Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson’s Answer to Bill of Complaint in Scott v. Jefferson and Harrison, 11 July 1812

Answer to Bill of Complaint in Scott v. Jefferson and Harrison

The separate answer of Thomas Jefferson, one of the defs to the bill of complaint of Samuel Scott Complainant.

This defendant saving & reserving to himself, now & at all times hereafter, all advantage & benefit of all uncertainties, untruths1 & imperfections whatever of the Complt’s sd bill, for answer thereunto, or to so much thereof as materially concerneth this def. to make answer unto, answereth and saith that he admits the entry of Apr. 15. 1789. stated in the bill to have been2 made by the Complt3 for ‘all the vacant land between Wayles’s 99. acres, Christopher Anthony’s & Wilkinson’s, in virtue of the verbal assignment of Edmund Tait for 50. acres, part of the land warrant No 20278.’ but denies that an entry for lands between those of others, and Wayles’s 99. acres, as this was, can include Wayles’ 99. acres,4 or consequently the lands now in question, which are within the sd 99. acres: he admits the location of Apr. 26. 1803. the survey of Dec. 26. 1803. and patent to the Complainant of Oct. 15. 1804. all of them for lands within5 the sd 99. acres of the sd Wayles,6 & having of course7 no foundation in the entry of 1789. which was in it’s very terms & description, exclusive of the sd 99. acres, and bounded by them: he admits that the8 entry of John Wayles of Mar. 20. 1770. for lands adjoining the Poplar forest, cited9 by the Complt was not made under any warrant, & therefore that he cannot produce any authenticated copy of it, as required by the Complt because at the time of it’s date,10 no such thing as a land warrant had ever existed, that form of proceeding having been first introduced by the law of 1779. establishing a land office; and further that, under an entry for lands adjoining the Poplar forest, he could in no case claim lands lying several miles off, as the Complt truly states those in question to be:11 he admits there never was a Surveyor of the county of Campbell of the name of Richard Smith, but denies that his patent issued on any survey purporting to have been made by any one of that name: he admits the proceedings of Forcible entry and detainer in the month of April 1810. that under these the Complt was dispossessed on the verdict of a jury of 12. freeholders, confirmed the next day12 by an inquest of 24. freeholders,13 both finding his entry & detainer forcible, & authorising14 redelivery of possession to this defendant. These several allegations of the bill15 being thus admitted, and qualified,16 this def. proceeds further to set forth the true foundations of his title, by answering & saying,17 that John Wayles, in the bill mentioned, late of the county of Charles city, being siesed & possessed of lands in the county of Bedford, & particularly of a separate18 tract of 374. acres19 patented by20 Richard Tullos, purchased from Richard Stith, then Surveyor of the county an entry for 99. acres adjoining the said tract, & cornering on Ivy creek, and paid for the same the sum of £6. as appears by the original reciept of the sd Stith, bearing date the 11th day of Jany 1771. which is annexed21 to this answer & prayed to be considered as an exhibit in this cause; which entry so purchased from Stith is the same which is mentioned in the Complt’s entry of 1789. by the name of Wayles’s entry of 99. acres, the sd Wayles having at no time owned any other entry of 99. acres in that part of the county, or, as this def. believes, in any other part of it:22 that the sd John Wayles died on the 28th day of May 1773. leaving issue three daughters (with Martha, the eldest of which, this def. had intermarried) to which daughters, by the last will of the sd John, as well as by lawful descent, all his lands passed; and on the partition thereof among the sd daughters, all his lands, in the then county of Bedford, were allotted to the sd Martha in part of her purparty of the whole estate:23 that soon after the death of the sd John, & within the same year, to the best of the recollection of this def. the act of assembly allowing & regulating the fees of surveyors, clerks & other officers, commonly called the fee bill, having expired, (with the will of the legislature, as was understood, on account of the approaching troubles) the courts of justice and public officers generally surceased to do business:24 that immediately after the conclusion of those troubles and25 on the restoration of peace, to wit, in May 1784. this def. was sent to Europe on public business, & there continued26 nearly six years, and on his return was retained at the seat of the National government, out of this state, & still in public office, until the beginning of the year 1794.27 during all which28 period the necessary attention to his private affairs was entirely impracticable, & incompatible with his public duties: that it was not till the year 1795 that his attention was drawn to the circumstance29 that the title to the30 said entry of 99. acres remained still imperfect; that he then immediately procured31 a land-warrant for one hundred acres, numbered 1724. & bearing date Dec. 5. 1795. which on the 19th of the same month he located on the sd 99. acres, thro’ the sd Richard Stith, surveyor of that part of the county of Bedford in which they laid, & which had now become Campbell county, who, having surveyed the same, gave a certificate thereof on the 23d of the same month,32 and thereupon a grant issued to this def. on the 22d day of May 1797. of which warrant, certificate of survey, & grant, authentic copies are hereto annexed, with the original reciept of the Surveyor of his fee for making the survey, & are prayed to be recieved as exhibits in this cause: that the Complt knowing the existence of Wayles’s entry, as appears by his entry of 1789. which adopts it as one of it’s own boundaries, and having notice in law moreover, & probably in fact also as he resides adjacent, of the previous location33 & survey of this def.34 of record in the Surveyor’s office, by a letter of the 15th of Nov. 1796. addressed to this def.35 desired to purchase the same, describing it in the letter as ‘the small tract of land of this def. on Ivy creek adjoining the Complainant,’ this tract, in fact, being adjacent to the lands of the Complt but he did not, in the letter, or otherwise, give the least intimation that he had any claim himself to the sd lands;36 which letter, all in the handwriting of the Complainant, as this def. believes & expects to prove,37 is hereto annexed, & prayed to be recieved as38 an exhibit in this cause: that this def. shewing no disposition to make sale of the lands to the Complt39 a survey was at length resorted to & made of fifty four & three quarter acres, chiefly, if not entirely within the sd 99. acres of this def. in the name of the same Edmund Tait beforementioned, & again under his land-warrant, and being assigned to the Complt he obtained thereon a patent bearing date the 15th of Octob. 1804. more than seven years after the same lands had been regularly granted to this def. that all of these proceedings were wholly unknown to this def. who was then, & from the autumn of 1800. had been residing out of the state in the public service, & so continued until the spring of 1809.40 that in Novemb. of the same year 1809. he visited, for the first time after his return to live at home, his possessions in Bedford & Campbell, and then recieved information of the survey of the Complt; whereupon he proposed to him to employ the county surveyor to run on the lines of this def’s patent, and see whether the survey of the Complt had not incroached on them, to which the Complt assenting, they met together on the land, with the county surveyor, on the 15th of the same month of November, several neighbors acquainted with the lines attending by invitation, and in their presence, and with their assistance, the surveyor run on the lines, found them answer correctly41 to the courses expressed in the def’s patent, & the marks on the trees corresponding in their appearance with the age of his survey, an authentic copy of which resurvey is hereto annexed:42 that the Complainant, altho he absented himself during a part of the operation, saw the commencement & the close of it, & that the surveyor was brought by the actual marked lines, courses & measures, to within a few feet of his beginning; altho’ he now says in his bill, that ‘he verily believes there never was, in point of fact, any actual survey’: that at that time, on the contrary, he saw, & appeared thoroughly satisfied of, not only the actual survey according to the patent of the def. but that it included the whole of his junior one, and by his expressions was understood to acquiesce, and signify that he should make no43 further claim: that in this expectation this def. returned home; but, in the month of January following, he recieved information from his manager at Poplar forest that the Complt had entered on his lands aforesaid, with a number of laborers, had begun to make a clearing, & to build a hut for the accomodation of his people; whereupon, the inclemency of the season not permitting this def. to go immediately in person, he instructed his manager to proceed without delay to have the Complt removed by process of Forcible entry & detainer: that the sd manager however being advised that the oath44 of this def. would be necessary to obtain a warrant, the proceedings were staid till the def. could be present: that he set out accordingly from home on the 27th of March, and on the 7th of April the Complt was removed on the proceedings before stated.

