Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Trumbull, 25 November 1789

To John Trumbull

Norfolk Nov. 25. 1789.

Dear Sir

According to promise I sit down to inform you of our safe arrival, having been 29. days from weighing anchor at Yarmouth to our coming to anchor in Lynhaven bay and 26. days from and to land. The weather remarkeably fine after the first 5. or 6. days during which we were all sick. Our vessel was remarkeably swift, strong, stiff as a church, our captain a bold but judicious seaman, very attentive to us, and on the whole our voiage has been prosperous and pleasing beyond what was possible to be hoped. We came in a direct line, leaving the banks of Newfoundland on our right about as far as we had done the Western isles on our left. I hope you have had as prosperous and pleasant a voiage, but shall be glad to hear it from yourself. About an hour after we had quitted our ship she took fire in the middle steerage where was some spirits and oil, and the flame bursting thro the cabin and out at its windows, consumed all the inside of that before it was extinguished. By a miracle our baggage which still remained in our staterooms, was untouched. I expect to see you in New York in March, and am Dear Sir your affectionate friend & servt.,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

Trumbull had had as prosperous … a voiage aboard the Montgomery as TJ had experienced on the Clermont, landing at New York on 23 Nov. 1789, the very day that TJ “landed at Norfolk a quarter before one P.M.” (Account Book). On that day William Irvine, member of Congress from Pennsylvania, wrote James Madison: “Captain Bunyan arrived here this morning from London in 29 days. A Mr. Trumbull came passenger. They are now at Brakefast with us. They say that Mr. Jefferson sailed from Cowes on the same day they did, in a Ship bound for Norfolk in Virginia. Unless he has a remarkable passage indeed, this information may be the first you can receive of his destination—which is my motive for giving you this trouble” (DLC: Rives Papers).

Martha Jefferson Randolph, in a manuscript entitled “Reminiscences of Th.J. by MR,” gave a graphic account of the end of the voyage: “The voyage was … quick and not unpleasant. When he arrived on the coast there was so thick a mist as to render it impossible to see the pilot had any of them been out. After beating about for three days the captain who was a bold as well as an experienced seaman determined to run in at a venture without having seen the capes. We were near running upon what he conjectured to be the middle ground when we cast anchor at ten o’clock at night. The wind rose, the vessel drifted down dragging her anchors one or more miles, but we had got within the capes whilst a number of vessels less bold were blown off the coast some of them lost and all of them kept out three or four weeks longer. We had to beat up against a strong head wind which carried away our topsails and were very near being run down by a brig coming out of port who having the wind in her favor was almost upon us before we could get out of the way. We escaped however with only a loss only of a part of our rigging. My father had been so anxious about his public accompts that he never would trust them till he came himself. We arrived in Norfolk in the forenoon and in two hours after landing before an article of our baggage was brought a shore the vessel took fire and reduced to the mere hull in the act of scutling her when an abatement in the flames was perceived and she was saved, not only the vessel but such was the activity of the boats belonging to the ships in harbour every thing in her was saved. Our trunks perhaps also the papers were put in our state rooms and the doors pulled to accidentally as our Captain acknowledged but seeing them open he thought it as well to shut them. They were so close that the flames did not penetrate, but the powder in a musket in our room was silently consumed and the thickness of the travelling trunks alone saved their contents from the excessive heat. I understood at the time that the state rooms alone of all the internal partitions escaped burning. Norfolk had not recovered from the effects of the war and we should have found it difficult to obtain rooms but for the politeness of the gentlemen at the hotel (Lindsay’s) who were kind enough to give up their own rooms for our accomodation” (Tr in hand of Anne Cary Randolph, ViU; undated, but probably belonging to the period 1828–30; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s reminiscences in those parts that can be verified are remarkably accurate).—For evidence of TJ’s anxiety concerning his public accounts, see his memorandum at end of April 1789.

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