Featured Letter: A Disappointing Tobacco Shipment

In a time when there was no thought of providing former chief executives with pensions, Thomas Jefferson relied primarily on the produce of his farms for subsiPatrick Gibson to Thomas Jefferson, March 11, 1812, click to enlargestence and money. His main cash crops were wheat and tobacco. The third president generally prided himself on the quality of the staples that he shipped from Monticello and Poplar Forest, boasting in 1799 that Scottish tobacco merchants  regarded his “as the very best crop landed at their wharfs."  However, quality control sometimes lapsed. In the letter below, Jefferson’s business representative in Richmond reported that only two out of seven casks of tobacco from Monticello were worth shipping. One hogshead contained dark colored, badly mixed, sour tasting, moldy leaves, and another was even worse, “very mean,” dirty, and bad in flavor.  Jefferson tried to prepare financially for retirement by constructing a canal and milling complex at Milton. He hoped thereby to create a reliable industrial supplement to his income and reduce his heavy debts, but the effort failed miserably, leaving him still subject to the vagaries of farming and an increasingly bleak economic future.

 
From Patrick Gibson
Sir
Richmond 11th March, 1812

Having at length succeeded in getting your Tobacco reviewed I shall now give you my opinion of it corroborated by the judgement of some of my friends who are more in the habit of purchasing and shipping—

Nos 2593 & 2032 bright-colr good order & well flavd worth about 6½ $
"       2031 dark      "      mix’d & tolerably well flavd         " 4     "
"       2033 "              "          "       ragged tho'         "                  " 3     "
"       2030 "              "          "       and sour                                 " 2     "
"       2029 "              "          "                          with mould 1½ "
"       2034 stemmd very mean dirty & bad flavr 1     "

these are the prices which I think might be expected for such Tobacco, if a purchaser could be met with, which I suppose might be found amongst our manufacturers the first two are the only Hhds worth shipping I shall however wait your instructions respecting them—The ten bushels Cloverseed order’d in yours of the 1st was were sent on the 6th by C: Peyton’s Billy to the care of Mr Higginbotham

The Nail rod & bar iron has at last arrived and shall be sent up by Johnson

Flour has become very dull, a sale could not now be made at more than 9$ cash this fall is in consequence of an impression that an embargo may shortly be expected; and the accounts received this morning from Washington, respecting the conspiracy has tended to increace that apprehension I am with great respect

Your obt Servt

Patrick Gibson

 

RC (ViU: TJP-ER); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqre”; endorsed by TJ as a letter from Gibson & Jefferson received 15 Mar. 1812.

SJL records missing letters from David HIGGINBOTHAM of 14 Feb., received from Milton on 15 Feb. 1812, and of 7 Mar., received from Milton presumably on that date but listed as received 6 Mar. 1812.

Posted June 2011. Reprinted from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 4:547-8

 


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Discussion

says

This letter is really interesting. Visitors often inquire about Jefferson's debt--how he came to have it, ways he earned money, etc.--and this post and letter do a fine job of providing some information about that aspect of Jefferson's life.

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