Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Ruffin, 28 October 1799

To George Ruffin

Monticello Oct. 28. 1799.


Colo. Skipwith, in a late visit to me, delivered me in your name an antient piece of armour, which he informed me had been turned up by a plough in a field of your neighborhood. it appears to be the true cotte de mailles, or hauberk of antient times, & a very sufficient defence against the arrows of the Indian aborigines of our country, and was doubtless brought over for that purpose. I recieve, Sir, with the sentiments which are due, this mark of regard from you, and I pray you to accept my sincere thanks for it. I shall certainly prize & preserve it as a rare curiosity.

I have lately recieved, from a mr Symonds in England, a letter from which the following is an extract. ‘I had, says he, a sister married about 20 years since to a mr Avery of Wiloby hill, Prince George county, up James river, Virginia. I have heard nothing of her now for more than 8. years, notwithstanding I have wrote one or two letters to her every year, & have made every other enquiry I can think of, but all to no purpose. previous to that time I generally heard from her once a year. therefore I have every reason to believe she is no more. in some of my last letters I was desired to address him as Colonel Avery of Wiloby hill &c &c &c. to the care of Messrs. Donald & Fraser merchts. in Petersburg.’ he then proceeds to desire me ‘to make enquiry & let him know if she is dead, or living, & what is become of her husband & children, (she had five when she wrote last)’ Mr. Symonds is an entire stranger to me, having never before heard of him: but this is an office of common humanity which we are all bound to render one another. having no acquaintance myself in Prince George, I think myself fortunate in this occasion of interesting you for my correspondent, and solliciting from your goodness to procure for me the information he desires, & to enable me to answer his letter.

If time and separation have not entirely obliterated me from the remembrance of your father, who was my fellow collegian, I pray you to present him my friendly salutations, & to assure him of my constant esteem. I am respectfully Sir

Your most obedt humble servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (facsimile in Kenneth W. Rendell, Inc., Newton, Massachusetts, Catalogue No. 102, 1974, Item 62). PrC (MHi); at foot of text in ink: “Mr. Ruffin.”

George Ruffin (1765–1810), a planter, lived in Prince George County, Virginia, on the south side of the James River. He had recently married Rebecca Cocke. His first wife, Jane Lucas Ruffin, died sometime between 1794 and 1797. Ruffin served two terms in the House of Delegates beginning in 1803. Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865), the nineteenth-century agricultural reformer and famous proponent of secession, was his son (David F. Allmendinger, Jr., Ruffin: Family and Reform in the Old South [New York, 1990], 8–13; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, Richmond, 1978 description ends , 233, 237; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends 19:40–2).

On 24 Oct. TJ had received a letter from Richard Symonds, recorded in SJL as written 10 Aug. and sent from “Knighton. near Wareham. Dorsetshire.” That letter has not been found. See Ruffin’s reply of 30 Nov. and TJ to Symonds, 30 Jan. 1800.

Ruffin’s father, who like several members of the family was named Edmund, lived from 1745 to 1807 and was a Collegian at William and Mary during the period 1761–63 (List of Alumni description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, from 1693 to 1888, Richmond, 1941 description ends , 35; Allmendinger, Ruffin description begins David F. Allmendinger, Jr., Ruffin: Family and Reform in the Old South, New York, 1990 description ends , 10, 17).

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