Cornelia J. Randolph to Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge

I have been prevented from writing to you, my dear sister, by mama’s intention of doing the same thing, & she was prevented by the accident of visitors coming in several times just as she had begun her letter; this was the reason you did not hear from us as soon after our arrival as we intended you should do.

We are none of us in very good spirits just now owing to the probability there is of Monticello being sold; Dr Barclay (one of Mrs Harris’s sons) has offered brother Jeff. his house in Charlottesville Mr Hatch’s house) & $9000 for the place. The thing is not determined yet; brother Jeff. will not make the bargain unless he can sell the house in Charlottesville, which they say he can do, nor do I believe that Dr B. is positively determined on the purchase. His offer is quite a liberal one, brother J. asks about 12,000 for Monticello & Dr B. offers him his house for what he gave for it $3500, although he has made improvements in it since he got it. There remain $30.000 of the debts still to be paid & the creditors are pressing & he (brother J.) has made nothing from the publication of the manuscripts so that he considers himself very fortunate to be able to get the sum I mentioned, he thinks indeed Dr Barclay will buy land enough round Monticello to make the sum $14,000. But in spite of these advantages it is a blow to us particularly as we had been dreaming lately, almost hoping to return there to live; for although at the end of the session of Congress we considered the idea of making mama a donation, idle talk, there has since seemed to us some possibility of its being done. We have been told by several persons that the measure was looked on favourably in Congress (the Virginia delegation always excepted) & we have seen Mr Poindexter since we have been here & he has talked of his plan to Mama & brother Jeff. & if they make this donation it will enable us to live at Monticello if it is not sold. Mr Poindexter’s plan is that the donation should be in lands entirely for Congress will grant lands when they will not money.

The Virginia delegation will certainly oppose the measure on the ground of its unconstitutionallity, but really, I believe, because there is a feeling of hostility towards every thing of Thomas Jefferson’s, in this state; it is said in R that in Richmond his principles are considered as having gone out of fashion; do you reccollect Mr Correa’s saying that Richmond was perfectly dark?I cannot but feel very bitter sometimes against our state & if Monticello is sold I shall wish never to set foot on in it again, indeed Mama has suffered so much much at the prospect of losing Monticello that I wish we had not returned this summer; she had a fever for several days after hearing of Dr Barclay’s offer & is by no means well now; it is cruel to think that at her age she should be driven away an exile & from a home too so sacred to her. I think we shall never feel at home again; we have lived 18 months in Washington & scarcely know our neighbours by sight, yet I know not any other place where we should be better satisfied; the truth is we have been people of consideration in the world & now are poor & neglected; people wont will not give something for nothing, they wont will not pay attentions to those whom it is not their interest to court, or who are gone out of fashion. yet all this we have learnt, or are learning to [. . .] bear but it is harder to learn to [. . .] consider dear Monticello the property of strangers. I wish sometimes (for my regret for the loss of that place & indignation against our state, though they seem to have but little connexion with each other, always rise together in my mind) I wish that every drop of his blood could leave the state; I liked Joseph’s plan of forming a colony in our lands in the moon, ([. . .] he however is the last person I should [. . .] have thought such an idea would come into the head of) but Mama would never sink deeper into the slough of slavery, & sister Jane (who has a colony of her own) has an equal horror for it; for my part I have lived so long among slaves that though I disapprove of the system as much as any one can do, I have quite an affection for them & like to be served by them. If I could I would make the whole world free, but as I cannot I am content to live as I have lived all my life.One word more of Dr Barclay, he is an excellent young man, much beloved by those who know him, & entirely friendly in his feelings to us. he has lately married an heiress. I have said nothing of our family here; even [. . .] our brothers you are but little acquainted with. Ben is, or rather soon will be a Dr; he is perfectly good; good hearted, good principled & good tempered, a great favorite at the university for these reasons. with the rest of his goodness, he has good[ness?] though not talents & has very good industrious habits. Lewis [. . .] lawyer, or will be. he has the same good habits that Ben has, & I am [incli?]ned to think most boys brought up at home will have them. he has more talent perhaps than Ben & would better grace the fashionable world. as to James I do not know what to say of him; he wants something very much but I do not know what it is, not heart, certainly, nor temper, for he is very quiet tempered, nor industry for he will work himself to death if you set [hi]m to it & just as soon works for another as for himself; he will dig with a hoe in the hottest sun or he will lie on his back & read all day, or he will sleep all day or (simple as a child) he will play with the children & their toys & never tire. but though a judicious person might make him do any thing, he will never make his own way in the world. He is an immense man, exceedingly ugly; his manners as you may suppose are not improved by seeing no society but that of his negroes & his neighbour Mr Sampson. & yet James is naturally gentlemanly in his manners. Sister Jane’s children have all the best dispositions in the world but their manners are neglected. Mrs N. did the same thing before her daughter. As the children grow up older however, their own good sense & discretion & good example teaches them the way they ought to go. they all have handsome faces but bad figures, they are much too thin & have very hollow chests the two eldest are almost as tall as we are & have not the least bosom. Tom is a very sweet smart little fellow, the darling of his father who is some what inclined to spoil him, he already takes him to ride about the yard behind him on horseback. Jane says she knows what sort of a character he will be, one who will be always making a fool of himself that others may laugh; he is some what waggish. he is a very pretty child. Mr B. has married a vulgar shrew who hates his children; her character is not [su]spected, however, by the world. John & Ellen are the very opposites in temper, he has a temper that nothing will ruffle, she is high tempered enough but a girl of a great deal of character; the mother in law hates the mild tempered one rather the most of the two. Ellen returns with us to Washington. [. . .] Her person is one to make a shew [. . .] among the [. . .] & fashionable; her figure is very good, a swanlike neck, falling shoulders plump chest, round bosom, slender waist, remarkably small foot; she is very graceful in her motions & dances & waltzes only second best to Tim.

Nicholas is gone to the Rip Raps & Old Point with the president; Virginia though left with none but Browse & her children, rejoices because of the benefit it will be to N.s health which [. . .] has been very bad.

Browse has been appointed surveyer general in Louisiana with a salary of $2000 a year We cannot bear to lose him we all think so highly of him & are really so much attached to him. And Nicholas is devoted to him.

Adieu dearest sister. Is not Bessy’s birthday the same with mine? the 26th of July.
RC (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence); torn at seal and fold; addressed: “To Mrs Joseph Coolidge Junr Boston Massachusetts”; stamped; postmarked Everettsville, 29 June; endorsed by Coolidge: “Cornelia 29. June. 1831”; with additional notes by Coolidge: “an interesting letter. Mamma & my sisters at Edgehill. Monticello to be sold—Dr Barclay. Mr Poindexter tries for a donation—opposed by the members from Virginia. Cornelia’s just resentment & would shake the dust from her feet in leaving the State. Objects to slavery but not to slaves. Downfall of the Monticello family. Our brothers. Our nieces. Mr Bankhead’s second marriage.”
Date Range
June 29, 1831