Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 16 February 1810

To Edward Coles

Monticello Feb. 16. 10.

Th: Jefferson presents his friendly respects to mr Coles and wishing the inclosed to get to the hands of mr Treat while in Washington, & not knowing where there to direct to him, he takes the liberty of putting it under cover to mr Coles, in the expectation that mr Treat being of the army, & lately from the Arkansa, may be known at the President’s, or certainly at the War office. he asks the favor of mr Coles to have it delivered, or transmitted, if it be known where it may find him.

RC (NjP: Edward Coles Papers); dateline at foot of text; addressed: “Edward Coles esq. at the President’s Washington”; franked; postmarked 20 Feb. 1810 at Milton; endorsed by Coles as received 22 Feb. 1810. Not recorded in SJL. Enclosure: TJ to John Breck Treat, 16 Feb. 1810.

Edward Coles (1786–1868), a relative of Dolley Madison born at Enniscorthy in Albemarle County, was educated at Hampden-Sydney College and the College of William and Mary. He inherited a plantation of nearly eight hundred acres and twenty slaves from his father in 1808. Coles replaced his brother Isaac A. Coles as President James Madison’s private secretary, serving from 1810 until 1815, and he spent the year 1816–17 in Europe on a mission to Russia for the president. In 1814 Coles asked TJ for assistance in devising a plan to eradicate slavery and wrote of his intention to free his slaves and leave Virginia. TJ expressed sympathy for Coles’s objectives but argued against immediate emancipation, refused to become publicly involved himself, and tried to dissuade Coles from his plan. One year later Coles visited the Illinois Territory and purchased six thousand acres in Madison and Saint Clair counties. Armed with an appointment from President James Monroe as register of the land office at Edwardsville, Illinois, in 1819 Coles moved there with his slaves, freed them, and gave each family liberated a farm of 160 acres. He narrowly won election as governor of Illinois against several proslavery candidates in 1822. Coles’s successful opposition in 1824 to proslavery efforts to amend the constitution helped to insure Illinois’s place as a free state, but he was unable to secure further elective office after his term expired two years later. From 1832 he lived in Philadelphia (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Edward Coles, “Governor Coles’ Autobiography,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 3 [Oct. 1910]: 59–64; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 29 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 7 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 1:49n; Coles to TJ, 31 July 1814; TJ to Coles, 25 Aug. 1814; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:185, 188 [3, 5 Jan. 1820]).

Index Entries

  • Coles, Edward; forwards letter search
  • Coles, Edward; identified search
  • Coles, Edward; letters to search
  • President’s House; mentioned search