Thomas Jefferson Papers

Mary Ann Archbald to Thomas Jefferson, 29 May 1809

From Mary Ann Archbald

Creekvale 291 May 1809


I anxiously waited for the Period of your retirement in hopes of being able to summon up courage sufficient to address you, a conciderable time has elapsed since that event & still2 when I would make the attempt this hoped for courage seems not [to]3 arrive, Contrasting my own situation with yours the pen appears about to drop from my hand—

You have long been at the head of a great, Peacefull & prosperous4 Nation—have been surrounded by men of talents—Your transactions have been with Princes & the great ones of the earth—how different the station & circomstances of her who now presumes to address you; bred upon one of the smallest of the British Islands where nought was visible to the eye of a stranger but the lofty Rock & dashing wave to me however the sound of waves had always been familiar & was not disagreeable many a calm evening too they were hushed in peace & the music of the birds alone was heard, many a flower also adorned the cliffs, which tho’ for the most part “born to blush unseen” yet were never suffured to bloom unheaded or unenjoyed5 in my path, in this solitary spot I would most willingly have ended my days but my husband’s Lease being out & an extravagant rent demanded by the propriator we determined to cross the Atlantic with our young family & seek an asylum on the hospitable6 shores of America, it is now two years since we landed at N. York & by the advice of an acquaintance my husband consented to settle here &7 purchased a farm of 120 acres8 for which he payed 3000 Dols9 we had seen no other part of the country & were rather too hasty in making the purchase. Our sole motive for crossing the ocian10 was to earn by honest industry a comfortable subsistance for our family, if at the same time we could in any degree Promote the wellfare of society it would be a most agreeable reflection, the only regrete I felt at my former solitude was from the idea of leaving the world without having done any good in it my sphere of usefulness being confined to the little family circle

my husband has from infancy been acustomed to the raising & improving of Sheep in which he took pleasere & was very successfull—now what I would presume to ask is11

might not his talents in this way be rendered beneficial to the country—is the increase & improvement of so useful an animal not beneath the nottice of the Statesman & philosopher, if Mr Gefferson12 should think it is not will he be so kind as favour us with his countinance & advice as to what part of the United States would be most proper for the above purpose &c. the mild regions of Kentucky (the dream of my youth) might perhaps be preferable to any other but the great distance from markets &c is against it—we would at any rate require to be a few degrees farther to the south13 where we might expect 8 or 9 months of mild weather in the year, on the bleak mountains of Scotland where thousands14 of sheep are reared the climate seems much less favourable than in most parts of this country & some hardy winter shrubs & plants15 which supply the Place of grass might perhaps be introduced here with advantage such as the Broom (Scoparium) Furze &c &c but I traspas sadly on your patience16—if I have taken too much liberty it proceeds from my having long represented Mr Gefferson to my mind as one who wishes to increase the sum of human happiness & would regard nothing beneath his nottice which had a tendancy to Promote this great end. Already I have indulged the idea of his encouraging by his countenance & advice a family of humble Strangers & have contrasted this Picture with the aristocratic haughtiness & averice which drove from their native spot the improvers of the soil, Would you Sir but condecend to honour us with a few lines it would answere at least one good end that of banishing17 from my husbands mind the thoughts of returning to his native country by inspiring him with the hope of employing himself more usefully & profitably here than he has hitherto been able to do. this part of the country has for me many charms notwithstanding the cold climate & colder countinances of our Dutch nieghbours, yet I confess I shoul[d] Prefer a more southerly situation & one where the ax has been rather more sparingly used where I could cultivate in my little garden some of the plants & flowers that delighted my youth with the addition of a few american natives not less attractive

After writing this I hardly know how to get it forwarded—our presuming to address you would by one Party be deemed sacrelage & by another we would be suspected of Ploting against the wellfare of the country Posterity will judge more impartially nor will it feel less respect for the memory of Mr Gefferson for his having cheered the cottage of humble industry & attended to the rural as well as Political improvement of his country in the anxious hope of hearing from you I am honoured Sir with due Respect Your most Obedt Humble Servt &c

Mary Ann Archbald

Our letters are adressed to  Mrs James Archbald Creekvale moungomery County State of New York care of Mr John Ried Mercht Albany

RC (MHi); second sheet torn at fold; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 22 May 1809 received 16 June 1809 and so recorded in SJL. FC (MNS-SS: Lb in Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald Papers); entirely in Archbald’s hand; undated; at head of text: “M G———.”

Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald (1762–1840) immigrated to Montgomery County, New York, from Little Cumbrae Island, Scotland, with her husband James Archbald and a family of four children in 1807. Archbald’s half-brother Andrew Wodrow Romney had settled in Hampshire County (now West Virginia), perhaps influencing her to consider moving to Virginia and continue raising sheep and cattle there. For this purpose she claimed to “have opened a correspondance with some of the great men about the rearing & improvement of sheep a thing greatly wanted in this country.” Although TJ did not respond to her inquiries, Archbald received a response from George Washington Parke Custis that she summarized as “diswading us from settling in any of the southern states.” The Archbalds remained in New York (Archbald to Margaret Wodrow, 20 June 1809, and Archbald to Custis, [1809] [MNS-SS, Lb in Archbald Papers]; David A. Gerber, “Ethnic Identification and the Project of Individual Identity: The Life of Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald [1768–1840] of Little Cumbrae Island Scotland and Auriesville, New York,” Immigrants & Minorities 17 [1998]: 1–22).

born to blush unseen is quoted from Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” line 55 (Roger Lonsdale, ed., The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith [1969], 127).

1Reworked from “22.”

2FC substitutes “but now” for preceding ten words.

3Omitted word supplied from FC.

4RC: “properous.” FC: “prosperous.”

5Preceding two words omitted in FC.

6RC: “hospitab.” FC: “hospitable.”

7From “it is now” to this point is replaced in FC by “by the advice of an acquaintance we came up here & my husband.”

8FC: “a small farm.”

9Remainder of sentence omitted in FC.

10FC: “motive in coming to this country.”

11FC substitutes “Pray sir” for preceding eight words.

12Here and on two later occasions, FC reads “G—.”

13FC: “farther south in a climate.”

14RC: “thousans.” FC: “thousands.”

15Preceding two words interlined.

16FC: “some hard winter plants might be introduced with advantage.”

17FC: “lines it might banish.”

Index Entries

  • Archbald, James search
  • Archbald, Mary Ann Wodrow; identified search
  • Archbald, Mary Ann Wodrow; letters from search
  • Archbald, Mary Ann Wodrow; seeks TJ’s advice on sheep husbandry search
  • Custis, George Washington Parke; dissuades Archbalds from leaving N.Y. search
  • Gray, Thomas; “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” search
  • Scotland; emigration from search
  • sheep; raised in Va. search
  • women; letters from; M. A. Archbald search
  • “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (Gray) search