Martha J. Trist Burke’s Transcript of Ellen W. Randolph Harrison’s Anecdotes of “Child Life” at Monticello

“As Jefferson’s daughters were both married before his 1st Presidential term, it is his grandchildren who appear on the roll of the “Children of the White House”; and in the roll of “children of his old age” we find the children of “Dear Patsey”

Mrs T. M. Randolph

and her chivalerous lover like husband.

T. M. Randolph

At Edge Hill, In the the White House and finally when “Grandpapa’s” public duties were over, the “home life” of “Monticello.” The oldest “Anne Cary” (named for her grand mother, the daughter of “Old Iron” of revolutionary times) was old enough, to appear at a ball in Washington. This she did, with some companions under the “chaperonage” of Mrs Madison. Anne brought up amongst the Mountains of Virginia, had not before been in “grande Toilette ball dress.” Mrs Randolph seeing a lovely fair haired girl entering the room turned to Mrs Cutts to know who she was? Mrs Cutts exclaimed Heavens woman, dont you know your own child? (Mrs R. was near sighted, dying at the age of 64, she had never needed glasses) “Thomas Jefferson,” named for his Grand father, and destined to be the support & comfort of his old age “Ellen” afterwards [“]Mrs Joseph Coolidge” of Boston, “Mary” who as a child was a miracle of beauty, exciting the admiration of all the visitors at the “White House,” “James Madison” born (in the early days of Jefferson’s administration) at the “White House,” Cornelia & Virginia born at the old (home at “Edgehill),”*

*“a mistake they were both C. & V. born at Monticello! the 6 first children, & the 3 last all were born at “Monticello.”

Benjamin Franklin born there but borne in the arms at six weeks to “Monticello.” The little family henceforth to find their home there, and to have added to their number “Merriwether Lewis”—“Septimia,” & “George Wythe” When Mr Jefferson visited the mother, on the birth of this her twelfth child, he in playful reproach said, “My dear! we shall have to send you back to the convent!”—The high sounding names of these little people, must have been a protest against the Dollys. & Pollys &ca of the past generation, as well as a tribute to “Dear Papa’s” friendships.

