Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Wirt, with Jefferson’s Notes, 4 May 1797

From William Wirt, with Jefferson’s Notes

Pen. Park. May 4th. 1797

Dear Sir

Mrs. Gilmer directs me to enquire whether you can furnish her

with 20,000.  6 penny nails
10,000. 16 penny do.
   200. 30. penny do.?

In what time they can be got ready? Or, if they be now ready, whether it would suit you to take a draught for the amount on Mr. James Brown of Richmond payable on sight, or to wait for the money until the post from Richmond to Charlottsville gets again in motion? Your answer by the bearer will oblige, Sir, Yours respectfully

Wm. Wirt

[Notes by TJ:]

d £
7/3 1/2 per M 140. VI. 12 1/2  7— 5—10
17/6 200. XVI. 10 1/2  8—15—
 11. XXX 4. I. long @ 10d per ℔     9— 2

ordered to be delivered May 10th.

July 15. 5. VIII 12d  0— 5— 0
3. XXX 10d  0— 2— 6
18. 5. VIII 12d  0— 5— 0
17— 2— 6
Aug. 2. by order on James Brown 17— 2— 6

RC (MHi); with subjoined notes by TJ; endorsed by TJ.

With no formal education beyond grammar school, William Wirt (1772–1834) earned recognition for his literary productions as well as his attainments as an attorney. A native of Maryland, he read law in a private office and first began to practice in Culpeper County, Virginia. In 1795 he married Mildred Gilmer of “Pen Park,” the Gilmer family estate in Albemarle County. Her father died not long after, which accounts for Wirt’s role, in the letter above, in ordering nails for his mother-in-law, Lucy Walker Gilmer. After the death of his wife in 1799 he relocated to Richmond, where he practiced law and was clerk of the House of Delegates, 1799–1802. He married, in 1802, Elizabeth Washington Gamble. In 1800 Wirt served as co-counsel for the defense in the sedition trial of James Thomson Callender. Seven years later he assisted in the prosecution of Aaron Burr. In 1817 Monroe appointed him attorney general of the United States, an office he held until 1829, arguing for the government in such landmark Supreme Court cases as McCulloch v. Maryland and the Dartmouth College case. In 1803 he established his literary reputation with the first installment of The Letters of the British Spy. His other writings included Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, published in 1817. Wirt gave the major oration in a memorial service held by the House of Representatives following the deaths of TJ and John Adams in 1826 (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, Richmond, 1978 description ends , 215, 219, 223).

Letters from TJ to Wirt of 5 Jan. and 2 Feb. 1796, one from Wirt to TJ incongruously recorded as written on 8 Jan. but received on 7 Jan. 1796, and another from Wirt written on 2 Feb. and received 3 Feb. 1796 are all recorded in SJL but have not been found.

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