Cornelia J. Randolph to Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge

We thought this morning, dear sister, that aunt Marks was dying, I did not think she had more than a few minutes to live. They had taken her up as usual to dress her & had completed what was absolutely necessary when she became so faint, or rather so much like death that aunt Scilla sent for mama who was not present at the time; her eyes were fixed, her features distorted, her breath came at long intervals her hands were cold & her pulse gone; she has however revived & except that she is still lower than usual which we observe no difference, she cannot live I think longer than a few days & will probably go off to morrow morning which is the time (the morning) she is usually worst, nor is it desirable she should live; for some time past it has been as if we were performing the offices of nurses to one who had been a corps for days, as if death had seized on the body before the soul had left it; I do not know whether mortification has taken place or whether it is the consequences of this most horrible of all deseases. Aunt Scilla has nursed her through the whole with a care & attention as unwearied as it is watchful, bearing patiently with the fretfulness & ill humour of disease & discomfort, sleeping in her room at night & watching by her during the greater part of the day; she has spared us much. it has not yet been necessary for us to set up all night with aunt Marks though probably it will be to night.Mama wrote to you a week ago, dearest sister, & probably told you all about our poor father that you would like to know; it was a great comfort to us that he died among us all & had every thought thing that he desired or that could alleviate his sufferings & it was a comfort to him to be surrounded by his family, his wife administering to him, his daughters around his bed fanning him through the day & his sons through the night, he repeatedly expressed his satisfaction at it; but chiefly did we thank god that he was at peace with all the world & had subdued all his resentments; if from the force of habit he impatiently expressed dislike or displeasure, he checked himself instantly. he spoke of all his family frequently with great affection though he rarely separated us, only twice that I remember, once when he feared that Lewis had become so estranged from him that his heart could not then return to him which distressed Lewis much & that night he stood the whole night by his bedside fanning him; & once he said to Virginia “may you have such a child (as her self) in your old age” he seemed to retain his mind perfectly untill the last sleep from which he never awoke.I know not when our afflictions will end, & wonder we are not crushed to the earth by the weight of them; to become familiar with the face of death in our own family, to be driven from the home where the last melancholy pleasure we can enjoy, alone is found, the pleasure of contemplating these beautiful scenes where every thing is so strongly associated with our dear grand father that he seems yet to be present, I should have thought formerly was more than man mortal could [. . .] bear but we must bear all, ‘that which our souls refused to touch has become as our sorrowful meat’ all the other evils of poverty are nothing; of what consequence is it what cloth we they wear, & what what food they eat to those who care not for their looks & think not of their palates & as for hard work which begins with the rising sun & ends with the setting, I have given up all ambition & all pride, & put down the dusting brush or the needle, smooth my hair & come out to receive company feeling as much a lady as I have done when I lay laid by my book or drawing for the same purpose.

This place never looked so lovely & the house never so beautiful as now T the very luxuriance of the wild things growing up in the yard has a beauty in it, the thickening shade of the unpruned trees [. . .] closing round the house as if to conceal it from the prophane eyes of those who respect no more the house of Thomas Jefferson than that of one of themselves & who would turn it into a boarding house probably if it was sold to them; to me this seems like prophaning a temple & I had rather the weeds & wild animals that which are fast taking possession of the grounds should grow in and live in the house it self; when I came I was sad to see the negro cabins lying in little heaps of ruin every where but I would see the house itself in ruins before I would see it turned into a tavern. since the pictures [. . .] have been taken down, & the rooms in grandpapa’s suite which we use have been opened, & the furniture is gone I have admired the house more than I ever did; the old furniture we had disfigured it. we could live here with much comfort & much trouble but I would take it as it comes rather than go away. Mama I think will go to Philadelphia, that place will be equally distant from her children [. . .] is cheap, & besides she has an affection for it & if she is pleas[. . .] shall all be so; thank god, her health is very good now [. . .] cannot do any thing in Philadelphia I suppose to add to our [. . .] & I own for my own part I had rather be doing something to effect this even keeping school, [. . .] than set down quietly on our little, but mama is too old now to undertake any thing so different from her mode of life heretofore, & besides so sedentary an employment as schooling would not suit her health. I do not like the thoughts of living in Philadelphia to say truth. I should prefer Boston to any place but we could not make out to live there I suppose on our 12 hundred a year.I am afraid dearest sister my letter is very incoherent & perhaps a little bordering on extravagance but you must excuse it, I am sick with the fumes of the tobacco & vinegar we have been burning in aunt M.s room. give my love & a kiss to my dear Joseph & to my own sweet Nell & Bess; dear little things mama pines for Nell now & I shall never love any child more than I do her. The babies here become more & more engaging & are our only amusement, they are very different from each other Willie is handsome sprightly bold & manly with a very intelligent face Pat is delicacy itself & weak & languid, her greatest delight is to “seepy ped with mudder” at any time in the day, & already begs to be put in the “yed chair” (the campeache) she is also very affectionate & very intelligent & very neat. Virginia’s complaints I am affraid [. . .] are not dispepsia & that we shall have a little Thomas Jefferson added to our babies.We received a visit the other day from some of your Tayloe friends, two gentleman of that name, Mrs Julia Maria Dickenson Tayloe (who brought her album to get some of grandpapa’s & some of mama’s writing this book professed to be a book containing the hand writing of the great men of America) & Miss Virginia Tayloe. Adieu dearest sister I will write certainly to the Bradfords & Lucy Ann Derby; I should like to know Isabella B’s direction I wil wish you would tell it to me. your most affectionate sister. remember me to my friends & to Josephs family.

Half past 4 tuesday morning, 7 8th

Aunt Marks died this morning at ten about ten minutes before four. having been apparently speechless & unconscious ever since yesterday morning. I kept my letter open untill the last day that I could keep it to tell you how she was. We have set up with her the last two nights. or rather in the room next to her from which we frequently went to see her. her [. . . .]

RC (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence); mutilated at seal; last sentence of postscript deleted; addressed: “To Mrs Joseph Coolidge Junr Boston Massachusetts”; stamped; postmarked Charlottesville, 8 July; endorsed by Coolidge: “Cornelia. 6. July. 1828. A sad, sad letter!”; with notes by Coolidge: “Aunt Marks her melancholy state & death. Fidelity of Aunt Scilla—Some particulars of Papa’s last illness. Beautiful Monticello! Grief at quitting it. Misfortunes of the family—Are they ever to end? Recollections of our dear Grandfather. His home to be profaned.”
Date Range
July 6, 1828 to July 8, 1828