Thomas Jefferson Papers

Samuel J. Harrison to Gibson & Jefferson, 16 July 1809

Samuel J. Harrison to Gibson & Jefferson

Lynchburg July 16. 1809


Agreeable to your request I have been in Search of the Trunk lost last Spring: Which I presume I have found with a part of its contents, as per List annexed—I believe I have also got the Thief; by name Ned, the property of James B. Couch Decd late of Buckingham County—He is found guilty by the Examining magistrate here, & is now in Irons, & will be sent on, in a Day or Two, to take his Trial in Richd where the offence was Commited, on the 24. Inst—Ned is a Noted Villain, & from the Testimony here, I have no doubt of his Guilt—the Two hands that run in the same Boat with him; as well as Several others prove, that he Brocke the Trunk open in thier presence, Took Such of the Articles as he thought would be of any Service to him; & as the Head, & Sterne hand, objected to the Trunk remaining in the Boat, (for fear of their being Implicated) he Threw it, with the Balance of the articles overboard, just below Britains Landing, nearly opposite westham—where it will be proven, it was found, & brought up to this Place, some time after—It Seems Ned came to his Boat in the Basin about 2. Hours before Day, & Insisted to Start, but the Headman not being present the other hand objected, & refused to get up: but Such was Neds anxiety, that he Shoved the Boat to the Locks himself—It seems the Trunk was not Known to be in the Boat, by the other Two Hands untill they Stoped to get Breakfast—& that the other Hands Immediately protested against it; as Being Stolen, which he acknowledged; & from a north River Boat; near Pickets Lumber House—One of the Articles proven here, was a Small Bag of wheat, which Ned retaind—The Bag with Mr Jeffersons, Name, in part, is found now in Neds possession by the witness Billy: wch of itself, is quite Convincing—

It seems the Trunk was found by a parcell of white Boat Men, who Declare there was nothing, but paper, & papers; that they were Chiefly wet; & many of them out of the Trunk, & perhaps 100 yards Distant; the paper was all Taken to [pieices?], & Spread in the Boat for Several Days to Dry—that when they arrivd here Geniral Enquiry was made for an owner for 10 Days, without Effect; when they sold it to a Mr Northcut of Amherst, for $3.—Northcut said He would not Deliver the things without having his $3 paid back to him: this he has no right to demand; but as I was obliged to have the things, to Send down to Establish the guilt of the Thief; I have promised to pay him provided he has a right to Claim it—I have paid $1. for bringing the things from Northcuts here.—perhaps you had better send up to Mr Jeffersons, for some Evidence, if any you think there can be had? as I should be glad this Villain Could meet his Desert—The witnesses prove that a case, with a parcell of Brass, Instruments, were Thrown over with the Trunk; & may be found, I suspect, if Searched for—

I am told, since the Trunk has come, that there is not more than Half the paper sent: this I shall see about. though it is worth nothing—

Yr Mo Obt

S J Harrison


a Trunk, with about 8. to 10 Quire Large paper, 1 ps home made Linen, used perhaps for an inside Wrapper; 1 ps Hempen Linen, said to Contain wheat. 2. Rules, 1 Small [Drawr?] Sundree little Gilt Books, some Scraps, with writing thereon &c &c &c

CouchesBilly, & Peter, are the hands, that run in the Same Boat with Ned, & are the most material Witnesses—Michael Smuthers, is one of the men that found the Trunk—William Creasy was present when the Trunk was found, but is not hear, or he would have been bound to attend as a witness. he Perhaps may be down, at the time of the Trial in Chief. when you Can have him Summon’d—The other witnesses, that are recognized, were present when the Trunk was broke.—

RC (MHi); two words illegible; addressed: “Messrs Gibson & Jefferson Richmond”; endorsed by TJ. Enclosed in George Jefferson to TJ, 21 July 1809, a brief note transmitting “some further information with respect to the lost trunk” (RC in MHi; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 25 July 1809 and so recorded in SJL).

Samuel J. Harrison (1771–1846), a prominent tobacco merchant, had been a Lynchburg alderman since the town was incorporated in 1805. In 1810 TJ sold him two tracts of land along Ivy Creek for £1,200 (Ruth H. Early, Campbell Chronicles and Family Sketches, Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia, 1782–1926 [1927], 63–4; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1254–6).

On 14 July 1809 the slave ned, property of the recently deceased James Bartlett couch, was arrested for the theft of TJ’s property from a boat that had been docked in the James River Canal basin in Richmond. His trial began on 24 July 1809. Ned was found guilty of a felony and sentenced to “be burnt in his left hand and receive thirty-nine lashes on his bare back at the public whipping post,” an unusually severe punishment for such an offense (Commonwealth v. Couch’s Ned, cause ended 25 July 1809, Richmond Hustings Court Suit Papers, Vi; Richmond Hustings Court Order Book, 8:326, Vi; George Jefferson to TJ, 1 Sept. 1809; James Sidbury, “Thomas Jefferson in Gabriel’s Virginia,” in The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic, ed. James Horn, Jan Ellen Lewis, and Peter S. Onuf [2002], 213–4).

Index Entries

  • Billy (J. B. Couch’s slave); and lost trunk search
  • Couch, James Bartlett; slaves of search
  • Creasy, William; and lost trunk search
  • Gibson & Jefferson (Richmond firm); letter to from S. J. Harrison search
  • Harrison, Samuel Jordan; and lost trunk search
  • Harrison, Samuel Jordan; identified search
  • Harrison, Samuel Jordan; letter from to Gibson & Jefferson search
  • Jefferson, George (TJ’s cousin); letters from accounted for search
  • Ned (J. B. Couch’s slave); trial of search
  • Northcut, Daniel; and lost trunk search
  • Peter (J. B. Couch’s slave); and lost trunk search
  • scientific instruments; in lost trunk search
  • slaves; J. B. Couch’s search
  • Smithers (Smuthers; Smythers), Michael; and lost trunk search
  • stationery; letter paper search
  • trunk, lost in return from Washington; account of search
  • wheat; from lost trunk search