Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Newton, 5 March 1804

To Thomas Newton

Washington Mar. 5. 1804

Dear Sir

We have just heard of the calamitous event of Norfolk. I have not heard whether any persons are named to recieve donations for the relief of the poor sufferers, and therefore take the liberty of inclosing two hundred dollars to you, & of asking the favor of you to have it applied in the way you think best, for the relief of such description of sufferers as you shall think best. I pray not to be named in newspapers on this occasion. Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of respect.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Colo. Thos. Newton”; endorsed by TJ in ink on verso. Recorded in SJL with notation “200. D.”

calamitous event of norfolk: on 22 Feb. a fire broke out in a store at Market Square on Maxwell’s wharf, killing or injuring many people and destroying more than 260 houses, shops, and several ships. Initial estimated losses to the town exceeded one million dollars. Although the printing office of the Norfolk Herald was a casualty of the conflagration, news of the fire quickly spread and arrived in New York less than a week after the disaster, when a schooner from Norfolk came into port and its captain provided brief details. A fuller account from New York ran in the Philadelphia United States Gazette on 1 Mch. and an extract appeared in the Washington Federalist the following day. The most widely reprinted account, however, appeared in the Richmond Virginia Argus on 25 Feb., the Alexandria Advertiser on 3 Mch., and the National Intelligencer four days later (New York Spectator, 29 Feb.; Philadelphia United States Gazette, 1 Mch.; Washington Federalist, 2 Mch.; National Intelligencer, 7 Mch.; Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic Southern Port, 2d ed. [Durham, N.C., 1962], 128).

donations for the relief: the 25 Feb. account of the “deplorable” and “distressing” Norfolk fire announced a monetary fund “for the immediate relief of the needy sufferers,” with assistance applications to be coordinated by John Nivison, a Norfolk attorney and public notary. Under 5 Mch in his financial memoranda, TJ recorded his donation in “charity for sufferers by fire Norfolk.” On 19 Mch., TJ signed “An act for the relief of the sufferers by fire in the town of Norfolk” that suspended, for up to one year, the collection of bonds due to the United States by Norfolk and Portsmouth merchants who had incurred losses (Richmond Virginia Argus, 25 Feb.; 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 , 2:1121; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820-21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:382; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 6:53; Simmons’s Norfolk Directory [Norfolk, 1801], 25, 87).

For another instance of TJ’s preference not to be named in the newspapers for his charitable donations, see TJ to John Langdon, 11 Jan. 1803.

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