Thomas Jefferson Papers

Extracts from Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 24 August 1819

Extracts from Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph

Poplar Forest August 24th 1819

My dear Mama

In spite of the desperate condition of Col. N’s affairs, I cannot help hoping that my dear Grand-father will escape, or at least that he will receive some indemnification. the 20,000 $ as you observe would still1 leave a large estate behind, if it was simply a loss of 20,000$, but in times like these, to raise such a sum, you must sell property perhaps to the value of 100,000 or even more. this, is the point of view in which this unfortunate transaction strikes me, and the possible misfortune which haunts my imagination. Grand Papa’s spirits were most visibly affected, when he heard the news, although it came to him, softened by a solemn promise from Col. N. himself, that he should not lose a dollar. he placed, I think, considerable reliance on this promise, but the possibility of such an overthrow of his affairs (as the forced payment of so large a sum would produce)2 made a deep impression on him; he said very little, but his countenance expressed a great deal. He mentioned the circumstance of the endorsement to me, (which I was before perfectly ignorant of) and also, Col. N.s. promises; last night he received a second letter renewing them most solemnly, and also one from Jefferson confirming him in his hopes of escape. and whatever Jefferson says I cannot help confiding in, he is so rarely mistaken in any of his judgements. Grand Papa has mentioned these things to Cornelia & myself,3 probably in confidence, and not for worlds would I breathe a syllable to any one but you, for in my utter ignorance of business,4 I should fear to express my hopes, or rather the ground of those hopes, lest its being generally known such promises had been made, might prove the means of rendering their fulfilment more uncertain—silence is at least the safest plan, for no harm can be done by that. besides that I should not think myself justifiable in repeating any information Grand papa might give me on the subject of his affairs, out of the immediate circle of my family.

I have always considered Col. N. as a man of the highest honor, and yet I can scarcely reconcile his present situation with my ideas of honor—it is impossible he should have been5 ignorant of the precipice on which he stood, and yet to suppose that he6 has involved such numbers in his ruin, merely to put off the evil day; to delay for a short time a fate he must7 have known inevitable; this conduct is worse then dishonorable, and I will not, cannot believe him capable of it—it would shake my general confidence in mankind; I should never again know whom to trust if a life of unsullied rectitude is no guarantee against the commission of such acts. but at present all my thoughts center in my dear Grandfather; let his old age be secured from the storms which threaten us all, and I would willingly agree to abide their peltings. I am almost ready to fix my ideas of right and wrong on this single point; to believe every thing honorable which can save him—every thing base, vile & dishonorable, that tends to obscure the evening of such a life.

We have received great kindness and attention from our neighbours, particularly Mrs Walker, who is constantly sending us little presents. about once a week we see arrive a tidy mulattoe girl, with an apron as white as8 snow, & a nice little basket with a napkin thrown over it, in her hand. sometimes, fruit of different kinds, melons, apples, ripe peaches &c, then again vegetables, and on one occasion cake and sweetmeats. You will laugh to hear that lamb has become such a rarity, that we were greatly pleased to receive from the same kind old lady, a quarter of one, very fat and tender. we have lived altogether on chickens, being unable to keep fresh meat for want of ice. we get snow enough from Mr Radford’s, (for which we send every other day) to give us hard butter and cool wine—whilst Israel Cornelia9 and myself were10 butlers, Grand papa insisted on our using that11 cooler, (refrigerator, I believe he calls it,) which wasted our small stock of ice, and gave us butter that run about the plate so that we could scarcely catch it, and wine above blood-heat—but on Burwell’s recovery, he soon scouted it, (to use Aunt M’s favorite expression) and we have been quite comfortable ever since. We are not as you may suppose, able to keep up the trafic of presents with Mrs W. but some bottles of red wine, a few12 crackers, and a part of our nice south-Carolina rice, have served to shew her that our wills were good; and when I began to speak of the old Lady, it was principally that I might ask you to send by Henry something for us to give the maid who trudges through all weathers to bring her mistress’s presents. money I suppose is too scarce an article to render that practicable, but any thing which you think will do; we have nothing with us but necessary clothes, and I have felt quite ashamed to dismiss her so often unrewarded13 —there are in fact two of them, but one comes oftener than the other.

Grand-papa wants to breakfast at Warren on the morning of the day we reach home. will the family be there?

Grand-Papa has almost entirely recovered from his rheumatism.

RC (ViU: Coolidge Correspondence); extract, consisting of dateline and salutation, first, second, fifth, and sixth paragraphs, and final note written perpendicularly at foot of final page; unsigned; endorsed by Martha Jefferson Randolph: “1819.” In the unextracted portion of this letter, Randolph wonders how Jane H. Nicholas Randolph is taking the news of the financial distress of her father, Wilson Cary Nicholas, if she is as yet aware of it; looks forward to returning to Monticello, with TJ currently planning to depart from Poplar Forest the evening of 12 Sept. and arrive at Monticello for dinner on 14 Sept.; worries that her upcoming autumn visit to Poplar Forest with TJ will be a “long melancholy retirement” (one word editorially corrected from “melanancholy”); reports on the progress of her studies, in which she achieves four times as much as at Monticello; and sends love to the family.

