Thomas Jefferson Papers

Inquest on Shadwell Mill, 18 September 1795

Inquest on Shadwell Mill

Albemarle county to wit. An Inquest taken at Shadwell in the parish of Fredericksville and county aforesaid on the 18th. day of September 1795. by virtue of a writ of Ad quod damnum issued from the court of the said county on the 12th. day of the same month before Francis Taliaferro deputy sheriff of the said county and by the oaths of Thomas Bell, William Chapman, Thomas W. Lewis, Henry Gambell, Robert Snelson, Bennett Henderson, Benjamin Sneed, John Sneed, Robert Sharp, Richard Price, Joel Shifflit and John Gamble good and lawful men of the same county, who being charged and sworn upon their oaths do say that they have met on the lands of Thomas Jefferson in the writ named on the North river at the place called Shadwell aforesaid where the said Thomas Jefferson petitioned the court of the said county for leave to erect a water grist mill, and have examined the lands above and below of the property of others, and find that Peter Jefferson formerly, and afterwards the said Thomas had at the said place a water grist mill which was destroyed by a flood in 1771. that he proposes now to rebuild the said mill either in the same spot at the mouth of a Spring branch, or in such other spot as shall be thought best between that and the foot of the Sandy falls about 28. poles above: that the lands next below on the North side the river belong to Thomas Mann Randolph, whose upper line is about 129. poles below the former mill, and those next below on the South side of the said river did belong to Bennet Henderson from whom they have descended in parcenary on John, William, Sally, James, Charles, Isham, Bennet Hilsboro’, Eliza, Frances, Lucy, and Nancy Crawford, children and heirs of the said Bennet whose upper line is about 51. poles below the said former mill of the said Thomas Jefferson; that no part of those lands were overflowed or injured by the waters of the said former mill, or can be by those of the one now proposed: that they have examined also the place where the said Thomas Jefferson has taken his present canal out of the river and the lands above and they find that it is at a natural ridge of rocks about 244. poles above the place proposed for his mill, that it is still water nearly at present from thence up to the Secretary’s ford about 462 poles above, and that the said Thomas Jefferson holds the lands on both sides of the river through the whole distance to about 10. or 12. poles above the said ford on the South side where the lands of Nicholas Lewis junr. join his, and more than a mile above the same on the North side where the lands of James Key join his: that the said Thomas Jefferson does not propose to raise a dam on the said natural ridge of rocks at the beginning of his said canal, but only to stop the sluices in the same; that neither that nor even any dam which he can build can overflow any lands either of his own or any other person above, nor throw backwater above his own lines, and therefore that it will not be to any damage of any of the proprietors of the lands above or below; that no Mansion house, office, curtilage, garden or orchard of any person above or below will be overflowed by either the back or tail-water of the said mill; that the health of the neighbors will not in their opinion be annoyed by any stagnation of the waters, nor any inconvenience be produced to any individuals in consequence of erecting the said mill, but on the contrary that it will be a convenience to the neighbors for the grinding their grain: that no navigation is at present practised through this part of the said river, the natural obstructions preventing the same, but that if the river be opened for navigation hereafter, the interests of the said Thomas ought to be postponed to that object, and those authorized to open the river should be free to make their opening in any part they think best, either of the said natural ridge of rocks, or of any stoppage which the said Thomas may have made: that since the erection of a mill dam in the year 1780. extending across the river from the lands before mentioned of the said Bennet Henderson deceased to those of Thomas Mann Randolph on the opposite side, few or no fish of passage have been taken above1 the said dam, except at times when it has been out of repair: that so long as the said dam is continued at it’s original height, no provision need be made by the said Thomas Jefferson for the passage of fish through or over the stoppages he proposes; but that if the said dam should be discontinued, or made so that fish may pass it, then the said Thomas Jefferson ought either to leave ten feet of the river unstopped at the South West side of the same, or, if the whole breadth of the river be stopped, then, as the water above the said natural ridge of rocks is not more than about 4 feet above the surface of the still water below the same, a slope made at some sufficient sluice thereof, of at least ten feet width, and of a length at least three times it’s height, agreeable to the requisitions of the act of assembly of 1769. intituled ‘an act to oblige the owners of mills, hedges or stops, on the rivers therein mentioned to make openings or slopes therein for the passage of fish’ ought in that case to be made by the said Thomas Jefferson in a good and sufficient manner.

