Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Roane to Thomas Jefferson, 15 July 1810

From John Roane

King William County July 15th 1810

Dear Sir,

Without a personal acquaintance with you, it requires an apology for making the subjoin’d request, in answer to which, you may possibly feel some delicacy in expressing your opinion—I venture however to do so, in full confidence, that if you perceive any impropriety in a compliance, you’ll excuse an application, intended, if possible, to relieve many poor, but worthy people, from a disagreable state of anxiety, & perhaps considerable loss.

Within this county, are about 10.000 acres of land held by the representatives of Wm & Mary College, which, were leased to the present tenants for lives, under stipulated annual rents—The College agent some time ago, proposed to sell those tenements in fee, to the present occupants, who, desirous to secure permanent habitations for their families, contracted to change the nature of their estates, provided good titles were made—It has been doubted by some, whether such titles could be made by that body; nevertheless the interest on the purchase money has been demanded, in lieu of rent as heretofore paid—I have understood you were formerly a visitor of that Institution, & were also of opinion, from the charter, & other documents, that the land could not be sold in fee Simple, being specifically vested as a permanent fund, to guard against deficiencies, which, might happen from injudicious speculation, or other contingencies often resulting from exchange of property—I feel not the most remote interest in the decision of this question, but as a friend to an honest, tho disquieted people, whose attys do not appear to have a clear conception of the case, & may from want of proper evidence, involve their clients in difficulties that might be avoided.

Add to this, public seminaries have been too little attended to, or supported within our state, & if the main prop of that, be destroy’d by accident or otherwise, the education of our youth will operate a copious drain of Virginia wealth, an evil we already severely feel; to say nothing of the inconveniencies, which, men of moderate fortunes have to contend with in educating their children—I reluctantly approach a character on such a topick, who, no doubt has enough to occupy his useful mind, but tender my wishes to be also useful tho’ on a small scale, as my apology for asking whatever information you may think proper to furnish, relative to the right of disposal, & power to make safe titles—The observations you make, will only be used as an index to authorities, if any, which tend to guard individuals against being entrap’d, by improper payments, under insecure titles, who are badly1 prepared to make such advances; & less capable to retrieve by tedious law suits whatever may be erroneously paid—

An answer directed to Ayletts P.O, Via Richmond will be speedily & thankfully receiv’d

I am Dr Sir with sentiments of the highest respect Your Most Obdt Servt

John Roane

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 24 July 1810 and so recorded in SJL.

John Roane (1766–1838) represented King William County in the Virginia House of Delegates a number of times and served as a presidential elector in 1789. He was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives, 1809–15, and returned there as a Jacksonian, 1827–31 and 1835–37. Roane also sat in an 1829–30 state constitutional convention (WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , 1st ser., 18 [1910]: 273–5; 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 ; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, 1989 description ends ; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 26 Nov. 1838).

In 1805 William Coleman, the agent for the College of William and Mary, advertised for sale, by private contract and if necessary by auction, the college’s lands in King William County, divided into seventy-four tenements, “some of which are on lease for lives, from one to three” (Richmond Enquirer, 10 Sept. 1805).

1Reworked from “very.”

Index Entries

  • Aylett, Philip search
  • Coleman, William (College of William and Mary) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as visitor of the College of William and Mary search
  • King William County, Va.; proposed sale of lands in search
  • Post Office, U.S.; and Va. post offices search
  • rent; paid to College of William and Mary search
  • Roane, John; and College of William and Mary land sales search
  • Roane, John; identified search
  • Roane, John; letters from search
  • Virginia; and education search
  • Virginia; post offices in search
  • William and Mary, College of; proposed sale of land by search