Thomas Jefferson Papers

Extract from Elizabeth Trist to Nicholas P. Trist, 3 February 1819

Extract from Elizabeth Trist to Nicholas P. Trist

Farmington 3d of Feby—19

My Dear Nicholas

I am induced to take up the pen tho I have so recently address’d you, to inform you of an event that will give you pain, as it has me and indeed every one that witness’d the action, to be Brief then, I shall inform you of what I have heard, Bankhead had written a very abusive letter to Mrs Jefferson Randolph, what gave rise to his doing So I cant conceive for her health has not admited of her going a broad and I am sure there has been no intercourse kept up between the families for a long time on Monday being court day Jefferson and Bankhead met near Leitches Store as Jefferson had a Horse whip in his hand and I presume Bankhead thought he intended to chastise him tho Jefferson declares that he had no such intention but Bankhead drew a large clasp Knife and as he came up to Jefferson he ask’d him how he came to write his Wife such a letter Bankhead approaching him with the drawn Knife and Jefferson to keep him from closing with him walkd backwards a few yards keep his whip playing near Bankheads head when something trip’d up Jefferson and he fell as Bankhead advanced he took the whip and with the but end knock’d him down and made a pretty considerable gash in the side of his head Bankhead fell close by Jeffersons knee and they closed with each other on the ground stab’d him a little above the hip and cut his arm a cross and they say that two of the tendens are severd and that Jefferson will loose the use of his arm, even if he recovers fortunately it is his left arm, they were soon seperated and Jefferson lost a great quantity of Blood he was carried in to Leitches store attended by four Physicians and a concourse of people the wounds examin’d the one above the hip was the most painful and they apprehended that it had enterd his body or rather intestines but on examination they pronounced it only a flesh wound the arm was sew’d up and tight a bandage applied that Stoped the bleeding but he was so Faint and ill that they were obliged to make up a bed for him in Leitches counting Room Bankhead was taken in custody of the sherif and was taken before two magistrates who wou’d have committed him if he had not got bail a Man by the name of Alexander who became his security for his appearence on Monday when there is to be a call’d Court to examine furthur into the Matter it seems to be the General opinion that Jefferson gave the first blow but he says that he did not and I understand that there is some evidence of his not doing it every body seem’d interested for Jefferson and when Bankhead sent for one of the Doctors to dress his wound on the head the people call’d out that he shou’d not have one till Mr Randolph was dress’d Mr Jefferson, had been in Town but a Gentleman went to the Mountain to inform the family Mr Randolph had not return’d from Richmond Mr Jefferson came down he returnd and sent Burwell, Bankhead went home after night unattended The Major went yesterday to see how he was but did not go into the room The Doctors said that he had too much company he saw Mr Jefferson who appeard very much affected as well on Anns account as Jeffersons he expected that Bankhead wou’d wreak his vengence on his Wife he had prohibited any of the females of the family coming to Charlottesville had a litter brought down with eight or ten Negroes to take him to the Mountain but the Doctor thought it wou’d not be proper to remove him for a day or two

RC (DLC: NPT); extract, consisting of opening of letter; signed “E. Trist” on last page; addressed: “Mr Nicholas—P— Trist West Point New York”; endorsed by the recipient, in part, as a letter from “Grandmother Trist.” In the unextracted portion of this letter, Elizabeth Trist discusses the comings and goings of various friends and family members; complains that the weather is uncomfortably warm; mentions that, though her own health is improving, George Divers suffers from violent headaches; reminds her grandson of his responsibilities; apologizes for her bad penmanship; and advises him that “you will find that nothing brings Such sweet reflections as a well spent life and nothing imbitters old age but a retrospection of the follies and indiscretions of youth.”

Nicholas Philip Trist (1800–74), public official and diplomat, was born in Charlottesville and educated at the College of Orleans in New Orleans. He fell in love with TJ’s granddaughter Virginia J. Randolph during a visit to Monticello in 1817. Dissuaded by her family from seeking an early marriage, Trist attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1818–21. The couple finally wed at TJ’s mountaintop home in September 1824. Trist subsequently assisted TJ in various ways and helped administer his estate after his death. He studied law under Edward Livingston, was admitted to the bar, and spent time as secretary to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. During service as a State Department clerk that began in 1828, he sometimes acted as President Andrew Jackson’s private secretary. Trist was the United States consul at Havana, 1833–41. Returning to the State Department as chief clerk in 1845, two years later he was dispatched as a special agent to negotiate an end to the Mexican-American War. Although clashes with General Winfield Scott and members of James K. Polk’s administration led to his recall, Trist stayed on in Mexico in defiance of orders and signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848. This act of insubordination, the treaty’s subsequent ratification notwithstanding, led Polk to withhold Trist’s salary and effectively ended his diplomatic career. He then worked as a lawyer in New York City and, for twenty years, as a railroad clerk and paymaster in Pennsylvania. In 1870 the federal government appointed Trist deputy postmaster of Alexandria, and the following year it paid him over $14,000 in back wages and expenses from his time in Mexico. He died in Alexandria (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Shackelford, Descendants description begins George Green Shackelford, ed., Collected Papers … of the Monticello Association of the Descendants of Thomas Jefferson, 1965–84, 2 vols. description ends , 1:100–13; DLC: NPT; NcU: NPT; Richmond Enquirer, 21 Sept. 1824; Jackson, Papers description begins Sam B. Smith, Harold D. Moser, Daniel Feller, and others, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, 1980– , 10 vols. description ends ; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 4:344, 348, 5:407, 17:520 [21 Jan., 10 Feb. 1834, 16 July 1841, 9 July 1870]; Herbert Weaver and others, eds., Correspondence of James K. Polk [1969– ]; Alexandria Gazette, 11 Feb. 1874; gravestone inscription in Ivy Hill Cemetery, Alexandria).

