Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey (1770–1857), 23 July 1821

To Charles Yancey (1770–1857)

Monticello July 23. 21.

Dear Sir

I duly recieved your favor of the 12th and chearfully undertook a compliance with your request. I now inclose the drawings you desired. every thing proposed in them is in the plainest style, and will be cheap altho’ requiring skill in the workmanship. without this it will be rendered barbarous in the execution. of one truth I have had great experience that ignorant workmen are always dearest. I cannot therefore but recommend to you to get the work undertaken by some of the workmen of our University: better work, or more faithful, in brick or wood, was never seen any where and our prices are reduced as low as they can live by. considering the Philadelphia printed price-book as the result of long competitions between workmen and employers, we notified, after the 1st year of our work, that these were the prices we should be governed by. our own workm[en] refused at first to undertake for less than from 15. to 40. percent on the Phi[ladelp]hia prices, because they had always had that extravagant set of prices. we therefor[e] procured workmen from Philadelphia, who undertook readily at the printed prices: and all our work, since the 1st year has been executed according to them, by which we have certainly saved 25. percent. for brickwork of the very best kind we give 10.D. the M out and out, not allowing a sammel brick or a ba[t] but where necessary, to be used, and grouting every course. these people will do your work understandingly, faithfully and quickly, and give you no trouble. indeed I would wish you to take a ride here; and I will with pleasure go with you to the University, and have every thing laid open to your information. there you may see and judge for yourself of these workmen & their work, and get valuable insight as to the work you are to contract for, and make your contrac[t] in a word by reference to the book for all prices, without higling or [a]ltercation1 either at the time of bargaining, or settling. you will see an establishmen[t] than which no country can shew a more beautiful one, nor one more economically executed. it’s whole expence when compleat may go to 200, or 220.M.D. I have heard that the Richmond court house has cost that sum. theirs is a single house; our’s is a town.

You will see that my plan of your Court house goes a little beyond the dimensions you proposed, but that not a single foot can be taken from it without injuring the convenience. if a good foundation can be got at the depth of 2.f. then the height from the bottom of that to the watertable will be 5.f. and making it so far 2. bricks thick, and a brick and a half upwards, the whole building, columns & all, will take 140,212. bricks accurately calculated and deducting openings. the walls then will cost 1402.D. and the rest of the work finished in the best manner, will according to the common rule of estimating cost the double of that, making a whole cost of 4206.D. out and out, or 42. cents a tythe i[n the?] county levy, supposing you have 10.M. tythes.

Yo[u will?] want 4. pr. of stone caps & bases for your columns. if you have good stone con[venient?] you can get a stone cutter here. if no stone convenient, they can be cut h[ere and?] [s]ent round by water to your nearest landing. the whole 4. pair will weigh about 7200 ℔, or one boat load. I would advise you to cover with tin instead of shingles. it is the lightest, & most durable cover in the world. we know that it will last 100. years, & how much more we do not know. the tin & putting on costs 15.D. a square, and we were asked here 10.D. a square for heart pine shingling. all our buildings except one are covered with tin. your roof will be about 37. or 38. squares.

I shall go to Bedford about the 8th of August, and wish you could come before that: if a later visit will be more convenient, my absence will be of a fortnight only, but my return will be to stay but a few days at home. I could write you notice from Lynchburg of my return and stay, but the surest would be for you to come before my departure. it is but a morning’s ride from Warminster to Monticello, where I will hope to see you. I salute you with great esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on reused address cover to TJ; edge trimmed; torn at seal, with some missing text rewritten by TJ; at foot of first page: “Colo Charles Yancey”; endorsed by TJ.

The drawings that TJ drafted at Yancey’s request for the Buckingham County courthouse were subsequently shared by Yancey with Henry Carrington and used in the construction of the Charlotte County courthouse. While this plan has not been found, it probably was based in whole or in part on an extant drawing by TJ to which the Charlotte County structure shows striking similarities. In 1869 a fire destroyed the Buckingham County courthouse largely built according to TJ’s design (TJ’s undated plan for a courthouse [MS in MHi; Nichols, Architectural Drawings description begins Frederick Doveton Nichols, Thomas Jefferson’s Architectural Drawings, 1961; 5th ed., 1984 description ends , 34 (nos. 23–4)]; William H. Cabell to TJ, 28 Dec. 1821; Delos Hughes, “The Charlotte County Courthouse: Attribution and Misattribution in Jefferson Studies,” Arris: Journal of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians 4 [1993]: 8–18; Craig A. Reynolds, “‘Presenting to Them Models for Their Imitation’: Thomas Jefferson’s Reform of American Architecture,” in Robert M. S. McDonald, ed., Light and Liberty: Thomas Jefferson and the Power of Knowledge [2012], 158–86).

The philadelphia printed price-book used to set wages for workmen constructing the University of Virginia was The House Carpenters’ Book of Prices, and Rules for measuring and valuing all their different kinds of work (Philadelphia, 1812; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 6 [no. 243]). Nelson Barksdale, the university’s former proctor, and TJ notified the public that this publication would be used to value work in their Advertisement for Workmen for the University of Virginia, [by 3 Mar. 1819].

sammel (also samel, sammen, or salmon) bricks are soft due to underheating in the kiln. A bat (brickbat) is a brick fragment “occasionally inserted into walls as closers or as makeups” (Carl R. Lounsbury, ed., An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape [1994; repr. 1999], 48, 49; OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Word faint.

Index Entries

  • architecture; TJ advises C. Yancey search
  • Barksdale, Nelson; Advertisement for Workmen for the University of Virginia search
  • books; of builders’ prices search
  • Buckingham County, Va.; new courthouse in search
  • building materials; bricks search
  • building materials; pine search
  • building materials; shingles search
  • building materials; stone search
  • building materials; tin search
  • Carrington, Henry; and Charlotte Co. courthouse search
  • Charlotte County, Va.; courthouse in search
  • drawings; architectural search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; workmen search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Advertisement for Workmen for the University of Virginia search
  • Philadelphia; builders’ prices in search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ plans visits to search
  • Richmond, Va.; courthouse in search
  • taxes; local search
  • The House Carpenters’ Book of Prices, and Rules for measuring and valuing all their different kinds of work; and wages at University of Virginia search
  • tin; roofs search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; building materials for search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; progress of search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; wages for workmen search
  • Yancey, Charles (1770–1857); and Buckingham Co. courthouse search
  • Yancey, Charles (1770–1857); letters to search
  • Yancey, Charles (1770–1857); TJ invites to Monticello search