Thomas Jefferson Papers

Extract of Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 18 August [1817], document 2 in a group of documents on Jefferson’s Trip to Natural Bridge, [ca. 13–17 August 1817]

II. Extract of Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph

Poplar Forest Aug. 18th

My dear Mama

Cornelia will probably give Virginia a detail of our Journey to the Natural Bridge—for me it was a complete chapter of accidents—my misfortunes began the day I left home and have not yet ceased, for a cold caught I believe in crossing the blue ridge settled upon my face and has kept me in almost constant agonies—I have not been free of pain one moment1 for the last eight and forty hours and although not acute enough to confine me to my room it is yet sufficiently so to keep me constantly restless uneasy and nervous—I cannot however regret my trip for the wonder and delight I experienced at the sight of the bridge, (which surely deserves the name2 of the “most sublime of Nature’s works”) was greater than I can describe. the limestone cavern near it was also a great curiosity for us, it is a cave in the solid lime stone rock divided into accessible apartments by a curtain of stone. there is a passage large enough to admit the body of a man on all fours which probably communicates with other apartments never explored. the earth in it is so impregnated with salt pitre that a pound has been got from a bushel of dirt. under the bridge I lost your beautifull little purse with three or four dollars which I had arrived with and the little pocket telescope given me by Aunt Jane, and which I valued very highly—our trip independent of the bridge would have been a very pleasant one if the weather had been more favorable and the accomodations better—the manners and character of the people are so different from anything we are accustomed to and the scenery of the country so wild and picturesque, that we almost fancied ourselves in a new world. there is in the men a stern independence and a contempt for forms and appearances, in the women a bustling activity that we do not meet with lower down the country, that is, if it is fair to draw general conclusions from particular instances and if in a tour of three days it was possible to make any observations which can apply to more than the few individuals who came under our notice—

I brought so much work from home with me, and I have been so tortured by pain that I have not had time to commence my system of industry—as we shall be here for a month to come I hope to have it in my power to do something. if it is only to recover the latin I have lost—we have as yet seen no one but Mrs Yancey—Mrs Clark is at the springs and the situation of Mrs Radford’s brother will probably prevent her from visiting us. Cornelia and myself are not comfortably fixed. our room has been pulled down and it will be some time before we get in it—probably a fortnight—in the mean time we are in that little close disagreable room to the right as you enter the dining room, where we are so crouded we can scarcely turn—the weather hot, and as Cornelia observes we are shut up from all breezes but those of the North east—Maria is the same untutored savage you formerly knew and plagues us to death with her stupidity and indifference—

RC (ViU: Coolidge Correspondence); extract, consisting of salutation, dateline, and middle portion of letter; unsigned; partially dated. In the unextracted sections of this letter, Randolph expresses concern for members of the Smith and Goodwin families of Baltimore due to the recent flooding there; asks that, if handkerchiefs have arrived, they be sent to Poplar Forest with John Hern; states that the towels previously sent were “a ‘heartsome sight’” but worries that Maria will ruin them in the wash; sends greetings to her sisters and a message to Virginia J. Randolph (Trist) that the song “Duncan Grey” is “not difficult, but will require practise”; asks to be remembered to her aunts Jane Cary Randolph and Harriet Hackley and their families; sends love to her father, Thomas Mann Randolph, if he is at home; inquires about her mother’s headache and hopes she has been well enough to visit Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Jane H. Nicholas Randolph, and their baby Pat (Martha Jefferson Randolph [Taylor]); and requests a toothbrush and tooth powder.

TJ called Natural Bridge the most sublime of nature’s works in his Notes on the State of Virginia (Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, 1955 description ends , 24).

1Preceding two words interlined.

2Word interlined in place of “epithet.”

Index Entries

  • Baltimore, Md.; flooding in search
  • Clark, Mary Norvell (Christopher Henderson Clark’s second wife); visits springs search
  • clothing; handkerchiefs search
  • clothing; purses search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); education of search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); health of search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); letters from, to M. J. Randolph search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Natural Bridge search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Poplar Forest search
  • Duncan Grey (song) search
  • Hackley, Harriet Randolph (Richard S. Hackley’s wife); greetings sent to search
  • health; colds search
  • Hern, John (TJ’s slave; b.1800); as messenger search
  • household articles; toothbrushes search
  • household articles; tooth powder search
  • household articles; towels search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Travels; to Natural Bridge search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • Latin language; study of search
  • Maria (Poplar Forest slave); criticized search
  • music; Duncan Grey (song) search
  • Natural Bridge, Va.; saltpeter cave near search
  • Natural Bridge, Va.; TJ visits search
  • Natural Bridge, Va.; TJ’s grandchildren visit search
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson); references to search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); main house at search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); slaves at search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ’s grandchildren visit search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); visitors to search
  • purses search
  • Radford, Elizabeth Moseley; family of search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Natural Bridge search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Poplar Forest search
  • Randolph, Jane Cary (Thomas Eston Randolph’s wife); gifts from search
  • Randolph, Jane Cary (Thomas Eston Randolph’s wife); greetings sent to search
  • Randolph, Jane Hollins Nicholas (Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s wife; Wilson Cary Nicholas’s daughter); family of search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); health of search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); letters to, from E. W. R. Coolidge search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); family of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); greetings sent to search
  • saltpeter search
  • scientific instruments; telescopes search
  • slaves; behavior of search
  • springs; visitors to search
  • Taylor, Martha Jefferson Randolph (TJ’s great-granddaughter; Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s daughter); family of search
  • telescopes; pocket search
  • toothbrushes search
  • tooth powder search
  • towels search
  • Trist, Virginia Jefferson Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); and music search
  • weather; floods search
  • women; letters from; E. W. R. Coolidge to M. J. Randolph search
  • women; letters to; M. J. Randolph from E. W. R. Coolidge search
  • Yancey, Elizabeth Macon (wife of Joel Yancey [d.1833]); visits Poplar Forest search