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Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Hornsby, 11 November 1813

To Thomas Hornsby

Monticello Nov. 11. 13.


Your letter of July 21. was recieved on the 6th of Aug. and should have been answered immediately, but that I was in daily expectation of one from Govr Greenup on the same subject. I accordingly recieved one a fortnight after in which he inclosed a letter from you to him proposing an interview. and in his letter to me he said he should make an appointment with you as soon as he should be well enough. it has been in expectation of the result of this that I have so long omitted answering you. but presuming that something has prevented the interview proposed, I now proceed to acknolege the reciept of yours. I am much gratified by the candor and temper which breathes thro’ the whole of it, and with the prospect it offers of a just and honorable adjustment of the difficulties into which I have been unfortunately thrown. your statement shews that the different sentiments we entertain of our rights have been produced by an entirely different view of the facts. my statement of these to Governor Greenup was taken, partly from the depositions in the suit of Peyton & John Henderson, and partly from mr Peyton himself who read and affirmed that statement to be strictly true before it was sent away. it was indeed exactly what he had always and uniformly told me, from the time of the purchase in 1802. to this day: that, altho’ he knew that John Henderson here was the legal guardian of the 5. minor children, yet their removal to Kentucky had thrown them necessarily under the tutorage & care of their mother and brothers there, and that he found James L. Henderson in the exercise of that care jointly with the mother, that the proposition to him to purchase their lands was from both, and that it was concluded with their joint approbation, the deed having been written and signed by Jas L. H. alone merely as the acting penman for the family. on the reciept of your letter, I communicated it to mr Peyton. in this it is supposed that mrs Henderson had no part in the transaction and that it was even without her knolege, or that of the young persons concerned. he not only solemnly attested again the facts he had ever before uniformly stated to me, but added some new circumstances; particularly that the purchase having taken place at the same time with that of the dower, the whole transaction passed in a house of but a single room, in which the family was necessarily together, and the whole of course done in their presence and unavoidably with their knolege. he, immediately on reading your letter wrote one to Jas L. Henderson, which he delivered me open to forward, in which he appeals to him to testify mrs Henderson’s joint agency in the case, and that the two daughters Eliza and Frances were present & concurring. this last circumstance, to be sure, of the concurrence of the infants, is not material, because at their age they might not be supposed to understand what was going on, and consequently not now to remember what they did not understand. I inclose you a copy of this letter in which mr Peyton reminds Jas L. H. of the facts with a minuteness and a confidence to which one cannot but give credence; and the more as it is a case in which he has no personal interest to lead him astray. it is merely a question of memory then between mrs Henderson and him; whether it is most likely she should have forgotten things which did happen, or he hold impressed in his memory things which did not happen? the testimony of Jas L. H. would decide between them, if we could obtain it; but that is rendered difficult by the slow and uncertain communications between this place and Washita. I am endeavoring however to procure it. altho’ they were not the legal, they were the natural guardians of the minor children, in the absence of John, the one legally appointed; and it was natural for a stranger, seeing them live in family together, acting for the minors, and concurring in a measure for their advantage, to give credit to what they undertook to do and to presume it would be settled among themselves. I know nevertheless that the law, to protect the interests of minors, gives them a right to annul such a transaction when of age: yet custom sanctions it, because it would be very injurious to infants if opportunities of obvious benefit to them were to be lost for ever thro’ want of power to take advantage of them. on the whole however, I know, Sir, that yourself & mrs Hornsby have a right to chuse whether you will look to those who acted for her in her infancy, and to the mortgage and bond of Jas L. Henderson for indemnification, or to annul their act, or to say what compromise you will make with an innocent purchaser who has honestly paid once what was then the full value, & by the decline of the place is now become more than the value, who has been guilty of no fraud, nor other fault than that of over-confidence in what were deemed family transactions. on this subject I must ask the favor of you to confer with Governor Greenup, who is so kind as to undertake to act for me in this business, and I will confirm whatever he does in it. I propose this in order to facilitate a settlement, because it can be so much better adjusted by conversation than in writing at the distance we are apart. and with the dispositions to justice which your letter manifests, I trust that the adjustment will not be difficult. to the circumstances formerly stated, it may be proper to add that the navigation of our river being now extended and daily practised up to Charlottesville, the warehouses at Milton rotted down, and the inspection about to be suppressed, Milton is already nearly, and soon will be entirely abandoned, it’s vacant lots now selling merely as arable land. I am in duty bound to thank you for the readiness with which you have stayed the proceedings here, and willingness to enter into friendly explanations leading to a satisfactory settlement of the business; and tender you the assurance of my esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (ViU: TJP); at foot of first page: “Thomas Hornsby esquire”; endorsed by TJ. Enclosure not found.

For the depositions recorded in the case of Peyton v. Henderson, see Craven Peyton v. John Henderson Court Record (ViU: TJP, TB [Thurlow-Berkeley] no. 907) and Haggard, “Henderson Heirs,” description begins Robert F. Haggard, “Thomas Jefferson v. The Heirs of Bennett Henderson, 1795–1818: A Case Study in Caveat Emptor,” MACH, 63 (2005): 1–29 description ends 10–2. On 18 Sept. 1802 James L. Henderson signed a mortgage and bond stipulating that he would pay Craven Peyton £5,000 if the minor Henderson heirs failed to transfer the title to their lands when they came of age or married (Haggard, “Henderson Heirs,” description begins Robert F. Haggard, “Thomas Jefferson v. The Heirs of Bennett Henderson, 1795–1818: A Case Study in Caveat Emptor,” MACH, 63 (2005): 1–29 description ends 7–8; Albemarle Co. Deed Book, 14:520–1). TJ thought of his purchases from the Hendersons as family transactions because Elizabeth Lewis Henderson was his cousin and the sister-in-law of his sister Lucy Jefferson Lewis (Haggard, “Henderson Heirs,” description begins Robert F. Haggard, “Thomas Jefferson v. The Heirs of Bennett Henderson, 1795–1818: A Case Study in Caveat Emptor,” MACH, 63 (2005): 1–29 description ends 3, 24; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 28:474).

SJL records a missing letter of 12 Nov. 1813 from TJ to Christopher Greenup.

Index Entries

  • Bullock, Eliza Henderson (Bennett Henderson’s daughter; John H. Bullock’s wife) search
  • Greenup, Christopher; and Henderson case search
  • Greenup, Christopher; letters to accounted for search
  • Henderson, Elizabeth Lewis (Bennett Henderson’s wife) search
  • Henderson, James L.; and Henderson estate search
  • Henderson, John; and sales by minor heirs search
  • Henderson case; and F. H. Hornsby search
  • Henderson case; and Peyton v. Henderson search
  • Henderson case; claims by minor heirs search
  • Hornsby, Frances Henderson (Bennett Henderson’s daughter; Thomas Walker Hornsby’s wife); and Milton lands search
  • Hornsby, Thomas Walker; and Milton lands search
  • Hornsby, Thomas Walker; letters to search
  • Lewis, Lucy Jefferson (TJ’s sister; Charles Lilburne Lewis’s wife); family of search
  • Milton, Va.; abandonment of search
  • Milton, Va.; warehouses at search
  • Peyton, Craven; and Henderson case search
  • Peyton v. Henderson; depositions in search
  • Rivanna River; navigation of search