Thomas Jefferson Papers

Cornelia J. Randolph to Virginia J. Randolph (Trist), 17 August 1817, document 1 in a group of documents on Jefferson’s Trip to Natural Bridge, [ca. 13–17 August 1817]

I. Extract of Cornelia J. Randolph to Virginia J. Randolph (Trist)

August 17 1817

My Dear Virginia

We are return’d from the natural bridge more anxious to see it again than we were at first, because in the first place it far surpass’d our expectations, & in the second we saw it under many disadvantages, which will be remov’d when we go again, & grandpapa has promis’d that we shall; our trip was attended with disasters & accidents from the time we set off untill we return’d again, the morning we were to go when we got up we found it was a damp cloudy day, but Grandpapa decided at breakfast that it would not rain & sister Ellen and myself rejoic’d that the sun did not shine & that we should have a cool day for our journey we set off accordingly after Gil & Israel had made us wait two hours but we had not proceeded many miles before it clear’d up the sun shone out & we had one of the hottest most disagreable days for traveling that could be, then came our first misfortune in going over a high bridge one of the wheel horses broke through & sank up nearly half way in the hole we all got out as quick as we could & found that the bridge was entirely gone to decay & not only several of the logs but one of the sleepers had broken down & that we had been in great danger of going down carriage & horses & all, the horses were all loosened & poor Bremo pull’d out by main strength, for he seem’d so overcome with fright that he was incapable assisting himself & lay quite passive & let them do what they would with him, he was hurt in no other way than being much skin’d & bruis’d, but as it was we were oblig’d now to walk up a long tedious red hill & then pursued our journey in the carriage without any other accident, over abominable roads; about one o clock we came to a very wild looking part of the country just at the foot of the ridge here we met a man with a gun on his shoulder and a squirrel which he had just kill’d, grandpapa ask’d him some questions and found out he was the man at whose house we were to leave the carriage and that we were a very little distance from it, it was a log house in the woods, which were clear’d away immediately around it, a large family liv’d in it tho it had but one room, these people were the first of that half civiliz’d race who live beyond the ridge that we had seen. the man who before had not deign’d to take any notice of us & not even to go out of the road that we might pass, as soon as he heard what we wanted, was very polite, promis’d to take care of the carriage & to have the horses fed imediately, for he was one of those who tho they do not keep a tavern will accomodate you with what ever they can & take pay for it, while the horses were eating he ask’d us in to his house, where were his wife two old men, one his father, & a large family of children all the young ones being in their shifts & shirts; none of the men wore coats tho’ they none of them apparently had not been at work1 & I do not think I saw more than one coat while we were gone & not more than two or three pair of shoes. the people in the house were as perfectly at their ease as if they had known us all their lives; the two old men enter’d into conversation with grandpapa at once, and one of them said he had been forty three years living there (within twelve miles of the bridge) & had never seen it; now he said he was too old to go being 84, he was the most savage looking man of the two2 tho they both were uncivilis’d, both in manners and apearance the other going with his hairy breast expos’d & both speaking of us and our family before our faces just as if we had been absent the oldest scarcely waited for grandpapa to go out, before he wonder’d who that old genllman was & the other having great surprise answer’d it was Colonel Jefferson, “then” said the first “I know where lives, he lives near parson Clay’s in Bedford” but the other one said no, he did not live there he liv’d away down in Albemarle & only visited his place in Bedford call’d poplar Forest, sometimes, that he had possessions in both these counties, & that Randal used to have land in Bedford too. they said a good deal more about grandpapa & a great deal to us the first not even honouring us with the title of ladies, but calling us young women. how they knew so much about grandpapa I cant concieve for he never had seen either of them before. we left this place on horseback after having refresh’d ourselves with ripe3 apples which they gave us & began to ascend the mountain, we cross’d it at Petites gap which is near the place where James river passes the ridge, we rode three miles before we came to the top where we dined on cold bacon & chicken, & then descended three. three more we had to go before we got to the place where we spent that night & the succeeding, Greenlee’s ferry. the mountain is the wildest most romantic looking place I ever saw the trees remarkably large & tall & no under wood so that you could see for a great distance around you. I saw there oaks chesnuts & poplars, & spruce pine, which I never saw before it is a beautiful tree. I wish we had it at Monticello, & we found a rasberry which is better even than the garden rasberry having a fine flavour & the seeds being so small that you scarcely percieve them, the bushes were quite full of fruit tho it was so late in the season, they are a bright scarlet & the bush has no thorns, the people in the neighbourhood call’d it the mountain rasberry, & grandpapa remember’d that they had had them at Shadwell for many years under the name of the mountain strawberry, but they had never born there.

