Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Frances Wright, 22 May 1820

To Frances Wright

Monticello May 22. 20.

[T]h Jefferson presents his compliments to mrs Wright and his thanks for the copy of her tragedy of Altorf which she ha[s]1 been so kind as to send him. he has read it with great pleasure and sees in it that excellent moral which gives dignity and usefulness to poetry. the character of Altorf the father is a model of patriotism and virtue well worthy of the imitation [o]f our republican citizens: and that of Giovanna is a proper [s]tudy for both sexes. he prays mrs Wright to accept the [a]ssurance of his high respect.

PoC (CSmH: JF-BA); on verso of cover sheet of Tr of Order by Virginia Superior Court of Chancery in Jefferson v. Rivanna Company, 8 Dec. 1819; dateline at foot of text; with some text missing along left margin due to polygraph misalignment; endorsed by TJ.

Frances Wright (1795–1852), reformer and author, was born in Dundee, Scotland, and lived with relatives in London after being orphaned at the age of two. In 1813 she and her only surviving sibling, Camilla Wright, moved to Glasgow to live with an uncle. Immersion in intellectual circles there helped Wright acquire liberal ideals and an appreciation for the United States. With her sister she first visited the United States in 1818, spending time during the next two years in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. After returning to England, Wright befriended Lafayette, visiting him in France in 1821 and subsequently following him to the United States in 1824. The Wright sisters visited Monticello that year with Lafayette’s party. After meeting with Robert Owen at his utopian settlement at New Harmony, Indiana, Wright established the colony of Nashoba in Tennessee in order to create a community in which slaves she acquired for the purpose could work to earn their freedom. TJ declined her request for advice concerning this project. The colony struggled for financial and social reasons. Eventually Wright ended the experiment and took the remaining slaves to freedom in Haiti. In 1828 she joined Owen’s son Robert Dale Owen at New Harmony in editing the New-Harmony Gazette (later the Free Enquirer), and she undertook a lecture tour on reform topics, including criticism of organized religion and of the condition of women. Wright tried again to establish a community of like-minded reformers outside of New York City centered around a “Hall of Science” before sailing for Europe in 1830 and spending several years in Paris. She was married from 1831 to 1850 to the Frenchman Guillaume Sylvan Casimir Phiquepal d’Arusmont and used the name d’Arusmont prior to their divorce. Wright eventually returned to the United States and settled in Cincinnati, although she continued to travel and lecture (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 ; ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Celia Morris, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America [1984; repr. 1992]; Wright, Views of Society and Manners in America [London, 1821; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 (no. 354); TJ’s copy in ViCMRL, on deposit ViU]; Wright, A Few Days in Athens, being the Translation of a Greek Manuscript discovered in Herculaneum [London, 1822; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 8 (no. 427); TJ’s copy in ViCMRL, on deposit ViU]; TJ to Lafayette, 4 Nov. 1823; Wright’s First Account of a Visit to Monticello, [before 12 Nov.–after 15 Dec. 1824]; Wright’s Second Account of a Visit to Monticello, [before 12 Nov.–after 15 Dec. 1824]; [Wright], A Plan for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the United States, Without Danger or Loss to the Citizens of the South [Baltimore, 1825]; Wright to TJ, 26 July 1825; TJ to Wright, 7 Aug. 1825; DNA: RG 29, CS, Ohio, Cincinnati, 1840, Tenn., Shelby Co., 1850; Boston Daily Atlas, 18 Dec. 1852; Boston Liberator, 24 Dec. 1852; gravestone inscription in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati).

Wright’s play Altorf, a Tragedy (Philadelphia, 1819) portrayed a fourteenth-century Swiss revolt against Austrian tyranny. It included among its roles the title character, a Swiss soldier; his father; and his wife, giovanna. On 28 June 1820 Wright sent a copy of the same work to James Madison (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:72–3).

1Word faint.

Index Entries

  • Altorf, a Tragedy (F. Wright) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); works sent to search
  • plays; sent to TJ search
  • women; letters to; F. Wright search
  • Wright, Frances; Altorf, a Tragedy search
  • Wright, Frances; identified search
  • Wright, Frances; letter to search