Isaac Coles (1780-1841) was Thomas Jefferson's private secretary from 1805 to 1809. He was the fifth son of Colonel John Coles II and Rebecca Elizabeth Tucker and Dolley Madison's cousin. Reportedly, the "A" in his name stood for Albemarle County and it was added to distinguish himself from an uncle and two cousins with the same name.1 He attended the College of William and Mary and became a member of the Albemarle County bar. After serving as Jefferson's secretary, he stayed on as James Madison's private secretary until Edward Coles could start.2
During the War of 1812, Isaac Coles served as a major, then lieutenant colonel, and finally a full colonel in the regular army. Late in life, Coles served in the Virginia House of Delegates (1840-1841). He married twice, first in 1823 to Louisa Gertrude Nivison (1795-1824) and then in 1830 to Juliana Stricker Rankin (1796-1876), with whom he had two children, Julia Isaetta (1831-1907) and John Stricker (1832-1909).
Isaac Coles's relationship with Thomas Jefferson was considered close. During his second term, Jefferson relied on Coles to handle important and confidential information as the president tried to steer a neutral course during the Napoleonic Wars. They were neighbors and their families knew one another. Also, they both were generous to one another and occasionally presented each other with gifts, including Jefferson's presentation of a Kosciuszko portrait of himself to Coles,3 and Coles's purchase of fur-lined gloves for Jefferson in Baltimore.4 The two exchanged agricultural items like fig plants and peaches after Coles returned to Albemarle County from his military service.5
Coles lived at the family plantation, Enniscorthy, in the southern part of Albemarle County. He inherited the property after his father's death in 1808, but the house was destroyed in a fire in 1839.
- Douglas Evans, 1995. Originally published in Evans, "Jefferson's Neighbors," Monticello Intern Report, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1995.
Primary Source References
1804 December 3. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "[M]r Burwell being a member of the Virginia legislature has left us to attend it, and mr Isaac Coles remains with me during his absence."6
1805 March 7. "Recd. from Isaac A. Coles 100.D. gold. Gave him ord. on bank for 250.D. viz. for the gold, & 150.D. a quarter's salary."7
1805 November 8. "Gave Isaac A. Coles for Washington academy ord. on bk. US. 20.D. See ante May 1."8
1806 January 14. "Gave Isaac A. Coles ord. on bk. US. for 150.D. a quarter's salary."9
1806 April 21. "Isaac A. Coles 150. a quarter's salary."10
1807 January 6. "Drew on do. in favr. I. A. Coles 150.D."11
1807 January 12. "Delivd. the check to Mr. Coles to pay Lee's bill of Excha. ante Dec. 15."12
1807 March 6. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I wrote you on Monday evening, and then expected that a morning or two more would have produced a compleat intermission of mr Randolph’s fever. but it did not. ... Dr. Jones & Capt Lewis never quit him. Mr. Coles is much with him also ...."13
1807 March 16. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "Mr Randolph continues well. ... but the quantity of blood taken from him occasions him to recover strength slowly. ... the remains of a bad cold hang on me, & for a day or two past some symptoms of periodical head-ache. mr Coles & Capt. Lewis are also indisposed, so that we are but a collection of invalids."14
1807 April 20. "Gave Isaac .50 for bringing cyder & trees from Colo. Coles' yesterday."15
1807 July 21. "Pd. I. A. Coles sundry trinkets for Mrs. Randolph 10.125."16
1807 October 7. "Drew do. in favor I. A. Coles 150.D."17
1808 January 5. "Drew on bank in favr. Isaac A. Coles 219.73 to wit 150. for a quarter’s salary + 69.73 to pay Philetus Havens for 3. cases St. George wine."18
1808 March 6. "Pd. Mr. Coles for E. Riggs for 2. pr. suspenders 5.75."19
1808 April 5. "Drew ord. on bk. US. in favr. ... Isaac A. Coles 150 salary."20
1808 April 19. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I think Congress will certainly rise on the 25th. ... in that case I think I shall leave this within 10. days after; probably on the 5th. and breakfast with you on the 8th. mr Burwell and mr Coles will be with me."21
3. Jefferson to Coles, November 29, 1809, in PTJ:RS, 2:39-40. Transcription available at Founders Online.
4. Coles to Jefferson, February 8, 1810, in PTJ:RS, 2:203-04. Transcription available at Founders Online.
5. Coles to Jefferson, October 11, 1814, in PTJ:RS, 8:21 (transcription available at Founders Online); Coles to Jefferson, March 9, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 9:544-45 (transcription available at Founders Online).