Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Henry S. Randall

No. 10. Omitted by Mr Randall—if sent?

My dear Mr Randall,

I cannot myself give you any information as to what became of my grandfather’s letters to my mother.

She died at Edgehill, October. 1836. I was in Boston at the time of her death and never saw the papers which she left behind. Her father’s letters were no doubt among those papers, and must be in the hands of my sisters who were with her, or my brother Jefferson at whose house she died. I know that when absent from my grandfather she received very frequent letters from him. I remember distinctly that during his Presidency he wrote to her constantly. I was a child at the time, but every thing relating to him was of such importance in the family, that I have a perfect recollection of these letters, of the regularity with which they arrived & how eagerly they were watched for. I have since then, and at different times, read many of them, but I never asked for or obtained copies of any. I know that during the whole of Mr Jefferson’s public life he kept up a constant correspondence with his daughters. My aunt Eppes died in 1804, when only half of the term of his Presidency had expired. He continued to write to my mother till it’s close. He wrote also occasionally to my father. Whether these last letters were preserved I do not know. I was just must have been about five years old, & knew I believe how to read a printed book, when I received my first letter from my grandfather. It was the first great event of my life of which I have any recollection. The letter was read to me repeatedly and carefully preserved. It was lost, with all my other treasures of the same kind, a great many years afterwards. I do not know whether I ever mentioned to you a circumstance which, to this day, it fills me with grief & regret to think of. At the time of my marriage, all my belongings, except my summer wardrobe which I carried with me, were sent to Boston from Richmond, by sea. My books, my work box, my writing desk, the presents of my friends, my papers of every description, and far worse than all, my letters, including those received from my mother and from my grandfather, packed in trunks, were put on board a vessel which foundered on the passage. Every thing was lost! What bitter tears I shed over the wreck!—All the little memorials of friendship and affection. All the small objects that connected my girlish with my married life. And then my grandfather’s letters! No copies of them exist.—During the year which followed my marriage he wrote occasionally both to Mr Coolidge and myself. These letters I have, but they are, with one or two exceptions short, mere expressions of affection with occassional references to the University of Virginia which was then the thing uppermost in his mind. He was old, and his health infirm and the wonder is that he wrote to us as often as he did. I sent you some years ago a copy of a letter which he addressed to Mr Coolidge at the time he sent him the Desk on which was written the Declaration of Independence. This was given as some compensation for what I had lost.

I am very glad my cousin Francis Eppes has so readily responded to your appeal. He must have all the letters addressed to his mother. After her death my grandfather interested himself greatly in the education of her son & in the forming of his character. I have no doubt that his letters to him were many and full of wise and affectionate counsel. I have not seen my cousin for more than thirty years.

I think it probable that my sisters could furnish you with letters or extracts of letters from my grandfather to my mother, dating from 1800 to 1809.

I have been very frank, my dear Mr Randall, in communicating to you family secrets, wherever they were of a nature to throw light upon character, leaving it to your discretion so to dispose of them that while they were of service to you they could be of disservice to none. It is in this [. . .] spirit that I speak to you of the difference that certainly did exist in my grandfather’s estimate of his two daughters. My mother was his favorite, though my cousin Francis Eppes, a devotee to his mother’s memory, would naturally be mortified and incredulous were he to hear this said. But how could it be otherwise? “Martha” was, at my grandmother’s death, ten or twelve years old—old enough to be his her father’s companion & in a certain way his comforter. She accompanied him to Paris and never left him till her marriage. She was avowedly greatly the superiour in intellect, and of a more cheerful & light-hearted temperament than her sister. “Maria” had exquisite beauty, and was a person of high principles & warm affections, but not remarkable for capacity or cultivation. She was conscious of inferiority to her sister, and pained at it, simply it appeared because it made her a less fit companion for her father. She was utterly incapable of envy, and greatly attached to my mother—still somewhat jealous of the greater share she supposed her to possess of their father’s affection. My grandfather, very fond of both his daughters, without being aware of it himself, shewed his preference for the society of the elder. My aunt perceived it, became seriously disturbed by it, & finally betrayed her feelings to my mother, declaring her conviction that their father, however equally he might divide his attentions & his gifts between them, had made a most unequal division of his affections—that his preference of one daughter over the other was such as made it impossible for him to conceal it.

My mother was greatly distressed and did & said all she could to remove these unpleasant impressions from her sister’s mind. She found it impossible to convince her, and perceiving that the evil increased, she took the only method that remained to remedy it. She informed her father of it’s existence. He had not been aware of the state of his younger daughter’s feelings, and with the entire approbation & consent of my mother, he adopted a plan to soothe and heal them. There were certain small services which he had been in the habit of requiring from his daughters, more to gratify them, than that these services could not have been as well performed by others. From this time it was almost always upon Maria that he called for these little personal attentions. He addressed himself to her for many small offices which brought them more immediately together. He redoubled his kindnesses and his affectionate anticipation of her wishes, but so carefully and delicately as never to awaken her suspicions, or shock her by the thought that she was treated as a child whose wayward fancies were to be humoured. I have it from the best family authority that this wise and judicious course was entirely successful, and that my aunt became perfectly satisfied & secure in the coveted share of her father’s love—, whilst my mother rejoiced that the shadow had passed from her sister’s spirit and that thenceforth all was sunshine between them.

Do you not feel that such details as these let you into the secret of the extraordinary affection which my grandfather inspired in his family & friends? Of the sort of worship with which they all regarded him? I have never known any one so much beloved by those who came nearest to him.

And now for the present farewell. I am always willing to answer such of your questions as come within my sphere.

Very truly yours,
E. W. C.
Tr (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, Letterbook); in the hand of Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge.
Recipient
Henry S. Randall
Date Range
Date
July 31, 1856
Collection