In witness whereof the said Jurors to this inquisition have severally put their seals the day, year and place first beforementioned.

Tho. Bell Robt. Sharp
Wm. Chapman Benjamin Snead
Robert Snelson Richd. Price
John Gambil TW Lewis
Joel Shiflett Benn Henderson
Jno. Sneed Henry Gambil

MS (Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Charlottesville); in TJ’s hand, signed and sealed by members of the jury; originally containing blanks in body of text, later completed by TJ, for names of the deputy sheriff, jurors, and the first name of James Key, and for measurements in poles and feet; signed attestation by county clerk John Nicholas on verso of last page: “At Albemarle October Court 1795 This writ together with the Inquest of the Jury taken by virtue thereof were returned to Court & ordered to be recorded”; with other endorsements by unidentified clerks. Tr (Albemarle County Deed Book No. 11, same). Tr (ViU: Carr Papers); 19th-century transcript, being part of record of TJ v. Michie in the hand of George Carr. Enclosed in Bill in Chancery on the Henderson Milldam, [24 Sep. 1795].

This is one of a series of documents, extending over more than two decades, that relates to TJ’s project to build a waterdriven gristmill, in a slightly different location and with a long feeder canal, to replace a mill on the Rivanna River at Shadwell that had been built by his father around 1757 and destroyed by a flood in 1771. By the mid-1790s, grain had supplanted tobacco as the primary crop of the region around Monticello, with most farmers alternating their fields between wheat and corn from year to year. TJ recognized the new importance of grain farming, especially for overseas export, which more than tobacco planting also appealed to his evolving notions of political economy. On his own lands, as the Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt observed in 1796, TJ developed a seven-year rotation plan utilizing restorative crops as well as grains, a system that promised to allow grain production without the long years of fallow eventually required by the simple wheat-corn rotation employed by his neighbors. He also believed that Albemarle County lagged behind other areas, such as the Shenandoah Valley, in building gristmills, and replacement of his father’s mill was the first step in what became an ambitious program to produce flour (Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, Princeton, 1953 description ends , 201–2, 341–4; La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Voyage, v, 18–20; Robert Gamble to TJ, 10 May, TJ to Gamble, 19 May 1793; Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , iii., 200–1, 204; Robert D. Mitchell, Commercialism and Frontier: Perspectives on the Early Shenandoah Valley [Charlottesville, 1977], 172–8).

A partial record of TJ’s actions on the Shadwell mill survives in two venues: in the Albemarle County Court, where he sought formal permission for construction; and in Virginia’s High Court of Chancery in Richmond, where he filed suit to halt interference caused by a neighboring milldam on the Rivanna. TJ had begun the difficult work of excavating the new canal—three quarters of a mile long, much of it through solid rock—in 1776, and two years later obtained permission from the county court to build a mill (see Enclosure No. 1 listed at John Carr to TJ, 22 Sep. 1795). Work on the canal continued intermittently until TJ’s departure for France brought it to a halt in 1784. No construction had begun on the mill itself, and nothing came of TJ’s sporadic efforts to revive the millsite during his service as Secretary of State (TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., 24 July 1791; John Clarke to TJ, 15 June 1793; Notice for Rental of Mill Seat, 18 June 1793; TJ to John Spurrier, 18 June 1793). The present initiative, doubtless sparked by TJ’s concerns about a mill being built downstream (see below), began in September 1795 when he again petitioned the county court for permission to construct a mill. His petition, not found, resulted in an on-site investigation by a jury which signed the inquest printed above and had been convened Ad quod damnum—an ancient English writ commanding the sheriff to investigate the potential damages of an act—under a 1785 statute that was based on a draft, probably written by TJ, included in the revisal of the laws of Virginia (Hening, description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, Richmond, 1809–23, 13 vols. description ends xii., 187–90; above in this series, Vol. 2: 320, 464–7; for the writ, see Enclosure No. 2 listed at John Carr to TJ, 22 Sep. 1795). On 5 Oct. 1795 the county court again granted TJ permission to erect a mill (Albemarle County Order Book, 1793–95, Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Charlottesville). The following year he revived the work on the canal in earnest, hiring laborers specifically for that task, which was not finally completed until 1805 (Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, Princeton, 1953 description ends , 343, 363–5).

