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Joseph Coolidge (1798-1879) was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Bulfinch Coolidge.1 He graduated from Harvard College in 1817, embarked on a grand tour of Europe, and returned to America early in 1824. Soon afterwards, Bostonian George Ticknor wrote to Thomas Jefferson introducing the young Coolidge. "Allow me to ask your kindness and hospitality for Joseph Coolidge Esq. He is a young gentleman of Education & Fortune ... known to all of us for his amiable & excellent character .... Do me the favour to present, him to Governor Randolph Mrs. Randolph, & their family ...."2
During a two-week visit at Monticello in the spring of 1824, Joseph Coolidge became acquainted with Jefferson's twenty-seven-year-old granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph. On October 13, 1824, he wrote to Jefferson from Boston expressing his gratitude for Jefferson's kindness and requesting permission to return to Monticello in hopes of proposing to Ellen. "The visit I am about to make does not involve Miss Randolph in any positive, or implied engagement," wrote her suitor, "—should she see fit to decline all connection but that of friendship, I should think less well of myself, but not of her: if she consent, after farther acquaintance, to gratify my dearest wish, may I not hope, Sir, for the sanction of yr. approval?"3
Upon "farther acquaintance," and with family approval, Joseph Coolidge and Ellen Randolph were married in the parlor at Monticello on May 27, 1825. Following a six-week wedding trip, the couple took up residence with Joseph's parents in Boston's Bowdoin Square. The young Coolidges had six children, four sons and two daughters.
Joseph Coolidge was employed as clerk and later partner with Russell and Company, as resident partner with Augustine Heard and Company, and as agent of Jardine, Matheson and Company. These trading companies operated primarily in Asia and the work took Coolidge overseas for long periods of time. In 1838, Ellen met Joseph in London for an extended visit. Ellen then spent two years in Macao, while her husband worked in nearby Canton. After Coolidge left China in 1844, he reunited with his family in Switzerland. They spent several more years in Europe before returning to Boston.
- Jefferson Quotes and Family Letters.
- Coolidge, Thomas Jefferson. T. Jefferson Coolidge, 1831-1920: An Autobiography. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1923.
- Malone. Jefferson. See 6:458-59, 469.
- Shackelford. Descendants. See 1:89-99, 1:223-31.
- Thomas Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, November 14, 1825. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 1. Joseph Coolidge's family was not closely related to that of the later-President Calvin Coolidge.
- 2. Ticknor to Jefferson, March 27, 1824, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 3. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.