The surroundings of these children would be considered beggarly in these days of “Toy” making—a few dolls, (often of home manufacture). A “coral & bells” for the “baby”—home made carts, stilts & sleds, or bows & arrows, all enjoyed by both boys & girls. They enjoyed the care of Fowls—(for each had at least one hen) and the never ending amusement derived from rides on the Donkeys “Jack & Jenny” with them they shared their lunch, or begged meal or crusts from auntold Sukey” the cook. When Jefferson was old enough to walk to school, the little black “Phill” would be sent off with “Jack” to bring him home. The school mates would crowd on the Donkey as many as could sit on his bare back. Each boy armed with stick or switch, Poor “Jack” was started with a shower of kicks (almost harmless to him as neither white nor black wore shoes) and the crowd of legs sheilded him from all the blows, save those aimed at his long ears. “Jack” started off for home with a very rapid pace which was kept up ’till he began to feel tired, when he deliberately hitched the foremost boy’s knee against the corner of the fence, and with a vigorous push, sent them all into the road—before they could recover them selves, he was off in full run, and a hot chase, would only end at the gate entering the grounds! “Jenny” was more docile, she would often be sent with a bag of “corn” to the Mill, graze around ’till the meal was ground, when the bag being returned to her back, she & her sable commander conductorPhill” went home, walked into the large Kitchen, and turned her side to the “meal barrel” so that “old Suke” could empty the meal; her work being accomplished, she waited for her reward, a piece of corn bread, and nothing would induce her to leave the kitchen ’till she got it. On the removal of the family to “MonticelloGov. Randolph came constantly to attend the farming operations at “Edge Hill” My father Jefferson Randolph came over monday morning, and did not return to “Monticello” ’till Saturday night, walking every day to his school. Often his father stayed all night with him, but he was generally left to the care of the “Overseer,” who occupied a room in the house. The absence of the family restraint led to various amusements, which would not have been allowed, had “Mama”s watchful eye been upon the boy; Amongst these Mid night forays on “Wild Bee trees,” and possum hunting; both pursued by the light of the torch. The Bee trees had been found & marked in the day time, and the dogs guided to the haunts of the Racoon & Opossum. we may well guess the study of “Greek & Latin roots” must have been interred with by the enjoyments of Possum hunting, and taking of wild Bee nests; these enjoyments still dear to the hearts of country boys in Virginia; were pursued at night, in the company, and under the care of the Negro men. Jefferson often told with great enjoyment of a night spent in this way. The first tree (a giant of the forest) felled for the sake of the honey, proved barren of the coveted sweet; another was sought and felled with like success; by this time the little “Jefferson” was tired & sleepy and “Ben Brancher” a stalwart black took him on his back and carried him to “his wife’s house,” there cuddled up on “Bettie’s” bed he slept ’till the negros return from a more successful hunt. Old Betty “on hospitable cares intent” had a pot of hot coffee, fried meat & eggs, and a dish of honey ready to regale the whole party, “Mars Jeff” was roused from his slumbers, and seated at a little table covered with the best: while the blacks enjoyed arround the blazing fire, their well earned meal. Supper over, the men took it by turns to “tote” Mars Jeffy” back to the house The white manager roused up as the party returned after “day break,” to scold, and promise to tell “the Col,” if Jeff stayed out so late again—. This life was not I fear good for his studies, but it developed in my father a wonderful physique, a keenly observant eye, and self reliance, and a warmth of feeling between him and his negro guides and protectors, culminating in loyal service on the one side, & a kindly government when the reins came into my father’s hands. The life at “Monticello” was more varied than at “Edge Hill.” The grounds more extensive, and the house much larger. Amongst the visitors, moreover, there were many who made friends with bright, observant little people. Of these visitors none was more warmly welcomed, than Mrs Madison, who came every year with her husband for a visit of a month’s duration. Mrs Madison helped the older girls, with their darning, and fancy work, made clothes for the dolls, told such lovely fairy tales, and was so sympathetic and kind, that the youngest never hesitated to call on her kindly aid. On one occasion the little Benjaman Franklin, designated degenerated into “Ben” seated next Mrs M. found himself unequal to the management of his “muffin.” Mrs Madison’s aid being invoked, she took the knife to cut it, but a little hand was laid on hers, and an earnest voice exclaimed “No! No! that is not the way!” well how then master Ben? “Why! you must tear him open, and put butter inside, and stick holes in his back! and then pat him, & squeeze him, & the juice will run out!” Mrs Madison much amused followed his directions; any lover of the “English muffin” will appreciate their wisdom! The woods around the mountain sides offered never failing enjoyments, to peep through the Park pales, and watch the deer. to walk around the Shady “Round abouts,” which offered longer walks, as they followed in succession, til the last swept along the little river, which washed the base of the mountain. A visit to the “Hogshead” Spring, where the water received from the Mountain side, was conducted through a succession of these primitive resevoirs, til tumbling over the side of the last, a rivulet was formed, which was utilized for miniature Islands, lakes, and waterfalls. All other amusements failing, there was a visit to “Daddy” in the carpenters’ shops, to beg for nails & bits of wood, or to urge on, the completion of “a box for my drawings” or a table, or stand, or a flower box. Yes yes! my little “mistises,” but Grandpapa comes first! there are new book shelves to be made trelisses trellises for the roses, besides farm work to be done.” This reply brought down a clamor of tongues and “You know “Daddy” you promised” probably to be led to new promises. One day Daddy had quite a different visitor. The day was very hot, and the work bench offered a tempting place for a nap—and yielding to the temptation “Daddy” forgot himself, and his labors; some slight noise awakened him to see his master step noiselessly through the door, and close it after him, “Johnny Hemmings” had indeed been “caught napping” but by one who recognised in it, the needed rest of a faithful servant. There must of course have occurred jarrings amongst these young people, but the only one that has come down to us was when on a visit to the dolls, there was a wild wail, and a rush for mama’s sitting room, all the dolls had been found suspended by their necks! The sight was too horrible, & the little girls had flown to “mama’ for aid. Jefferson’s guilty looks drew forth a Fie fie tis unmanly from “papaand1 it’s cruel from “mama,” which ensured them against a repitition of the tragedy The horror which the younger children had for blood, caused a row of red wafers to afford perfect protection to the dolls from their incursions—We must not close leave these little people, without a word of the good “Priscilla,” who presided over the “nursery” through so many long years. At the “White House” we may picture her a tall and comely young woman watching over the children, in the nursery, or as they played in the “East room,” which was quite unoccupied save for the g+

+Made in Cheshire Massts & taken to Mr Jefferson by “Elder Leland.” 1800.

“Big Cheese” with it’s ponderous apparatus for turning it. Mrs Adams had “dried” clothes” there, and it afforded a royal play room for rainy weather.

As time passed on, and Priscilla’s charges were constantly added to “Isabella” was called in to aid, in the labors & care but the children were ever “loyal” in their devotion to “Mammy.” and when my father was over eighty years old, he climbed up a ricketty ladder that he might stand once more on the floor of his mammy’s room. The unroofing of an old building at “Edge Hill” exposed it, after having been covered for fifty years. My aunts, except Mrs Meikleham ([. . .]) never had a governess, or went to a regular school. My “Grandmother” with all the duties of Mother, Miss Mistress, & hostess, found time to teach them, & to aid materially in the education of a family of nieces (of Gov. Randolphs) who lived in the neighborhood. She had the happy faculty of inspiring them with such a thirst for information, that they never lost an opportunity for self culture, and were highly cultivated women. “Virginia” (Mrs N. P. Trist) dying at eighty congratulated herself the year before her death, that she “could at last read Don Quixote in the original”! She began the study of Spanish, when she was the mother of three children. Their moderate income entailed on them labors, which were often burthensome, but amidst them all there was a regular system of intellectual culture kept up.

It will interest you to know that boys clothes, and often the little girls dresses were from the wool grown at “Edge Hill” and manufactured in the cottage looms of the poor neighbors. Spun probably by the slaves, and dyed under Grandmama’s supervision.

Copied from E. W. Harrisons “memories”

finished July 16th 1888.

M. J. T. Burke
MS (ViCMRL); at head of text: “Copy of Ellen Wales Harrison’s anecdotes of ‘Child Life’ at Monticello recd July 5th 1888. to be forwarded to Mrs Pratt, Wide Awake publishing Co.”
1Manuscript: “ant.”