Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Jerman Baker, 23 December 1815

To Jerman Baker

Monticello Dec. 23 15

Dear Sir

My grandson Jefferson tells me he wrote to sollicit your patronage of the petition of Capt Joseph Miller now before the legislature praying the confirmation of the will of Thos Reed his half-brother, under which he claims his property. that letter, with the petition will have fully possessed you of the facts and principles on which his claim is founded, and I add my sollicitations that you will be so good as to support his claim. I am told that the commissioners of the literary fund habitually oppose these applications. no one wishes more than I do to see the literary fund increase: but not by the plunder of individuals. the testator in this case had a fair claim to the privilege of every citizen of disposing of the property which he had made by his own industry, to those dearest to him, and especially where the donee1 wishes to become a citizen and to succeed to the duties & services as well as to the property of his brother. I believe I should be justified in saying that England is the only country in Europe which lays her hands on the property in such a case. I speak from a knolege of the fact as to several countries on the continent, because I have known many individuals there who held lands under different powers & allegiances. the Duke of Richmond is a remarkable instance. he is of French descent, and held, when I left that country in 1789. & has held from time immemorial, a great Ducal estate there, and was one of the hereditary dukes & peers of France. this you will see in the Almanac Royal of France of that year. if his estate has been since confiscated, of which I am not informed, it is not as a foreigner, but in the mass of the Seigneurial property in that country confiscated during the revolution. we have copied this predatory proceeding from England in our general law; but the legislature justly and wisely retains the power & practice of dispensation with it in reasonable cases, as I hope & believe they will in this, wh[en a?] property is to change hands from one citizen to another [one?] as in ordinary cases, and not desired to be retained by the subject of a foreign allegiance. you will see moreover in the petition it’s further grounds on the establishment of the parents here at the time of the revolution, & of the birth of the petitioner in the US. an acquaintance with Capt Miller from his arrival here, observation of the honest worth and sincere Americanism of his character, and proofs of his great skill in the art he means to follow, & which is so important to be encoraged in this state, has attached me to hi[m] and make me feel a lively interest in his success. he has been our guest now about 2. months & a welcome one to all. you will much oblige me therefore by espousing his claim in aid of the representatives of our county who have his petition particularly in hand. Accept the assurances of my great esteem [an]d respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on portion of a reused address cover from James Monroe to TJ; edge trimmed; damaged at seal; at foot of first page: “Jerman Baker esq.”; endorsed by TJ.

Jerman Baker (1776–1828), legislator and treasurer of Virginia, was a native of Chesterfield County. He attended the College of William and Mary in 1795. Baker’s son John Wayles Baker, a first cousin of TJ’s grandson Francis Eppes, was a frequent guest at Poplar Forest and Monticello. Baker began his career in the Virginia House of Delegates as a representative from Cumberland County, serving in nine sessions, 1803–07, 1808–09, and 1813–17. The General Assembly then elected him to the Council of State in 1818, a position he held until he took office as state treasurer in 1820. Baker’s penchant for land speculation left him plagued by debt. To keep up his mortgage payments, he embezzled a total of nearly $25,000 from the state treasury. After a committee of the Council of State launched an audit, Baker committed suicide. Litigation ensued, and eventually his heirs and sureties repaid most of the funds (DVB; William and Mary Provisional List description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. From 1693 to 1888, 1941 description ends , 6; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 38 vols. description ends , 30:587; Richmond City Hustings Court Will Book, 4:408–9, 423–5, 5:5–7; Richmond Enquirer, 1 Apr. 1828).

my grandson jefferson: Thomas Jefferson Randolph.

The French property of the 3d duke of richmond, Charles Lennox (1735–1806), was sequestered just prior to his death. A secret provision in the 1814 Treaty of Paris returned it to his eldest nephew, Charles Lennox (1764–1819), 4th Duke of Richmond. The sisters of the third duke subsequently brought suit in the French courts arguing for a division of the property according to French laws of succession, which would have split the estate among the third duke’s heirs. In 1839 the French Cour de Cassation ruled in favor of the heirs of the third duke (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Eric E. Bergsten, Community Law in the French Courts: The Law of Treaties in Modern Attire [1973], 56–9; Journal du Palais, recueil le plus complet de la Jurisprudence Française [1839], 24 June 1839).

1Word interlined in place of “claimant.”

Index Entries

  • Baker, Jerman (1776–1828); and petition of J. Miller search
  • Baker, Jerman (1776–1828); as Va. legislator search
  • Baker, Jerman (1776–1828); identified search
  • Baker, Jerman (1776–1828); letters to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Family & Friends; friendship with J. Miller search
  • law; property search
  • Miller, Joseph; and Norfolk property search
  • Miller, Joseph; petition to General Assembly search
  • Miller, Joseph; visits Monticello search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Miller, Joseph search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); and J. Miller’s petition search
  • Reed, Thomas (brother of Joseph Miller); estate of search
  • Richmond, Charles Lennox, 3d Duke of; French property of search
  • Richmond, Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of; French property of search
  • Virginia; Literary Fund search