This def. admits it to be true that he has not been able to find Stith’s original entry, nor a record of it in the office of the clerk of Bedford, where he doubts not it was lodged, & ought now to be: but he45 has been well informed, & believes he shall be able to prove that, at the probable date of this entry, & for a long time before,46 the office of clerk of the court of Bedford county was held by Benjamin Howard,47 who resided out of the sd county, to wit, in that of Buckingham, & scarcely ever came into it, trusting his office altogether to a deputy Isham Talbot: that this deputy, being at the same time a deputy surveyor, was suspected of malpractice & improper conduct48 in both offices, and, with a certain Meade, a deputy surveyor also, was impeached for the same before the Governor & Council: that until49 the year 1772. when the present clerk of Bedford50 acceded to the office, the Surveyor’s own entries, delivered into the clerk’s office, had never been recorded, & the loose papers on which they were given in were mostly, if not entirely lost: that hence it has happened,51 as this def. believes, that neither the original entry of the sd Stith for the 99. acres, nor any record of it, can be found in the clerk’s office, and that this is equally the case of all entries by surveyors preceding 1772. which are said to have been52 numerous, & to be the foundation of the titles to many tracts of land in the sd counties of Bedford & Campbell. that after a lapse of upwards of 40. years from the date of the sd entry, & constant possession thro’ that term, after 17. years from the date of the regular location under the new law, & 15. years possession under the patent, this def. trusts he will not be held to produce the original entry, of which a public office, & not himself, was the lawful53 depository, and that the title to the lands of this country, after a regular grant, will not be made to depend on the anterior & preparatory proceedings, by officers of little responsibility, in cases where nothing unfair can be charged on the grantee:54 that the former55 existence of the entry is proved by the best testimony which can now be produced, to wit, by the original reciept of the Surveyor himself for the purchase money, and especially by the Complainant’s own shewing from his own entry in the surveyor’s books of 1789. which not only states that Wayles had an entry of 99. acres existing at that time, but attests56 the Complainant’s knolege of it, and that he made it the boundary of his own entry on one side; altho’ he now denies belief there ever was such an entry, as it suits him better at this time57 to shift his own on the place occupied by that. if therefore we are to consider the doctrine of inception of title, by which the Complt would tack a junior patent for one parcel of lands, to an older entry for another,58 surely it may be more justly reclaimed59 by this def’s patent, elder than the patent of the Complt by 7. years, & taking inception from an entry more antient60 than his entry by 18. years, both made for the same identical61 lands, and not borrowing age, for the patent of one tract, from the entry of another, as is proposed by the Complt.62 But this def. is persuaded it will not be deemed necessary for him to go back to Stith’s entry for a foundation of title, but that this will be found sufficiently solid in his regular location of 1795. and grant of 1797. which, however tardy, (rendered so by the circumstances of the revolutionary troubles, & subsequent absences of the def. from the state, as63 before explained) were yet in sufficient time to save this def’s right, no bonâ fide title having intervened in the mean while: and that it is especially sufficient against the Complt who knew & acknoleged the original entry so long ago as 1789. knew, or might have known the def’s location in 1795. & patent in 1797. endeavored to purchase the same in 1796. and, with all this knolege, proceeded to have the same lands located & surveyed in 1803. & to obtain a patent for them in 1804.

