Letter: A Granddaughter's Silkworms

Jefferson's June 3, 1811 letter to his granddaughter Cornelia. Click to enlarge.During Thomas Jefferson's retirement years (1809-1826), most of the eleven surviving children of his daughter Martha spent the bulk of their time with him at Monticello. Jefferson oversaw and funded their education and took a lively interest in all of their activities. On the occasion of a visit by the eleven-year-old Cornelia J. Randolph to her married sister Ann C. Bankhead, Jefferson sent the younger girl a volume of didactic juvenile fiction, reported that her colony of silkworms was on its last legs, and teasingly suggested that she and her sisters would be married only after the one surviving worm produced enough silk for their wedding gowns.

To Cornelia J. Randolph
My dear Cornelia
Monticello June 3. 11.

I have lately recieved a copy of mrs Edgeworth's Moral tales, which seeming better suited to your years than to mine, I inclose you the first volume. the other two shall follow as soon as your Mama has read them. they are to make a part of your library. I have not looked into them, preferring to recieve their character from you after you shall have read them.      your family of silk worms is reduced to a single individual. that is now spinning his broach. to encourage Virginia and Mary to take care of it, I tell them that as soon as they can get a wedding gown wedding gowns from this spinner they shall be married. I propose the same to you that, in order to hasten it's work, you may hasten home; for we all wish much to see you, and to express in person, rather than by letter, the assurance of our affectionate love.

Th: Jefferson

P.S. the girls desire me to add a postscript, to inform you that mrs Higginbotham has just given them new Dolls.

RC (DLC). PoC (ViU: TJP-ER); endorsed by TJ. Enclosure: Maria Edgeworth, Moral Tales for young people (Georgetown, 1811), vol. 1.

Cornelia Jefferson Randolph (1799-1871) was born at Monticello, the fifth child of Thomas Mann Randolph and TJ's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph. Like her siblings, Randolph spent much of her time at Monticello and accompanied her grandfather at least once to Poplar Forest, where she occupied herself with her studies. She learned mechanical drawing from TJ and practiced by reproducing architectural plans made for the University of Virginia. Randolph lived at Tufton and then Edgehill, the homes of her eldest brother, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. She taught drawing, painting, and sculpture at the school the family operated at Edgehill during the 1830s and 1840s. Randolph translated and edited The Parlor Gardener: A Treatise on the House Culture of Ornamental Plants. Translated from the French and Adapted to American Use (Boston, 1861). After the Civil War she moved to Alexandria to live with two of her sisters at the home of her niece Martha Jefferson Trist Burke, where she died unmarried. Randolph was buried in the family graveyard at Monticello (Shackelford, Descendants, 147-53, 253; TJ to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 31 Aug. 1817; Randolph's drawing of Pavilion X at the University of Virginia [ViU] and her commonplace book [DLC: Randolph Family Manuscripts]; Alexandria Gazette, 27 Feb. 1871).

Randolph was visiting the Bankheads at their Port Royal estate in Caroline County (Elizabeth Trist to Catharine Wistar Bache, 7 May 1811 [PPAmP: Catharine Wistar Bache Papers]). A BROACH is a shuttle used in tapestry weaving (OED).

Reprinted from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 3:635

 


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says

Great letter showing Jefferson's affection for his granddaughter Cornelia and his interest in her continuing education.

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