Thomas Jefferson Papers

Madame Deshay to Thomas Jefferson, 18 August 1809

From Madame Deshay

de Baltimore le 18 aout. 1809


Forcée d’abandonner mes proprietes de St domaingue, obligée de sortir de l’isle de cuba ou je m’ettais réfugiée et ou je pouvois sufir a mon existence, me voici maintenent ici dans un pays etrangé pour moi; Dénué de tout, tres agée sans parents sans amis. Mon mari mon unique soutient ayant ete sacrifier par les neigres je me trouve seule au monde. Monsieur Lemerre qui étoit ùn de vos colonel1 du temps de la guere D’amérique étoit un de mes proche parent. C’est á ce titre et au nom de l’humanité Monsieur que j’ose reclamer vos bontes et pour me fair [passer] quelques secours, pour me donner du moins les premiers besoins de la vie. Croyez que ma reconnoissance sera sans borne. j’ai l’honeur d’etre

Monsieur votre tres humble et tres obéissante Servante

Ve Deshay

Si vous avez la bonté de m’envoyer quelquechose, veuillez l’adresser à  Mme Amiot au Collège de Ste Marie de Baltimore.

Editors’ Translation

Baltimore 18 August. 1809


Forced to abandon my properties in Saint Domingue, obliged to leave the island of Cuba where I had taken refuge and where I could provide for my existence, I am now here in a country that is foreign to me; stripped of everything, very elderly, without relatives, without friends. My husband my sole support having been sacrificed by the negroes, I find myself alone in the world. Mr. Lemerre, who was one of your colonels during the American war, was one of my close relatives. It is on this account and in the name of humanity, Sir, that I dare to appeal to your goodness in order to obtain some assistance for myself, to procure at least the basic necessities of life. Believe that my gratitude will be without limit.  I have the honor of being,

Sir your very humble and very obedient Servant.

Widow Deshay

If you have the goodness to send me something, please address it to Mme Amiot at St. Mary’s College in Baltimore.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 11 Sept. 1809 and so recorded in SJL. Translation by Dr. Amy Ogden.

lemerre was probably Jacques Le Maire, a Frenchman who acted as an agent to procure arms for Virginia during the American Revolution. He was well known to TJ, who as governor signed his commission as a brevet lieutenant colonel in the Virginia Dragoons, later assisted him with land claims, and considered having him bring Maria Jefferson to France (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 6 vols description ends , Congress. Ser., 1:233n; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 3:124, 7:430, 505, 9:212, 15:624).

collège de ste marie: many Saint Domingue refugees who settled in Baltimore were affiliated with the Church of St. Mary, a largely French-speaking church established by the Sulpicians. St. Mary’s Academy, founded in 1791 as a school for West Indian boys, later became St. Mary’s College and was chartered as a university in 1805 by the Maryland legislature (Winston C. Babb, “French Refugees from Saint Domingue to the Southern United States, 1791–1810” [Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1954], 253, 266–7).

1Manuscript: “conlonel.”

Index Entries

  • Amiot, Mme search
  • Baltimore, Md.; Church of St. Mary search
  • Baltimore, Md.; St. Mary’s Academy search
  • charity; requests to TJ for search
  • Cuba; refugees from search
  • Deshay, Madame; letters from search
  • Deshay, Madame; seeks TJ’s aid search
  • Eppes, Maria (Mary) Jefferson (TJ’s daughter; John Wayles Eppes’s first wife); travels to France search
  • French language; letters in, from; Madame Deshay search
  • Le Maire, Jacques search
  • Saint Domingue; refugees from search
  • schools and colleges; St. Mary’s Academy (Baltimore) search
  • St. Mary, Church of (Baltimore) search
  • St. Mary’s Academy (Baltimore) search
  • women; letters from; Madame Deshay search