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Foreword to Volume Eleven, Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series

The 584 documents in this volume cover the period from 19 January to 31 August 1817, during which Jefferson devoted much of his time and attention to efforts to transform his educational vision into reality. In May 1817 at its first official meeting, the Central College Board of Visitors authorized land purchases and the launch of a subscription campaign that would eventually raise more than $44,000. Jefferson solicited architectural advice for the college from his friends William Thornton and Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Thornton’s detailed response included a sketch for the central pavilion and his thoughts on the most effective academic organization, while Latrobe and Jefferson exchanged multiple letters on the subject. Late in August, Jefferson went so far as to write an anonymous letter in support of the endeavor, which Thomas Ritchie published in the Richmond Enquirer at his request. Jefferson also spent a great deal of time late in 1816 and early in 1817 preparing a legal brief for his chancery suit against the directors of the Rivanna Company. After years of disagreements and failed negotiations, Jefferson first composed and heavily revised a draft of a lengthy legal statement of his claim to the property rights in dispute. Later he copied the material out clean and added a series of supporting documents to bolster his argument. Although the complaint was submitted to the court in May 1817, the case was not settled until December 1819.

In March 1817 Jefferson’s friend James Monroe began his first term as United States president. During the summer Jefferson learned of the death of two European friends, Madame de Staël Holstein and Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours. He encouraged his friend Tadeusz Kosciuszko to leave Switzerland and relocate to or at least near Monticello, enjoining him to “close a life of liberty in a land of liberty. come and lay your bones with mine in the Cemetery of Monticello.” Jefferson continued to enjoy the companionship of his own family, and in August he and his granddaughters Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) and Cornelia J. Randolph set out on a visit to Poplar Forest that included a trip to Natural Bridge. He wrote to his “dearest daughter & friend” Martha Jefferson Randolph from Poplar Forest that “the sun, moon and stars move here so much like what they do at Monticello, and every thing else so much in the same order, not omitting even the floods of rain, that they afford nothing new for observation.”

Jefferson’s mail arrived from a wide variety of correspondents both domestic and international. Lynchburg resident Thomas Humphreys provided him with a detailed plan for emancipating American slaves and colonizing them in Africa, while Jean Mourer wrote from Switzerland questioning the institution of slavery in the United States. Francis Hall followed up a visit with Jefferson and his family earlier in the winter of 1816–17 by sending a laudatory poem entitled simply “To Monticello.” Richard Peters commented on the state of agriculture locally and nationally, provided his opinions on the study and writing of history, and remarked that at age seventy-three he generally enjoyed a “better State of Health, than falls to the Lot of old Bipeds.” Jefferson also received large numbers of books, pamphlets, and orations sent by eager authors and political allies. The items sent to him during the months covered in this volume included a novel by Horatio G. Spafford, a series of printed circulars from various committees of the New-York Historical Society, a map of Louisiana from William Darby, a publication prospectus for another map of that state from Maxfield Ludlow, and a work by Barbé Marbois on the conspiracy of Benedict Arnold. The young Bostonian George Ticknor was in Paris helping to orchestrate Jefferson’s book purchases abroad. At home, John Laval took over for the Philadelphia book merchant Nicolas G. Dufief when the latter left for Europe himself. Jefferson built a new business relationship with the bookseller Fernagus De Gelone, who operated shops in several locations, including New York and Philadelphia. In addition to replenishing his library, Jefferson restocked his wine cellar and pantry with the assistance of Stephen Cathalan in Marseille. Closer to home, he looked for a reliable supply of scuppernong wine from North Carolina and found his middleman in Hutchins G. Burton.

Correspondents continued to appeal to Jefferson’s reputation as an enthusiastic supporter of innovation. Richard Claiborne and James Clarke sent letters about their respective improvements in the design of steamboat paddles and measurement of travel by carriage, and Robert H. Saunders sought his advice on the proper placement of lightning rods. Jefferson provided his correspondent George Washington Jeffreys with a catalogue of books for a newly formed agricultural society. Having long thought that reliable weather data was a boon to scientists as well as farmers, Jefferson sent his recently retired friend James Madison a digested version of his weather memorandum book, drawing on Madison’s records as well as his own and covering the years since Jefferson left the presidency in 1809. Although Jefferson answered his voluminous correspondence selectively, he still chafed under the burden and remarked to William A. Burwell that “I have been obliged for many months past to rise from table & write from dinner to dark: insomuch that no office I ever was in has been so laborious as my supposed state of retirement at Monticello.”

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