Thomas Jefferson Papers

David Michie to Thomas Jefferson, 18 June 1812

From David Michie

18h June 1812

Dr Sir,

I have the honor of transmitting to you a Copy of a Corrospondence between myself and Mr Peyton on the subject of my title to erect a water grist mill on the site near the one formerly occupied by Colo Bennett Henderson.—Mr Peyton in a verbal Conversation with me yesterday having disclaimed any interest in the premises, and having explicitly avowed that throughout the whole of his negotiations with the Hendersons & others and all measures adapted subsequently thereto he was your agent and literally followed your instructions—forms the motive of my present address to you. And here sir I may be permitted to felicitate myself at an occurrance, at which some men might experience pain and disquietude. The being thrown into legal collision with you, on this occasion, I cannot but deem a fortunate incident since I am pursuaded you too well know, and can too justly appreciate your own rights to suffer yourself to invade or to interfere with those of others, when they are ascertained to rest upon a solid & immoveable basis.

On the 10h of March 1804 I formed a contract with Mr John Henderson for the lots No 8. 9 & 10 adjoining1 the town of Milton as well as for his proportion of the dower land lying above and below the said lots with a view to the erection of a mill on the premises.

Impressed with the advantages to be derived from such an establishment it is well known that I abandoned lucrative persuits in Louisa and removed to Milton where I disbursed money in the purchase of an improved lot & for the accomedation of my family. At the time of the purchase which was nearly simultanious with the permission granted by the Court of this County to Henderson to erect a mill I was put in possession under a firm Confidence in the validity and strength of his title. This title Sir has stood the ordeal of two rigid investigations in chancery one here, and the other in the Court above, and was finally carried to the Court of Appeals by the then ostensible claimant, where, recently upon mature deliberation it has received the sanction of that tribunal, All the rights then Confirmed to Henderson have been legally transferred to me. I might here sir rest contented under a conviction that my title is built upon a sure & solid foundation not to be shaken by any storm, from whatever quarter it may arise. From your claim however I have no danger to apprihend. You Claim under Peyton who derives title from Lewis who sold under a deed of Trust from Henderson taken to himself & Matt Henderson as collaterral security to indemnify themselves from engagements they had entered into for John Henderson. A Man cannot execute a trust conveyed to himself as I am well advised, in such a case the instrument at best can only be construed as a mortgage and the necessary proceedings must be had thereon as in other Cases of Mortgage. These have not taken place and thus at the threshold your title is assentially defective at law. But Sir, in Another important point it is vitally vulnerable—should you succeed contrary to every expectation from this view of the subject, How will the matter stand in Chancery? I can adduce incontestable evidence to establish, that at the time the conveyance was made to & Co2 they were apprized of my equitable lien on the property, as also, that Peyton was thus Apprized when he purchased of Lewis—It is not for me to inform you that it is a well established principle in the Courts that he who buys knowledge3 of the title of another takes nothing. Thus sir, I have in a Candid and undisguised manner exposed to your view the grounds upon which I have acted, as Communicated in my letter to Mr Peyton of yesterday, and the overture of an amicable and extrajudicial adjustment as then tendered may be embraced by yourself. But fortified as I am by way of law & of equity I am free to Confess, I prefer myself a formal investigation should upon this fair appeal to your wisdom and justice, you not be disposed to acquiesce under my pretentions.

I have the honor to be with due respect Dr Sir Yours &c

David Michie

Tr (ViU: TJP-LBJM); in George Carr’s hand; dateline beneath signature; at foot of text: “Tho Jefferson Esqr Monticello.” Recorded in SJL as received from Albemarle on 18 June 1812. Enclosed in David Michie’s Plea and Answer in Jefferson v. Michie, [by 6 Sept. 1813].

David Michie (d. 1840), attorney and businessman, was a native of Albemarle County who was admitted to the local bar in 1798 and also established himself as a merchant. He spent some time in Louisa County before settling permanently in Albemarle by 1804. His unpublicized purchase in that year of real estate and a half-interest in a Milton mill seat from John Henderson eventually led to a lengthy and rancorous dispute with TJ. In 1805 Michie acquired Buck Island plantation, near the Rivanna River, and twelve years later he joined the Agricultural Society of Albemarle. In 1837 he moved to Charlottesville. At his death Michie owned personal property valued at over $13,000, including twenty slaves but not counting an additional nineteen he acquired through his wife’s family (Woods, Albemarle description begins Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia, 1901, repr. 1991 description ends , 251, 274–5, 374, 381; TJ’s Bill of Complaint in Jefferson v. Michie, 16 June 1813; Michie’s Plea and Answer in Jefferson v. Michie, [by 6 Sept. 1813]; TJ to Michie, 22 Mar. 1817; True, “Agricultural Society,” description begins Rodney H. True, “Minute Book of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1918 (1921), 1:261–349 description ends 269, 293, 303; Albemarle Co. Will Book, 14:183, 204A–9; Charlottesville Virginia Advocate, 19 Dec. 1840).

The Henderson legal case commenced in 1803 with a property-rights dispute between John Henderson and TJ’s agent Craven Peyton. On 7 Jan. 1812 the Court of Appeals, Virginia’s highest tribunal, sustained Henderson’s claim that he had retained the right to erect a mill on property TJ had acquired at Milton. TJ thought the point moot, because through Peyton he had already purchased Henderson’s remaining rights in this property from James Lewis, one of the creditors to whom the bankrupt Henderson had deeded his estate in trust. However, a new chapter of this complex legal struggle began in June 1812, when David Michie informed Peyton and TJ that he held a prior claim to John Henderson’s property in Albemarle County (note to Peyton to TJ, 6 Aug. 1809; Decision of Virginia Court of Appeals in Peyton v. Henderson, 7 Jan. 1812; Deposition by James Lewis, with Queries Posed by Thomas Jefferson and David Michie, 1 July 1812; Robert F. Haggard, “Thomas Jefferson v. The Heirs of Bennett Henderson, 1795–1818: A Case Study in Caveat Emptor,” MACH description begins Magazine of Albemarle County History, 1940–  (title varies: issued until 1951 as Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society) description ends 63 [2005]: 1–29).

