Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Pernier to Thomas Jefferson, 10 February 1810

From John Pernier

Washington City 10th February 1810


It is with deference I take the liberty of stating to you my distressed situation, ever since I had the pleasure of seeing you, in consequence of indisposition and being without employ— The misfortunes attending me at this time, has been produced in a great measure by the Melancholy death of Governor Lewis; in whose service I had been in, for a length of time, with but little remuniration; my case is truly hard, as on application to the General Government for redress, I was refused; under an impression that my Contract with the Governor was of a private nature; therefore did not obtain any settlement—I am sorry to trouble you, but from your knowledge of me flatter myself, you will use your influence with his Representatives to obtain me justice—

The following is a statement of my account with the Estate of Governor Lewis for your perusal—

The Estate of Governor Lewis

To John Pearny  Dr
For my services as an attendant on the late Governor Lewis while exploring Louisiana from the 1st July 1807 to 1st December 1809 the day I arrived at the Seat of Government 29 Mos @ 10 Drs $290
For two Suits of Cloths of superfine Cloth per verbal agreement     85
Supra Cr $375
By 6 Months pay Received of Governor Lewis 60
By 1 public Horse sold by me 43.50   103.50
Balce due $271.50

You will please to observe from the above statement that a balance remains due to me of $271.50 which at this time; could I be, in the receipt of the same it would ameliorate my distresses—I have therefore to solicit you in your goodness to endeavor to have a speedy settlement made in order that I may be enabled to pay my just debts & resqued from prison which inevitably must be the case should I not succeed—Your kind attention to the foregoing Requests will confer many obligations on your—

Obliged & very Humble servant.

John Pearny

RC (DLC); in an unidentified hand, signed by Pernier; on one folio sheet; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Feb. 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in TJ to William D. Meriwether, 21 Aug. 1810.

John Pernier (Pearny) (d. 1810), a free mulatto, worked for TJ at the presidential mansion from 1804 until he left Washington in 1807 as personal servant to Meriwether Lewis. He witnessed Lewis’s death in October 1809, with one contemporary blaming the suicide on Pernier’s negligence and some later writers alleging that he murdered Lewis. Pernier subsequently visited TJ in Albemarle County and on 26 Nov. 1809 received $10 from the ex-president to assist him in his return to the capital. After his arrival there he lodged with another of TJ’s former servants, John Christoph Süverman. Impoverished and in poor health, Pernier died of a laudanum overdose on 29 Apr. 1810 (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 , 2:1137, 1250; Donald Jackson, “On the Death of Meriwether Lewis’s Servant,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , 3d ser., 21 [1964]: 445–8; Gilbert C. Russell to TJ, 31 Jan. 1810; Süverman to TJ, 5 May 1810).

A copy of Pernier’s statement of my account, described as an account with the United States rather than Lewis but otherwise nearly identical, was enclosed in Süverman to TJ, 8 Aug. 1810.

Index Entries

  • Lewis, Meriwether; death of search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; J. Pernier’s claim against estate of search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; personal belongings of search
  • Pernier (Purney), John; account with M. Lewis search
  • Pernier (Purney), John; and M. Lewis’s death search
  • Pernier (Purney), John; identified search
  • Pernier (Purney), John; letters from search
  • Pernier (Purney), John; travel expenses paid search
  • suicide; and M. Lewis search