Thomas Jefferson Papers

Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson to Eleanor Conway Madison, 8 August 1780

Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson to Eleanor Conway Madison

Richmond August 8th 1780


Mrs. Washington has done me the honor of communicating the inclosed proposition of our sisters of Pennsylvania and of informing me that the same grateful sentiments are displaying themselves in Maryland. Justified by the sanction of her letter in handing forward the scheme I undertake with chearfulness the duty of furnishing to my country women an opportunity of proving that they also participate of those virtuous feelings which gave birth to it. I cannot do more for its promotion than by inclosing to you some of the papers to be disposed of as you think proper.

I am with the greatest respect Madam Your most humble servant,

Martha Jefferson

RC (NcDAH). At foot of text: “To Mrs James Madison.” Enclosure missing. The original is one of the very few surviving examples of Mrs. Jefferson’s handwriting, for after her death in 1782 her husband evidently destroyed all records of the brief but very happy period of his married life with her. These are the only MS records that, so far as the editors know, he ever did destroy, and he seems never to have alluded to the fact that he had done so.

The letter pertains to a colorful but little-noticed incident of the Revolution—the organization of “ladies’ associations” in the states from New Jersey to Virginia to collect money and make clothing for the ill-provided Continental soldiers. The movement began in Philadelphia under the leadership of Esther DeBerdt Reed, wife of Joseph Reed, president of Pennsylvania; correspondence between the Reeds, Washington, Lafayette, and others relating to it, together with full records of the campaign for donations in Philadelphia, is printed in William B. Reed’s Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Phila., 1847, ii, 260–71, 428–49; see also Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xix. xxi, passim; Frank Moore, Diary of the American Revolution, N.Y. and Lond., 1860, ii, passim (newspaper extracts), In Virginia, at Mrs. Washington’s suggestion, Mrs. Jefferson was placed at the head of what would now be called the “drive” for funds. A public announcement of the plan, perhaps written by her with her husband’s collaboration, is in Va. Gaz. (d & n), 9 Aug. 1780; it proposes that the collections be made at the churches throughout the state, “at which sermons suited to the occasion will doubtless be preached by the several Ministers of the Gospel.” At one time there was among TJ’s papers an undated and very fragmentary return of the Virginia ladies’ donations. It is printed in TJR description begins Thomas Jefferson Randolph, ed., Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, 1829 description ends , i, 459–60 (Appendix, Note D), where it is said to have been “inserted” among TJ’s papers following his letter to George Washington, 2 July 1780. The original has not been found.

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