Thomas Jefferson Letter, 1821

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 10:41am -- Redwood Staff

Did you know that the Redwood Library has not one, but two letters signed by Thomas Jefferson? In this one, we see Jefferson writing from his home at Monticello. According to the document, he had borrowed $1500 from a friend, and records his payments made, and what is still owed. It may not be well known, but during his lifetime Jefferson was notorious for living outside his means and incurring large debts. It was not really possible to declare bankruptcy in the eighteenth century, but Jefferson's reputation kept most of his collector's at bay. While debt was not unusual for Virginia planters at this time, Jefferson managed to amass a debt of $107,000 by the time of his death - somewhere between one and two million dollars in modern money. Of course Jefferson did not get all of his debt from living large; he inherited debt from his father-in-law, John Wayles when he died in 1774. Although Jefferson was wealthy in land and slaves, farming can be an unreliable source of income. He was also a major creditor himself, meaning some payments owed to him were also unreliable and inadequate. In 1818, Jefferson endorsed a $20,000 note for Wilson Cary Nicholas, who died two years later. Jefferson was forced to take on his friend's unpaid debt. Add on top of that, the financial panic of 1819, and it seems like maybe letters like this one weren't uncommon for Jefferson. 

 

“Dear Sir,                                                             Monticello Mar.5.21

                I am now enabled to give you an order on Capt. Peyton for 700 D. and to assure of the balance of my debt in July. Which will be 547.16 D with inherent from Mar.10. as you will see by the subjoined statement. I pray you to be assured that it has never been in my power to do more than I have done, and than what I still engage to do: and I have no doubt that your own experience proves to you that a farmer getting only 2.D. a barrel for his flour may be in default without being blameable. Accept the assurance of my great friendship & respect.

                                                                                                                                Thomas Jefferson

 

1817. Feb. 7 loan………………………………………………………………………………………………………1500 D

   Interest to Oct. 26, 1820………………………………………………………………………………………..334.36

 

                                                                                                                                                                   1834.36

1818 Dec.         1283 pork @ 8.5 D……………………………………………..109.05

1820 Apr. 15     Sow sold by E. Bacon ……………………………………………..5

         Oct 26       Order on B. Peyton………………………………………………..500

                                                                                                                                                                614.05

                        1821 Mar. 10 Int. from Oct. 26 to this date                            26. 85                                1220.31

                                                                                                                                                                 26.85

                                                                                                                                                          1247.16

                                     Order on B. Peyton now inclosed                                                                         700

                              Balance remaining due                                                                                              547.16"

                                                                                                                                               

 

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