Thomas Jefferson Papers

Charles Cocke to Thomas Jefferson, 20 May 1822

From Charles Cocke

Charlottesville May 20th ’22.


I take the liberty of submitting to your examination the accompanying address to the people of Albemarle, with a request that you will decide the question started in the letter of my friend Mr Gordon, which you will herewith receive.

As soon as this paper was written, I laid it before a few of my friends, and the friends of the University, and desired them to say whether its publication could by any possibility prove detrimental to the interests of this institution—or to suggest such alterations, or omissions as would effectually guard against a consequence which no selfish considerations could justify me to myself, in bringing about—At their suggestion one or two trivial alterations were made, but none of the gentlemen seemed to apprehend any bad consequence to the University from the proposed publication—Mr Gordon’s letter, however, has not only brought me to weigh this subject more deliberately myself, but has also induced me to hold a second and more numerous council of my friends, to decide upon the propriety of giving this paper to the public—Among them there was found to be some diversity of opinion—I have therefore, determined to take the liberty of referring the question to your final decision—for which liberty I shall make no apology—perfectly assured that the deep interest you feel in the subject to which this question relates will prompt you without hesitation, to encounter any1 trouble which may be necessary to enable you to guard against danger, an enterprize which already owes so much to your fostering care—I am sure I need not ask you to lay aside all delicacy towards me in deciding this question—My first wish is the prosperity of this institution—my next is to vindicate myself from a censure which I feel I have not deserved.

May I ask you to favor me with as early an answer as will suit your convenience.

With the profoundest respect and regard Yr: Obt: Sert:

Ch: Cocke

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 6 June 1822 and so recorded in SJL.

Charles Cocke (ca. 1786–ca. 1863), physician, planter, and public official, was a native of Amelia County. He received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1806 with a thesis on the “Identity of Gout and Rheumatism.” Cocke relocated around 1815 to Albemarle County, where he built a large house at his Esmont estate in the southern part of the county. He subscribed $500 to Central College in 1817, joined the Agricultural Society of Albemarle the same year, and chaired some of its meetings thereafter. Cocke became a local magistrate in 1819. He held a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1821–22 and 1826–28, and the Senate of Virginia, 1830–35, 1839–40, and 1841–43. Cocke was founding president of the Albemarle County auxiliary of the American Colonization Society in 1825. He owned forty-two slaves in 1820 and thirty-four in 1840. Thereafter, Cocke lost much of his fortune, reportedly through speculation in Texas lands. By 1850 he owned no slaves, and he was listed in the census as a farmer with lands valued at $1,000. Cocke served as an Albemarle County sheriff the following year. He had moved to Nelson County by 1860, when his real estate and personal property were worth $30,000 and $500, respectively (“The Cocke Family of Virginia,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893–  description ends 4 [1897]: 438; DNA: RG 29, CS, Amelia Co., 1810, Albemarle Co., 1820, 1840, 1850, Nelson Co., 1860; Woods, Albemarle description begins Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia, 1901, repr. 1991 description ends , 169–70, 377, 380; University of Pennsylvania Medical Graduates description begins Catalogue of the Medical Graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, 1836 description ends , 16; Lay, Architecture description begins K. Edward Lay, The Architecture of Jefferson Country: Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia, 2000 description ends , 135; Central College Subscription List, [ca. 7 May 1817], document 4 in a group of documents on The Founding of the University of Virginia: Central College, 1816–1819, 5 May 1817; True, “Agricultural Society,” description begins Rodney H. True, “Minute Book of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1918 (1921), 1:261–349 description ends 269, 297, 302; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 31 Mar. 1825; JSV description begins Journal of the Senate of Virginia description ends [1829–30 sess.], 29 [8 Jan. 1830]; Nelson Co. Will Book, M:125).

The accompanying address was presumably a version of Cocke’s communication To the Freeholders of Albemarle (publication date uncertain; signed and dated Esmont, Apr. 1822; John H. Cocke’s copy in ViW), which vindicates his conduct in the Virginia House of Delegates; defends, on the grounds of both practicality and economy, his opposition to moving the state capital from Richmond to a western location; rebuts the charge that he could have done more for the University of Virginia; criticizes the lower house for harboring “violent antipathies” and “narrow-minded jealousies” against that institution and of containing “at least its usual quantum of ignorance and of prejudice” (p. 6); concedes the damage done by the “great, very great mistakes … in the estimates laid before the Legislature of the cost of this establishment” and the “continued cry of ‘more money,’ with a confession at the same time, that much less had been effected with that before given, than had been expected” (p. 10); states that little should have been expected at this time from the General Assembly; and describes TJ as “the Liberal Patron—the Enlightened Founder” of the school and “one who having devoted the splendid meridian of his life to the establishment of the liberties and independence of his country, is employing the serene evening of his days in securing the only means, by which these blessings can be perpetuated—the means of giving to his countrymen knowledge to understand and to appreciate their rights—and virtue to defend them” (p. 15).

Although the enclosed letter of my friend mr gordon has not been positively identified, an undated closing fragment of a letter signed by William F. Gordon, addressed to Cocke, and reading “evidence of my friendship for you, and intended in aid of those great questions in which we have a common concern. In haste. farewell  yr friend” is in MHi.

1Reworked from “the.”

Index Entries

  • Cocke, Charles; and University of Virginia search
  • Cocke, Charles; friendship with W. F. Gordon search
  • Cocke, Charles; identified search
  • Cocke, Charles; letter from search
  • Cocke, Charles; To the Freeholders of Albemarle search
  • Gordon, William Fitzhugh; friendship with C. Cocke search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Richmond, Va.; state capitol at search
  • To the Freeholders of Albemarle (C. Cocke) search
  • Virginia, University of; Administration and Financial Affairs; funding for search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; building costs search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; and General Assembly search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opposition to search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; TJ as founder of search
  • Virginia; House of Delegates search