Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Dabney Cosby to Thomas Jefferson, 18 December 1818

From Dabney Cosby

Staunton December 18th 1818

Dear sir,

Understanding the Trustees of the Central College have delegated to you the Authority to Contract for the buildings thereof, and believeing in the event of the Commissioners Report to the Legislature being approved, that Authority will be still extended, I wish to offer my services to You in the Character of a Brick maker & Layer.

I have followed that calling upwards of 20. Years and flatter myself with General Satisfaction to my Employers. Could Put up from 3 to 400.000 this Year and from 6 to 700.000 next Year and as long afterwards as required

I will give You Ample security for the Performance of my Contracts and Satisfactory testimonials of my Ability and Knowledge of my Profession.

If you deem a Personal interview necessary I will wait on You At any time You may designate, and Pledge myself to Conduct the business Personally—and faithfully.

Please to inform me by Letter so soon as Your Convenience will Permit that in the event I undertake the Clay may be exposed as much as Possible to the frost this Winter.

With due Respect Yrs

Dabney Cosby

RC (ViU: TJP); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 25 Dec. 1818 and so recorded in SJL; additional notation by TJ above endorsement: “Brick.”

Dabney Cosby (1779–1862), brick mason and builder, was a native of Louisa County who began his career as a brick maker in Staunton late in the 1790s. He worked on the construction of the University of Virginia from 1820 to 1822, as principal brick mason on Hotels D and E and eight dormitories on the west range. Cosby moved to Buckingham County in the mid-1820s and helped build courthouses in Goochland, Lunenburg, and Sussex counties. He subsequently relocated to Prince Edward County and designed and erected buildings at Union Theological Seminary, then located at Hampden-Sydney College. Cosby also helped construct the main hall of Randolph-Macon College at its original location in Boydton. In 1839 he worked on Halifax County’s courthouse. By 1840 Cosby had settled in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he lived in that state thereafter. His career evolved from brick making, first to building and then to design. In later census records his occupation is listed as architect. As of 1860 Cosby owned real estate valued at $1,200 and personal property totaling $6,500, including approximately thirteen slaves (DVB; Vi: Cosby Papers; ViHi: Cosby Account Book; 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, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1393; Staunton Censor, 10 Aug. 1808; DNA: RG 29, CS, Augusta Co., 1810, Staunton, 1820, Prince Edward Co., 1830, N.C., Raleigh, 1840–50, 1850 slave schedules, N.C., Greenville, 1860, 1860 slave schedules; ViU: PP, Proctor’s Ledgers; Raleigh Register, and North-Carolina Gazette, 18 May 1841; Weekly Raleigh Register, 16 July 1862; gravestone inscription in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh).

Early in 1819 Cosby’s supporters recommended his work and character to Central College’s proctor, Nelson Barksdale, and its treasurer, Alexander Garrett (Erasmus Stribling to Barksdale, Staunton, 6 Jan. 1819 [RC in ViU: TJP; endorsed by TJ: “Cosby Dabney. recomd by Stribling”]; John Waugh to Garrett, Staunton, 7 Jan. 1819 [RC in ViU: TJP; endorsed by TJ: “Bricklayers. Cosby Dabney. recomd by Waugh”]).

Index Entries

  • Barksdale, Nelson; as Central College proctor search
  • Cosby, Dabney; as brickmason for University of Virginia search
  • Cosby, Dabney; identified search
  • Cosby, Dabney; letters from search
  • Cosby, Dabney; recommendations of search
  • Garrett, Alexander; as Central College treasurer search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; brickmakers and brickmasons for search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; and General Assembly search