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From Thomas Jefferson to William Bache, 20 September 1799

To William Bache

Monticello Sep. 20. 99.

Dear Sir

We have been long in expectation of seeing you, but mr Trist’s return & information puts off that indefinitely. in the mean time your carpenters have gone on tolerably well. they will finish the ensuing week all their work except some small matters which will need further instructions from you, and which can be done in about a fortnight. I do not know what arrangements you made as to the brickwork. I do not hear of any person entering on that, & in the mean while the season for it is passing off. mr Key called on me some days ago & wrote to me yesterday, he has purchased in N. Carolina adjoining his father in law, and his paiment is to be made in October. he represents that a failure will be entirely disastrous. mr Trist has lost his purchase; mr Lewis having had a ready money offer at the same price on the day of forfieture & availed himself of it. mr Trist pays 600. D. forfieture, & it was lucky for him it had been so settled. your bargain is absolute. you are entitled to keep the lands, & as no damages have been previously settled on failure in paiments (as was done in Trist’s case) they will be settled by a jury. it is very uncertain to what sum they may be wrought up by a loss of Key’s purchase, delay of his removal, loss of the preparations for it, loss of a crop the ensuing year by removing too late to put one into the ground, & other considerations which they will take care to swell. as you are not of the craft of the law, and I have been, I have thought it best to apprise you of this, because possibly (if your delay proceeds from a disappointment in collecting your own monies as mr Trist supposes) you may obtain money where you are on lesser sacrifices than the damages assessed by a jury would amount to. it would be better to pay almost any interest per month which could be asked, than to incur this risk. I understand that your first paiment would secure Key’s purchase, so that that sum with as much as would remove his family being furnished him I have no doubt he would wait a little for the balance. I have made these observations merely to enable you to decide for yourself which of the two species of sacrifice you would prefer. Key has declared himself ready to make a deed at any time.

We have had most disastrous rains lately. our tobacco & fodder are much reduced in quantity & quality, the wheat in stacks subjected to great loss, and the seeding the ensuing crop so retarded as to lessen our hopes from that. mr Randolph’s buildings & mine have gone on most slowly. I have not been able to get a single room yet added to my former stock, and I now see that little will be added this season. there are considerable symptoms of a rise in the price of lands here. tobacco is in the dust. the computation is that this state loses this year five millions of dollars by the suspension of commerce with France; for the purpose of starving Frenchmen in the article of tobacco. in the mean time the same law, so far as it can affect the interest of other produce (say other states) is repealed. be so good as to present me respectfully to your father & mother, and to mrs Bache, and to give us hopes of seeing you soon added to our society. health, happiness & Adieu.

Th: Jefferson

RC (CLjC); addressed: “Doctr. William Bache Philadelphia”; franked.

William Bache (1773–1814) graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1790 and over the next four years completed master’s and M.D. degrees from the same institution. He helped found the Philadelphia Chemical Society, and published his thesis for his medical degree as An Inaugural Experimental Dissertation, being an Endeavor to Ascertain the Morbid Effects of Carbonic Acid Gas, or Fixed Air, on Healthy Animals, and the Manner in Which They are Produced (Philadelphia, 1794). A grandson of Benjamin Franklin and a brother of Benjamin Franklin Bache, in 1797 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society. That year also he married Catharine Wistar, and by early 1799, a few months after his brother’s death from yellow fever, the couple initiated plans to move from Philadelphia to Virginia. Their income in Albemarle County proved inadequate, however, and two years after TJ wrote the letter above, William Bache sought a position with the U.S. government. TJ appointed him to establish a hospital for American seamen in New Orleans, and in 1802 the doctor disposed of his Virginia property and moved his family back to Philadelphia. He arrived in New Orleans in March of the following year. In 1804 he returned to Philadelphia, where he became surveyor of the port, a position he held until his death (Joseph Samuel Hepburn, “How Franklin’s Electrical Machine Came to the Franklin Institute,” Journal of the Franklin Institute, 261 [1956], 387–90; Leonard W. Labaree and others, eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 36 vols. to date [1959], l:lxiii; APS, description begins American Philosophical Society description ends Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 261; Bache to Albert Gallatin, 11 Sep. 1801, and Daniel Clark to Gallatin, 16 Aug. 1802, in DLC; TJ to James Monroe, 3 Jan. 1799; Bache to TJ, 7 July, 26 Dec. 1802, 2 Feb., 29 Mch., 1 June 1803, 21 Nov. 1804; George Jefferson to TJ, 1 Dec. 1802).

According to SJL James Key wrote a letter of 7 Sep., received by TJ on the 18th, which has not been found. Also listed in SJL but missing are letters from Key of 28 Dec. 1799, 7 Feb., 15 Feb., and 20 Feb. 1800, received on 4 Jan., 17, 22 Feb., and 1 Mch. 1800, respectively, and two letters from TJ to Key, 1 Jan. and 25 Feb. 1800.

Your bargain: earlier TJ had drawn up an indenture for the sale to Bache of 603 acres owned by James Key and his wife, Mary (“Polly”) Daniel Key, in Albemarle County. The price of the land was £1,100. The tract, which was adjacent to property owned by John Wayles Eppes, ran from the north side of the Rivanna River “up into the South West Mountains” (Dft in NjP: Charles Hodge Papers, entirely in TJ’s hand, heavily emended, with blanks for day of execution of the agreement in June 1799 and for some names and other information, unsigned; Marcus M. Key, “The Keys of Key West: Albemarle County, Virginia,” Virginia Genealogist, 8 [1964], 179–80). In drawing up that instrument of sale TJ probably utilized “Dr. Bache’s field notes of his survey of James Key’s land May 1799,” which recorded the bearings, distances, and corner markers of the survey (MS in MHi; entirely in TJ’s hand; undated; mutilated).

The 9 Feb. act for suspension of commerce with France allowed the president to discontinue the restraints on trade with any part of the Republic of France. Adams’s proclamation of 26 June repealed the prohibition on commerce with Saint-Domingue (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:240–1; TJ to Monroe, 23 Jan. 1799).

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