Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William D. Meriwether, 27 December 1809

To William D. Meriwether

Monticello Dec. 27. 09.

Dear Sir

By the Enquirer of the 19th just now recieved here I see that the petition of Ashlin to build a dam across the river adjacent to Ross’s lands, & consequently not far above it’s mouth has been reported reasonable. where a mill dam assists navigation it is well to allow it because it becomes a public good. Mcgruder’s I believe stands on this ground. Wood’s I am assured does not, and is a great obstruction to the speed necessary with us to take advantage of accidental tides. our watermen here concur that the little difficulty on which Ashlin’s pretensions1 are founded, is really trifling & not to be balanced against the inconveniences of a lock. to this then add the removal of our resort for fresh fish from Magruder’s to Ashlin’s, & the deprivation of all the intermediate inhabitants who now catch them at their door. the rights & conveniencies of the whole body of inhabitants above Ashlin have certainly a claim for mature consideration & time for bringing forward evidence on their case. this is what we wish. let his petition lie over to another session with such measures for intermediate enquiry as the house shall direct. precipitation cuts off the rights of a county; time only delays a favor asked by an individual. unless vigilance & steady opposition be observed by the upper inhabitants of the river, it is evident we shall lose the benefits of it’s navigation & fish, or have them rendered useless by the erection of one stoppage after another from it’s mouth upwards. an interested petitioner will always procure names by his activity: while the mass of those to be injured are silent because no particular person will undertake to procure a hearing for them. will you be so good as to communicate this letter to your collegue mr Coles, for whom it is equally intended, & both give your aid to have that done which is right.

Affectionately your’s

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of text: “W. D. Meriwether esq.”; endorsed by TJ.

On 11 Dec. 1809 the Committee of Propositions and Grievances of the Virginia House of Delegates reported that the petition of John Ashlin, of Fluvanna County, for permission to construct a dam between his own and the late David ross’s land about a mile above the mouth of the Rivanna River was reasonable. A statute authorizing the dam was enacted on 5 Jan. 1810. John B. mcgruder’s (Magruder’s) dam was about two miles above Palmyra, while William wood’s (Woods’s) was located just west of Columbia (Richmond Enquirer, 19, 23 Dec. 1809; Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1809–10 sess.], 38–9; McGehee and Trout, Jefferson’s River description begins Minnie Lee McGehee and William E. Trout III, Mr. Jefferson’s River: The Rivanna, 2001 description ends , 8, 10, 19, 21, 47, 81).

Heavy rain or an abundance of melting snow could cause accidental tides. At this time Meriwether and Tucker coles represented Albemarle County in the House of Delegates (Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends , 256).

1Reworked from “petition.”

Index Entries

  • Ashlin, John; mill of search
  • Coles, Tucker search
  • dams; on Rivanna River search
  • Enquirer (Richmond newspaper); and J. Ashlin’s dam search
  • Fluvanna County, Va.; petition for dam in search
  • Magruder, John Bowie; milldam of search
  • Meriwether, William Douglas; as member of Va. legislature search
  • Meriwether, William Douglas; letters to search
  • Rivanna River; dams on search
  • Ross, David; lands of search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Wood, William (of Albemarle Co.); dam of search