And this def. denies all, and all manner of, combination in the bill charged; without that that64 any other matter or thing in the said bill contained, material in law for this def. to make answer unto, & not herein sufficiently answered unto, confessed65 or avoided, traversed or denied, is true to the knolege & belief of this def. All which matters & things this def. is ready to aver, maintain & prove as this honble court shall award: whereupon, & in full consideration of the premisses, he prays that the location, survey, & patent of the Complt for the sd lands comprehended in those of this def. may, by the decree of this court,66 be cancelled & made67 void, the original title of this def. and the same as since conveyed to his co-deft Samuel Harrison may be confirmed & quieted,68 and that this def may be hence dismissed with his reasonable costs & charges, in this behalf most wrongfully sustained.

Th: Jefferson
July 11. 1812.

Albemarle county to wit.

  Thomas Jefferson who hath subscribed this answer, appeared before me a justice of the peace for the sd county & made oath on the holy evangelists that the matters contained in this his answer, so far as they respect his own actings & doings, are true, & so far as they respect the actings & doings of others, he believes them to be true. Given under my hand this 12th day of July 1812.

Thos M. Randolph, one of the justices of
the peace for the county of Albemarle.69

[Notation in Dft only, in lower right margin of final page:]

P.S. an act of Dec. 1796 makes void all entries not survd &c before Nov. 1. 98. there are some subseqt laws giving further time to locations under land warrants, but I find none later in favr of entries of the old form. if so, Scott’s entry of 1789. is void under that law.

FC (ViU: TJP); entirely in TJ’s hand; lacking postscript; endorsed by TJ: “Jefferson et al ads. Scott } Answer. copy.” Dft (ViU: TJP); endorsed by TJ: “Jefferson ads. Scott } answer. rough draught”; with MS of Notes on Evidence Needed in Scott v. Jefferson and Harrison, [before 11 July 1812], in upper left corner of first page. The final page of this Dft is reproduced elsewhere in this volume. Enclosed in TJ to George Hay, 13 July 1812.

