Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Ewell to Thomas Jefferson, 6 September 1820

From Thomas Ewell

Washington 6th septr 1820

The continuation Good sir, of your kindness—shewn by your last letter—does truly render my feelings unspeakable. Great indeed has been the service you have often rendered me: more than all the world together; more than you can have been aware of. When in trouble I apply to you: my troubles have been the signal of abandonment, by the mass of others: and still more galling—the time for their confederation to encrease difficulties, in order to rise by the spoil of falling fortunes. Would to god I could requite to you or to yr descendants what I have received: or that I might be more worthy of such a benefactor.   Indeed I have been greatly pained at this last begging for your interposition: you would have pitied my feelings if you could have witnessed their agitation. It was the result of a hard and very hard reduction of fortune—commanding irresistably that I should leave no effort untried to entreat that I may receive employment.

my object in now writing to you, is to satisfy you that my misfortunes have arisen from circumstances—which but few if any, could foresee. From the spirit, given to my first exertions—by your patronage I freely speculated: established manufactories, reclaimed farms & marshes; and I made more money than I believed I or my children would ever want. After success—impatience in idleness, eagerness to be acting—urged me to go on. The belief in affluence—begat want of caution: facility in giving credit: too after relieving unworthy applicants: so that one loss to another so fast succeeded: efforts to retrieve blunders, adding to the downfal, with such rapidity—that almost before I was conscious—all my clear gainings—were encumbered. Debts contracted while money was in circulation had to be paid, when scarcely any could be had. The whole system of accomodation—of mutual confidence seemed at once to be converted into the spirit of seeing which in the community could do the “other the most harm”: at least so with our stockjobbers & money dealers of the Towns. The result has been in my loss of more than an hundred thousand dolls; besides unemployment in a profession which properly followed, never fails yielding a maintenance.   Because you may have heard what Mr Madison here heard—the reverse of the Truth, respecting the late poor and most good Mr Hamilton & myself—I add this particular case of my loss of ten thousand dollars: to shew you that I could not as reported—have arrested him who was my friend: and that in the days of my success—I was to him no common Friend. Besides his note I enclose to you of $7200 I advanced him $1,000 to pay his expences to return to Charleston: He was arrested by all the vile sycophants to whom he was indebted—and I only could he procure for Bail & in every case have paid his debts. The unhappy gentleman in his last letter—to me—wrote that he was old enough to be my Father—but that I had been a Father to him! Please return the note. The debts exceeding 2000 dolls I have paid for him are on record: & yet malice has represented me as his persecutor!!

As proved in memorials to Congress—my allowances for the manufacture of Powder were settled by W. Jones—rejected by Yankee Crowninshield, because I told him what he was!—so that I had to sell the Contract to the late Dr Ott for 5,000 Dolls who sold it to D. Bussard for 10,000 Dolls who rec’d on its completion 16,800 Dolls from the navy: leaving me a loser thus of ten thousand more: besides as much more I shall ever believe, some navy agents swindled me of. From this I have learnt the lesson,—“never again to provoke the meanest Foe.”

I send for your perusal—a project for a Hospital in this place. I hope it will succeed—so that I may return to the poor—what you have done for me.

I never more at heart prayed to our Creator than I do—that when you are “gathered to yr Fathers”—you may be the happiest of the happy.

Thos Ewell

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 24 Sept. 1820 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Patrick Gibson, 19 Aug. [1821], on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Former President U.S. Charloottes’ville Va”; franked; postmarked Washington, 6 Sept. Enclosure: note from Paul Hamilton for $7,200, not found.

In his annual message to Congress of 3 Dec. 1805, TJ expressed hopes that European belligerent nations would deal justly with the neutral United States, but added that “should any nation decieve itself by false calculations, and disappoint that expectation, we must join in the unprofitable contest, of trying which party can do the other the most harm” (DLC).

Medicine was the profession which properly followed, never fails yielding a maintenance. never again to provoke the meanest foe apparently alludes to Aesop’s fable of the bull and the mouse.

