When I saw you at court I requested you would not meddle with any grounds without the 8. fields of Shadwell till we should settle our difference as to Lego. yet in my ride to-day I percieve you have ploughed a considerable piece of ground outside of those fields. if we cannot settle this question between ourselves, or by disinterested neighbors, I shall not decline the umpirage of the law, although an amicable one would be more acceptable. indeed it would be very contrary to my wishes that force should be introduced between you & me, yet I must say that I will not let my property be taken without any consent on my part. I must therefore declare that if you enter on the tract of Lego for the purpose of cultivation before we settle our question, I shall consider it as an act of force, and will meet it with force.
To Eli Alexander, January 17, 1810
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even the most patient leaders can be pushed too far.
Shadwell was the plantation near Monticello where Jefferson was born. Lego plantation adjoined Shadwell. Jefferson had leased parts of Shadwell to Alexander. That written lease also allowed for limited farming on Lego under very specific conditions. Alexander had not met his obligations at Shadwell and had encroached on Lego.
The two men had met face-to-face about the issue. Jefferson had also written Alexander the month before, reminding him of the lease terms and itemizing the infractions. In what appeared to be a generous gesture, Jefferson offered very favorable terms if Alexander would only do what he had already agreed. If not, he would seek arbitration.
A horse ride of this date proved that Alexander had ignored their conversation and Jefferson’s follow-up letter. The latter still wanted a peaceful accommodation, but he would not let his lands be sued without permission. If that meant going to court, which Jefferson hated, so be it.
Jefferson’s bark was worse than his bite. A review of all the correspondence between these men, including the last letter from Jefferson three years later, indicates he was still trying to get some measure of satisfaction from his careless tenant.