Letter: A Wager Settled

Image of letter from Thomas Wiiliamson. Click to enlarge.Unable to decide the outcome of a bet using locally available sources of information, a banker in Norfolk appeals directly to the one man whose opinion would be decisive. Late in 1813 Thomas Williamson bet George McIntosh, a merchant originally from Scotland, that during his service in Europe, Thomas Jefferson had visited London and met the king of England. George Hay, an attorney and friend of Jefferson, confirmed that Jefferson had in fact been to England. When McIntosh refused to concede defeat, Williamson wrote Jefferson the document printed below. In a reply written on Christmas Day, Jefferson recalled that he had visited England three times, with the longest stay being in the spring of 1786 as part of an unsuccessful effort "to obtain an equal & just treaty of Commerce." During his time in London he was "presented to the king, queen & royal family on different days as all diplomatic missionaries are, and participated with mr Adams in their refusal to treat at all on the subject of our mission." This assistance to the sportsmen of Norfolk is somewhat unusual, since Jefferson did not routinely reply to unsolicited letters of this type. With the United States again at war with Great Britain, he may have wanted to remind his correspondent of that nation's earlier unwillingness to negotiate, although Jefferson stopped short of relating his chagrin at what he described in his autobiography as an exceptionally "ungracious" reception by George III.

From Thomas Williamson

Dear Sir

Norfolk Decr 19th 1812

The above certificate was obtained from Mr Hay for the purpose of deciding a Bet between Mr McIntosh and myself but not proving satisfactory to him, I must beg the favour of you to say whether you have not been in London—or whether you have ever1 seen the present King of Great Britain—If the above information could have been got here, I should not have taken the liberty (which I beg youll excuse) to address you.                             With great respect I am Your Obt Servt

 

Thom Williamson

RC (MoSHi: TJC-BC); dateline beneath signature; at foot of text: "Thos Jefferson esq."; notes by TJ for his 25 Dec. 1812 reply adjacent to signature: "from 1786. Mar. 11. to Apr. 26."; endorsed by TJ as received 22 Dec. 1812 and so recorded in SJL; subjoined to enclosure. Enclosure: Certification by George Hay, 17 Dec. 1812, "that from conversations which I have had with Thomas Jefferson, late President of the U: States, I have been, and am now, under an impression, and indeed a belief that he has been in London.&—I think that Mr Jefferson, after the expiration of his mission to France, returned to the U.S. by the way of England" (MS in MoSHi: TJC-BC; in Hay's hand and signed and dated by him; with RC of covering letter subjoined).

Thomas Williamson (1777-1846), a member of a Henrico County family, was appointed cashier of the Norfolk branch of the Bank of Virginia at its founding in 1805 and held the post until shortly before his death. His Princess Anne County estate was known as "The Ferry." Starting in 1815 Williamson was a trustee and sometime secretary of the local Lancastrian academy, a school that relied on the educational theories of Joseph Lancaster, and in the 1840s he served as a trustee of the Norfolk Academy. An Episcopalian and amateur architect, in 1828 he helped design Norfolk's Christ Episcopal Church. The following year Williamson served as the borough's mayor (VMHB 6 [1898]: 76-7; Philadelphia United States Gazette, 4 Feb. 1805; Norfolk American Beacon and Commercial Diary, 2 Oct. 1815; Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary 4 [1903]: 161; H. B. Bagnall and Robert M. Hughes, "Christ Church, Norfolk, Bell and Clock," WMQ, 2d ser., 2 [1922]: 114; George Holbert Tucker, Norfolk Highlights 1584-1881 [1972], 81; Williamson to John N. Tazewell, 3 Jan. 1833, 17 Apr. 1835 [Vi: Tazewell Family Papers]; Richmond Whig and Public Advertiser, 25 Dec. 1846).

1Reworked from "even."

Posted December 2009. Reprinted from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 5:494.



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