Messrs. Gibson & Jefferson having had my tobacco in their hands for sale a considerable time, I have been in the constant expectation of sending you an order on them for one thousand dollars … by a late letter from them I find they have not yet been able to sell for a reasonable price. the object of the present is therefore merely to assure you that so soon as they shall have sold the tobacco I shall forward you such an order on them.
Thomas Jefferson to James Lyle, June 3, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders have their blind spots.
Wheat and tobacco were the only cash crops available to most Virginia farmers. Jefferson would transport his tobacco to Richmond, with instructions to his business agents, Gibson & Jefferson, on when to sell it and for what price.
Perhaps it was his unrelenting financial pressures that regularly caused Jefferson to over-estimate the size of his crops and the price they would command. He was continually on the spot to pay his debts from the sale of tobacco. In this excerpt, he was unable to honor a commitment to pay $1,000 toward a debt to an old friend because his tobacco hadn’t sold at what Jefferson considered “a reasonable price.” He promised to pay as soon as it sold.
There is some indication that payment had been due for several years. Nearly seven months later, Lyle, himself in financial distress, still had not received the money owed him.