Tag Archives: Virginia

20,000 letters but only one book …

… in the year 1781. I had received a letter from M. de Marbois, of the French legation in Philadelphia … addressing to me a number of queries relative to the state of Virginia. I had always made it a practice whenever an opportunity occurred of obtaining any information of our country, which might be of use to me in any station public or private, to commit it to writing. These memoranda were on loose papers, bundled up without order, and difficult of recurrence when I had occasion for a particular one. I thought this a good occasion to embody their substance, which I did in the order of Mr. Marbois’ queries, so as to answer his wish and to arrange them for my own use … On my arrival at Paris I found it could be done [printed in book form] for a fourth of what I had been asked here [in America]. I therefore corrected and enlarged them, and had 200. copies printed, under the title of Notes on Virginia.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders kill at least two birds with one stone.
Over the years, Jefferson collected a great quantity of material about his native Virginia, unorganized and difficult to access. This French inquiry gave him the opportunity to both gratify the request and bring order to his mess. The result was the only book Jefferson completed, Notes on Virginia. It came to be regarded as an authoritative scientific source, a third bird.

Primarily a compilation of natural history of Virginia, Jefferson answered 23 “Queries” on these topics: 1. Boundaries, 2. Rivers, 3. Sea Ports, 4. Mountains, 5. Cascades, 6. Productions, 7. Climate, 8. Population, 9. Military force, 10. Marine force, 11. Aborigines, 12. Counties and towns, 13. Constitution, 14. Laws, 15. Colleges, buildings and roads, 16. Proceedings as to Tories, 17. Religion, 18. Manners, 19. Manufactures, 20. Subjects of commerce, 21. Weights, Measures and Money, 22. Public revenue and expences, 23. Histories, memorials, and state papers


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The sheep are OK, but the potatoes will freeze.

Your favor of the 22d. has been duly received, and, in consequence of it, my manager Mr. Biddle now sets out for the sheep, as the approach of the yeaning [birthing] season leaves no time to spare as to them. I could have wished to have made one trip serve for them and the potatoes: but I am advised that the latter would be in danger of freezing on the road. I must therefore, as to them wait for milder weather.
To Archibald Stuart, January 26, 1794

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders are dependent upon the weather!
After the weightiness of the last three posts, on the vexing issue of slavery, let us turn to mundane matters at Monticello!
Stuart was a protégé, friend, lawyer, and fellow Virginian, of Staunton, some 40 miles west of Monticello, near the mountains. The two men stayed at one another’s homes on their travels.
Jefferson had resigned as Secretary of State on December 31. He was “Now settled at home as a farmer” and must have asked Stuart about buying sheep and potatoes. Stuart replied that he had both. Jefferson dispatched his manager to bring back the sheep before it was time for them to have their lambs. He regretted not being able to get everything he needed in a single trip, but he had been warned that the potatoes would freeze over the several day journey in January. The potatoes would have to wait until spring.

“Thank you for making our conference a resounding success.”
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

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Slavery: Respectfully, no! Proven leaders MUST lead. (Pt. 3 of 3)

… Your prayers I trust will not only be heard with indulgence in Heaven, but with influence on earth. But I cannot agree with you that they are the only weapons of one at your age, nor that the difficult work of cleansing the escutchion [defined area] of Virginia of the foul stain of slavery can best be done by the young. To effect so great and difficult an object great and extensive powers both of mind and influence are required, which can never be possessed in so great a degree by the young as by the old … It was under these impressions that I looked to you, my dear sir, as the first of our aged worthies, to awaken our fellow Citizens … by proposing a system for the gradual emancipation of our Slaves …
Edward Coles to Thomas Jefferson, September 26, 1814

 Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders of conviction won’t take no for an answer.
Coles had petitioned Jefferson to take the lead for emancipation in Virginia. Jefferson declined, claiming it was a battle for the young. The 29 year-old Coles was right back at the 71 year-old Jefferson, claiming just the opposite and explaining why.
Coles was effusive in his respect and appreciation for the elder statesman. Yet, he countered Jefferson’s advice to remain in Virginia, saying he wouldn’t leave to free his slaves in Illinois if he had any hope of securing their freedom in his native state. He had none.
Nor did he think those of his generation would stand against the popular tide in favor of slavery and see it through to emancipation. That task fell to those with proven powers of both mind and influence. Among those, he saw Jefferson as the person to take the lead.

He concluded by again apologizing for troubling Jefferson, thanking him for his kind expressions, and assuring him of his continued “respect and regard.”
But Coles got in a final parting shot, referencing Jefferson’s old friend, “Doctor [Benjamin] Franklin, to whom, by the way, Pennsylvania owes her early riddance of the evils of Slavery, was as actively and as usefully employed on as arduous duties after he had past your age as he had ever been at any period of his life.”

 “… you were just outstanding as Thomas Jefferson …
I have no idea how you pulled if off so well, but you certainly did.”

