Personality Profile - Jefferson's Family

"The Affections of a Family Fireside"

In response to a friend's congratulations on his election to the presidency, Jefferson remarked that the "the heart would be happier enjoying the affections of a family Martha Carr, Martha Jefferson Randolph, and Meriwether Lewis Randolphfireside." After his retirement to Monticello in 1809, Jefferson spent the remainder of his life in the midst of his immediate and extended family.

Additional information is provided below about the following family members:

Pictured (clockwise from top): Martha Carr, Martha Jefferson Randolph, and Meriwether Lewis Randolph

"Time Wastes Too Fast": Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

Before her death in September of 1782, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson copied the following lines from Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy:

Time wastes too fast: every letter
I trace tells me with what rapidity
life follows my pen. The days and hours
of it are flying over our heads like
clouds of windy day never to return--
more. Every thing presses on--

One of just four documents in Martha's hand known to survive, this incomplete quotation was completed by Jefferson, transforming the passage into a poignant dialogue between husband and wife:

and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation
which we are shortly to make!

Martha's frail health had been a constant concern to Jefferson. During their first year of marriage, a family physician, Dr. George Gilmer, recorded visiting Martha nearly once a month. Periodic lapses in her household account book entries -- sometimes for several months -- may be due to illness. She suffered a bout with smallpox and appears to have had difficult pregnancies. Ultimately, complications from childbirth caused her death.

No portraits of Martha Jefferson survive, but by all accounts she was attractive, gentle, amiable, musically talented, and managed a well-organized household. Like other plantation mistresses, she played an important role in supervising the estate's operations. Her skills included a knowledge of cooking, sewing, spinning, weaving, brewing, raising fowl, dairying, food preservation, music, educating children, and caring for the sick.

After Martha's death, Jefferson wrote to his wife's sister Elizabeth Wayles Eppes that "All my plans of comfort and happiness were reversed by a single event...."

"His Constant Companion"

Martha Jefferson RandolphMartha Jefferson Randolph was only ten years old when her mother died and recalled that her father took long horseback rides to ease his grief. On these rambles through the woods, "Patsy," as Jefferson called her, described herself as his "constant companion."

In many ways, Patsy would continue to fulfill this role as companion throughout her father's life; as a teenage girl she accompanied him to Paris while he served as minister plenipotentiary to France, and as an adult she served as his hostess at the President's House in Washington, DC. Following her father's retirement to Monticello, she and her husband lived with him there, and she took on the responsibility of supervising the domestic activities of the plantation. Jefferson later called her "the cherished companion of my early life, and nurse of my age."

"The Favorite of Everyone"

Martha's sister Maria, called Polly as a child, was sent to stay with her aunt, Elizabeth Wayles Eppes, following her mother's death. Polly became very attached to the family at Eppington, and when Jefferson arranged for the eight-year-old to join him and Martha in Paris, she wrote, "I don't want to go to France, I had rather stay with Aunt Eppes." Upon her arrival in England, Polly lived briefly with Abigail and John Adams, who were so charmed by the little girl that Mrs. Adams wrote to Jefferson that "she was the favorite of everyone in the house."

In 1797, Maria married her cousin, John Wayles Eppes, and returned to live at Eppington. Like her mother, Maria suffered from poor health; she died at the age of twenty-five. After her death, which followed the death in infancy of three sisters and a brother?, the grieving Jefferson wrote his friend John Page that "I...have lost even the half of what I had. My evening prospects now hang on the slender thread of a single life. Perhaps I may be destined to see even this last chord of parental affection broken!"

Aunts Carr and Marks

Silhouette of Martha Jefferson CarrOf Jefferson's six sisters, one moved to Kentucky, and two died before reaching the age of thirty. His other three sisters and his only brother lived near enough to visit Monticello often. Of these, both Martha Jefferson Carr and Anna Jefferson Marks became occasional residents. Martha Jefferson Carr's husband Dabney had been one of Jefferson's closest friends and the Carr marriage impressed the young Jefferson, who wrote, ". . . in a very small house, with a table, half a dozen chairs, and one or two servants. . . [Dabney] is the happiest man in the universe." After Dabney Carr's death in 1773, Jefferson took an active role in the support and education of his nephews.

