Thomas Jefferson Papers

Elijah Fletcher’s Account of a Visit to Monticello, [8 May 1811]

Elijah Fletcher’s Account of a Visit to Monticello

[8 May 1811]

Wednsday 8th I started again for Monticello— Mr Kelly when I g[ot t]o Char. went with me. When we arrived at the foot of the hill, we wound a side way, circutous course to avoid the steapness in getting the house, which was immediately upon the top of the mountain. We rode up to the front gate of the door yard [a] servant took our horses—Mr. Jefferson appeared at the door. I was introduced to him—and shook hands with him very cordially—We went into the drawing room—wines and liquers were soon handed us by the servant—He conversed with me very familiarly1 & he gratified my curiosity in showing me his Library— Museum of curiosities Philosophical apparatus &c Mr. Jefferson is tall, spare, straight in body. his face not handsome but savage—I learnt he was but little esteemed by his neighbers. Republicans2 as well as federalists in his own County dislike him and tell many anecdotes much to his disgrace—I confess I never had a very exalted opinion of his moral conduct—but from the information I gained of his neighbors, who must best know him—I have a much poorer one— The story of black Sal is no farce—That he cohabits with her and has a number of children by her is a sacred truth—and the worst of it is, he keeps the same children slaves—an unnatural crime which is very common in these parts—This conduct may receive a little palliation when we consider that such proceedings are so common that they cease here to be disgraceful—

MS (ViSwC); partially dated extract by the Editors from Fletcher to his father Jesse Fletcher, New Glasgow, Amherst County, 24 May 1811; ink-stained. Printed in Martha von Briesen, ed., The Letters of Elijah Fletcher (1965), 35–6.

Elijah Fletcher (1789–1858) was a native of Vermont who attended Middlebury and Dartmouth colleges before graduating from the University of Vermont in 1810. He taught at a school in Alexandria, 1810–11, and visited Monticello on his way from Alexandria to become president of the New Glasgow Academy. He moved to Lynchburg about 1818 and became active in its civic life, serving as mayor in 1830 and publishing the Lynchburg Virginian, 1825–41. Fletcher’s daughter Indiana Fletcher Williams founded Sweet Briar College on property in Amherst County that her father retired to from Lynchburg (Martha von Briesen, ed., The Letters of Elijah Fletcher [1965]; Catalogue of the Officers of Government and Instruction, the Alumni and Other Graduates of the University of Vermont … 1791–1875 [1875], 26; James M. Elson, Lynchburg, Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years, 1786–1986 [2004], 467; Amherst Co. Will Book, 14:527–8; Lynchburg Virginian, 17 Feb. 1858; gravestone inscription at Monument Hill, Sweet Briar College).

black sal refers to Sally Hemings (1773–1835), a chambermaid and seamstress at Monticello. TJ’s wife Martha inherited her in 1773 from her father John Wayles, who probably also fathered Hemings. She remained TJ’s slave until his death, after which she seems to have been permitted to live with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville, even though she was not formally freed. Allegations that TJ had a longstanding sexual relationship with Hemings resulting in as many as six children had first been published in 1802. While the claim has generated a great deal of controversy, it is probably accurate (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, 1953 (in two separately paginated sections; unless otherwise specified, references are to the second section) description ends , pt. 1, 24; Helen F. M. Leary, “Sally Hemings’s Children: A Genealogical Analysis of the Evidence,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89 [2001]: 165–207).

1Manuscript: “familiary.”

2Manuscript: “Repuplicans.”

Index Entries

  • Fletcher, Elijah; identified search
  • Fletcher, Elijah; Monticello visit described search
  • Hemings, Eston (TJ’s slave and probable son; b.1808); family of search
  • Hemings, Madison (TJ’s slave and probable son; b.1805); family of search
  • Hemings, Sally (TJ’s slave; b.1773); and TJ search
  • Hemings, Sally (TJ’s slave; b.1773); identified search
  • Jefferson, Martha Wayles Skelton (TJ’s wife); inheritance of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; by E. Fletcher search
  • Kelly, John; introduces E. Fletcher search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Fletcher, Elijah search
  • slaves; families of search
  • Wayles, John (TJ’s father-in-law); slaves of search
  • Williams, Indiana Fletcher search