August 19 Grandpapa means to hurry Johny off so soon that I have not time to say any thing more of our trip to the Natural bridge particularly as I have written down three pages & have not got to the end of our first days journey, but if you are not tir’d already I will go on with our travels in the next letter, & will try to get a little better pen ink & paper that the reading them may not be such a task, at present I must answer the principle articles of your letter.


RC (NcU: NPT); extract consisting of bulk of letter, but omitting text written on 19 Aug. between end of text printed above and signature. In the unextracted portion of this letter, Randolph says she has not wanted Gonezalo and finds Perico more difficult than she did at first; argues that drawing figures is “more agreable” than drawing flowers and says that she has been working on drawings of Ariadne and the Shakespearean characters Ferdinand and Miranda; assumes that her aunt Mary Randolph has not yet arrived at Monticello; expects Mary Elizabeth Randolph (Eppes) to “render a faithful account of every thing she sees in her travels”; says that “Uncle & Mrs Eppes were not with us when we went to the natural bridge but we expect the former & Francis every day”; promises to write to Mary J. Randolph and Harriet F. Randolph (Willis) by the next cart if she has the energy; passes on the regards of Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to her aunts Anne Scott Marks and Harriet Hackley and the latter’s family, especially her stepdaughter Jane E. C. Hackley (Taylor); expresses pleasure that her aunt Jane Cary Randolph is recovering; and asks her mother to kiss Septimia A. Randolph (Meikleham) for her.

1Preceding nine words interlined in place of an illegible phrase, with “not” interlined above the rest of the new text.

2Word interlined in place of “three.”

3Word interlined in place of “fresh.”

Index Entries

  • Ariadne (mythological character) search
  • bacon search
  • Bremo (TJ’s horse); and carriage accident search
  • carriages; accidents of search
  • chestnut; in Va. search
  • chickens search
  • Clay, Charles; mentioned search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); sends greetings to relatives search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Natural Bridge search
  • drawing; by C. J. Randolph search
  • Eppes, Francis Wayles (TJ’s grandson); and Poplar Forest search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); visits Poplar Forest search
  • Eppes, Martha Burke Jones (John Wayles Eppes’s second wife); mentioned search
  • Eppes, Mary Elizabeth Cleland Randolph (Francis Wayles Eppes’s wife; Thomas Eston Randolph’s daughter); travels of search
  • Ferdinand (Shakespearean character) search
  • food; apples search
  • food; bacon search
  • food; chicken search
  • food; raspberries search
  • Gillette, Gill (TJ’s slave; b.1792); as wagoner search
  • Greenlee’s Ferry (Rockbridge Co.); on route to Natural Bridge search
  • Hackley, Harriet Randolph (Richard S. Hackley’s wife); greetings sent to search
  • Hern, John (TJ’s slave; b.1800); as messenger search
  • horses; and carriage accidents search
  • Jefferson, Israel Gillette (TJ’s slave; b.1800); as postilion search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Travels; to Natural Bridge search
  • Marks, Anne Scott Jefferson (TJ’s sister; Hastings Marks’s wife); greetings sent to search
  • Meikleham, Septimia Anne Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); greetings sent to search
  • Miranda (Shakespearean character) search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Randolph, Mary search
  • Natural Bridge, Va.; TJ visits search
  • Natural Bridge, Va.; TJ’s grandchildren visit search
  • oak; in Va. search
  • Petit’s Gap, Va.; on route to Natural Bridge search
  • poplar; in Va. search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); visitors to search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); education of search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); letters from, to V. J. R. Trist search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); sketches by search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Natural Bridge search
  • Randolph, Jane Cary (Thomas Eston Randolph’s wife); health of search
  • Randolph, Mary (Thomas Mann Randolph’s sister; David Meade Randolph’s wife); visits Monticello search
  • Randolph, Mary Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); mentioned search
  • raspberries; mountain search
  • Shadwell (TJ’s estate); raspberries at search
  • Shakespeare, William; characters of search
  • spruce; in Va. search
  • Taylor, Jane Elizabeth Catherine Hackley; greetings sent to search
  • trees; chestnut search
  • trees; oak search
  • trees; poplar search
  • trees; spruce search
  • Trist, Virginia Jefferson Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); letters to, from C. J. Randolph search
  • Willis, Harriet Fluker Randolph; mentioned search
  • women; letters from; C. J. Randolph to V. J. R. Trist search
  • women; letters to; V. J. R. Trist from C. J. Randolph search