The project for a hospital was probably a copy of the printed circular and prospectus that Ewell sent James Madison around this time. The circular, which is dated Washington, September 1820, and concludes with Ewell’s printed signature, reads “Sir: I take the liberty of directing this to you, to ask your encouragement of an establishment designed to promote medical science, by the means of relieving the diseased poor around us. There is not in our country a population equal to that of this city and Georgetown, (exceeding twenty thousand,) which has not some medical institution for the relief of the sick. In addition to the number of poor common to such a population, there are many more arising from the resort of strangers to the seat of government. It is not to be denied, that many cases of severe suffering, even of death, have occurred, from the want of an Hospital in Washington.
 Although anxious to make this establishment, I am not unconscious that many philanthropists believe that hospitals have done more harm than good. But the fact is, that the injuries have proceeded from those who planned them. Splendid buildings have been erected, chiefly to display the vanity of the founders. It appears always to have been forgotten that the best means of relieving the sick is to accommodate them in the manner to which they have been accustomed. Instead, therefore, of a large house, of crowded rooms, generating and diffusing the foulest atmosphere, there should have been small and detached buildings, such as the inhabitants of hospitals are accustomed to at their homes. It is from this view that I propose to establish the Columbia Hospital, on some square convenient to the City and Georgetown, which shall be selected by the majority of the contributors.
 The regulations of the establishment will be such as are believed to be unexceptionable. Its government and use of funds are to be conducted exclusively by the clergymen of the county, who will monthly meet for the management. The medical department will be as exclusively under the direction of the regularly qualified physicians of the City and Georgetown; and every clergyman, physician, and contributor to the Hospital, shall have the right of ordering the admission of any sick person deemed a proper object.
 In order to add to the utility of this institution, a part of it will be assigned for a lying-in-hospital, where women will be instructed in the duties they should perform to each other in child-bed; a school from which much good may be expected.
 Should you approve of this establishment, I hope you will be pleased to request the gentlemen of your particular acquaintance to join in the subscription, and to return this to me as soon as convenient.
 Respectfully, your obedient servant.”

The undated prospectus, on the verso of the circular, is entitled “COLUMBIA HOSPITAL” and promises to give the “OUTLINES Of the Institution designed, in the least expensive and most expeditious way.” It reads “First. To relieve the poor who are sick and have no accommodations at home.
Second. To administer medicines to those requiring, and unable to pay for them at their houses.
Third. To promote Medical Science by making the practice public; so as to lessen the impositions of pretenders to great skill among the unknowing part of society.
 Article I. The Board of Management of the Institution, governing exclusively, excepting in the Medical Department, to consist of all the Clergymen, and of all the Members of the Corporations of Washington and Georgetown, to meet and regulate as they shall, by a majority, determine.
 Article II. The Medical Department to be exclusively under the direction of the regularly qualified physicians of the two corporations, restricted to the republican rule, of letting each, in succession, share in the duties of the Hospital, and the practice as dispensary physicians; every physician having the right to witness the practice of each other at the hours of prescription.
 Article III. All persons connected with the management, and all contributors, shall have the right of sending such patients to the Hospital as they may deem worthy objects; excepting that the owners of slaves shall pay as much as the cost of their accommodation.
 Article IV. The Hospital to be seated convenient to Georgetown and Washington; to consist of small buildings, of the plainest kind, detached from each other to prevent the propagation of infectious diseases, and maniacs from being made more mad by hearing each other’s cries; each house not to contain more than six or eight persons, excepting a centre building for the resident officers, an apothecary shop, and a room for teaching women the duties they should perform to each other in child-bed, or for other purposes of lecturing.
 The subscribers agree to pay the sums annexed to our names, for the establishment of the Columbia Hospital, one half in six months, the remainder in one year: provided, the Mayors of Washington and Georgetown shall certify that the amount is due for the materials and building of houses designed for the use of the sick, according to the plan stated above” (DLC: Madison Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division; circular printed in Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:99–100; prospectus printed in Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 6 Sept. 1820, and elsewhere).

A variant of the phrase gathered to yr fathers appears in the Bible (Judges 2.10).

Index Entries

  • Aesop; referenced by T. Ewell search
  • Bible; Judges referenced search
  • Bussard, Daniel search
  • Congress, U.S.; petitions to search
  • Congress, U.S.; TJ’s messages to search
  • Crowninshield, Benjamin Williams; as secretary of the navy search
  • Ewell, Thomas; and Navy Department contract search
  • Ewell, Thomas; and P. Hamilton search
  • Ewell, Thomas; as physician search
  • Ewell, Thomas; financial situation of search
  • Ewell, Thomas; letters from search
  • Ewell, Thomas; proposed hospital of search
  • Ewell, Thomas; seeks federal appointment search
  • Georgetown, D.C.; proposed hospital for search
  • gunpowder; for Navy Department search
  • Hamilton, Paul (1762–1816); and T. Ewell search
  • health; pregnancy and childbirth search
  • hospitals; T. Ewell’s proposed search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; messages to Congress search
  • Jones, William (ca.1761–1831); as secretary of the navy search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and T. Ewell’s proposed hospital search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); mentioned search
  • mental illness; and T. Ewell’s proposed hospital search
  • Navy Department, U.S.; gunpowder for search
  • Ott, John search
  • slaves; medical treatment for search
  • Washington, D.C.; proposed hospitals for search