Be pleased to send two tons of nailrod …
I am sorry to be obliged to make complaint to you. my manager desired me to do last spring or fall, but I let it go by in hopes the ground of his complaint was temporary. he sais that for a twelvemonth past there has been an extraordinary proportion of the short & flawy pieces of rod, which cannot be used at all … I have thought it due to you as well as myself to hand this complaint on to you, as your people might carry on this abuse to your prejudice & without your knolege.
To Messrs. Jones & Howell, August 23, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Avoiding confrontation is a leader’s loss.
Jefferson regularly purchased “nailrod,” long thin lengths of iron, which slave boys turned into nails for sale and for use at Monticello. Jones and Howell were Philadelphia iron merchants who allowed Jefferson to buy on credit.
Jefferson’s nailery manager had been telling him for a year of a marked decrease in quality of nailrod. In some 50 lb. bundles, 12-15 lbs. were worthless. In all bundles, there were at least 5 – 6 lbs. of waste.
Jefferson hated direct confrontation with anyone, so he had delayed acting on his manager’s complaint, hoping the problem was temporary. Now, when it was time to order more, he had to address the problem. Even so, he extended the merchants a courtesy, suggesting the problem was not theirs personally but one concealed by their subordinates.
The President showed his confidence in the merchants by ordering more nailrod and promising payment soon of $253.33 for rod received in May. He made no deduction for the worthless rod (10-20% the total) that had already been shipped to him.