Thomas Jefferson Papers

Wilson Cary Nicholas to Thomas Jefferson, 5 August 1819

From Wilson Cary Nicholas

Richmond Augt 5. 1819

My Dear Sir

It is with the greatest pain & mortification I communicate to you that I was obliged to suffer a protest the day before yesterday. Until within a few days of its happening I was under no fear of it; I made every effort in my power to prevent it but without effect. The people who have money think they can not get its value, & those who have it not in hand, will not make engagements for money. My means are abundant to pay my debts & leave me a considerable surplus if my property sells for any thing like its value six years ago. I will tomorrow convey my property to trustees to secure the payment of my debts and particularly my endorsers. Your engagement for me is of such a character that it imposes upon me the strongest obligation to make provision for you. My1 notes endorsed by you are both in the U.S.B. the board has promised to renew my notes without any other endorser, in consequence of the conveyance I have made. In this way I think it impossible you can suffer any inconvenience. ample time will be given to ensure the property selling for its value. My name will not longer serve you at the Farmers Bank, where I believe too you will be required to give a town endorser, which it will be less difficult to get provided you make it payable to some country Gentn who is known. If I cou’d possibly have foreseen such a state of things nothing cou’d have induced me to embarrass you, believe my Dear Sir, it is not enough that you acquit me of every thing improper & intentional, if I am the cause of your being uneasy or being put to inconvenience I shall never forgive myself. I will in time enclose you two notes.

I am Dear Sir respectfully & sincerely

W. C. Nicholas

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 9 Aug. 1819 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Benjamin W. Crowninshield, 31 Aug. 1819, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Lynchburg”; stamp canceled; postmarked Richmond, 5 Aug.

The following day Nicholas signed and sealed a conveyance for the repayment of his various debts, which included $25,000 due to the Second Bank of the United States at Richmond and was endorsed by William H. Cabell and Richard Anderson, both of Richmond, and TJ; a debt to the Bank of Virginia endorsed by John Preston and Philip N. Nicholas, both of Richmond, and Cabell; a debt to the Farmers’ Bank of Virginia endorsed by Lewis Nicholas, of Albemarle County, and the Richmond firm of Heron, Sinton & Company; and various other debts endorsed by Cabell, Philip N. Nicholas, Lewis Nicholas, William B. Giles, Heron, Sinton & Company, John Marshall, John Patterson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and James Brown Sr., of Richmond. In addition Nicholas was indebted to the “president and Masters or professors” of the College of William and Mary, Preston, Philip N. Nicholas, the Richmond firm of Drew, Blair & Carroll, Patterson, James Morrison, of Lexington, Kentucky, and John Graham and William Galt, both of Richmond, as well as the holders of unspecified debts amounting to nearly $5,000.

In order to pay his creditors and protect all those who had signed as his endorsers or sureties, Nicholas and his wife, Margaret Smith Nicholas, agreed in the conveyance to “give, grant, alien, release and confirm, bargain and sell, deliver, transfer, assign and set over” all his real and personal property to three trustees, John Brockenbrough, John H. Cocke, and Randolph Harrison. Nicholas’s real estate included a parcel of about 2,500 acres of land in Albemarle County already under encumbrance to the College of William and Mary and Heron, Sinton & Company; tracts in Albemarle County of about 200, 175, and 185 acres, also mortgaged to Heron, Sinton & Company; six town lots in Warren; two tracts of approximately 600 and 200 acres in Buckingham County; Nicholas’s half of a parcel of around 600 acres in Augusta County; an estimated 4,444 acres in Cabell County (later in West Virginia), already held in trust by Robert Gamble and William Wirt; about 1,718 acres in Goochland County, under liens to Joseph Smith, of Augusta, and the executors of William Anderson; 40,000 acres patented to Nicholas in the counties of Amherst, Bedford, and Nelson; and Nicholas’s quarter interest in a 50,000-acre tract in Greenbrier County (later in West Virginia). Nicholas’s personal property included the livestock, farming and plantation equipment, and carriages and harness associated with the above tracts; the books, plate, and “household and kitchen furniture” in Nicholas’s houses in Albemarle County and Richmond; and over eighty slaves, about fifty of whom were already under a lien held by Heron, Sinton & Company and nineteen of whom were held under trust to Gamble and Wirt. Additionally, the trustees would control Nicholas’s various claims on John Ambler, on the estates of John Hatley Norton and Edward Ambler, and for about $15,000 in debts owed to Nicholas for land he sold in Buckingham County.

The three trustees named in the conveyance were, with the help of Nicholas, to “settle, adjust, and ascertain the several amounts of the several debts, with the accruing interest on each due and owing” by him, as well as debts that others, including TJ, had accrued on Nicholas’s behalf. Brockenbrough was the trustee specifically designated to receive and disburse funds. Until sales took place Nicholas was to retain possession of his real and personal property, applying any profits to his debts and “reserving only so much as shall suffice for the moderate support of his family in the interval.”

