Nicholas P. Trist to Virginia J. Randolph Trist

Dearest wife

When did I write to you last? for I took no note of, and don’t recollect the time. I have been intending to do so again, a day or two before, and ever since, Ben’s arrival with the books. But, what with the business of the office, what with having to attend at the auction room from after dinner till bed time; I have not been able to snatch a moment till now. and this is necessarily short: for, in the first place, I could not commence writing till Ben had left me, on his return home—where he will get three or four days hence—and about five minutes after, when I had every thing ready before me, in the parlor which is usually empty on sunday morning, and where I had therefore ventured to take refuge from the discomfort of my room, a gentleman came called in, who has entertained me until this moment. The day before yesterday, I recd a note from Mr Rush, [. . .] inviting me to a [. . .] family dinner to-day. This I cd not decline: and my accepting shortens my time still more: for I have to shave & dress. It is the second time that I [. . .] dine out, since my return to Washington.

I recd Cornelia’s letter yesterday; too late to purchase any of the histories for Jefferson: they having been sold the evening previous. Mr Coolidge had, however, sent me carte blanche, and among those I bought for him, there are, doubtless, some he can spare to Jefferson. Moreover, from the manner in which things were working, I determined, at the very outset, almost, of the sale, to take the responsibility of bidding up. In this way, several other works remain in have fallen into my hands, from which I will select some such as I think Jefferson will like. I have no doubt whatever, that my pursuing this plan has made the sales 33 ⅓ per cent higher than they wd have otherwise been. I was well placed for the purpose, where no one could see me,& where I bid by touching the auctioneer’s leg. The first evening, it unfortunately happened that there was an evening session of Congress which kept the members away. There were but few other purchasers, although several had come from Baltimore for the purpose. The books went generally low. Yesterday evening, there were more buyers, & things went off better; I bidding for every work, as far as I could venture; and sometimes getting caught. Though I was generally successful in raising & then letting go.—The only book I have yet come to on Cornelia’s list for “US”, is Vertsegan; wh. I bought for something under $3.00. taking for granted there was some particular association connected with it. I bought last evening, for Joseph, the pickninie book on gardening by John Randolph, with a great many notes at the end by yr grand father for $5 and some cents: two or three times its weight in silver. I was on the point of letting it go: & I afterwards heard that the auctioneer had recd a peremtory order to buy it; but his heart failed him. They have not got quite thro’ quite one third of the books. The sale is resumed on monday. It wd have been more extensive last night, had they been able to assort more books in time; but they are in such confusion that four persons were employed all day yesterday, in the work, and only got thro’ a very small portion. If I can possibly spare the time, I must go & help them in this work, during the forenoons: but this is very doubtful. My labors are just commencing & will, in a day or two be such as to press very hard upon me. The business has been assigned to me, of keeping the rolls (i.e. the acts of Congress) & having them printed in the newspapers and then published in a book. The publication must be made, within 30 days of the adjournment of Congress: within this time, I have to receive the laws, have them printed in the newspapers, write marginal notes & prepare the index to the whole of them. I say the laws, because I am told that the portion which is sent to me before the adjournment of Congress, is but drop in the bucket. Congressmen are the most babyish procrastinators in the country—indeed this epithet applies to their conduct generally.—The books were are, some of them rubbed, and, unfortunately, among the best bound.

Adieu, dearest: the prospect of its their entitling me to a holyday to go & see you, will make my publishing labors, sit lightly. Love to all around you; say something to our darling, &, with it, to kiss little brother for me

Yr own

Kiss Harriet for me, & most friendly respects to uncle Tom & Jim. John Freeman begged me some time ago, to say from Mary. that she had called J. F’s last child Ellen after E. Coolidge.

RC (NcU: NPT); addressed: “To Mrs N. P. Trist Care of Thos. J. Randolph esq Everettesville Fluvana Albemarle County Willmington PO. Virginia”; stamped, with a subsequent additional charge for forwarding; postmarked Washington City, 3 Mar.

john freeman served as Thomas Jefferson’s dining-room servant at the White House and accompanied Jefferson back to Monticello when he returned for the summer months during his presidency. Freeman married Melinda Colbert (1787–1860), another Jefferson slave, and Freeman’s invalid sister-in-law Mary (1801–after 1831), whom the couple had purchased and freed in 1828, was living with the now free Freeman family in Washington (Lucia Stanton, Free Some Day: The African-American Families of Monticello [2000], 80, 129, 185).