Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson’s Circular to Prospective Donors to Central College, 4 August 1817

Circular to Prospective Donors to Central College

Monticello Aug. 4. 17.

Dear Sir

You have probably seen mentioned in the public papers that it is in contemplation to establish near Charlottesville a seminary of learning which shall embrace all the sciences deemed materially1 useful in the present age. towards this object the legislature has passed2 an act giving us a constitution nearly of our own choice, under the name of the Central College, making the Governor patron of the institution, and giving to him the appointment of the3 Visitors. he has accordingly appointed mr Monroe the present President of the US. mr Madison the late President, Genl Cocke, mr Cabell, mr Watson, characters of eminence in the circumjacent counties, and myself in the immediate vicinity of the place as the President is also when at home. the subscriptions have so far proceeded4 with great liberality, the county of Albemarle alone having already subscribed and otherwise contributed to the amount of about 27,0005 Dollars to which a considerable addition is still expected from them. other counties have also commenced with very6 favorable dispositions; the buildings are begun, those for one professorship, embracing several branches of learning, are expected to be compleated by the next spring, and a professor will be engaged to commence instruction at that time, and we hope to be enabled to erect in the ensuing summer two or three other professorships, which will take in the mass of the useful sciences. the plan of this institution has nothing local in view. it is calculated for the wants, and the use of the whole state, and it’s centrality of situation, to the population of the state, salubrity of climate, and abundance and cheapness of the necessaries of life, present it certainly with advantage to the attention of parents and guardians throughout the state, & especially to those who have not in their immediate vicinity a satisfactory establishment for general science. whatever we do will have a permanent basis, established on a deposit of funds of perpetual revenue adequate to it’s maintenance. the limit of contributions will only limit the number of sciences to be taught without affecting the continuance of those once established. the Visitors under whom the direction of the course of education is placed, as well as the selection of Professors for the different sciences7 will do whatever their own zeal can effect aided by the talents of others whom they may be able to engage in the service of the institution.

Under these circumstances, dear8 Sir, I have thought I might avail myself of the advantage of your friendship to sollicit9 your aid in this undertaking. your sense of the importance of education to a country wishing to continue10 free, of the present want of such an establishment in a healthy and central part of our country, and your readiness to lend your efforts to the promotion of what is publickly11 useful, will, I think engage your cooperation, and induce you to present this subject to those of our fellow citizens within your reach who may be disposed to contribute towards it’s advancement. subscriptions in this quarter have been from 1000. down12 to 50. Dollars, & I may say that some of the latter amount have really been the most liberal. for the convenience of the contributors the sum given by each is divided at the will of the subscriber into four annual instalments, the 1st payable in April next; in which form the subscriptions have been generally entered. if you should be so kind as to undertake this, I will ask the favor of you to return to me the subscription paper now inclosed, when it shall have reached the term you deem probable,13 and to accept the assurance of my great esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (WHi); at foot of first page: “William B. Giles esq.” RC (ViU: TJP); at foot of first page: “The honble Thomas Newton.” RC or PoC for different addressee (CSmH); fragmentary and torn; consisting of top left quadrant of first page and matching section of verso. 1st FC (ViU: TJP); entirely in TJ’s hand; at foot of first page: “James Pleasants. John W. Eppes. Wm B. Giles. Randolph Harrison. Thos Newton, Wm A. Burwell. Archibd Thweatt.” 2d FC (ViU: TJP); entirely in TJ’s hand. The two FCs may have been PoCs of RCs to others of the addressees. Recorded in SJL as seven separate letters. Reprinted from an unidentified issue of the Petersburg Republican in the Norfolk American Beacon and Commercial Diary, 1 Sept. 1817; described as an “Extract of a letter from Mr. Jefferson to a gentleman in this vicinity.” Enclosed in TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 6 Aug. 1817.

For examples of the enclosed subscription paper, see document 4 in a group of documents on The Founding of the University of Virginia: Central College, 1816–1819, printed above at 5 May 1817.

1Word not in 2d FC.

2CSmH text and both FCs: “past.”

3Word not in 2d FC.

4Norfolk American Beacon: “subscription has so far succeeded.”

5In 2d FC TJ used asterisks to key a note in left margin, reading “now 30,000,” to this point in text.

6Word not in Norfolk American Beacon.

7Preceding eleven words not in 2d FC.

8Word not in 2d FC.

9Instead of preceding ten words, 2d FC reads “take the liberty of solliciting.”

10Word interlined in place of “be” in RC to Newton. Norfolk American Beacon: “be.”

11RC to Newton, both FCs, and Norfolk American Beacon: “publicly.”

12Word not in 2d FC.

13Norfolk American Beacon ends here.

Index Entries

  • Burwell, William Armistead; and Central College subscription search
  • Burwell, William Armistead; letters to search
  • Central College, Board of Visitors; and subscription search
  • Central College; subscription for search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); and Central College subscription search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); letters to search
  • Giles, William Branch; and Central College subscription search
  • Giles, William Branch; letters to search
  • Harrison, Randolph; and Central College subscription search
  • Harrison, Randolph; letters to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Central College Subscription List search
  • Newton, Thomas; and Central College subscription search
  • Newton, Thomas; letter to search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); and Central College search
  • Pleasants, James; and Central College subscription search
  • Pleasants, James; letters to search
  • subscriptions, non-publication; for Central College search
  • Thweatt, Archibald; and Central College subscription search
  • Thweatt, Archibald; letters to search