U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, Substantive Program Chair for the Judicial Conference

Thomas Jefferson stands ready to “pull it off” for your audience, too.
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Slavery: I am too old. This requires youth. (Pt. 2 of 3)

[My] sentiments … on the subject of slavery of negroes have long since been … [known], and time has only served to give them stronger root. The love of justice and the love of country plead equally the cause of these people, and it is a moral reproach to us that they should have pleaded it so long in vain …
Yet the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come …
I am sensible of the partialities with which you have looked towards me as the person who should undertake this salutary but arduous work … This enterprise is for the young; for those who can follow it up, and bear it through to its consummation. It shall have all my prayers, & these are the only weapons of an old man …

I hope then, my dear sir, you will … [remain in Virginia and] become the missionary of this doctrine truly Christian … It is an encouraging observation that no good measure was ever proposed, which, if duly pursued, failed to prevail in the end … And you will be supported by the religious precept, “be not weary in well-doing.”
To Edward Coles, August 24, 1814

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Old leaders may defer to young ones to see a matter through to completion.
The first post in this series was Coles’ letter to Jefferson. This is Jefferson’s reply. The final post will be Coles’ follow-up letter.
Jefferson replied promptly to Coles, who urged him to take the lead in the effort to abolish slavery. He honored Cole’s “head and heart,” and joined him in the reproach slavery was to its victims, their owners and the nation. Yet, he declined Cole’s invitation.
Jefferson traced Virginia’s attitude toward slaves.  Every legislative effort toward improving their condition had been ignored, rebuffed or denounced. Over time, the slaves’ “degraded condition” affected whites’ attitude toward them and their own ability to care for themselves. They became “pests in society by their idleness.” He strongly opposed “amalgamation,” sexual contact between the races and the mixed-race children it produced.
By 1814, there was still no popular sentiment for emancipation. Jefferson had suggested freedom and an education for those born after a certain date, and then relocation outside America. That would gradually bring slavery to an end. Until then, it was a slaveowner’s responsibility “to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen.”
He disagreed with Coles’ decision to leave Virginia. He wanted the young man’s anti-slavery passion applied at home. He closed his letter affirming his “great friendship and respect.”

Clearly the visits with President Jefferson and Captain Clark
have set the standard for future conferences.”
Indiana Historical Society, Director of Education

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How long does it take to get from Paris to Norfolk, VA?

On the 26th. of Sep. [1789] I left Paris for Havre, where I was detained by contrary winds until the 8th. of Oct. On that day, and the 9th. I crossed over to Cowes, where I had engaged the Clermont, Capt. Colley, to touch for me. She did so, but here again we were detained by contrary winds until the 22d. when we embarked and landed at Norfolk on the 23d. of November.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders are subject to Mother nature! (Some things can’t be hurried.)
Jefferson was America’s ambassador to France for five years. He came home in 1789, to return his two daughters to their native country and attend to business matters before returning to France. That return never happened (to be the subject of another post), but this is a firsthand account of international travel in the 18th century.

He left Paris on September 26, traveling northwest four days by carriage, about 140 miles, to the seaport of Havre on the north coast of France. At Havre, he waited 10 more days for favorable winds to sail west to England. That jaunt took 26 hours to cross 100 miles of the English Channel to Cowes on the Isle of Wright, off the south coast of England. “Boisterous navigation and mortal sickness,” Jefferson wrote of that portion of the trip home. (Jefferson and the Rights of Man, Malone, P. 236) There he waited 13 more days, again for favorable winds. Crossing the Atlantic took 32 days.

I wondered what his phrase “to touch for me” meant. The 19th entry for the word “touch” in Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary is “to make a brief or incidental stop on shore during a trip by water.” Jefferson had arranged his journey in advance. Part of this careful man’s planning included having the Clermont make a brief stop at Cowes to pick him up.

It took 58 days total to get from Paris to Norfolk, VA. Orbitz doesn’t show a direct flight for this route, but it does have one from Paris to New York, about the same distance. That one takes 8 ½ hours. 

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I just want you to know …

Very early in the course of my researches into the laws of Virginia, I observed that many of them were already lost, and many more on the point of being lost, as existing only in single copies …
This leads us then to the only means of preserving those remains of our laws now under consideration, that is, a multiplication of printed copies. I think therefore that there should be printed at public expense, an edition of all the laws ever passed by our legislatures which can now be found; that a copy should be deposited in every public library in America, in the principal public offices within the State, and some perhaps in the most distinguished public libraries of Europe, and that the rest should be sold to individuals, towards reimbursing the expences of the edition …
To George Wythe, January 16, 1796

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders appreciate a government of laws, not of men.
George Wythe was Jefferson’ mentor and friend, directed his study to become a lawyer, and was a co-signer of the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, Jefferson devoted himself to a revision of the laws of Virginia, many which existed only as a single copy. Other laws, he feared, were lost forever. To combat this, he proposed printing at public expense “all the laws every passed by our legislatures,” a work that might be contained in four volumes.
This was practical, not just some academic exercise. He wanted that work placed in every public library in the nation, in Virginia’s public offices, even in the best libraries of Europe. In other words, he wanted the laws to be distributed as widely as possible, accessible by all.
Ever conservative about public expenditures, some of the printing cost might be recaptured by selling copies, too.

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