Tag Archives: Maria Jefferson
Not knowing the time destined for your expected indisposition, I am anxious on your account. you are prepared to meet it with courage I hope. some female friend of your Mama’s (I forget who) used to say it was no more than a knock of the elbow. the material thing is to have scientific aid in readiness, that if any thing uncommon takes place, it may be redressed on the spot, and not be made serious by delay. it is a case which least of all will wait for Doctors to be sent for. therefore, with this single precaution, nothing is ever to be feared.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes, December 26, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Confident leaders can still be anxious fathers.
Mary Eppes, known as Maria, was the President’s younger daughter. She was one of two Jefferson children who survived childhood, which had claimed four others.
The “expected indisposition” referenced was the upcoming delivery of her third child. Her first son, born in 1800, lived only a few days. Her second son, Francis, was now 27 months old. Like her mother who died of childbirth complications in 1782, Maria was not a strong, healthy woman. She had suffered considerably after the birth of her first two children.
Very rarely did Jefferson refer to his long deceased wife Martha, but he did so here. No doubt wanting to lesson Maria’s anxiety, and probably his own, he relayed a comment of a friend of his wife’s that childbirth “was no more than a knock of the elbow.” Even so, he urged his daughter “to have scientific aid in readiness,” i.e. a doctor. The onset of labor would provide time to summon the doctor so any help could be rendered immediately. A knock or not, with this precaution, Maria had nothing to fear.
Time would tell that both daughter and father had plenty to fear.
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… I have had the inexpressible misfortune to lose my younger daughter, who has left me two grandchildren, & my elder one has such poor health, that I have little confidence in her life. she has 6 children. determined as I am to retire at the end of 4 years, I know not if I shall have a family to retire to. I must learn philosophy from you, & seek in a family of plants, that occupation & delight which you have so fortunately found in them …
To Madam de Tesse′, March 10, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What private fears do our leaders labor under?
de Tesse′ was the aunt of the French hero of the American revolution, Marquis de Lafayette. She was an accomplished woman and became friends with Jefferson during his service in France in the mid-late 1780s. The two shared a strong interest in horticulture, exchanging plants and seeds for years. All the rest of this letter pertained to that subject. At the end came this surprisingly personal and unusual observation.
Jefferson’s daughter Maria died the year before, leaving his firstborn Martha as the only surviving child of the six born to him and his late wife. Martha was well-educated and capable. Her husband was not an emotionally stable man, and the responsibility for managing the family and estate (and some of her father’s estate, Monticello) fell on her. Everything I have read about Martha has given the impression that she inherited her father’s genes for good health and long life. Here, her already grieving father feared for her life, too. Jefferson confided that his love of plants might be the only the only family he had left when his Presidency ended four years hence.
His fears were unfounded. Martha outlived her father and presented him with 12 grandchildren, 11 who survived him.
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I recieved yesterday mr Eppes’s [Maria’s husband] letter of the 12th. informing me you had got safely to Eppington, & would set out tomorrow at furthest for Monticello … I now write to mr Craven to furnish you all the supplies of the table which his farm affords … liquors have been forwarded & have arrived with some loss. I insist that you command & use every thing as if I were with you, & shall be very uneasy if you do not … in the mean time take what is wanting from any of the stores with which I deal, on my account … I shall join you between the 2d. & 7th. [of August] more probably not till the 7th … I am looking forward with great impatience to the moment when we can all be joined at Monticello, and hope we shall never again know so long a separation …
To Maria Jefferson Eppes, July 16, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Fatherhood occasionally trumps being a leader. And should!
Jefferson had been extremely anxious about his pregnant younger daughter. He received reports about her from her husband and had written to her but received no replies. He had been urging her for some time to get to Monticello, where her baby would be born. Finally, she was on the way there!
He asked a farmer to supply their food. He commanded (!) her to use whatever she wanted at Monticello and to buy whatever was lacking and charge it to him. His little girl would not go without!
Maria’s first child, a son born a year and a half earlier, lived only three days. This child, born two months after this letter, was named Francis Wayles Eppes and lived to be nearly 80. A girl born in 1804 would be their third, but she would live only a month. Maria, frail like her mother, would succumb two months later.
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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.
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