Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Extract from Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 13 September 1820

Extract from Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph

Poplar Forest. Sept. 13th 1820

We have reached our journey’s end my dear Mother, in safety, not without some disagreable adventures, such as being confined one whole day by the rain—at Flood’s tavern.1 we left Uncle Eppes’s before sun-rise monday—the morning was lowering, and it was dropping rain before we set out, but you know Grand-papa—he was morally certain we should have “a cool agreable cloudy day for our journey, so preferable to travelling through the hot sun”2—about nine o clock it began to rain violently; we were exposed two hours and a half, untill at half after eleven oclock we were glad to take shelter in the filthiest of all filthy places, and remain untill the next morning when we were enabled to continue our journey—it is impossible to describe, the horrors which we witnessed at Floods—and I do not believe that in any civilized country such another spesimen could be given of the degree of degradati[on] to which man may be reduced by dirt—these people have been growing worse and worse, untill it has become absolute pollution to breathe the same air with them—I believe a Hottentot would turn away with loathing—add to this the old woman has fallen into her dotage, and both the old and the young are eternally scolding, and their discordant screaming voices, drove me from corner to corner of the filthy sewer they inhabit—there was literally no rest for the “soles of our feet”,3 and we should all have preferred travelling through the rain, had it not been for Burwell & the drivers—Grandpapa has born the journey pretty well, but to day one of his legs on which the bandage had slipped is a good deal swelled and even blistered. I am afraid he is beginning to get too old for these long journeys, in all weathers and with such uncomfortable fixtures. I look forward with alarm to almost4 the whole of autumn past,5 at a distance from his family, his physician and the comforts of his home.

I found the harpsichord in a very bad state, the sound-board split for 12 or 14 inches, the strings almost all gone, many of the keys swelled so that when pressed down they do not rise again, and the steel part of the different stops so much rusted that several of them refuse to obey the hand. the music is mouldy, and some of it dropping to pieces—the instrument itself & the books lay in a cellar, I think Mrs Eppes told me six or seven years. Francis and myself turned over the books together; we found the name of Maria Jefferson, & the initials of M. E. written in Aunt Maria’s own hand in a great many different places; some of the songs, too were evidently copied by herself. I have almost entirely6 forgotten her, but these were so many mute memorials;

RC (ViU: Coolidge Correspondence); extract, consisting of opening of letter; edge trimmed; signed with the initials “E.W.R.” on concluding page above two postscripts; addressed: “Mrs T. M. Randolph Monticello Charlottesville Post Office Albemarle,” with additional notation: “Lewis”; stamped; postmarked New London, 14 Sept.; endorsed by Martha Jefferson Randolph. In the unextracted portion of this letter, Randolph reflects on how different things would have been if her aunt Maria Jefferson Eppes had lived; describes John Wayles Eppes’s second wife, Martha B. Eppes, as “very amiable” and “an excellent manager both of her children, and her household affairs”; remarks that the Eppes offspring are “the very best I ever saw, and the boys as good and as clean as the girls”; expresses her love for her mother and siblings and for her sister “Virginia in particular”; states that she will write her sister Cornelia shortly “about her Bedford acquaintances”; requests that Aunt Virginia Randolph Cary be informed that her ring is safe and that at Mill Brook an old beau of hers inquired about her so minutely as to make Randolph think that “neither time, nor absence, nor marriage, had produced the usual effect”; and reveals that their party will “almost certainly” be back at Monticello for dinner on 24 Sept. 1820.

Accompanied by his granddaughters Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) and Mary J. Randolph, TJ set out for his Bedford County estate on 7 Sept. 1820, spent 8–11 Sept. at Mill Brook (uncle eppes’s), was obliged to take shelter one night at Henry Flood’s Ordinary, arrived at Poplar Forest on 12 Sept. 1820, and got back to Monticello twelve days later (Elizabeth Trist to Nicholas P. Trist, 9 Oct. 1820 [RC in DLC: NPT]; 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, 2 vols., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1367–8).

In this context a hottentot is a “person of inferior intellect or culture” or “an uncivilized or ignorant person” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). Variants of the phrase no rest for the soles of our feet appear in the Bible (Genesis 8.9; Deuteronomy 28.65). TJ’s physician was Thomas G. Watkins. An image of a similar harpsichord is reproduced elsewhere in this volume.

1Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

2Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

3Reworked from “sole of my foot.”

4Word interlined.

5Reworked from “whole fall past here.”

6Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Bible; Deuteronomy referenced search
  • Bible; Genesis referenced search
  • books; and music search
  • Buckingham County, Va.; Flood’s Ordinary search
  • Cary, Virginia Randolph (Wilson J. Cary’s wife); beau of search
  • Cary, Virginia Randolph (Wilson J. Cary’s wife); ring of search
  • Colbert, Burwell (TJ’s slave;1783–ca.1862; Critta Colbert’s husband); travels with TJ search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); and harpsichord for Poplar Forest search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); and M. J. Eppes search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); letters from, to M. J. Randolph search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); on Eppes relations search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); sends greetings to relatives search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Poplar Forest search
  • Eppes, Francis Wayles (TJ’s grandson); and music owned by M. J. Eppes search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); family of search
  • Eppes, Maria (Mary) Jefferson (TJ’s daughter; John Wayles Eppes’s first wife); death of search
  • Eppes, Maria (Mary) Jefferson (TJ’s daughter; John Wayles Eppes’s first wife); harpsichord of search
  • Eppes, Maria (Mary) Jefferson (TJ’s daughter; John Wayles Eppes’s first wife); music owned by search
  • Eppes, Martha Burke Jones (John Wayles Eppes’s second wife); and harpsichord for Poplar Forest search
  • Eppes, Martha Burke Jones (John Wayles Eppes’s second wife); E. W. R. Coolidge on search
  • Flood, Henry; family of search
  • Flood’s Ordinary (Buckingham Co.; proprietor Henry Flood) search
  • harpsichords; for Poplar Forest search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Family & Friends; relations with grandchildren search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; legs swollen search
  • Lewis (TJ’s slave; b.1788); mentioned search
  • Mill Brook (J. W. Eppes’s Buckingham Co. estate); TJ visits search
  • music; harpsichord search
  • music; scores search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); harpsichord for search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ plans visits to search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ visits search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ’s grandchildren visit search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); correspondence with siblings search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); greetings sent to search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); letters to, from E. W. R. Coolidge search
  • Randolph, Mary Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Poplar Forest search
  • Trist, Virginia Jefferson Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); greetings sent to search
  • Watkins, Thomas G.; as physician search
  • weather; clouds search
  • weather; heat search
  • weather; rain search
  • women; letters from; E. W. R. Coolidge to M. J. Randolph search
  • women; letters to; M. J. Randolph from E. W. R. Coolidge search