference, 20 might have been obtained for 1 or 200 acres yet the rest would have gone for perhaps 5 or less. it will stand Jefferson in 20 $ round, taking what he loses in to the calculation for he had paid 12,000$ in money for his father and was bound for 13,000 more—still the sale was forced in consequence of the agrement entered into by him with the creditors with your father’s consent and apparent approbation. and two of the agents by having forborne to foreclose the mortgages, as they were directed by their principals, had rendered themselves liable for the debt, one 5000 $. and the other 2000, they willingly threw themselves upon Jefferson’s honor in granting the 12 months. Wickham and Stannard were the two who gave him that proof of confidence, could he have acted otherwise than he did with out infamy—but that is lost sight of, and he has been represented as a son [. . .] taking advantage of his father’s distress to get possession of his property for half price and turning him adrift in his old ad age pennyless & & &. if when he was first married he had taken his little property and gone off, his family would soon have lived in elegance and been now prosperous and wealthy. as it is they have struggled through every species of discomfort, and have submitted so affectionately and cheerfully to the privations which we have cost them, and have by no means shared with them, that almost as much gratitude is due for the manner as for the act it self. conceive if you can the complicated distress of My poor fellow under the circumstances I have related, (and aggravated to their utmost by causes of which you are partly aware), to be distracted by the approaching ruin of his Grandfather. the property in Bedford upon trial it was ascertained could not be sold without a sacrifice so great as to defeat the object intended. it became necessary to sell the only property that would probably command a price and Monticello was devoted. Francis Eppes was so much disatisfied dissatisfied with the house at Poplar forest that he offered it to Jefferson for 5000$ to be paid in land or money; the arrangement made by him and fully acquiesced in by me, was that we should go to Bedford, retaining only the necessary furniture for that house, and a small but effective household of servants and sell the whole property here and as many negroes as would pay the debts—it was a most bitter sacrifice to us all, but nothing to the anquish of seeing My dear father turned out of his house and deprived in his old age of the few pleasures he was capable of enjoying, and to know that his few remaining years would be embittered and shortened by it made us recoil from the cruel task of proposing it to him; but the crisis was at hand, things could no longer go on in the train they were, the consequence of a delay would have been complete ruin a few years later, when we should no longer have possessed a home to shelter us. it was paying too much for the priviledge of living a few years longer at Monticello. I never saw Jefferson so much agitated as he was, and the situation of the rest of the family even down to the little children was really as if a recent death had taken place. to My father the shock was as we foresaw dreadful. he said he had lived too long, that his death would be an advantage to his family. but Jefferson easily convinced him that that under existing circumstances it would, independent of our love for him, be a calamity of frightful magnitude. that his life was as necessary to the interests of his grandchildren and my self, as it was precious to our hearts. the first shock over he became reconciled and we were trying to look forward to plans of future comfort and improvement, although the subject was always upper most in our thoughts yet no one liked to communicate the first intelligence of such an a unwelcome subject news to you dearest Ellen, fro to whom our affection has spared so much unnecessary sorrow, for at that precise juncture, lying awake one night from painful thoughts, the idea of the lottery came like an inspiration from the realms of bliss to My father . the moment it was light he got up and sent for Jefferson who immediately saw in all it’s bearings the immense advantage of the scheme. property enough sold at a fair value to pay his debts, a maintenance for the family, the means of educating the boys, and a home for my self and children that might be unprovided for, and [. . .] last tho not least, the undisturbed possession of Monticello during his precious life. all that will be ensured. and to make the crops adequate to our necessary expenses we must look to that being to whom under heaven we are indebted for every comfort we enjoy, and to the lengthened life of My dearest dearest father who but for that precious gift of heaven (Jefferson) would have had his heart broken by his difficulties and ourselves reduced to abject want. I went to see your Aunt Jane a week ago she is horribly altered but Harriet has proposed a plan which is also strongly advocated by Francis that may arrest the ruin to which they have been steadily advancing. she has this winter devoted her self to french and spanish and has written to urge Lucy to apply her self to writing and the english grammar. house rent in new London is cheap and provisions also, they propose taking a house, the old academy, and opening a school there. Mr Radford thinks that a good female school will command every young lady with in ten 10 miles around or more. Harriet is so confident and urgent that both father and Mother have entered in to her plans she proposes as soon as the weather is settled that Mary who will be the house keeper and her Mother will should go to Poplar forest. Lucy and her self will remain at Ashton and wind up matters there retaining only what will be necessary in their new calling and new abode every thing can be setled and disposed of and they [. . .] will open school the first of october C. will be with you almost as soon as this letter she left Richmond yesterday and will stop only 2 days in Baltimore 2 in new York and both on go on to New York where also they will stay two more days after which you will see them both. adieu My beloved child, burn this miserable scrawl as soon as you have read it and do not at first sight throw it in the fire as the production of your old enemy Tom cat who is as usual in fine health and spirits and would certainly, with the pen in his paws have acquitted himself better than I had have with mine, but the letter is too long to write over again, I will do better the next time if I can, in the mean time [. . .] present me with all a mothers love to My dear Joseph and accept the same from your ever affectionate Mother
I was so busy with self in my letter to Joseph that I forgot to ask him to enquire of Hilliard the prices of the following works Strongly bound in calf, and on of a color other than the white he has lately sent us our law books dusted in—it does not suit our rough usage.
Chitty’s pleading.— Chitty’s Criminal Law.—Cruise’s Digest of the Laws of real property.—also to order for me from England the following:—Kelham’s dictionary of norman French. 1779. 1. v. 8o Law french & Law Latin dictionary. 1718. 1. v. 8o—Spelman’s Law terms. 1684. 1 v. 12o—
Fearne’s Legigraphical Chart.—
adieu dearest Sister Love to Joseph &, by the way, to Respects to Miss cornelia who [. . .] with you about the time this gets to Boston.—