Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Charles Lewis, 25 September 1801

From Charles Lewis

Monteagle 25th. Sept. 1801

Dear Sir,

It has been my wish for some time past to place myself in a situation for reading. in my endeavours to do this, I have ever found a difficulty in not having that scholastic knowledge necessary, but having devoted some time past to that purpose, and feeling myself as to that, in some degree prepared to prosecute my end; another difficulty arises, the want of books, to remove which, I am induced from necessity, though with gratitude in full recollection of your past endeavours to promote my interest, which perhaps ought to forbid it, to request your favor in the loan of such as I cannot otherwise procure. The delicacy I feel in making this request, knowing the abuse to which borrowed books are some times exposed is great indeed, but should you be disposed to favor, and lend me such, or any part of the enclosed list, I promise particular care shall be taken of them whilst in my possession.

I have the honor to be Sir yr Obt. Servt.

Ch Lewis

RC (MHi); at foot of text: “Mr. Thomas Jefferson.” Enclosure: list of 16 books, including works by Edward Gibbon, Thomas Paine, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and William Godwin (MS in same).

TJ’s nephew, Charles Lewis, was the third son of TJ’s sister Lucy and her husband, Charles Lilburne Lewis of Monteagle, who was also TJ’s first cousin. The young man had planned to marry his first cousin Nancy Jefferson in 1800 but the marriage never occurred. About that time, young Charles fathered a mulatto girl, Matilda, who was owned by his oldest brother Randolph. In 1806, TJ gave young Charles a commission as a lieutenant in the army, but the artillery soldier died from a severe head inflammation later that summer while in Opelousas (Boynton Merrill, Jr., Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy [Princeton, 1976], 48, 76, 84–6, 339, 344, 347).

On 27 Sep., Lewis wrote a letter to Thomas Mann Randolph explaining that the president had sent word by Lewis’s brother that in TJ’s absence his son-in-law would “look over his library, and send by the boy such as are inserted in the list” (RC in MHi; endorsed by TJ: “Lewis Charles to TMR. to borrow books”).

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