Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John Harvie, 28 December 1809

To John Harvie

Monticello Dec. 28. 09.


When I had the pleasure of seeing you in Charlottesville, I had not for a considerable time looked with attention into the papers concerning my title to the lands on the top of the mountain which were in question between your father & myself. I have now re-examined them and am confirmed in the belief that while justice cannot but pronounce that these lands were my property, the law itself will also admit that no act or default of mine has forfieted them. as I understand that you have sold your Belmont tract, & with it this adjoining parcel, it becomes proper that we should no longer delay the settlement of the title. my claim has been reduced, by my own gratuitous concession to Colo Randolph, to that moiety of the 490. acres which is held under James Marks. I propose that we shall proceed according to agreement to the nomination of arbitrators. the position of the land as well as our own, naturally designates the field for the choice of arbitrators, within which, plain, honest, intelligent men may doubtless be found acceptable to us both. the papers, as they were made up & sent to mr Burwell for communication to your father & the arbitrators who were then to have been chosen, have remained ever since in the same arrangement, & are ready to be delivered to those we may now appoint. In our conversation at Charlottesville you suggested the idea of compromising the question by pecuniary compensation. for the sake of peace & friendship, I should not reject the idea; but then the compromise must bear some proportion to what I think myself of the solidity of my right; a partition of the price on terms more equal than the sum named by you. that was little more than the tenth of what I believe you are to recieve for the lands. at the same time I candidly acknolege that the price you are to recieve is so much beyond the market price of lands here, that I believe it might afford both of us a compensation so near the market value as might reasonably satisfy both in a litigious case. however I have noticed this alternative merely because it was suggested by yourself, & to manifest my willingness to meet you in any reasonable form of accomodation. as soon as I heard you had sold the lands to mr Taylor, I ought perhaps in strictness of law to have given him personal notice of my claim. but I considered this as dispensed with by your assurance in our conversation at Charlottesville, that the price you recieved should be equally liable to my claim in your hands, as the lands themselves would have been, and I did not desire, as I then said, to disturb, for so small a portion, the sale of your whole tract to mr Taylor. litigation has ever been to me the most painful business I could be engaged in. to this has been owing some of the delays in the present case. the discussion however in this case has been attempered by candor & friendship. and by the honest and mutual desire of seeking nothing but what is right. that this spirit animated your father, his letters on this subject, as well as his character prove. that it is equally yours, I feel as entire confidence as I have a knolege that my own wishes have no other object. in this spirit I tender you the assurances of my esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (MHi); at foot of first page: “John Harvey esq.”; endorsed by TJ.

John Harvie (1783–1838), of Rockingham County, was the son of John Harvie (1742–1807), a prominent attorney and politician, and the grandson of TJ’s guardian John Harvie (1706–67). By 1812 Harvie moved to Woodford County, Kentucky, and he later settled in Frankfort, where he served as president of the Bank of Kentucky for about eight years starting in 1820, sat on the board of trustees of the Kentucky Seminary from 1821 until at least 1830, helped supervise the construction of a new statehouse in Frankfort starting in 1826, and represented the Whig Party in the state legislature, 1835–36 (The Biographical Encyclopædia of Kentucky [1878], 234–5; Clay, Papers description begins James F. Hopkins and others, eds., The Papers of Henry Clay, 1959–1992, 11 vols. description ends , 3:228; “Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Kentucky Seminary from January 1812 to January 1830,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 48 [1950]: 15–21, 24).

In March 1773 TJ received an order in council to survey and patent a 1000-acre tract of land just northeast of his Lego farm. Because of his inability to get the property surveyed prior to his departure for Europe in 1783, TJ only received a patent for the western half of the property, while james marks patented the eastern half. Thomas Mann Randolph (1741–93) also laid claim to the land patented by Marks, who agreed to divide it evenly. Harvie’s father later purchased both Randolph’s and Marks’s shares of the Southwest Mountain tract. TJ asserted a claim to the land that passed through Marks and unsuccessfully attempted to bring the case to arbitration both in the mid-1790s and during his second presidential term. Pleading the press of business, in 1806 he selected William A. burwell to act for him. In February 1810 TJ and Harvie agreed to split equally the value of the disputed land (Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, 1953 description ends , 325–6; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 16:97–100, 19:74–6, 28:337–8; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1257; TJ to John Harvie [1742–1807], 15 Aug. 1805, 21 May 1806 [MHi]; Agreement with John Harvie, 17 Feb. 1810).

attempered: suitably modified (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

Index Entries

  • Belmont tract; sale of search
  • Burwell, William Armistead; and TJ’s dispute with J. Harvie search
  • Harvie, John (1742–1807); and Southwest Mountain tract search
  • Harvie, John (1783–1838); and sale of Belmont estate search
  • Harvie, John (1783–1838); identified search
  • Harvie, John (1783–1838); letters to search
  • Harvie, John (1783–1838); TJ’s dispute with search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business & Financial Affairs; dispute with J. Harvie search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; litigation search
  • Marks, James; and Southwest Mountain tract search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1741–93) (father of Thomas Mann Randolph [1768–1828] and Thomas Mann Randolph [1792–1848]) search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); and Southwest Mountain tract search
  • Southwest Mountain tract (Albemarle Co.); dispute over ownership search
  • Taylor, Thomas; purchases Belmont estate search