The enclosed corrospondence may have included Michie to Craven Peyton, 16 June 1812, informing Peyton that the Richmond appeals court decision earlier that year had affirmed an 1804 Albemarle County Court decision authorizing John Henderson to build a gristmill on a portion of the property in dispute between Peyton and Henderson and that, Henderson having sold Michie these rights, he regards himself as free to build a mill there unless a superior claim can be demonstrated; Peyton to Michie, 16 June 1812, countering that he has long since purchased all of Henderson’s claims under a deed of trust, that he and Henderson agreed that the suit was to be dismissed, and that Henderson has taken an oath of insolvency, which could only have occurred if he owned no property; and Michie to Peyton, 17 June 1812, reiterating that through Henderson he can claim to have been in possession of the disputed land for seven years, reporting that he has “today been at Milton and exercised rights of ownership over it,” proposing that they submit the matter to the binding arbitration of counsel in Richmond, and stating that absent such an agreement to arbitrate, Michie will go on building his mill and leave Peyton to “adopt any measures to defeat my purpose that may seem to you most expedient” (Trs in ViU: TJP-LBJM; in Carr’s hand).

In the contract dated 10 Mar. 1804, Henderson and Michie established a ten-year partnership to erect a gristmill and distillery at Milton, with the stipulation that both men would initially invest five hundred pounds. Michie was to receive half-ownership in the Henderson mill seat, two lots, and John Henderson’s interest in one lot and the dower lands. Michie was to complete work on the mill, manage the business, and receive “a reasonable allowance.” The two men promised to divide the profits equally, and Michie reserved the right to terminate the partnership if “any Lawful claim” existed on the lots. Henderson’s conveyance of the same date obliged him “to make a Good and Lawful Deed” to Michie. Both documents were produced in court on 6 July 1812 and corroborated by the oath of a single witness, Martin Dawson (Trs in Albemarle Co. Deed Book, 18:83–5; Trs in ViU: TJP-LBJM, in Carr’s hand).

Michie completed his purchase of all the rights then confirmed to henderson on 12 June 1812 by paying Henderson $500 for his remaining interest in the land “adjoining to the town of Milton in the County of Albemarle, & between said town & the Rivanna River, to wit, Lot number ten on which was situated the old still House, & which was allotted to the said John Henderson, by commissioners appointed by the court of Albemarle to lay of[f] & allot to the Heirs of Colo: Bennett Henderson deceasd their respective portions of his land—Lots number eight & nine adjoining the Lot number ten, which were allotted by the commissioners aforesaid to James L Henderson & Charles Henderson & sold by the said Charles Henderson to the said John Henderson, which said three Lots contain two acres each, & border on the River aforesd together with all his interest in the lands adjoining the aforesaid lots & lying between said Lands & the River, which is contained in the following boundary. to wit, Begining at the Spout Spring, Just above the old Still house runing thence a northwesterly course to the said Rivanna river, so as to strike the same just above the mouth of the Head race of the old mill or where the water was taken out of the River for the old mill and above the same thence down the River to the mouth of the Spout Spring branch, thence up the said branch and with the lines of the three aforesaid lots to the begining, together with all the water from the River for the erecting any kind of Water works on the aforesaid Lots & land” (Tr in Albemarle Co. Deed Book, 19:174–6; entirely in the hand of Albemarle County clerk John Nicholas, including signatures of Henderson and of witnesses Nicholas Eckson, James Thomas, Sam C. Tilman, and John Atkinson, the last named of whom swore to the document in Albemarle County Court on 6 July 1812 and again on 8 Nov. 1814; Tr in ViU: TJP-LBJM; in Carr’s hand).

SJL records a missing letter of this date from TJ to Michie.

1Manuscript: “adjoinng.”

2Thus in manuscript; presumably a garbled reference to Matthew Henderson and James Lewis, the trustees of the insolvent John Henderson’s estate.

3Thus in manuscript; possibly the author intended “buys with knowledge.”

Index Entries

  • Agricultural Society of Albemarle; members of search
  • Atkinson, John search
  • Dawson, Martin; and TJ’s land dispute with D. Michie search
  • Eckson, Nicholas search
  • Henderson, Bennett; lands of search
  • Henderson, Charles; and Henderson estate search
  • Henderson, James L.; and Henderson estate search
  • Henderson, John; and Peyton v. Henderson search
  • Henderson, John; sells Milton properties search
  • Henderson, Matthew; and TJ’s land dispute with D. Michie search
  • Henderson, Matthew; co-security for J. Henderson search
  • Henderson case; and Peyton v. Henderson search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business & Financial Affairs; dispute with D. Michie search
  • Lewis, James; and Henderson lands search
  • Lewis, James; and TJ’s land dispute with D. Michie search
  • Michie, David; claim to part of Henderson lands search
  • Michie, David; identified search
  • Michie, David; letters from search
  • Michie, David; letters to accounted for search
  • Nicholas, John; as Albemarle Co. clerk search
  • Peyton, Craven; and Henderson case search
  • Peyton v. Henderson; and J. Henderson search
  • Thomas, James search
  • Tilman, Sam C. search