Thomas Jefferson Papers

Joseph R. Darnall to Thomas Jefferson, 10 January 1814

From Joseph R. Darnall

York District So Ca Jany 10th 1814

Venerable Sir

On the 17th of last June I call’d on You, and Stayed until the next day. My business was of So disagreeable a nature that I did not make it known: and nothing but extreem & increasing necessity could force me to it at this time.

It is to humbly ask your assistance in releiving from indigence and distress Myself my Wife, and three small children. So extraordinary a petition, requires that I should let you know the cause of my situation: It was the sudden decline of Trade in the Southern States: I was at that time engag’d in the Mercantile business, and altho’ upon a small scale, with fair prospects of making a living. by that event I lost all.

Depriv’d of House & home, reduc’d to want, and being constitutionally as well as accidentally unable to follow a laborious occupation, having Studied the English & Latin Languages, Some of my Relations, and most respectable friends, advis’d me to the Study of Physic. Dr Thomas Henderson of Charlotte No Carolina, a man highly esteem’d in his publick, private, and professional characters, offere’d to board and instruct me on reasonable terms: my Father-in-law, who liv’d about ten miles from the village offered to take my Wife and children to his house, so that I could see them once a week. I accordingly agree’d, and Studied 2 years during which time I read the common Systematic Authors on the practice of Physic & Surgery. With the assistance of a Father who is now no more, I paid off for the first year, but am still indebted $25 of the price of the last year; besides $15 for some Medicine & furniture I have since bought of another man.

My Situation is literally this, A Young Physician, with a small family, living in the settlement wherein I was rais’d, the practice engross’d by the old and emminent Physicians, of course I am unable to live here, and quite Unable to move to where I could live.

In this Situation I have been for several years, and the death of a kind Father has cut off the only assistance I have had in that time: You are the only person to whom the world has directed me to apply: If you think my case Merits your benificence, you will be so kind as to let me know by letter.

As my misfortune has not been the effect of prodigality, nor any imprudent conduct, I have the commiseration of the most intelligent and feeling part of my acquaintance, but that does not reach my case. The frowns of fortune, the Scorn of Wealthy fools, and my distress’d situation, has seriously injured me in body and mind, has left me no emulation but that of acquiring knowledge, and depriv’d me entirely of the only means of obtaining it. (viz.) Books & Society. You will please to write me an answer as Soon as convenient directed to Harrisburg. Lancaster District1 South Carolina, it being the nearest post office

Accept Sir the Sincere petition and high Veneration of

Joseph R. Darnall

P.S. When at Monticello last spring you enquired if there were any of the Magnolia’s growing as high up as that part of So Ca in which I live. At that time I knew of none, but am since inform’d that there is one growing in the woods, in Lincoln County North Carolina 10 Miles from the Catawba River, 5 from Crowders Mountain, & 60 from the Blueridge. Mr Peter Smith on whose land it grows has sold Several Boxes of the twigs in Charleston So Ca. The tree is 105 feet high, and has been visited by one French, and one English Botanist. It is Said to be the only native Magnolia between that place & the Florida’s

J R. D

RC (MHi); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Albemarle County Virginia” by “Mail”; stamped; postmarked Harrisburg, S.C., 10 Jan. 1814, and Charlottesville, 1 Feb.; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Feb. 1814 and so recorded in SJL.

Joseph Rush Darnall (b. ca. 1780), physician, was born probably in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, near the border of York County, South Carolina. A census record of 1830 describes him as a doctor living in the latter county and owning three slaves. Darnall was no longer listed there in 1840 (Avlyn Dodd Conley, comp., The Darnall, Darnell Family: including Darneal, Darneille, Darnielle, Darnold, Dernall, Durnall, Durnell, and names variously spelled, With Allied Familes [1954–79], 2:264, 266–7, 276–7; Darnall to Mary Henderson, 25 Sept. 1812 (NcCU: Irwin Family Papers); DNA: RG 29, CS, N.C., Mecklenburg Co., 1810, S.C., York Co., 1820, 1830).

Darnall’s father-in-law was Banks Meacham (Clarence E. Mitcham, comp., Meacham, Mitcham, Mitchum Families of the South [1974], 219).

1Superfluous period after “Lancaster” editorially omitted.

Index Entries

  • charity; requests to TJ for search
  • Darnall, Joseph Rush; identified search
  • Darnall, Joseph Rush; letters from search
  • Darnall, Joseph Rush; requests aid from TJ search
  • Darnall, Joseph Rush; visits Monticello search
  • Henderson, Thomas; offers medical instruction search
  • magnolia trees search
  • Meacham, Banks; family of search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Darnall, Joseph R. search
  • Smith, Peter; magnolia tree of search
  • trees; magnolia search