Thomas Jefferson's letter to James Newhall, 18 September 1817 (click to enlarge)In his retirement, Jefferson generally bought his shoes and boots from merchants and craftsmen in nearby Charlottesville, recording purchases in his memorandum books from men like Wilson Madeiras and Jonathan Hague. Near the end of one visit to Poplar Forest, however, Jefferson took a chance with his first and only-known pair of "ready-made" shoes. Much to his probable irritation and disappointment, he had to return them the next day to Lynchburg merchant James Newhall. Whether Jefferson ever tried another pair of "ready-made" shoes is unknown.

See this for a bit more on shoes in Jefferson's time period.


To James Newhall
Poplar Forest Sep. 18. 17.

Th Jefferson begs leave to return to [mr] Newh[a]ll the shoes he got of him yesterday, which he can barely get on and find[s] it would be impossible to wear. he will ask another pair instead of them whenever mr Newhall has any of the sam[e] soft quality, but a good size larger and longer.


PoC (MoSHi: TJC-BC); written on a small scrap; dateline at foot of text; top line faint; edge damaged; endorsed by TJ: “Newhall.” Not recorded in SJL.

James Newhall (1782–1870), merchant, was a native of Lynn, Massachusetts. Between 1812 and 1814 he moved to Lynchburg, where he operated a shoe store. In 1833 he was “Police Master of Lynchburg.” Newhall returned to Lynn by 1850 and continued working as a merchant, but he retired within a decade. He died in Lynn with an estate valued at $10,000 (Newhall’s death record, Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911 [MBNEH]; Newburyport Herald. and Country Gazette, 30 Oct. 1812; Lynchburg Press, 27 Oct. 1814; Lynchburg Virginian, 28 Feb. 1833; Margaret Anthony Cabell, Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg by the Oldest Inhabitant (Mrs. Cabell) 1858 [1858; repr. with additional material by Louise A. Blunt, 1974], 265–6, suppl., 80; DNA: RG 29, CS, Mass., Lynn, 1850–70).

On 17 Sept. 1817 TJ recorded paying $2.75 in Lynchburg for a pair of shoes (MB, 2:1338).

Posted May 2017. Reprinted from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 12:31.


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