Thomas Jefferson Papers

George W. Spooner to Thomas Jefferson, 10 November 1819

From George W. Spooner

University of Virginia Novr 10th 1819

Dear Sir

since the apointmint of Mr Arthur S. Brockenbrough as Proctor of this institution1 about the 1st September I made aplication to him offering to undertake one of the buildings then to be built understanding it to have been the intention of the building committee to put up twoo or more boarding Houses the presant year, but as their plan or arrangment had not been determined upon by yourself & Gl Cock, together with youre absence at that time rendered it impracticable, for me to assertain with certainty, whether they would be contracted for before next spring having waited some time for youre arrival I at length went to Fredricksburg with an assurance from Mr Brockenbrough that he would communicate to me youre determination, whether they would be built or not, that I might have an oppertunity of offering a proposal for one of them. after youre return from Bedford I received a letter from him informing me that you had determined to build one other Pavilion & not knowing of any other arrangmt requested me to come on immediately, as the lateness of the season required It to be commenced immediately that the bricklayers might be enabled to get up their walls before the sason became too cold. under these expectations I have been at some expence & trouble to come on here have employed hands & made considerabe progress towards inclosing the building, when I was infomed by Mr Brockenbrough that agreeable to a promise made Mr Nelson by Gl Cock to give him worke at the University, that a part of Pavilion No 5 must be reserved for him, that Sir was some what disapointing to me, to be thus cut short in my expectations. but how much more was I supprised when I learned what part of the worke had been allotted me by Mr Nelson (appearing to have been left optional with him) reserving for himself the whole of the inside work including even the Sashes, though I have made the Frames, leaving me nothing but the frameing & roof reserving the Cornice for himself, I appeal to you sir whether there be anything like Justice in this arrangement,2 acquainted as you are with the nature of building know the Inconveniance & loss of time attending that part of a building at this season, when this arrangment deprives me of all kind of3 Shop work, I even proposed to be content with the entire finish of one room on the first floor in addition to the work before mentioned that I might have work in the shop when4 the wether would prevent oure working on the Roof but It appears this was rejected by Mr Nelson; I therefore respectfully solisit to know whether this arrangment has been submitted to you, or whether Mr Nelson is Authorised to aportion the work in such a manner as may be suitable to himself,5 In which case might I enquire whether after such a disapointment, Should I be willing to resign the whole to Mr Nelson whether I might not expect to be paid for the part I have already done as the Amt would be verry inconsiderable for me to wait Six months for the half of It, or whether there is no other work in which I might be employed.

I beg Sir you will excuse the freedom I have taken in writing to you on the subject, not having the honor of an acquaintance, but the verry serious inconvenience which this arrangment will cause to me must plead my apology

With gt Rt Sir

Yr Obt

Geo, W, Spooner Jr

RC (CSmH: JF); addressed: “Mr Thos Jefferson Present”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Nov. 1819 and so recorded in SJL.

George Wilson Spooner (d. 1865), carpenter and architect, was a native of Fredericksburg. He arrived in Charlottesville in 1819 to work on the construction of the University of Virginia after having labored under John Neilson at Upper Bremo. Spooner remained involved with the university long after the initial building phase, serving as acting proctor, 1845–46, and supervising an addition to the Rotunda in 1853. He built a new entrance to the Albemarle County Courthouse in 1859 and designed or constructed several churches and other buildings in Charlottesville. Spooner married the eldest daughter of John M. Perry and lived at his estate, Montebello. In 1860 he owned real estate worth $9,000 and personal property valued at $3,200, including seven slaves (Spooner to Arthur S. Brockenbrough, 13 Aug. 1819 [ViU: PP]; K. Edward Lay, The Architecture of Jefferson Country: Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia [2000], esp. 101, 157; DNA: RG 29, CS, Albemarle Co., 1850, 1860, and slave schedules for 1850 and 1860; Albemarle Co. Will Book, 27:481–2).

On 5 Nov. 1819 Arthur S. Brockenbrough described the argument between Spooner and Neilson (nelson) in a letter to John H. Cocke: “I am perfectly willing and anxious that Mr Nelson should do a part and indeed all if I had not sent for mr Spooner from Fredericksburg before the meeting of the Visitors, which was the first time I heared that Mr N. had been promised any part of the work, Mr S. came on and was preparing stuff at that time for the frames &c, having gone about and collected materials for that purpose—Mr S. has finished the frames for Cellar & the first story which are in the building and the 1st floor of Joists—the second story frames he is making and will have ready in a few days & 2nd floor of Joists—Mr Nelson wishes the external cornice which I Should like him to have, at the same time I think he had better take the framing of the upper floor of Joists & roof as it might be the cause of some clashing or disagreement if the Joists were not put on agreeable to Mr Ns wishes when about to get the cornice—Mr S. wishes as he has made the window frames, to have the making of the sashes, and also the finishing the large room below on the right of the entry, with the finish of the two doors into the large room—he wishes that much because he would otherwise have nothing to do in bad weather—I hope this arrangement will be satisfactory to Mr Nelson and that he will come over or send and give directions about the framing of the raising floor & roof & sheeting—the shop he can have a part of on reasonable terms” (RC in ViU: JHC; addressed: “Genl John H Cocke Bremo Fluvanna County pr Jack”; endorsed by Cocke).

pavilion no 5 was later renumbered Pavilion IX.

Correspondence around this time between TJ and Brockenbrough may also have touched on this dispute. Letters from Brockenbrough to TJ of 8, 10, and 18 Nov. 1819, not found, are recorded in SJL as received from the university on 10, 10, and 18 Nov. 1819, respectively. A missing letter of 12 Nov. 1819 from TJ to Brockenbrough is also listed in SJL.

1Preceding five words interlined.

2Manuscript: “arragment.”

3Manuscript: “of of.”

4Manuscript: “whe.”

5Preceding two words interlined after comma.

Index Entries

  • Brockenbrough, Arthur Spicer; as University of Virginia proctor search
  • Brockenbrough, Arthur Spicer; letters from accounted for search
  • Brockenbrough, Arthur Spicer; letter to accounted for search
  • building materials; door and window frames search
  • Cocke, John Hartwell (1780–1866); and University of Virginia construction search
  • Jack (A. S. Brockenbrough’s slave) search
  • Neilson (Nelson), John; as builder for Central College–University of Virginia search
  • Spooner, George Wilson; as builder for University of Virginia search
  • Spooner, George Wilson; identified search
  • Spooner, George Wilson; letters from search
  • Virginia, University of; Board of Visitors; committee of superintendence search
  • Virginia, University of; Board of Visitors; meetings of search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; builders for search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; Pavilion IX search