Thomas Jefferson Papers

Isham Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, 27 April 1809

From Isham Lewis

Snowden 27th April 1809

Dear Sir.

The great desire which I feel to be placed in some employ whereby, I may secure to myself the happiness derivable from the idea of enjoying the fruits of well spent industry and the difficulty I find in attaining this object unassisted by any influentiel friend has induced me to beg the favour of your endeavours in my behalf, I am in hopes you will be less disposed to think hard of this request when I assure you it is produced from necessity, brought on not from my own imprudences but those of an unfortunate father whose promises of wealth and neglect to bring me up in any useful pursuit has brought on me the want of the former and occasions me to deplore his inattention to the latter. It is too commonly the case that after we are sensible of having err’d to excuse ourselves we endeavour, to throw the blame on the innocent, whether or not this is the case with me you and all those who are acquainted with the cause of my situation are left to determin, I can only say that if I am chargable in this respect it proceeds from an error in judgment, and not from a wish to charge a father wrongfully whose foibles I would with the greatest freedom alleviate, was it in my power. But I fear I am dweling too long on a subject which however it effects me, may appear to you unimportant, and shall therefore conclude with the firmest belief of your readiness to do the best for me in your power

I am with affectionate respect Yrs &C

Ihm: Lewis

N.B. I will thank you to inform me whether you suppose the Louisiana country will be laid off into Townships &C within any short time, and provid’d it should be, whether you suppose it will be in my power to get a part of the undertaking


RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 29 Apr. 1809 and so recorded in SJL.

Isham Lewis (b. ca. 1788) was the son of Charles Lilburne Lewis and TJ’s sister Lucy Jefferson Lewis, and the grandson of Charles Lewis Jr., Peter Jefferson’s brother-in-law. Although he had prospered a decade previously, by 1803 Charles L. Lewis, the unfortunate father, was dependent on his children. Isham Lewis left home in 1804, receiving 230 acres of poor land on Three Chopt Road that he soon sold. He remained in Virginia with TJ’s brother Randolph Jefferson at Snowden after his parents and his brothers Randolph and Lilburne Lewis moved to Kentucky in 1807. In 1811, while visiting Lilburne Lewis and his family at Rocky Hill, Livingston County, Kentucky, Isham Lewis assisted his brother in the grisly murder of a slave named George. Facing disgrace and intending to commit suicide by shooting each other, the pact failed when Lilburne Lewis accidentally shot himself dead and Isham lost his nerve. Imprisoned and facing a capital trial, Lewis escaped from jail and disappeared from the record, possibly having fled to New Orleans under an assumed name. The indictment against him was dismissed (Merrill, Jefferson’s Nephews description begins Boynton Merrill Jr., Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, 1976 description ends ).

Index Entries

  • George (slave); murder of search
  • Jefferson, Randolph (TJ’s brother); and Lewis relatives search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • Kentucky; Lewis family in search
  • Lewis, Charles, Jr. (TJ’s uncle) search
  • Lewis, Charles Lilburne (TJ’s brother-in-law); family of search
  • Lewis, Isham (TJ’s nephew); and murder of slave search
  • Lewis, Isham (TJ’s nephew); identified search
  • Lewis, Isham (TJ’s nephew); letters from search
  • Lewis, Isham (TJ’s nephew); seeks TJ’s assistance search
  • Lewis, Lillburne (TJ’s nephew); and murder of slave search
  • Lewis, Lucy Jefferson (TJ’s sister; Charles Lilburne Lewis’s wife); family of search
  • Lewis, Randolph (TJ’s nephew); moves to Ky. search
  • murder; of slave search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • suicide; and I. Lewis and L. Lewis search