Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William O. Callis, 8 May 1795

To William O. Callis

Monticello May 8. 95.

Dear Sir

The acquaintance which I had the pleasure of having with you formerly, would scarcely, after such a length of time, justify the trouble I am about to give you. I must therefore rely for it on the circumstances of the case, and your own goodness. Mr. Marks, on his intermarriage with my sister, received among other slaves, a woman of the name of Nance, a weaver by trade. She was then 24. years of age, had a son 5. years old and a daughter 2. or 3. The woman and her two children were delivered to him in 1785 at £95. He is now disposed to sell the woman, of which my sister has given me notice, knowing that, on resuming the business of domestic manufacture, I am in want of a weaver. She is now 34. years of age, and I believe has ceased to breed. Being too far distant from Mr. Marks to treat on this subject myself, and knowing nobody in his neighborhood, I have presumed to sollicit you to negociate the matter for me and to purchase her at whatever price you shall think her really worth. As the information has come to me after I had disposed of my last year’s crop, and like other farmers I draw my resources from the earth, I could not engage any paiment but from the proceeds of the present year, say by a year after purchase, which of course will be considered in the price. If you will be so good as to take this trouble for me, and can agree for the woman, I bind myself to whatever you shall agree to, and will give my bond accordingly. She wishes me to buy her children. But I would not purchase the boy; […] as to her youngest child, if she insists on it, and my sister desires it, I would take it. Pardon the liberty which my distant location has obliged me to take with you and accept assurances of the esteem with which I am Dear Sir Your most obedt. servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (ViU: photostat); addressed: “Colo. Callis Louisa.”

William Overton Callis (1756–1814), a planter with extensive acreage who resided at Cuckoo in Louisa county, Virginia, had served as a Revolutionary War militia officer and as a captain in the Continental line. Besides holding local county offices, Callis became a state political leader, serving as a member of the Virginia convention for the ratification of the federal Constitution in 1788 and as a Louisa county representative in the House of Delegates for all but three years between 1788 and 1800, where he voted with the Republicans (Richard R. Beeman, The Old Dominion and the New Nation, 1788–1801 [Lexington, Kentucky, 1972], 46, 249, 264; Harris, Louisa County description begins Malcolm H. Harris, History of Louisa County, Virginia, Richmond, 1936 description ends , 22–3, 63, 130–31, 171, 183, 225, 442, 445; Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia 1776–1918 …, Richmond, 1918 description ends , 28–53; Heitman, Register description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783, new ed., Washington, D.C., 1914 description ends , 113; Heinrich Gerlach to TJ, 27 Mch. 1781, and note; George Weedon to TJ, 29 Mch. 1781, and note). During his earlier acquaintance with Callis, TJ put him in charge of his nephews, Peter and Dabney Carr, when he left for France in 1784. While Peter Carr soon left for school in Williamsburg, Dabney Carr remained under his care for a time (Callis to James Madison, 9 Aug. 1784, in Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 24 vols. description ends , viii, 97–8; Madison to TJ, 20 Aug. 1784).

TJ purchased Nance, a daughter of Betty Hemings, from his brother-in-law Hastings Marks for £60 and Thomas M. Randolph acquired Nance’s youngest child, Critta, for £70 (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 1 Apr., 20 Sep. 1797, 17 Dec. 1798).

Callis’s letter to TJ of 15 May 1795, which according to SJL was received by TJ nine days later, has not been found.

Index Entries