Tag Archives: Death

Cash out & in, 1804, plus sad news

Jan. 1                   Gave in charity 5.D. [$5]. …
Feb. 13                 Paid for 13. glass pens 2.43 3/4. …
Mar. 28                Sent Mrs. Madison for a mantua [lady’s dress] maker 3.50. …
Apr. 3                   Culpepper C.H. [Court House] oats & etc. .58.   barber .50…
May 13                 Thomas Shields for finding pistol   .1.D…
June 7                  Gibson & Jefferson have sold my tobo [tobacco]… 1267.D.
July 20                 Pd. S.H. Smith for newspapers 10.D. …
Aug. 30                Pd. shoeing horses at Mr. Madison’s 1. …
Sept. 14                Recd. of J. Barnes 500.D. …
Oct. 31                  Tooth pick case 1.75. …
Nov. 13                 Paid at the races 1.D. …
Dec. 10                 Recd. back from Jos. Daugherty 3.50 overpaid [for] contingencies.
Memorandum Books, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Careful leaders keep a record. (They should also keep a balance.)
The link above lists all of Jefferson’s expenditures and receipts for 1804. I excerpted one entry from the 50 or so listed for each month. These are not meant to be representative but to illustrate a variety of money coming and going.

Mr. Jefferson was an avid list maker. He would have jotted these amounts day-by-day during the year and summarized them all at year’s end. I have read (but cannot verify) that while he kept a careful record of every expense, he never struck a total at the end of the month or year, never a profit or loss statement, never an accounting of his net worth. Had he done so, he might have been more aware that his general financial health was slowly deteriorating through the years. He died deeply in debt.

Not all entries concerned money. On April 17, after recording a payment of $156.67 for corn, he also noted, ” This morning between 8. & 9. aclock my dear daughter Maria Eppes died.”

“Patrick Lee … as Thomas Jefferson … is obviously a very talented person
and did a great job of putting our regulatory burden in perspective.”
President & CEO, Citizens National Bank
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The only medicine works slowly and not very effectively.

Being about to embark for Europe, (induced to change the Scenes which Surround me, from a recent melancholy Event having rendered them peculiarly distressing) …
William Bingham to Thomas Jefferson, July 25, 1801

I had before felt a sincere concern for the circumstance which has made you wish for a change of scene, having myself … learnt from experience the indelible effects of such a loss. time is the only medicine & but an imperfect one.
To William Bingham, July 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know recovery comes only with time.
Bingham’s “melancholy event” was the death two months earlier of his wife and the mother of their three children. He was leaving for Europe to escape surroundings that reminded him of her.

Jefferson knew what Bingham was experiencing. His wife Martha died in 1783. Time was his only medicine then, as it would be Bingham’s.

A change of scenery can help, though. It was through the action of his friends that Jefferson became a minister to France after Martha’s death. His recovery continued there, probably faster than it would have come if he remained at Monticello.

There is a delightful letter from the late Anne Willing Bingham to Minister Jefferson in Paris in 1787. She acknowledged his position that “many of the fashionable pursuits of the Parisian Ladies” made them trivial in his sight. She countered very good-naturedly that he had ignored their good qualities and proceeded to enlighten him.

“It was a pleasure to have you perform as Thomas Jefferson …
[You] set just the right historical sense of place
to match our convention theme,
The Journey Ahead.

Executive Director, Association of Partners for Public Lands
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Can tragedy resurrect a leader?

Mrs Jefferson has added another daughter to our family. She has been ever since & still continues very dangerously ill. It will give me great pleasure to see you here whenever you can favor us with your company. You will find me still busy but in lighter occupations. But in these & all others you will find me to retain a due sense of your friendship & to be with sincere esteem, Dr Sir
Your mo ob & mo hble servt.
To James Monroe, May 20, 1782

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson was born 12 days before this letter. That was Martha Jefferson’s 7th pregnancy in 15 years. She was widowed with a young son when she and Jefferson began courting. That child died the summer before she-remarried. She bore six children to Thomas during their 10 year marriage.

Little is known about Martha, but she was an intelligent and resourceful woman. She was not physically strong and recovery from her pregnancies was difficult. She did not recover from Lucy’s birth and died four months later.

Jefferson was inconsolable for weeks in his grief. Toward the end of the year, his friends helped him escape Monticello by renewing his appointment to the team negotiating peace with England. That position wasn’t realized, but Jefferson was elected to Congress the next year and sent as minister to France in 1784.

Martha’s death set in motion the events that would draw Jefferson back onto the public stage for the next nine years. Would he have remained retired and content at Monticello had Martha not died? Anybody’s guess.

