Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Mary Blair Andrews, 15 September 1815

To Mary Blair Andrews

Poplar Forest Sep. 15. 15.

Dear Madam

It has been communicated to me through a friend that you wish my opinion on a paragraph of the will of the late venerated judge Blair, for which purpose a copy of the will has been transmitted to me. it is now more than 40. years since I have retired from the profession of the law, and during this long interval I have been occupied in pursuits which gave little occasion of retaining familiarity with it. I rarely therefore undertake to form law-opinions, and never to put them into competition with those whose present course of life keeps them in the daily exercise of it’s speculations and practice. on the opinion therefore which I may now hazard I set no other value than that of proving my desire to gratify a wish of yours, and to manifest the sensibilities I retain towards a family with which I have had such affectionate friendships.

The letter covering the copy of the will does not give me full information of the state of the family; but from a friend acquainted with it I learn that mrs Henderson died leaving a son, Thomas Hamilton Henderson, the only issue then living of either lady, and that he is since dead in infancy, intestate, and without issue.

The interests given by the will of judge Blair in the Mountain plains the negroes and stock appurtenant, are expressly life-estates only to each of his two daughters, taking as tenants in common, with contingent remainders in each moiety, to such of the children of both, per capita, as should be living at the death of either tenant for life. at the death of mrs Henderson then the remainder in her moiety became vested in Thomas H. Henderson in possession, and in fee; and being derived by purchase from his grandfather, and not from his mother, it passed, on his death, to his father, in fee also, as his sole heir.

The life-estate in mrs Andrews’s moiety is still in being, and the remainder in contingency; and on her death it will vest in her children, if she shall have any; if none, the reversionary right (on failure of the contingency) which remained in the testator, undevised to any one, will be in his legal representative. but whether this reversionary right vested, immediately on his death, in his daughters, as his coheirs, (defeasible only on the happening of the contingency) or remains, as to this moiety, in abeyance, until the failure of the contingency is what I cannot now say with confidence, writing from a place where I have no books to consult to refresh my memory on subjects long absent from it. on this however depends the question whether mrs Andrews may (if she dies without a child) dispose of a moiety of the reversion by deed or will. gentlemen in daily familiarity with the law will readily solve this doubt.

Mrs Andrews and mr Henderson being understood to have held their estates in common, and undivided, have been entitled to divide the profits equally. but either may require an actual partition, and hold thenceforward in severalty.

Be so good, dear Madam, as to accept the offering of these imperfect views merely as a testimony of my friendly regard for your much esteemed father, and his family; and to be assured particularly yourself of my high respect and esteem.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Mrs Andrews”; endorsed by TJ.

Mary Blair Andrews (ca. 1759–1820) was the daughter of John Blair, associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1795 she married Robert Andrews (ca. 1748–1804), the mathematics professor at the College of William and Mary (father’s and husband’s biographies in DVB description begins John T. Kneebone and others, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, 1998– , 3 vols. description ends ; WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892–  description ends , 1st ser., 5 [1896]: 143; will in Vi: RG 12, Wills from the Treasurer’s Office; American Beacon and Norfolk & Portsmouth Daily Advertiser, 19 Jan. 1820; Richmond Enquirer, 20 Jan. 1820).

The friend who provided TJ with a copy of John Blair’s will was Thomas Eston Randolph, to whom it had been enclosed in a letter from David M. Randolph, writing from “Fighting Creek,” 25 Aug. 1815: “Presumptuous as it certainly is, for me to hazard Law-opinions, yet am I induced to differ in my construction of the enclosed will of the Honourable John Blair deceased. From the sober exercise of my simple perceptions, my convictions are, that Mrs Andrews, the surviving daughter, is intitled to the Life-Estate in the Albemarle Lands, and every thing appertain[in]g thereto at the decree of the Testator, conjointly: and, from the decree of Mr Henderson, Mrs Andrews is equally intitled to the enjoyment of the whole of the said Estate, to her death—And if (since Thomas, the Son of Jane had never any defined rights) the rule of Law, is such as to bar Thomas; it would seem that the Husband of Jane and father of Thomas, can legally inherit nothing! For, as Mr Henderson now demands a division of the Albemarle Estate: since Mrs Andrews may produce heirs, to share ‘per. Capita’ how can a division be called for under the provisions of the will, until the decease of Mrs Andrews? Hence, I have grounded my opinion: and, from a serious consideration of the several items in the will, I am persuaded that your goodness, either seperately, or in union with T.M.R. [Thomas Mann Randolph] will <not only> parden me in taking upon me to hope, that you will obtain from Mr Jefferson his deliberate opinion; and a cheerful declaration of it to the Lady in question” (RC in MHi; addressed: “Thomas Eston Randolph Esqr. Milton near Monticello Albemarle”; stamped; postmarked Charlottesville, 6 Sept.; one word and one set of initials editorially expanded).

The portion of John Blair’s will relating to the mountain plains the negroes and stock appurtenant provided that the “plantation, in Albemarle County, commonly called, The Mountain plane, together with the Slaves, and stock of every sort kept thereon, to my two dear daughters, that is to say, the one moiety thereof to Mary, the Wife of the said Robert Andrews, the other moiety thereof to Jane, the Wife of the said James Henderson, for and during their natural lives, remainder to their Children who shall be living at the time of the decease of either of my said Daughters or devisees for life, and the heirs of such children; which remainder to the Children to be per capita and not per stirpes; so that upon the death of either of my said daughters, her moiety shall go in remainder, not to her Children only but to them and the children of my surviving daughter in fee simple. Item, as by this disposition to the Children, the land, in case of many sharers, may come to be divided into such small parts, that it would be better for all parties, to sell the same and divide the money among them, I hereby authorize that to be done, even during the minority of some of the parties, if from circumstances it shall be thought adviseable” (will in Vi: RG 50, James River Company, Wills and Qualifications).

Index Entries

  • Andrews, Mary Blair; and J. Blair’s will search
  • Andrews, Mary Blair; identified search
  • Andrews, Mary Blair; letter to search
  • Andrews, Mary Blair; seeks TJ’s legal advice search
  • Andrews, Robert; family of search
  • Blair, John; will of contested search
  • Henderson, James (1764–1818); and J. Blair’s will search
  • Henderson, Jane Blair (James Henderson’s [d.1818] wife); and J. Blair’s will search
  • Henderson, Thomas Hamilton; and J. Blair’s will search
  • law; TJ provides legal advice search
  • Randolph, David Meade (ca.1759–1830); and J. Blair’s will search
  • Randolph, Thomas Eston (TJ’s cousin); and J. Blair’s will search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); mentioned search
  • women; letters to; M. B. Andrews search