the mountain was that on which Monticello stands.

Hetty Carr, the widow of TJ’s nephew Peter Carr, provided another account of the Randolph-Bankhead fight in a 5 Feb. 1819 letter to her son Dabney S. Carr, stating that Bankhead “has been threatening Jefferson Randolph a long time & at Court he approached him with such an expression of countinance, as convinced J. that he ment to stab him. as he knew he carried a long knife as long as a dirk, he has bought several of them for the express purpose of killing Jefferson. but his wife has always contrived to get them from him. the morning of the Court he got a new one. as soon as he got within arms length of J. Jefferson raised his whip to keep him off & struck him with the small end of it. he approach on so fast that J. was obliged to turn the large end of the whip in retreating to keek [i.e., keep] out of the reach of the knife after receiving several stabs he fell on his back but was up in a moment but wilst he was down B. stabed him in the back. his arm is dreadfully cut. but hi is thaught not to be in any danger now. at first it was thaught he could not live. B. was tried & bailed to appear next monday.
Jefferson is staying at Mr Garrets, who has behaved very kindly to him. as soon as Jeffersons wounds were dressed he went to see Jane to let her know how Jefferson was. altho it was 11 oclock at Night, & asked Jane to come & stay at his house. she is now there with Jefferson. he was carried day before yesterday in a litter from Mr Leitch’s store where he was first carried. you will easily suppose what an agitation I have been in & what an agitation I now am in for fear they wont send B. to the Penitentiary. …
Jefferson is in fine sperits and dont mind it altho he perhaps will loose the use of some of his fingers, as two of the arteries were cut. he is not able to turn himself in the bed. the young men in town set up with him every Night. poor Mr Jefferson was dreadfully agitated, when he saw him first. he got there in less than half an hour after it happened. Frank dyer went for him. Jane heard it as soon & no-one with her but her little Children” (ViU: CC; with one repeated word editorially omitted). See also Joseph C. Vance, “Knives, Whips and Randolphs on the Court House Lawn,” MACH description begins Magazine of Albemarle County History, 1940–  (title varies; issued until 1951 as Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society) description ends 15 (1955/56): 28–35.

Index Entries

  • Albemarle County, Va.; sheriff of search
  • Albemarle County Court, Va. search
  • Alexander, Mr.; posts bail for C. L. Bankhead search
  • bandages search
  • Bankhead, Ann (Anne) Cary Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter; Charles Lewis Bankhead’s wife); and fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Bankhead, Ann (Anne) Cary Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter; Charles Lewis Bankhead’s wife); safety of search
  • Bankhead, Charles Lewis (Ann Cary Randolph Bankhead’s husband); and fight with T. J. Randolph search
  • Carr, Dabney S. (TJ’s grandnephew); and fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Carr, Hetty Smith Stevenson (Peter Carr’s wife); on fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Colbert, Burwell (TJ’s slave;1783–ca.1862; Critta Colbert’s husband); mentioned search
  • Divers, George; health of search
  • Dyer, Francis B.; and fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Garrett, Alexander; and fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Garrett, Alexander; home of search
  • health; headaches search
  • health; knife wounds search
  • household articles; knives search
  • knives; C. L. Bankhead’s search
  • Leitch, James; store of search
  • medicine; bandages search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); slaves at search
  • penmanship; E. Trist on her own search
  • Randolph, Jane Hollins Nicholas (Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s wife; Wilson Cary Nicholas’s daughter); and fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Randolph, Jane Hollins Nicholas (Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s wife; Wilson Cary Nicholas’s daughter); family of search
  • Randolph, Jane Hollins Nicholas (Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s wife; Wilson Cary Nicholas’s daughter); health of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); and fight with C. L. Bankhead search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); health of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); visits Richmond search
  • Richmond, Va.; penitentiary in search
  • Trist, Elizabeth House; and fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Trist, Elizabeth House; health of search
  • Trist, Elizabeth House; letters from, to N. P. Trist search
  • Trist, Elizabeth House; penmanship of search
  • Trist, Nicholas Philip; and fight between C. L. Bankhead and T. J. Randolph search
  • Trist, Nicholas Philip; identified search
  • Trist, Nicholas Philip; letters to, from E. Trist search
  • Virginia; State Penitentiary search
  • weather; heat search
  • whips search
  • women; spousal mistreatment of search