I recieved yesterday from the Master Commissioner Ladd a notification in the suit of Gilliam v. Fleming to attend at his office on the 1st of Aug. … our meeting whenever it takes place should be rendered effectual & final, by the attendance of all material persons …. I have therefore proposed to mr Ladd to change the day to one in the healthy season, say in October after the frosts will have set in …
To Skelton Jones, June 25, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Practical leaders avoid ineffectual meetings.
The lawsuit referenced arose from the 1770 death of Bathurst Skelton, the first husband of Jefferson’s wife, Martha. The issues were complicated and irrelevant here. What was relevant was that the matter had been contested for nearly 35 years, and Jefferson wanted it settled before his heirs, who knew nothing of the details, could be dragged into the prolonged fight.
The proposed date for the hearing was August 1 in the tidewater region of Virginia, a time of the year prone to outbreaks of the deadly yellow fever. Anyone who could fled inland for August and September to avoid the scourge. That meant some of the parties to the case would not attend.
He was eager to settle the case but had no interest in attending a meeting where a final result could not be reached. He proposed a later day, “say in October after the frosts will have set in.” At that time, everyone would be available and the issues could be finally resolved.
(The spread of yellow fever by virus-carrying mosquitoes would not be discovered until after Jefferson’s lifetime. They did know the disease was worst in late summer in swampy areas affected by changing tides. Fall frosts killed the mosquitoes and the scourge would end for another year.)