Featured Letter: Not Enough Vegetables

Jefferson's Notes on Winter Vegetable Needs (click to enlarge)Thomas Jefferson prided himself on keeping his plantations at Monticello and Poplar Forest as self-sufficient as possible. He remarked early in 1813 that "I have been 50. years the owner of plantations, and never yet bought pork." However, in the immediate aftermath of his return to Monticello after retiring from the presidency, Jefferson found himself in need of a variety of root crops for winter use. In the document printed below, he listed what he initially thought was required and then recorded his subsequent discovery that he had badly underestimated his usage. Jefferson ordered these provisions from Mary Walker Lewis (1742-1824), who occasionally supplied him with seeds, plants, vegetables, meat, and eggs. A nearby landowner, Lewis was nicknamed "Captain Molly" for her strict demeanor but also celebrated for her charity and wit.

Notes on Winter Vegetable Needs

Turneps 10. bush.
Carrots    3
Salsafia    3
Beets    2
parsnips    2
Celery  

wrote for to mrs Lewis
Nov. 28. 09.

we found the above not to be half a provision for the winter.1 it shoul[d] be

    flour bar.
potatoes 25. bushels 8.
turneps 20 7
carrots 10 3
salsafia 10 3
beets    5 2
parsnips    5 22

 

1. of the beds of salsafia = 2. bush = 4
  carrots =

MS (ViU: TJP); written entirely in TJ's hand on a small scrap in at least two sittings; edge trimmed.

TJ's note to Mary LEWIS is not recorded in SJL and has not been found.

1Remainder of text written in a different ink.
2TJ here wrote "turn over"; remainder on verso.

Posted January 2008. Reprinted from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 2:37-8

 


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says

Returning to Monticello after long periods of absence during his presidency, TJ was unprepared for the demands of feeding his growing family and flood of guests.

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