In September 1795, as he sought renewed authority from the county for his mill project, TJ also instituted proceedings in the High Court of Chancery to stop work on a milldam that was located downstream from his millsite and was owned by the heirs of Bennett Henderson, who had died intestate in 1793. Henderson, one of whose collateral relatives was evidently on the jury that returned the county inquest, had acquired 1,200 acres of land at the falls of the Rivanna, where he built a tobacco inspection warehouse, a storehouse, a flour mill, and other facilities. His wife was TJ’s first cousin Elizabeth Lewis, a sister of Charles Lilburne Lewis, who was both cousin and brother-in-law to TJ and who joined with Henderson in 1789 to develop the town of Milton (Merrill, Jefferson’s Nephews description begins Boynton Merrill, Jr., Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, Princeton, 1976 description ends , 58–9). Henderson’s enterprises languished after his death, but by September 1795 his heirs’ improvement of their dam, which threatened to elevate the water level at the Shadwell millsite, led TJ to retain Bushrod Washington as attorney to file his complaint in chancery. On 10 Oct. 1795, George Wythe, the chancery court’s judge, ordered the Hendersons to stop raising their dam (TJ to Washington, 23 Sep. 1795; Bill in Chancery on the Henderson Milldam, [24 Sep. 1795], and note). Since the level of the Rivanna at TJ’s millsite—and consequently the precise location of his proposed mill—was affected by the Henderson dam, TJ postponed construction of his mill until the chancery case was resolved. In 1799 Daniel Call succeeded Washington, who had become an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, as TJ’s counsel in the suit. On 1 October of that year Wythe issued the court’s decree ordering that the Henderson milldam be torn down sufficiently to return the water to its level before Peter Jefferson built his mill (TJ to Daniel Call, 15 Aug. 1799; Call to TJ, 13 Oct. 1799, and enclosure).

TJ did not have the Henderson dam destroyed until his own mill was completed in 1803. By then he had begun to build a second, larger mill nearby to manufacture flour on a commercial basis, and was covertly buying the Henderson heirs’ parcels of land along the Rivanna River. TJ’s acquisition of most of Bennett Henderson’s original holdings, a complex process that lasted until 1817, generated new legal disputes over land titles and renewed efforts by members of the Henderson family to develop their own mill (TJ to Craven Peyton, 2 May 1803; Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, Princeton, 1953 description ends , 342–3; Craven Peyton’s Bill in Chancery, 5 May 1804, ViU: Carr Papers, 19th-century transcript, being part of record of TJ v. Michie in the hand of George Carr; Merrill, Jefferson’s Nephews description begins Boynton Merrill, Jr., Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, Princeton, 1976 description ends , 58–70; 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 ., 14 July 1801, 8 May, 10 Sep. 1804, 31 July 1812, 7 Feb., 20 July 1817, and notes; Steven H. Hochman, “Thomas Jefferson: A Personal Financial Biography” [Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1987], 230–40; Malone, Jefferson, vi, 254,505–7).

The 1769 act of assembly required any milldam on the Rivanna River to have a passageway for fish open from March to May of each year (Hening, description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, Richmond, 1809–23, 13 vols. description ends viii., 361–2).

1Preceding three words interlined in place of “crossed.”

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