Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Wilson Cary Nicholas to Thomas Jefferson, 9 March 1818

From Wilson Cary Nicholas

Richmond March 9th 1818

My Dear Sir

a Mr Coffee, a sculptor of great eminence who is here, is very anxious to go to your house to take your Bust: I have promised him I wou’d make his wishes known to you. He is said to be a master in his art: Your friends feel a solicitude you shou’d indulge him. nothing can be more acceptable to the american people, than the preservation of the likeness of those of our Citizens, most distinguished for their patriotism & services. Mr Coffee, is explicit in his assurances that he expects no pecuniary compensation from you. May I beg the favour of you to answer this letter by the first opportunity?

I am my Dear Sir with the greatest respect & regard your hum. Servt

W. C. Nicholas

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 13 Mar. 1818 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to James P. Preston, 28 May 1818, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr monticello Milton Va.”; stamped; postmarked Richmond, 9 Mar.

William John Coffee (1773–ca. 1846), sculptor, painter, and ornamentalist, was baptized in London, England. Having honed his craft in the Midlands at the Derby China Manufactory and the Pinxton China Works, in about 1804 he became an independent modeler and sculptor in Derby. Coffee immigrated to the United States in the winter of 1816–17. With New York City as his base, over the years that followed he also worked in Montreal; Charleston, South Carolina; and Virginia. In 1818 Coffee executed terra-cotta busts from life of prominent Virginians including TJ and James Madison (neither of which survive) and various other members of their families. Examples of his handiwork are reproduced elsewhere in this volume. During the 1820s TJ commissioned Coffee to clean and restore paintings at Monticello and create architectural ornaments for both Poplar Forest and the University of Virginia. He relocated by 1827 to Albany, where he continued to work as a sculptor and painter (Brian R. Bricknell, William John Coffee, 1773–c. 1846 [1998]; Groce and Wallace, Dictionary of Artists description begins George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564–1860, 1957 description ends , 135; Bush, Life Portraits description begins Alfred L. Bush, The Life Portraits of Thomas Jefferson, rev. ed., 1987 description ends , 71–2; Coffee to TJ, 5 Jan. 1820, 1 Nov. 1821, 25 June 1822, 20 Dec. 1824; TJ to Coffee, 10 Apr. 1823; Longworth’s New York Directory description begins Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory, New York, 1796–1842 (title varies; cited by year of publication) description ends [1826]: 132; T. V. Cuyler’s Albany Directory, for the year 1827 [1827], 27; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., New York, 1820, Albany, 1830, 1840).

Index Entries

  • Coffee, William John; identified search
  • Coffee, William John; terra-cotta busts by search
  • Coffee, William John; W. C. Nicholas introduces to TJ search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of introduction to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; W. J. Coffee’s terra-cotta bust search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); and W. J. Coffee search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); letters from search