Tag Archives: Marriage

Does a family compromise your value to society?

You mention in your letter that you are proceeding with your family to Fort Massac. this informs me that you have a family, & I sincerely congratulate you on it. while some may think it will render you less active in the service of the world, those who take a sincere interest in your personal happiness, and who know that by a law of our nature we cannot be happy without the endearing connections of a family, will rejoice for your sake as I do.
To William Clark, September 10, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders with strong family connections make for happy leaders.
Clark wrote Jefferson in June, 1808, but the letter took 13 months to reach its destination. That letter mentioned the skin of a Rocky mountain sheep and a blanket manufactured by the Indians that he had already sent to Jefferson and three boxes of bones yet to come. The latter he would deliver to Fort Massac, Illinois country, on the Ohio River, for shipment through New Orleans and on to Virginia, when he moved his family from Louisville to St. Louis. Two months later, the former President wrote his thanks for the sheep skin and blanket he had received and the bones that had not yet arrived. (See “Enclosure” for a description of the bones.)

The last Jefferson knew, William Clark was single. Now he learned that Clark would be traveling with his family to St. Louis to take up his new duties there. Jefferson was delighted to learn that his accomplished explorer was now a family man! (The 37 year-old Clark had married 17 year-old Julia Hancock in January, 1808. A year later, they named their firstborn son, Meriwether Lewis Clark.)

Jefferson disagreed with those who claimed family responsibilities made one less capable of public service. Citing his desire for Clark’s “personal happiness” coupled with “a law of our nature” that family connections were essential to that happiness, he congratulated the new husband and father. Those connections would make him a happier … and better … leader.

“…your command of Mr. Jefferson’s persona and mind,
and your facility
in answering complex questions were impressive.”
Chairman, Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Committee, St. Louis
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Why sell a slave? I want to buy more.

Being now endeavoring to purchase young & able negro men for my own works, it is exactly counter to these views to sell Brown to you as proposed in your letter. however, always willing to indulge connections seriously formed by those people where it can be done reasonably, I shall consent, however reluctantly to sell him to you.
To John Jordan, December 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Humane leaders care for the personal lives of those in their employ.
John Jordan was a bricklayer hired to work at Monticello. Brown Colbert, one of Jefferson’s slaves (or servants, as he called them) was married to one of Jordan’s slaves. Jordan was preparing to move away. Brown wanted Jordan to buy him from Jefferson, so he wouldn’t be separated from his wife. Jordan wrote to Jefferson, asking if he would sell Brown and at what price.

Jefferson was in the market to buy more slaves. Brown was young, of good character and a skilled blacksmith. Jefferson was most reluctant to part with him. But he was even more reluctant to separate the married couple. Young, unskilled slaves of good character would bring $500. Jefferson asked an additional $100 for Brown, citing his training.

Subsequently, Jordan declined the purchase because of the higher price, as he could make no use of Brown’s blacksmithing skill. Jefferson then agreed to the sale for $500.

According to Monticello’s web site, Brown Colbert remained with Jordan until a colonization society purchased his family’s freedom. The Colbert family emigrated to Liberia, Africa, in 1833 where they all died of disease within a few months.

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In the face of great unpleasantness …

when we see ourselves in a situation which must be endured & gone through, it is best to make up our minds to it, meet it with firmness, & accomodate every thing to it in the best way practicable. this lessens the evil. while fretting & fuming only serves to increase our own torment. the errors and misfortunes of others should be a school for our own instruction.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes, January 7, 1798

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders benefit from having this ability.
Mary Eppes was Jefferson’s younger daughter, married just three months earlier. In a letter full of advice on how to maintain marital harmony, he began with the distressing news of his sister, Mary, whose husband of nearly 40 years was in a state of “habitual intoxication.” She was very impatient with him. Not only might that impatience compel her husband to continue drinking, it made her even more miserable.

With that backdrop, Jefferson counseled his daughter to meet unpleasantness with firmness and a determination to make the best of the situation. “This lessens the evil” while worry and anger only “increase our own torment.” He advised her to learn from “the errors and misfortunes of others,” rather than be sucked into their consequences.

“I am still receiving phone calls and notes from title people
all over the state telling me what a wonderful job you did …”

Missouri Land Title Association
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