In connection with this document TJ prepared three pages of exhibits (Tr in ViU: TJP; entirely in TJ’s hand; at head of text: “Copies of the Exhibits <annexed> referred to in the answer of Th: Jefferson at the suit of Samuel Scott in the Richmond district court of Chancery. the originals remaining with the def. until the execution of the Commissions for taking depositions, under which they are to be authenticated”; at foot of text: “The preceding 3. pages contain true copies of Exhibits to be annexed to my answer to the bill in Chancery of Samuel Scott Th: Jefferson”), consisting of copies of the following: (1) Richard Stith’s Receipt for John Wayles’s Land Purchase, 11 Jan. 1771, printed above at Archibald Thweatt to TJ, 23 June 1812. (2) TJ’s Account with Stith, 19–23 Dec. 1795:

“Hon. Thomas Jefferson to Surveyor of Campbell Dr
£ s d
Dec. 19. 1795 To recieving Land warrants and making 2. etries  0– 4–0
23. To surveying 800. acres. 1–16–0
To surveying 100. acres. 1–11–6
To 2. Certificates. 0– 3–0
Dec. 23. 1795. then recieved in full. 3–14–6
 By Richard Stith Survr.”
(3) Survey and plat by Stith for TJ of 100 acres of land on Ivy Creek, 23 Dec. 1795, noted at TJ to James Martin, 18 Feb. 1810. (4) Certification by Charles Blagrove, register of the Virginia Land Office, 3 June 1812, that no. 3 is “on file in this office,” that it “appears to have been recieved Nov. 4. 1796,” and that based on it “a grant issued to Thomas Jefferson the 22d day of May 1797.” (5) Samuel Scott to TJ, 15 Nov. 1796, noted at TJ to Martin, 18 Feb. 1810. (6) TJ’s pledge that “A copy of the patent signed by James Wood, & certified by the Register of the land office, all in the stated form will be given” (this land grant of 22 May 1797 is noted at TJ to Samuel J. Harrison, 5 Dec. 1811). (7) Survey and plat by William P. Martin for Edmund Tate of 54¾ acres on Ivy Creek, 26 Dec. 1803, noted at TJ to Harrison, 5 Dec. 1811. (8) Survey and plat by William P. Martin for TJ of 97 acres on Ivy Creek, 15 Nov. 1809, noted at TJ to Christopher Clark, 1 Apr. 1810.

Samuel Scott based his claim in part on a land grant signed by Governor John Page on oct. 15. 1804. The Virginia law of 1779. establishing a land office authorized its newly designated register to record land warrants, on which the subsequent surveys were based. purparty: a part of an estate allocated to a joint heir (Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Bryan A. Garner and others, eds., Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed., 1999 description ends ). The so-called fee bill expired on 12 Apr. 1774, not in 1773. On 10 January 1810 TJ received word from Burgess Griffin, his manager at poplar forest, that Scott had begun clearing TJ’s land (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [May 1779 sess.], 21–8; Samuel Scott’s Bill of Complaint in Scott v. Jefferson and Harrison, [before 27 Apr. 1812]; Virginia Journal of the House of Burgesses [1774 sess.], 15; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1249; Griffin to TJ, 27 Dec. 1809).

1Word interlined in Dft.

2Preceding seven words interlined in Dft.

3In Dft TJ here interlined and canceled “under a land warrant of Edmund Tate.”

4In Dft TJ here canceled “which are the very lands now in question, and give a title to them or any part of them.”

5Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

6In Dft TJ here canceled “& an adjoining tract of his.”

7Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

8Dft here includes “other,” interlined in place of “distinct.”

9Word interlined in Dft in place of “he cannot claim lands 6. or 7. miles off as are those now in question stated.”

10Preceding six words interlined in Dft in place of “in those days.”

11Reworked in Dft from “as those in question are, & as is justly stated by the Complt.”

12Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

13In Dft TJ here canceled “the next day and pos.”

14Word interlined in Dft in place of interlined “directing.”

15Preceding four words interlined in Dft in place of “things.”

16Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

17Preceding four words interlined in Dft.

18Word interlined in Dft.

19In Dft TJ here canceled “on Ivy creek.”

20Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “purchased of.”

21Preceding eleven words interlined in Dft.

22Text from “which entry” to this point interlined and added in margin of Dft.

23Preceding nine words interlined in Dft.

