Mary Jefferson Bolling (1741-1804) was Thomas Jefferson's older sister. Born on October 1, 1741, she was the second of the ten children born to Jane Randolph and Peter Jefferson. She may have been born at her parents' residence at Fine Creek.
Mary Jefferson married John Bolling (1737-1800) on January 24, 1760. They had ten children:
The Bollings lived at Fairfields in Goochland County and Lickinghole Creek, just west of Goochland Courthouse. In 1785, they moved to Chestnut Grove, Bolling's family plantation in Chesterfield County, while their oldest son Jack assumed ownership of Fairfields.
Letters among Thomas Jefferson, Mary Jefferson Bolling, and their sister Martha Jefferson Carr, as well as Jefferson's daughter Maria Jefferson Eppes, reveal affectionate family relationships. It is apparent, however, that John Bolling suffered from alcoholism, and that this was the cause of major strain in the family. Maria wrote to Jefferson in 1797 that Bolling was "much as usual, in a state of constant intemperance allmost, he is happy only with his glass in his hand ...." Her father spoke frankly to her of "mr. B's habitual intoxication" and his "attachment to the bottle." On April 22, 1800, John Wayles Eppes wrote to Jefferson, "We have reason to suppose Mr. Bolling is dead—He has been confined for some time dangerously ill & we heard yesterday it was all over—It is not absolutely certain, but I have every reason to suppose the report well founded—"
Mary Bolling herself outlived her husband by only four years. In late January of 1804, Jefferson's granddaughter Ann Cary Randolph wrote to inform him of her death, although the exact date is not certain. Her burial location is unknown.
1783 January 14. (Jefferson to Francis Wayles Eppes). "Since I came here there has been sold the Westover copy of Catesby’s History of Carolina. It was held near a twelvemonth at twelve guineas, and at last sold for ten. This seems to fix what should be given for Mr. Bolling’s copy, if you can induce him to let me have it, which I am very anxious for. Perhaps it would be a temptation to offer that the ten guineas should be paid to Mr. Ross’s agent at Nantes, where he could lay them out and send the articles to Mr. Bolling. His draft shall be paid on sight in Paris. Perhaps you had better effect this by making the proposition to Mrs. Bolling. Of this your knowledge of the family will enable you to judge."
1784 April 15. (Martha Jefferson Carr to Jefferson). "Mr. Bollings family is well Except my Sister who is I think in a very declineing State of health."
1785 May 6. (Martha Jefferson Carr to Jefferson). "Mr. Bolling Removes to Chesterfeild this Month, his and my Sisters Situation at present Require the Consolation of their friends, they have Sustained great losses in their family and bear it badly. Poor Tom had a fall from his horse a little before Christmas which he did not survive two days, and their Daughter Nancy whose Marriage with H. Lewis you hardly heard of Died at fairfields on the tenth of March, her desorder was thought to be an Abcess in her Breast."
1785 August 20. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Carr). "Your letter of May 6. came to hand by Mr. Mazzei on the 22d. of July. I sincerely condole with Mr. Bolling and my sister on their late losses. None can do it fully but those who have been in their situation. You and I have that unfortunate qualification. It would be difficult to find a fibre of the human heart whose sufferings are unknown to me. My losses have left me little more to lose."
1786 April 22. (Jefferson to Anna Scott Jefferson Marks). "Pray remember me to my sisters Carr, and Bolling, to Mr. Bolling and their families and be assured of the sincerity with which I am my dear Nancy your affectionate brother."
1786 May 5. (Martha Jefferson Carr to Jefferson). "I heard from Mr. Bollings family last week. They ware well. They removed last Summer to Chsterfeild. Jack is settle at Fairfeilds and is Marrid to A daughter of the late Colo. William Kennon, with whome I beleive you ware Acquainted."
1787 May 7. (Elizabeth Wayles Eppes to Jefferson). "Your Sister Bolling has favoured us with her company a few days, and I was in great hopes Mrs. Carr would have been here before dear Pollys departure as it was not in our power to send her to visit her, being at present without a carriage."
1787 July 23. (Jefferson to Mary Jefferson Bolling). "I received with great pleasure your letter of May 3. informing me of your health and of that of your family. Be assured that it is and ever has been among the most interesting things to me. Letters of business claiming their rights before those of affection, we often write seldomest to those whom we love most. ... I suppose you are now fixed for life at Chesnut grove: I take a part of the misfortune to myself, as it will prevent my seeing you as often as would be practicable at Lickinghole. It is still a greater loss to my sister Carr. We must look to Jack for indemnification, as I think it was the plan that he should live at Lickinghole. I suppose he is now become the father of a family, and that we may hail you as grandmother. As we approach that term it becomes less fearful. You mention Mr. Bolling's being unwell, so as not to write to me. He has just been sick enough all his life to prevent his writing to any body. My prayer is therefore only that he may never be worse. Were he to be so, no body would feel it more sensibly than myself, as nobody has a more sincere esteem for him than myself. I find as I grow older, that I love those most whom I loved first. Present me to him in the most friendly terms, to Jack also, and my other nephews and neices of your fire side and be assured of the sincere love with which I am, dear sister, your affectionate brother ...."
1787 December 3. (Martha Jefferson Carr to Jefferson). "My sister Bolling has had the misfortune to loos her youngest son for which loss I hear she is allmost worn out with grief."
