Thomas Jefferson Papers

David Barrow to Thomas Jefferson, 20 March 1815

From David Barrow

Montgomery Kentucky, Near Mountsterling, March 20th 1815.

Very Dear Sir.

From whatever Motives it may have arisen, I have for many Years wished a personal Acquaintance with you: but as that is impracticable under existing Circumstances, I take the Liberty of addressing a few Lines to you. In doing which, I shall not let the Fear of being considered a Flatterer, or of doing you an Injury by letting you know my entire Approbation of the Spirit that breathes in your Writings1 & your public Conduct while you filled the highest Office in the Nation.2 These Considerations have endeared your Name & Character to me, & I feel it a Tribute justly due, from to you an unknown Individual to pay it, however small it may appear3 in the Aggregate. I congratulate you in that Repose, I trust you are enjoying in your Retirement from ardent public Labours, & on the Exhibition of the olive Branch of Peace; and I hope that the Sweets of those Reflections & Sensations will be greatly hightned in an [o]ld & trusty Servant, by the bright Prospects & comfortable Assurances of a blessed Immortality flowing through Jesus Christ our Lord. I trust that Bigotry, that tarnishes the Aspects & sours the Tempers of so many of the Professors of Christianity, has never influenced your Prejudice so as to bias your Judgment, relative to the great Subject of Religion: and I live under flattering Expectations that the Tolerance of our Government, will ultimately have the goodly Effect to remove4 those Animosities5 & party Spirit, that is too visible among the different Christian Sects, and that they will be6 led under the Influence of that “Charity that never fails7 to meet & embrace one another upon pure8 Apostolic Grounds, and thereby manifest to an admiring World, the native Beauty and Utility of the Doctrines & Morality of the Lord Jesus.

The enclosed Scraps will furnish you with a more9 general Idea, of some Things that have been agitated in this Quarter, than I have Time or Room at present to insert.—I forward them with a Hope, that at some leisure Hour, you may find Freedom to drop me some Hints, that your Knowledge, Feelings & Observations on the Subjects of Slavery & emancipation10 may dictate, which may be helpful to us in our present Struggles.

And now Dear Sir, I most sincerely pray, that after a Life of public Toil & Usefulness11 you may through Divine Grace,12 be found among the heavenly Songsters rendering “Blessing, and Honour, and Glory, and Power unto him who sitteth upon the Throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.”

I remain honored Sir, with every Sentiment of Esteem, yours to serve &c. &c.

David Barrow.

RC (MHi); edge frayed, with missing text supplied from Dft; endorsed by TJ as received from Mount Sterling on 13 Apr. 1815 and so recorded in SJL. Dft (OCU: John Day Caldwell Collection); dated 9 Mar. 1815; endorsed by Barrow: “Copy of a Letter to the Honourable Thos Jefferson Esqr Monticello Virginia.”

David Barrow (1753–1819), Baptist minister and abolitionist, was a native of Brunswick County. He joined the Baptist Church about 1770, was ordained around 1772, and served as a minister in Isle of Wight County, 1774–97. Barrow freed both of his slaves in 1784 and often spoke out thereafter about the evils of slavery. After two preliminary trips to Kentucky, he moved there permanently in 1798. In a letter he published that year, Barrow explained that he left Virginia partly because he could not prosper there without slaves. His support for emancipation led to several church schisms after his arrival in Kentucky, but he continued to preach. In 1808 Barrow published an important antislavery tract and helped to organize the Kentucky Abolition Society. As president of the society, in October 1815 he unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to set aside some public land for freed slaves. Barrow died at his home in Montgomery County, Kentucky (DVB description begins John T. Kneebone and others, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, 1998– , 3 vols. description ends ; John H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists [1886], 1:192–7; Carlos R. Allen Jr., “David Barrow’s Circular Letter of 1798,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892–  description ends , 3d ser., 20 [1963]: 440–51; ASP, Miscellaneous, 2:278–9).

Barrow may have been inspired to write this letter after receiving one dated 27 Dec. 1814 from his congressman, James Clark, in which Clark forwarded copies of William Canby to TJ, 27 Aug. 1813, and TJ to Canby, 18 Sept. 1813, both of which had recently appeared in the newspapers. Clark commented that he sent Barrow the exchange “under a supposition that everything from the pen of so distinguished a citizen as mr Jefferson and particularly upon the subject of religion will be gratifying” (OCU: John Day Caldwell Collection).

The charity that never fails is from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13.8. The enclosed scraps probably included the Minutes of the Kentucky Abolition Society, met at George Smith’s, in Franklin County, on the 19th of October, 1814, and continued until the evening of the following day (Winchester, Ky., 1814; probably Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 10 [no. 546]), which contained a circular letter and a society constitution each issued under Barrow’s signature as president; and possibly also Barrow’s Involuntary, Unmerited, Perpetual, Absolute, Hereditary Slavery, Examined; on the Principles of Nature, Reason, Justice, Policy, and Scripture (Lexington, Ky., 1808; probably Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 10 [no. 546]). The biblical tribute rendered by the heavenly songsters is in Revelation 5.13.

1Reworked in Dft from “Approbation of your Writings,” with “Spirit” inadvertently omitted from the interlined addition.

2Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “our great Republic.”

3Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “is.”

4Word interlined in Dft in place of “destroy.”

5RC: “Animosties.” Dft: “Animosities.”

6Dft here adds “finally.”

7RC: “failes.” Dft: “fails.”

8Word interlined in Dft in place of “old.”

9Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “a.”

10Preceding eight words interlined in Dft in place of “long Experience,” with last two words also interlined in RC.

11Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

12Reworked in Dft from “through the Grace, of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Index Entries

  • Barrow, David; identified search
  • Barrow, David; Involuntary, Unmerited, Perpetual, Absolute, Hereditary Slavery, Examined search
  • Barrow, David; letter from search
  • Barrow, David; Minutes of the Kentucky Abolition Society search
  • Bible; 1 Corinthians referenced search
  • Bible; Revelation referenced search
  • Canby, William; and TJ’s religious beliefs search
  • Clark, James; and TJ’s correspondence on religion search
  • Involuntary, Unmerited, Perpetual, Absolute, Hereditary Slavery, Examined (D. Barrow) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Minutes of the Kentucky Abolition Society (D. Barrow) search
  • religion; exhortations to TJ search
  • religion; TJ on search
  • slavery; opposition to search