Tag Archives: Absentee landowners


… as a farmer and friend [I] ask your aid & counsel, in the helpless situation in which I am as to my own affairs. mr Lilly, my manager at Monticello has hitherto been on wages of £ 50. a year, and £ 10. additional for the nailing. he now writes me he cannot stay after the present year for less than £ 100. certainly I never can have a manager who better fulfills all my objects, altho’ he can neither write nor read. yet from £ 60. to £ 100. is such a jump as I am unwilling to take if I can find another, equal to such trusts during my absence … do you know any body equal to them, who could be had for Lilly’s present wages? …
Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Cary Nicholas, June 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Professional responsibilities directly hinder a leader’s personal ones.
Nicholas (1761-1820) was a close personal friend and political ally. Jefferson asked his help in finding another overseer for Monticello. Since he was away in Washington most of each year, he needed a capable person in that position.

His current manager, Gabriel Lilly, insisted on a pay increase from his current 60 pounds per year to 100, roughly a $200 increase in 1805. The previous post highlighted one of Jefferson’s financial woes, this one, another. The illiterate Lilly was competent in his responsibilities, though Jefferson had warned him about his harsh treatment of slaves. The financially strapped President was desperate to control some of his expenses. (There is no indication he reined in expenditures on his personal interests: Ongoing work on his home, books, wine, food, gifts for family and friends, donations to favored causes.) Lilly did not get his raise and left Monticello.

In 1815, Nicholas’ daughter would marry Jefferson’s grandson. In 1819, Nicholas’ land speculations collapsed and a $20,000 debt would fall on the co-signer of his note, Thomas Jefferson. That ended his hopes of ever getting out of debt.

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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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