1790 February 8. (Jefferson to John Bolling). "Be so good as to present my affectionate love to my sister & the children ...."
1790 October 31. (Jefferson to Mary Jefferson Bolling). "Being to set out for Philadelphia this week, I cannot take my departure without expressing to you my disappointment in having been unable to see you during my stay in the state. I was once obliged to go as far as Richmond, but my business here permitted only four days for that journey. ... Perhaps the next year I may be able to pay you a visit. Present me affectionately to Mr. Bolling and your children, with wishes for their health and happiness. Accept the same for yourself from dear sister your affectionate brother ...."
1791 April 6. (Mary Jefferson Bolling to Jefferson). "I receiv'd the favour of yours dateed october wherin I found a total disappointment of the happiness I had long flattered my self with of seeing you, it being at a time that our distress cannot be describ'd. It is too much for my pen so that I will not trouble you with it. You must now permit me to hail you grandfather and I do Sincearly congratulate you on the happy occation of pat'cyes safe recovry. Wee anticipate the pleashure of seeing you this spring as your anxiety must be very great to see the little Stranger [Ann Cary Randolph]. ... I have long wisht an oppertunity of answering yours. Had it not have been for Mr. Epps's politeness to me it was uncertain when I should have been gratified. Mr. Bolling Joins in love to you and apologyes for his negligence. The rest of my family Join in love. Adieu my dear brother may every blessing this life affords attend you are the most ardent wishes of your affectionate Sister."
1791 July 16. (Maria Jefferson Eppes to Jefferson). "Mrs. Monroe and Aunt Bolling are here. My aunt would have written to you, but she was unwell. She intends to go to the North Garden."
1795 July 31. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "Our own family is all well; the children remarkeably so. But the house has been a mere hospital of sick friends. Mrs. Bolling and Polly, and their servants sick. So also Mrs. Marks."
1797 December 8. (Maria Jefferson Eppes to Jefferson). "I found my aunt suffering with hers [toothache?], tho much easier than it has been, she is well otherwise. My uncle Bolling is much as usual, in a state of constant intemperance allmost, he is happy only with his glass in his hand, he behaves tho' much better to my aunt than he did, and appears to desire a reconciliation with her, and I think could she hide her resentment of his past behaviour to her, she might render her situation much more comfortable than it is."
1798 January 7. (Jefferson to Maria Jefferson Eppes). "[T]he state of things at Chesnut grove is truly distressing. mr B.'s habitual intoxication will destroy himself, his fortune & family. of all calamities this is the greatest. I wish my sister could bear his misconduct with more patience. it might lessen his attachment to the bottle, & at any rate would make her own time more tolerable. when we see ourselves in a situation which must be endured & gone through, it is best to make up our minds to it, meet it with firmness, & accomodate every thing to it in the best way practicable. this lessens the evil. while fretting & fuming only serves to increase our own torment. the errors and misfortunes of others should be a school for our own instruction. harmony in the marriage state is the very1 first object to be aimed at. nothing can preserve affections uninterrupted but a firm resolution never to differ in will, and a determination in each to consider the love of the other as of more value than any object whatever on which a wish has been fixed. how light in fact is the sacrifice of any other wish, when weighed against the affections of one with whom we are to pass our whole life. and though opposition in a single instance will hardly of itself produce alienation; yet every one has their pouch into which all these little oppositions are put: while that is filling, the alienation is insensibly going on, & when filled, it is complete. it would puzzle either to say why; because no one difference of opinion has been marked enough to produce a serious effect by itself. but he finds his affections wearied out by a constant stream of little checks & obstacles. other sources of discontent, very common indeed, are the little cross purposes of husband & wife in common conversation, a disposition in either to criticise & question whatever the other says, a desire always to demonstrate & make him feel himself in the wrong, & especially in company. nothing is so goading. much better therefore, if our companion views a thing in a light different from what we do, to leave him in quiet possession of his view. what is the use of rectifying him if the thing be unimportant; & if important let it pass for the present, & wait a softer moment, and more conciliatory occasion of revising the subject together. it is wonderful how many persons are rendered unhappy by inattention to these little rules of prudence. I have been insensibly led, by the particular case you mention, to sermonize to you on the subject generally. however if it be the means of saving you from a single heart-ache, it will have contributed a great deal to my happiness."
1798 March 20. (Maria Jefferson Eppes to Jefferson). "Aunt Carr is return'd from Celies in good health & is at present with Aunt Bolling, who is in tolerable health, the former will be here soon, where she will stay I expect & go up with us ...."
1798 May 27. (Maria Jefferson Eppes to Jefferson). "I suppose you have not heard of Polly Archers death, render'd more afflicting to Aunt Bolling from her just suspicions that she hasten'd it by her intemperance in eating. she died of a bilious fever, a fortnight after her child was born, which is now alive & well, &, seems allready to afford much consolation to my aunt. she intends to go up this summer."
1801 February 2. (Maria Jefferson Eppes to Jefferson). "[I]f you have not engaged the harpsichord to Aunt Bolling or any one else I will if you please put off chusing between them till april as I fear the Piano will not hold in tune long & I shall be able to judge by that time."
1804 January 21. (Ann Cary Randolph Bankhead to Jefferson). "I suppose you have heard of Aunt Bolling's death."
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