The day after the above letter was composed, Elizabeth Trist wrote from Monticello describing both the weather and the desperate condition of col. n’s affairs to her grandson Nicholas P. Trist (one repeated word editorially omitted): “the Thermometer has not been for weeks below 90 and more generally at 96 and that in the shade in a cool place in Mr Jeffersons library and it has been still hotter at Poplar Forest, I never perspired so much in my life as I have this summer, my health has been better for it, a Shower or two has lowerd the Mercury to 74 and yesterday it was 73 the weather is sufficiently cool to keep the doors and windows closed the Sun rises and sets clear but the Sky is generally cloudy, the corn has sufferd and many of the farmers in this Neighbourhood will not make half a crop of corn, and these hard times require the Bounty of nature to be profusely scatterd to make up for the losses sustaind by letting Money on interest to those who are become Bankrupts Mr Wilson Nicholas has faild for three hundred thousand Dollars Mr Jefferson indorsd for him to the amount of twenty thousand numbers are ruind by him, his creditors have given him two years to settle his affairs and he seems satisfied that he shall be able to satisfy all those who were his sureitiys but it is doubted for Property of any kind wont bring half its value, it will be a horrid thing Mr Jefferson has to sell any part of his real State, for he can not command Cash at present to discharge the debt and the interest will be upwards of 1400 Dollars yearly Judge Cabel is security for him for 40 or 50,000 and will have to sell his estate to pay it” (RC in DLC: NPT).

A missing letter from Thomas Jefferson Randolph (jefferson) to TJ, 21 Aug. 1819, is recorded in SJL as received two days later from Tufton.

1Word interlined.

2Parenthetical phrase interlined.

3Reworked from “to me.”

4Preceding comma, Ellen Randolph canceled “and its details.”

5Ellen Randolph here canceled “unacquainted.”

6Ellen Randolph here canceled “would.”

7Word interlined in place of “should.”

8Manuscript: “a.”

9Word interlined.

10Ellen Randolph here canceled “chief.”

11Ellen Randolph here canceled “filthy.”

12Preceding two words interlined.

13Ellen Randolph here interlined and canceled “for her trouble.”

Index Entries

  • apples; as gift search
  • butter; at Poplar Forest search
  • Cabell, William H.; endorses notes for W. C. Nicholas search
  • cake search
  • chickens search
  • clothing; aprons search
  • Colbert, Burwell (TJ’s slave;1783–ca.1862; Critta Colbert’s husband); illness of search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); and Poplar Forest neighbors search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); education of search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); letters from, to M. J. Randolph search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); on W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Poplar Forest search
  • corn; effect of weather on search
  • crackers search
  • food; apples search
  • food; butter search
  • food; cakes search
  • food; chicken search
  • food; lamb search
  • food; melons search
  • food; peaches search
  • food; sweetmeats search
  • food; vegetables search
  • health; rheumatism search
  • Hern, Henry (TJ’s slave; b.1805); travels to and from Poplar Forest search
  • household articles; baskets search
  • household articles; napkins search
  • household articles; refrigerators search
  • Jefferson, Israel Gillette (TJ’s slave; b.1800); as waiter search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business and Financial Affairs; endorses notes for W. C. Nicholas search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; rheumatism search
  • lamb search
  • machines; refrigerators search
  • Marks, Anne Scott Jefferson (TJ’s sister; Hastings Marks’s wife); favorite expressions of search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); library at search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Trist, Elizabeth search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); weather recorded at search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); finances of search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); TJ endorses notes for search
  • peaches; sent to TJ search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); slaves at search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ plans visits to search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ returns from search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ visits search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ’s grandchildren visit search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); weather at search
  • Radford, William; supplies snow to TJ search
  • Randolph, Cornelia Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); visits Poplar Forest search
  • Randolph, Jane Hollins Nicholas (Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s wife; Wilson Cary Nicholas’s daughter); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts 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); and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); letters from accounted for search
  • refrigerators search
  • rheumatism; TJ’s search
  • rice; cultivated in S.C. search
  • scientific instruments; thermometers search
  • thermometers; and meteorological observations search
  • Trist, Elizabeth House; and W. C. Nicholas’s debts search
  • Trist, Elizabeth House; visits Monticello search
  • Trist, Nicholas Philip; correspondence with E. Trist search
  • Walker, Mrs. (Poplar Forest neighbor) search
  • Warren, Va.; TJ visits search
  • weather; clouds search
  • weather; effect on crops search
  • weather; heat search
  • weather; rain search
  • weather; snow search
  • weather; temperature readings search
  • wine; at Poplar Forest 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