Lucy Elizabeth would die two and a half years later.

“Thank you so much for the great job you did as Thomas Jefferson.”
Missouri Mappers Association
Mr. Jefferson will do a great job for your audience, too!
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The living don’t deserve it. The dead can’t deny it.

… I agree with you entirely, in condemning the mania of giving names to objects of any kind after persons still living. Death alone can seal the title of any man to this honor, by putting it out of his power to forfeit it ..
To Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 2014

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Living leaders don’t deserve permanent honor.
A month before, Rush wrote to Jefferson about a means of honoring distinguished citizens. He pointed out the Constitution prohibited bestowing honorary titles and many citizens opposed pensions for public service. What was left? “It consists in calling States, Counties, towns, Forts, and Ships of War by the names of men who have deserved well of their Country.” Not only was the method “cheap,” it could “stimulate to greater exploits of patriotism.”
There was a limitation to Rush’s suggestion. No living person should be memorialized in this manner. Jefferson concurred. Only death positioned one for such honor. Besides, a dead person couldn’t refuse it.

“Your dramatic characterizations … a format that was exciting, thought provoking
and, at the same time, very accessible.”
Program Coodinator, The Smithsonian Associates
, Washington, D.C.

Exciting. Thought provoking. Accessible.
That’s Thomas Jefferson!
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On the death of a child

I lament to learn that a like misfortune has enabled you to estimate the afflictions of a father on the loss of a beloved child. However terrible the possibility of such another accident, it is still a blessing for you of inestimable value that you would not even then descend childless to the grave. Three sons, and hopeful ones too, are a rich treasure. I rejoice when I hear of young men of virtue and talents, worthy to receive, and likely to preserve the splendid inheritance of self-government, which we have acquired and shaped for them.
To John Tyler, June 18, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This leader desperately needed the good health of his only remaining child.
This excerpt to the father of a future President is also from the letter featured in the June 5 post, on freedom of the press. This one is on a sadder subject, for both men.
Tyler’s eldest child of eight, daughter Anne, had died the year before at age 25. Just two months before writing this letter, Jefferson’s younger daughter died, 26 year-old Maria. (Four other Jefferson children died very young, leaving only Martha and Maria surviving to adulthood.) The first sentence of this post staked out common ground shared by two grieving fathers.

The second sentence contemplates something worse, the death of another child. Tragic should that happen, John Tyler would still have six living children. Jefferson called that a blessing “of inestimable value.” Should that fate strike him and take his firstborn Martha, he would “descend childless to the grave.” It was something Jefferson feared.


That second sad fate struck neither man. Tyler’s seven remaining children and Jefferson’s Martha all outlived their fathers.


Interesting to note, too, is the “rich treasure” Tyler had in three sons. Jefferson’s only son died within days of birth. His name is unknown.

“…Jefferson was inspiring and was very appropriate for our audience of leaders …
You were a tremendous hit!”
Executive Director, Missouri School Boards Association

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Out of a death came a new future

It [your letter which arrived October 17] found me a little emerging from the stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as she was whose loss occasioned it. Your letter recalled to my memory that there were persons still living of much value to me …
Before that event my scheme of life had been determined. I had folded myself in the arms of retirement, and rested all prospects of future happiness on domestic & literary objects. A single event wiped away all my plans and left me a blank which I had not the spirits to fill up. In this state of mind an appointment from Congress found me, requiring me to cross the Atlantic…

To The Marquis de Chastellux, November 26, 1782

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Great tragedy can destroy leaders … or make them greater.

This French scholar and officer visited Monticello in the spring of 1782 shortly before Martha Jefferson gave birth to Lucy Elizabeth on May 8. This was Martha’s seventh childbirth, and she never recovered from the toll. She died on September 6, shortly before her 34th birthday. Her husband suffered an emotional breakdown and was disconsolate for weeks. Chastellux’s letter helped pull Jefferson out of his stupor.

Although his plans to remain retired among his family, farms and books “had been determined,” her death wiped his future clear. His friends in Congress, hoping to re-energize him, appointed his as a commissioner to help negotiate the final peace settlement with England. For several reasons, it would be almost two years before Jefferson sailed for Europe on a different diplomatic mission.


If Martha had lived, Jefferson might have remained content for the rest of his life in a relatively private world atop his little mountain.

“Your portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was riveting.
What a wonderful thing to be learning history and at the same time be so entertained.”
Executive Director, Illinois Court Reporters Association
Your audience can be taught, inspired, encouraged … AND entertained!
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