The conveyance stipulated that advertised auctions of Nicholas’s property would begin in either January 1821 or January 1822 as determined by two-thirds of his creditors. It specified the credit arrangements that would apply to such sales and permitted Nicholas to sell property in the meantime on the same terms, as long as he turned over all proceeds to his trustees. They were to disburse the income from all sales of Nicholas’s assets, first to the Second Bank of the United States at Richmond; second to pay the unspecified assorted debts totaling nearly $5,000; third in equal portions pari passu to the remaining creditors, including in this category his endorsers and sureties who had become responsible for his obligations; and fourth to settle any debts not already mentioned, leaving any remaining proceeds to Nicholas or his executors, administrators, or assigns. Those arrangements already made with the College of William and Mary, Cabell, and Heron, Sinton & Company for the repayment of Nicholas’s debts were to remain in force, and nothing in the conveyance was to affect those securities already obtained by Nicholas’s creditors Smith, James M. Morris, and David Bullock (Tr in Albemarle Co. Deed Book, 21:495–504, partially dated Aug. 1819, with subjoined copy of attestation by William Price and Thomas H. Prosser, magistrates of Henrico County, that Nicholas had acknowledged the conveyance on 6 Aug. 1819 and “desired us to certify the said acknowledgement to the Clerks of Goochland, Albemarle, Buckingham, Augusta, Nelson, Amherst, Bedford, Cabell and Greenbrier Counties in Order that the said conveyance may be recorded,” followed by William Wertenbaker’s acknowledgment as deputy clerk that the conveyance was admitted to record 28 Sept. 1819 by the Albemarle County Court; Tr in ViHi: Thomas Jefferson Randolph Papers, lacking Henrico County attestation, copy attested after 1831 by Albemarle County clerk Ira Garrett). Though the conveyance was recorded in some county deed books, none of the creditors or trustees appear to have signed it and thus it presumably never became legally binding.

In a letter dated Richmond, 29 Dec. 1819, Brockenbrough assured Nicholas that “You may rely on my doing every thing in my power to serve you on the subject of the over-draught” but also informed him that, as to the above trust, “Mr Harrison & Genl Cocke, I understand, will not serve, and I feel timid as to the undertaking.” He added that “it will be a tedious & complicated affair, from which a trustee could not extricate himself for a very long time” (RC in ViHi: Thomas Jefferson Randolph Papers, unaddressed, endorsed by Nicholas).

At some point during the year immediately following his signing this conveyance, Nicholas or someone acting on his behalf prepared a new proposal for settling his debts. All of his land was to be sold on 1 Oct. 1821, along with his livestock and farm implements. Nicholas’s slaves, numbering 120 “at present,” were then to be sent to Louisiana to work for the benefit of the estate under the direction of his sons Robert Carter Nicholas and Wilson Cary Nicholas. The slaves and their increase were to be sold at the end of 1828. Using the proceeds from these transactions, the yield from crops prior to land sales, and debts due to Nicholas, the plan anticipated raising a total of $422,000, which was to be supplemented as needed by an additional $60,000 to be pledged by “certain friends” of Nicholas on “unexceptional security.” Using these assets, the document laid out a detailed plan for paying off a principal of $295,000 and the interest that would accrue until the debt was extinguished at the end of 1828. The debts were divided into two classes, with the plan detailing only those in the first, which came to $175,000. For that class it gave the order in which the debts were to be paid, with the $20,000 for which TJ was responsible to be paid only after seven other debts totaling roughly $80,000 had been settled. With certain specified exceptions, the plan expected the individual creditors to release the endorsers, of whom TJ was one, from their obligations before it was to take effect, and if the terms were accepted, then Nicholas’s spouse, Margaret Smith Nicholas, would agree to “relinquish her dower in all the lands.” There is no evidence that anything came of this proposal (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 216:38653–4; in an unidentified hand; undated; endorsed by TJ: “Nicholas Wilson”).

1Word interlined in place of “Your.”

Index Entries

  • Ambler, Edward search
  • Ambler, John; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Anderson, Richard; endorses note for W. C. Nicholas search
  • Anderson, William; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Bank of the United States, Second, Richmond branch of; Richmond branch of (subentry to be split apart as time permits) search
  • Bank of Virginia (Richmond); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • books; of W. C. Nicholas search
  • Brockenbrough, John; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Brown, James, Sr. (of Richmond); endorses note for W. C. Nicholas search
  • Bullock, David search
  • Cabell, William H.; endorses notes for W. C. Nicholas search
  • carriages; mentioned search
  • Cocke, John Hartwell (1780–1866); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Drew, Blair & Carroll (Richmond firm) search
  • Farmers’ Bank of Virginia (Richmond); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Farmers’ Bank of Virginia (Richmond); TJ’s loan from search
  • furniture; W. C. Nicholas’s search
  • Galt, William search
  • Gamble, Robert; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Garrett, Ira; as Albemarle Co. clerk search
  • Giles, William Branch; endorses note for W. C. Nicholas search
  • Graham, John (of Richmond) search
  • Harrison, Randolph; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Heron, Sinton & Company (Richmond firm); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business and Financial Affairs; endorses notes for W. C. Nicholas search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business and Financial Affairs; loan from Farmers’ Bank of Virginia search
  • livestock; of W. C. Nicholas search
  • Marshall, John; endorses note for W. C. Nicholas search
  • Morris, James M.; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Morrison, James search
  • Nicholas, Lewis; endorses notes for W. C. Nicholas search
  • Nicholas, Margaret Smith (Wilson Cary Nicholas’s wife); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Nicholas, Philip Norborne; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Nicholas, Robert Carter (ca.1788–1856); as administrator of W. C. Nicholas’s estate search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); and Second Bank of U.S. search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); and TJ’s bank loans search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); finances of search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); letters from search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); slaves of search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); TJ endorses notes for search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (ca.1796–1828); as administrator of W. C. Nicholas’s estate search
  • Norton, John Hatley; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Patterson, John; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Preston, John (of Richmond); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Price, William; as magistrate search
  • Prosser, Thomas H. search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • silver; plated search
  • slaves; W. C. Nicholas’s search
  • Smith, Joseph (of Augusta Co.) search
  • Wertenbaker, William; as Albemarle Co. clerk search
  • William and Mary, College of; W. C. Nicholas’s debt to search
  • Wirt, William; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search