24In Dft TJ here canceled “no further proceedings could be had on the sd entry of 99. acres.”

25Preceding seven words interlined in Dft.

26Word interlined in Dft in place of “detained.”

27Reworked in Dft from “at the seat of govmt in public office until the close of the year 1793.”

28TJ here canceled “time.”

29Preceding seven words interlined in Dft in place of “it became known to him.”

30Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

31Preceding four words interlined in Dft in place of “thereupon he obtained.”

32Reworked in Dft from “who on the 23d of the same month, surveyed the same.”

33Text from “with the original reciept” to this point interlined and added in margin of Dft in place of “& prayed to be recieved as exhibits in this cause. that the Complt was so fully apprised as appears from the evidence of his own entry of 1789. stated verbatim in his bill and recognising the sd entry of John Wayles for 99 acres not only as existing, <but as> and constituting one of it’s boundaries, as by the previous location.”

34Reworked in Dft from “the sd Thomas.”

35In Dft TJ here canceled “all in the hand-writing of the sd complt he desired to purchase the same without.”

36In Dft TJ here canceled “and afterwards he called on this def, while at Poplar forest and personally proposed again to become the purchaser without a word saying of any claim he had pretended to it.”

37Preceding eight words interlined in Dft.

38Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “taken as part of his answer &.”

39In Dft TJ here canceled “had at length, after a lapse of nearly seven years after the final grant of the sd lands to this defendt located a warrant on them proceeded to survey 54¾ acres chiefly on them, but partly on his sd adjoining tract of Tullos’s and on the 15th of Oct. 1804. obtained a patent.”

40In Dft TJ here canceled “in the service of the public; and that the pretensions of the compl. remained entirely unrevealed & unknown to this def. until his forcible entry in the ensuing winter whereupon this def. proceeded without delay to have him removed by the proceedings of forcible entry & detainer aforementioned.”

41Word interlined in Dft in place of “exactly.”

42Preceding nine words interlined in Dft.

43Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “retire from.”

44Word interlined in Dft in place of “presence.”

45Text from “that in Novemb. of the same year 1809.” to this point interlined and written in left margin of Dft in place of “That this def.”

46Preceding thirteen words interlined in Dft in place of “while.”

47In Dft TJ here canceled “predecessor of the present incumbent, the sd Benjamin.”

48Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

49Reworked in Dft from “Govr & council & removed as he believes. that during this time & until.”

50Preceding three words interlined in Dft in place of “incumbent.”

51Word interlined in Dft in place of “proceeded.”

52Preceding ten words interlined in Dft in place of “of the sd Stith under which were.”

53Word interlined in Dft.

54Word interlined in Dft in place of “proprietor.”

55Word interlined in Dft.

56Word interlined in Dft in place of “proves.”

57Preceding fifteen words interlined in Dft in place of “any such entry existed, and wishes.”

58Reworked in Dft from “if therefore the doctrine of inception, by which the Complt would tack a junior patent to a junior entry, and for different lands, has any weight.”

59Reworked in Dft from “claimed.”

60Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “elder.”

61Word interlined in Dft.

62Preceding six words interlined in Dft.

63Preceding fourteen words interlined in Dft.

64Thus in manuscript. TJ appears to mean “without conceding that.”

65Remainder written in right margin of Dft.

66Preceding six words interlined in Dft.

67Word interlined in Dft in place of “declared.”

68Preceding twenty-two words added in margin of Dft beneath signature and dateline and keyed to this point with a caret.

69Preceding twelve words not in Dft, which places the oath perpendicularly in right margin of final page and uses only Randolph’s initials.

Index Entries

  • Anthony, Christopher; and Campbell Co. land search
  • Griffin, Burgess; and TJ’s land dispute with S. Scott search
  • Howard, Benjamin (Bedford Co. clerk) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business & Financial Affairs; dispute with S. Scott search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Answer to Bill of Complaint in Scott v. Jefferson and Harrison search
  • Martin, William Peters; Campbell Co. surveyor search
  • Mead, William search
  • Page, John; as governor of Va. search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); as justice of the peace search
  • Scott v. Jefferson and Harrison; TJ prepares for chancery case search
  • Scott v. Jefferson and Harrison; TJ’s Answer to Bill of Complaint search
  • Stith, Richard; as Campbell Co. surveyor search
  • Talbot, Isham search
  • Tate, Edmund; and TJ’s Campbell Co. land search
  • Wayles, John (TJ’s father-in-law); and Bedford Co. land search