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John Neilson (d. 1827) was an Irish joiner who worked, along with James Dinsmore and many others, on Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. He worked for Jefferson from 1804 to 1809, when he went to work for James Madison on his Montpelier estate. Neilson later went on to assist in the construction of the University of Virginia, where he worked on Pavilions IX and X, seven dormitories, the Rotunda, and the Anatomical Theater.1
Primary Source References
1807 May 13. (Jefferson to Edmund Bacon). "Mr. Dinsmore is to be furnished with bread grain from the mill. the proportion of corn & wheat is left to his own discretion. he provides his own provisions, & for mr Nelson & Barry."2
1808 August 11. (Richard Barry to Jefferson). "I hope you'll excuse the liberty I take in sending a letter to Mr. Nelson under cover of yours."3
1809 April 19. (Jefferson to Madison). "Dinsmore & Neilson set out yesterday for Montpelier. if mrs Madison has any thing there which interests her in the gardening way, she cannot confide it better than to Nielson. he is a gardener by nature, & extremely attached to it."4
1812 August 7. (Jefferson's Recommendation of John Neilson). "The bearer hereof Mr John Neilson, a house Joiner by trade worked for me at Monticello some years. I can assure those who may have occasion to employ him that he is perfectly acquainted with the orders of Architecture, and the most approved stile of finishing both inside and outside work. is equal in the execution of it to any workman in America, draws well and is a complete master of his business in all its parts. he is moreover perfectly honest sober & correct in his deportment."5
1815 March 4. (Jefferson to Thomas Munroe). "you will therefore I presume be glad of the offer of good workmen from every quarter. two such propose to offer themselves from hence, James Dinsmore and John Nielson. ... Nielson I also got from Philadelphia in 1804. and he lived with me 4. years, and I have found him also, an honest sober, and excellent man. both are house joiners of the first order. they have done the whole of that work in my house, to which I can affirm there is nothing superior in the US. after they had finished with me they worked 2. or 3. year’s for the President, to whom therefore they are well known. ... the most difficult job you have is the dome of the Representatives, and I doubt if there be any men more equal to it than these. ... I strongly recommend these men to you, and if you employ them I shall have the double gratification of having served men worthy of trust, and of putting a public trust into worthy hands."6
1817 April 13. (Jefferson to Dinsmore). "I suppose the superintendance of the buildings will rest chiefly on myself as most convenient. so far as it does I should wish to commit it to yourself and mr Nelson, and while little is called for this year which might disturb your present engagements, it will open a great field of future employment for you. will you undertake it? if you will, be so good as to let me hear from you as soon as you can, and I would rather wish it to be before the 6th of May. there is a person here who wishes to offer you two very fine boys, his sons, as apprentices; but on this nothing need be said until you determine to come. tender my esteem to mr Nelson & be assured of it respectfully yourself."7
1820 May 31. (Jefferson to Neilson). "I inclose you my note for the money due you, settled as you desired. my reason for allowing compound interest in this case (the only one in which I ever did so) was explained in conversation I have taken 2. years for payment, because the fall of produce, likely to be permanent, were I to wait for crops, would too much retard the payment of monies due from me, and which I am anxious to discharge."8
- 1. K. Edward Lay, "Charlottesville's Architectural Legacy," The Magazine of Albemarle County History 46 (1988), 38.
- 2. Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 3. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 4. PTJ:RS, 1:155. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 5. PTJ:RS, 5:299-300. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 6. PTJ:RS, 8:313-14. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 7. PTJ:RS, 11:256. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 8. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Huntington Library. Transcription available at Founders Online.