Thomas Jefferson Papers

Lydia Broadnax to Thomas Jefferson, 2 June 1819

From Lydia Broadnax

Richmond 2d June 1819.

Dear Sir

It has been some considerable time since I last took the liberty of addressing you and should not now trouble you was it not through necessity—You no doubt recollect that my late master (Judge Wythe) on his death left me a house and lot to support me & gave me money to build a house to reside in.—Mr Duval was left executor and instructed by my master to see that justice was done me—he has however Without my Consent sold the house and lot which was to have supported me which has left me entirely destitute and dependant on the charity of others.—I have not the means to prosecute him and know not what Course to pursue old as I am to support myself—Mr Duval it seems is determined not to do any thing in the business.—I have shewn my late masters will to several Lawyers of this place and they inform me he had no authority to sell the house and lot until my death.—Dependant as I have become I hope that you will again assist with something if not for my sake for the sake of my deceased master.—

Be pleased to direct your answer inside to me and outside to Daniel Call Esqr

I am very respectfully Your most obed. servt

Liddy Brawnix

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as a letter from “Brawnix Lydia” received 6 June 1819 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Bernard Peyton, 23 Oct. 1820, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Montichello Albemarle County Va”; franked; postmarked Richmond, 2 June.

Lydia Broadnax (Liddy Brawnix) (d. by 1827) lived by 1783 in Williamsburg as the slave of George Wythe, who manumitted her in 1787 when she was “more than forty five Years old.” Broadnax continued to work for Wythe as a paid domestic servant, presumably moving with him to Richmond in 1791. By 1797 she owned property in Richmond, on which she later collected rent from boarders. Broadnax was present the day Wythe died in 1806. He had probably been poisoned by his great nephew, and she became ill from the same cause. Her testimony against the likely perpetrator was not heard in court because Broadnax was African-American. Wythe provided for her continued support in his will. In 1806 TJ borrowed a portrait of Wythe from Broadnax in order to have a copy made, and the following year he gave her $50 in response to a letter in which she complained of failing eyesight attributable to the poisoning and asked for “some charitable aid.” In her 1820 will, admitted to probate in 1827, Broadnax left her house and half-acre lot in Richmond to her great nephews (Andrew Nunn McKnight, “Lydia Broadnax, Slave, and Free Woman of Color,” Southern Studies, new ser. 5 [1994]: 17–30; York Co. Deed Book, 6:351; Wythe’s will, 20 Apr. 1803, with codicils of 19 Jan., 24 Feb., and 1 June 1806, admitted to probate 11 June 1806 [DLC: TJ Papers, 131:22615, 159:27971–2]; Broadnax to TJ, 9 Apr. 1807 [MHi]; TJ to George Jefferson, 18 Apr. 1807 [NN: Richard John Levy and Sally Waldman Sweet Collection]; DNA: RG 29, CS, Richmond, 1810, 1820; Richmond City Hustings Court Will Book, 4:361–2).

The letter above is probably not in Broadnax’s hand, given her declining eyesight in 1807 and the fact that she signed her will with a mark in 1820.

Index Entries

  • Broadnax, Lydia (Liddy Brawnix); and bequest of G. Wythe search
  • Broadnax, Lydia (Liddy Brawnix); identified search
  • Broadnax, Lydia (Liddy Brawnix); letter from search
  • Call, Daniel; as attorney search
  • DuVal, William; as executor of G. Wythe search
  • health; vision loss search
  • women; letters from; L. Broadnax search
  • Wythe, George; bequest to L. Broadnax search
  • Wythe, George; death of search