Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Dorcas Montgomery, 16 [May] 1788

From Dorcas Montgomery

Paris the 16th. [May] 1788


I beg ten Thousand pardon’s for the Liberty I take, in recommending my Fatherless Son to your advice. The inclos’d writings I think very unjust, as my Son’s personal Fortune is not more than eight Thousand pound’s American money. If he complys with the inclosed agreement, He will be without any Cash. Mr. Pigott has acted by me a cruel, and ungenerous part, in Kidnaping my son into a marriage, and in making Him settle the principal of His personnal Estate upon His Daughter, and Her Children. I informed Mr. Pigott before my sons marriage that the Laws in Pennsylvania made a Provision for the Wife, by allowing Her one third of His Personal Estate. In that case my son’s wife, would claim near Six Thousand pounds American money from my Son’s real estate.—Mr. Pigott in Pisa insulted me basely, and took my son from me, and provided him with other Lodgings. Upon my being informed of the above, I sent for me son. He returned for answer He would not come, upon which I went to Mr. Pigott’s and demanded him. His Daughter flew into a Chamber with Him and Lock’d the Door. I demanded my son of Mr. Pigott in a spirited manner, upon which He insulted me, and threatened me with the Consul of England, and that He would send me to prison. I defv’d him and his English Consul, with adding I had the protection [of the] Grand Duke. In one word I remain’d there from eight in the Evening until half after Eleven aClock, at night, in receiving nothing but abuse. I then inform’d him that I had Parents right, and that I should claim protection under the Civil Government. I accordingly went to the first magistrate, who was in his bed, but upon being inform’d that I was a Stranger, He rise. I simply repeated the facts. He ask’d me if I objected to my Son’s marrying the young Lady. No, except their youth. He very politely beg’d me to return to my Lodgings, that my son should be with me in half an Hour, which was the case. He sent the next Day for my Son and Mr. Pigott, and give them a sever reproof.—I was quite a Stranger to the inclosed writing until two Days since when my Son shewed me the inclos’d. I advised him to propose friendly to Mr. Pigott to give a certain sum, and distroy the first writing. I am very sensible How much your time is employ’d, and beg a thousand pardons for the liberty I take.

I have the Honor to remain very respectfully Sir Your most. Obedt. & very Humble Servt.

D. Montgomery

RC (MHi); endorsed; recorded in SJL Index as written 16 May 1788. Enclosures: The Inclos’d writings by Pigott have not been found, but their purport is clear, especially if viewed also in the light of TJ’s letter to Pigott of 3 June 1788.

Robert Pigott (1736–1794), an eccentric reformer in dress and diet, whose daughter had married Robert Montgomery, had thought in 1776 that the American revolution meant the ruin of England, had sold his Chetwynd and Chesterton estates that were reputedly worth £9,000 a year, and had retired to the continent, where he became acquainted with Voltaire, Franklin, Brissot de Warville, and other figures of the Enlightenment. He created or adopted various fads—at one time or another being a zealous advocate of vegetarianism (though condemning bread), a crusader against hats as supposed symbols of ecclesiastical and political despotism, an admirer of James Graham and his electric bed, a gambler who once wagered 500 guineas with Sir William Codrington that his father would outlive Sir William’s (not knowing that the elder Pigott had died a few hours before the bet was placed), and an enthusiast over the French revolution, even in its excesses (DNB description begins Dictionary of National Biography, 63 vols. description ends ).—Mrs. Dorcas Armitage Montgomery was married on 20 Aug. 1767 to Robert Montgomery of Christiana Bridge, Delaware, who died at the age of 27 on board his brigantine Harmony in the Bay of Gibraltar on 28 Apr. 1770, leaving her a widow with two children, Thomas (who also died in 1770) and Robert, at seventeen the husband of Pigott’s daughter (from a communication from George H. Fairchild, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, to the Editors, 2 Feb. 1956). Mrs. Montgomery corresponded with Franklin in 1781 about her son’s schooling, thinking first to place him in or near Paris but finally concluding, possibly to her later regret, to settle in Geneva. From that place she entrusted Pigott with a letter to Franklin, wherein she described him as a friend to America (Mrs. Montgomery to Franklin, 21 Nov. 1781; PPAP). TJ possessed a copy of Pigott’s address to the National Assembly entitled Liberté de la Presse (Sowerby, description begins Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, compiled with annotations by E. Millicent Sowerby, Washington, 1952–55 description ends No. 2555).

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