Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington Varnum, 22 June 1802

To George Washington Varnum

Washington June 22. 1802.


Your favor of the 4th. inst. was recieved yesterday. Genl. Dearborne is absent for about a week; but on his return I will put your letter into his hands. I do not believe however there is a single Lieutenancy vacant, as a number of supernumerary lieutenants were lately dismissed on the reduction of the army. there are vacant ensigncies, because this office is newly created; there having been none on the former establishment. as you propose going by the stage to Massachusets, and this place is on your route, should you have set out before you hear any thing further on this subject, you will recieve your information as you pass here, by calling on General Dearborne. I shall be happy in every occasion of shewing my esteem for your father, Genl. Varnum. Accept my respects & best wishes.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (MoSHi: Jefferson Papers); at foot of text: “Mr. George Washington Varnum”; endorsed by TJ in ink on verso.

George Washington Varnum (1779–1812) was the eldest son of Republican congressman Joseph B. Varnum of Massachusetts. He settled in Amherst County, Virginia (later Nelson County), where he became a merchant, militia leader, and member of the state legislature. He wrote TJ at least once more, on 7 Apr. 1811 from Lovingston, Virginia, seeking information on public finance (John Marshall Varnum, The Varnums of Dracutt (In Massachusetts) [Boston, 1907], 183; 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–, 32 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 8 vols. Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols. Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , Pres. Ser., 2:401; 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 , 267; National Intelligencer, 25 July 1812; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004–, 6 vols. description ends , 3:543–4).

YOUR FAVOR OF THE 4TH. INST.: Varnum’s letter of 4 June 1802, recorded in SJL as received 21 June from “Oakridge Amherst (Rives’s),” has not been found. TJ’s notation may indicate that the letter was written from the Oak Ridge estate of Amherst County merchant Robert Rives. A letter from Rives of 10 July 1802 from Warminster, recorded in SJL as received 25 July, has not been found (Alexander Brown, The Cabells and Their Kin [Richmond, 1939], 238; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004–, 6 vols. description ends , 4:22).

On 8 July 1802, Henry Dearborn (DEARBORNE) informed Varnum that the president had appointed him a first lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. If he accepted, Varnum was to repair immediately to West Point, New York, and report to Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Williams (FC in Lb in DNA: RG 107, LSMA). Varnum replied to the secretary of war on 26 Aug., however, resigning the commission (Dearborn to Varnum, 3 Sep. 1802, in same).

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