George Wythe Randolph to James L. Cabell

Dear Sir

I have received your letter of the 25th, and but being confined to the house by an attack of measles from which I am not entirely recovered, some little time may elapse before I can comply with your request in reference to the Publisher. It will give me very great pleasure to aid you in any way in the publication of the “Early History of the University.” A few years ago I wrote to your Uncle in behalf of Henry S Randall of New York, who was writing a life of Mr Jefferson, to get some information about the early history of the Institution and learned that he contempleted a publication of the kind now proposed. Not hearing of it for some years I feared that it was abandonned. Your letter therefore was most gratifying and especially [. . .] as Randall will not go to press before the fall and will therefore receive the benefit of the work. The history of the University too is fast fading away and will soon be lost if steps be not taken to preserve it. Much of it is [. . .] tradition and an excellent opportunity is now offered for the preservation of this perishable part of the story. Can you not collect the authentic portions of it and incorporate them in the preface or appendix of the new work. It will serve admirably to complete the subject and save it from misrepresentation hereafter. Old Mr Garrett was better acquainted with the circumstances attending the rise of the institution than any living person, when I resided in Ch:ville, and it may be that his memory is still good with reference to transactions of that time, altho: it is entirely gone I am told with regard to recent occurrences. I dined with him almost every Sunday and regularly heard the story. According to his account the owner of the present Monticello house, for the purpose of raising the value of their property and partly no doubt from public spirit undertook to establish an academy. [. . .] Mr Garrett was one of the Trustees and together with his coadjutors consulted Mr Jefferson with regard to the course of instruction, organization &c. He advised them to enlarge their plan and to establish a College. They agreed to it and proposed to call the institution the “Jefferson College.” Mr Jefferson objected and said emphatically and repeatedly “call it the Central College.” his wishes prevailed and the Central College was founded. Subscriptions poured in so rapidly that his view enlarged still more and the University was determined upon. Mr Garrett was his factotum in the execution of the plan. He negotiated the purchase of the present site after struggling hard to buy from Mr Kelly the ridge of east of the University. Mr Kelly was a federalist and disliked Mr Jefferson, it was necessary to conceal from him therefore the real object of the purchase, he found it out however and told Mr Garrett that he would see Mr J “at the devil before he should have it at any price.” On being informed of this declaration Mr J said,1 “the man is a fool, but if we cant get the best site we must be content with the best we can get.” A negotiation was then commenced for the present site which soon resulted in its purchase. This explains the choice of an inferior location.

Mr Garrett used also to tell me that before the convention met at Rockfish gap to locate the University, Mr Jefferson made him write to all the Clerks in the State for the purpose of getting accurate information as to the distances of the several Court Houses from some fixed point possibly Richmond, and that Mr J collected accurate statistics of the population of the different Counties of the State. With these data he constructed a map showing the geographical2 centre and the centre of population. Probably by drawing lines and taking the resultant of them all their resultant. When the Convention met Mr J sat a silent listener to the discussion until [. . .] the body was fairly by the ears on the questions settled by him his map, when he drew it out and submitted it to them. Having agreed that the centre of population or possibly a combination of that with the geop geographical centre furnished the proper location and those centres being fixed with mathematical exactness by the map all further discussion was at an end. The location thus settled fell within a few miles of Rockfish gap and by a little stretching embraced Charlottesville and its neighbourhood.

I used to be struck with the exactness displayed by the old gentleman in the repetition of his story, never changing it in the least, and I inferred that his recollection was accurate.

Other old persons in Albemarle no doubt remember interesting incidents in the early history of the Institution which would illustrate and give interest to the Story. Mr Nelson Barksdale lent a helping hand as Mr Garrett told me and was much employed in getting subscriptions &. His intercourse with Mr J was constant and may afford some interesting reminiscences.

These things may be considered by some as impairing the dignity of history but we have high authority in Macaulay for the introduction of matters apparently trifling but really illustrative. He says in his essay on History that no anecdotes no peculiarity of manner, no familiar saying is too insignificant for notice which is not too insignificant to illustrate the operation of laws, religious education and the progress of the human mind. Trifles often make a more faithful picture than graver matters.

I had no idea however when I began of doing any thing more than explaining in advance my temporary inactivity, and answering such of your questions as I could answer.

1st Your title is excellent and cant be improved. It is both comprehensive and concise.

2nd I will see J W Randolph but think I had better exhibit the manuscript before requesting an offer. He could’nt make one, and probably would not do it without an examination of the manuscript. Is any thing to be gained by inviting an offer before exhibiting it?

3rd When the offer is made you can determine whether a publication by subscription will be best or not.

4th I think notices of the first corps of Professor would add interest to the work and would enhance the reputation of the University.

5th I do not know whether the missing letters are in Washington or not. I am endeavouring now at the request of Randall to procure the passage of a law giving the public access to the Jefferson manuscripts for historical purposes. I will write to Mr Mason immediately urging the speedy passage of the Act. An examination may then be made. None of the manuscripts are in Washingtons’ possession I believe. They are in the State Department and Mr Marcy refuses access to them without authority from Congress.

6th I can form no opinion as to the omission of manuscripts without seeing them. I would not omit them because they have been published elsewhere if the omission breaks the continuity of the work.

If you wish me to see Randolph before the manuscript comes down let me know and I will call on him. Had I not better let him understand that if his offer is not satisfactory the manuscript will be carried elsewhere. It will spur him up. I sold him the last edition of the Notes on Va and have some idea of what he should offer. I really must apologize for this unconscionably long letter and promise to be brief hereafter. With very great regard I am truly yours.

G W Randolph
RC (ViU: Cabell Papers); between dateline and salutation: “Professor Cabell”; endorsed on final page: “G. W. Randolph to Jas L. Cabell, Feb. 27th ’56.”
1Repeated “the” editorially omitted.
2Manuscript: “geophaical.”