Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Rutledge, Jr., 20 October 1802

From John Rutledge, Jr.

New Port October 20th. 1802


Your name having been connected with the subject of this letter, will, I trust, be considered as some apology for the liberty I take in troubling you with it. Two letters dated in August 1801, signed N Geffroy, and addressed to you, have been published in one of the prints of this place, and charged upon me, on account, as it was said, of “the parity of hands”: Persons desirous of comparing the hand writing of these letters with mine, were invited to examine the originals at the printing office. Many gentlemen of Carolina long in correspondence with me, & others well acquainted with my hand writing, were here at the time, & profiting of the printers invitation, called to examine these letters, & all of them declared their conviction of the writings not being mine.

As a great deal of the most foul and vulgar abuse had repeatedly been addressed to me in the same paper, many persons here thought I should discover an unbecoming condescension by noticing this ridiculous & anonymous attack; the desire however of checking it, impelled me to a publication, & to declare, on oath, that I had been utterly ignorant of the transaction before reading the newspaper announcing it. It was to have been hoped that my solemn denial, supported by the oaths of every person here acquainted with my writing, would have destroyed this calumny: but the Author & Propagator of it, not discouraged by these circumstances, made a tour through this State, & into Massachusetts, and got a number of Persons, who knew nothing of me, who had never seen my writing, and many of whom (I am credibly informed) could neither read nor write, to swear they believed the letters in question were written by me. This contrivance not producing the desired effect, the postmaster, after a lapse of several weeks, was induced to swear that they were delivered by a girl saying she had lived with me, & saying also that I had sent her. His Son, less cautious, swore they were delivered by my Servant. I fortunately procured very ample & respectable countervailing testimony, which completely nullified the depositions of these officious postmasters. As it is probable, Sir, that the Papers of this place may not be received at Washington, I feel it a respect due to you (whose name has been used in this business as authorizing the publication of the letters) no less than to myself, to forward the enclosed documents disproving my having had any agency in the puerile and ridiculous transaction which malice & ignorance have ascribed to me.

Altho’ the mere circumstance of my being a federalist would be quite sufficient, in this season of violent party spirit and jealousy, to make many persons believe, without examination, that I am capable of any thing infamous with which I might be charged in our licentious papers, yet, I feel persuaded, Sir, notwithstanding the declarations of your having authorized the publication of the letters signed Geffroy, that your mind is too much elevated above suspicion and credulity to have for a moment supposed me capable of the deception which has been attempted. Indeed, Sir, I should not have troubled you with this letter, nor taken the liberty of soliciting your perusal of the documents it encloses, were it not for the deposition of the postmaster, which is the only thing like proof of my agency in the folly with which I have been charged, and which is calculated to render impressive the calumnious tale where the infamous characters of the postmaster and his deputy are not known.

I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedient and humble Servant

John Rutledge

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 29 Oct. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures not found, but see below.

For the TWO LETTERS received by TJ from Nicholas GEFFROY, dated 1 and 7 Aug. 1801, see Vol. 35:3–6. They were printed in the 18 Sep. 1802 edition of the Newport Rhode-Island Republican.

AUTHOR & PROPAGATOR OF IT: Christopher Ellery.

Depositions dated 5 Oct. 1802 by Newport POSTMASTER Jacob Richardson and HIS SON, assistant postmaster Jacob Richardson, Jr., appeared in the Rhode-Island Republican on 9 Oct. Both men testified that two letters addressed to the president were received by the Newport post office in early August 1801 “by a Girl, who said she lived with Mr. Rutledge,” and that the letters appeared to be in Rutledge’s hand, but disguised. The men made similar declarations in August 1801 to Christopher Ellery, who forwarded their testimonials to TJ (Vol. 35:156–7). In a 29 Aug. 1801 letter, the elder Richardson informed Washington publisher Samuel Harrison Smith of the mysterious letters to TJ. “I knew the hand writing,” Richardson claimed, “& suspected they were anonymous Letters, as they were from one of the Presidents greatest enemies.” Richardson also expressed his belief that the South Carolina congressman was “a bad man & I have thought so a long time, & I will never forgive him, for his Scheme of bringing in a third person for President,” referring to Rutledge’s support for Aaron Burr during the contested election of 1800. Richardson’s letter was probably the enclosure mentioned in Smith’s letter to TJ of 4 Oct. 1801 (RC in MHi; Robert K. Ratzlaff, “John Rutledge, Jr., South Carolina Federalist, 1766–1819” [Ph.D. diss., University of Kansas, 1975], 187–9; Vol. 35:387).

COUNTERVAILING TESTIMONY: the 19 Oct. edition of the Newport Mercury, the Federalist counterpart of the Rhode-Island Republican, contained testimonials by Cleland Kinloch of South Carolina and William Moore, Jr., Horace Senter, and Rhody Chappell of Newport, countering claims by the Richardsons that the Geffroy letters had been delivered to the Newport post office by a girl in Rutledge’s employ. Rutledge compiled these and other articles from the Mercury in his defense into a pamphlet entitled A Defence Against Calumny; Or, Haman, in the Shape of Christopher Ellery, Esq. Hung Upon His Own Gallows (Newport, R.I., 1803; Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 4053).

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