When they were visiting Monticello, "Aunt Carr" and "Aunt Marks" must have been a great help to Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, who was raising eleven children. For Jefferson's grandchildren, however, the constant attention of well-meaning aunts could be overwhelming at times. Mary once wrote her sister Virginia, "[Aunt Marks] would not let me drink my tea without her advice" and their brother Ben echoed the sentiment, exclaiming "I wish Aunt Marks would let me alone...!"

The Randolph Children Grow Up

Martha and Thomas Mann Randolph's children grew up to lead varied and sometimes difficult lives. Their oldest daughter, Anne Cary (1791-1826; pictured at right), was Sihouette of Anne Cary Randolphdoted upon by her grandfather, who wrote of her as a toddler that "even Socrates might ride on a stick with her without being ridiculous." As a teenager, she accompanied her mother to Washington during Jefferson's presidency. Anne and her grandfather shared a love of gardening and after she married Charles Bankhead in 1808 and moved to Carleton, on the western slope of Monticello, Jefferson wrote to her, "What is to become of our flowers?" Anne's marriage, unfortunately, proved to be a troubled one and was a source of much anxiety for the entire family. She died at the age of thirty-five, shortly after the birth of her fourth child.

Thomas Jefferson RandolphAnne's brother Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792-1875; pictured below), called "Jefferson," studied at the University of Pennsylvania between 1808 and 1809 where he boarded with the artist Charles Willson Peale. Jefferson completed his studies in Richmond and later married Jane Hollins Nicholas. The couple moved to the nearby farm of Tufton in 1817. Jefferson bore the primary burden of settling the $107,000 debt left by his grandfather. His younger brothers James Madison Randolph (1806-1834) and Benjamin Franklin Randolph (1808-1871) eventually attended the University of Virginia, which had been founded by their grandfather, calling its establishment "the hobby of my old age."

Ellen Wayles (1796-1876) was in many ways the intellectual heir of her grandfather, and Jefferson once commented that "Ellen and Cornelia are the severest of the students I have ever met with. They never leave their room but to come to meals." Ellen called her grandfather "her earliest best friend." Although well-educated at Monticello, she never attended college like her brothers and remained at home, as was customary for women at the time. In 1825, Ellen married Joseph Coolidge, a china merchant, and left Monticello for his home in Boston.

Like her sister Ellen, Virginia Jefferson (1801-1882) had a long and happy marriage. After a courtship which lasted nearly seven years, Virginia married Nicholas Trist, a West Point graduate, in 1824. The couple lived at Monticello where Nicholas ultimately became Jefferson's personal secretary and one of the executors of his estate. The Trists eventually moved to Washington, where Nicholas pursued a diplomatic career in the State Department which included acting as consul to Cuba. Virginia's brother, Meriwether Lewis Randolph (1810-1837), joined them in Washington after securing a clerkship in the State Department through Nicholas. Like his namesake, "Lewis" went west and became a land speculator in Arkansas.

Cornelia Jefferson (1799-1871; pictured at right) and Mary Jefferson (1803-1876) never married and in the 1830s and 1840s operated a ladies' school at the RandolphSilhouette of Cornelia Jefferson home Edgehill, which was not far from Monticello. An amateur artist, Cornelia taught drawing, painting, and sculpture.

The youngest Randolph children, Septimia Anne (1814-1887) and George Wythe (1818-1867) lived for a time at Tufton with their older brother Jefferson, following their grandfather's death. Later they stayed with their sister Ellen in Boston, where Septimia attended a day school. Septimia, called "Tim" by the family, continued her education at St. Mary's convent school in Washington and during this time, lived with her sister Virginia. Tim visited her sister again when the Trists were living in Havana, Cuba. On this trip she met her husband, David Scott Meikleham, an Oxford educated, Scottish physician whom she married in 1838.

-- Katherine. G. Revell, Gilder Research Fellow

« Back to "Our Breakfast Table"


 

Image Credits

  • In collage: Martha Jefferson Carr (1746-1811), silhouette, done after 1782; Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836), by Thomas Sully; Meriwether Lewis Randolph, photograph by H. Andrew Johnson.
  • Martha Jefferson Randolph. Oil on canvas, by James Westhall Ford (1806-1866). Photograph by Edward Owen.
  • Martha Jefferson Carr. Silhouette.
  • Anne Cary Randolph (1791-1826). Silhouette.
  • Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792-1875). c. 1808; by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Photograph by Edward Owen.
  • Cornelia Jefferson Randolph (1799-1871). Silhouette.

Tag this

None
Login or register to tag items

Add comment

Login to post comments