Primary Resource

Letter from Thomas Jefferson Randolph to the Pike County Republican (ca. 1874)

In this undated letter to the Pike County Republican, a newspaper in Waverly, Ohio, Thomas Jefferson Randolph rebuts the recently published account of Israel Jefferson, a former slave owned by Randolph's grandfather, Thomas Jefferson. The letter was never published and possibly never sent.

Transcription from Original


I have received from an unknown hand a copy of the Pike County Republican, Waverly, O. dated Dec. 25, 1873, On its fourth page is an article designed I presumed by the person who sent it for my inspection; headed "life amoung the lowly No. III Israel Jefferson."

I remember distinctly the person as a slave of Mr. Jefferson. Mr. J. kept a record of families of the births, deaths, locations of his slaves. Their record is now before me in Mr. J's handwriting. Israel is made to say that he recollects distinctly the departure of Mr. J and family for Washington D.C. when he went to assume the duties of President. Mr. Jefferson left home alone. Taking not even a servant with him. Dec 1st, 1800 to preside over the senate as vice president, where he was March 5th 1801. Israel by the record was born Dec 28 1800. He is thus made to recollect events occurring nearly a month before his birth.

He is made to say that he commenced the duties of life as waiter at Monticello and attendant on Mr. J's person at the commencement of his second term March 1805. He was then at the mature age of four years and his whole family on the list of slaves on the farm leased to Mr. Craven 1801–1809. The record 1810 Feb. places him on the farm not on the list of those attached to the house. He is first brought to my notice as scullion: the cook on chastising him, has given him a scratch on the head, on his complaining to his master, and was turned over to me for examination.

He is made to relate a conversation between Jefferson and Lafayette a half century before. Lying dormant in his mind during that period; never before having been known to mention it. Lafayette according to Israel own admission speaking with an accent that rendered it difficult for him to understand him. The conversation so distinctly heard and remembered for fifty years occurred between two feeble old men in a rapidly moving coach. Israel riding the hear leader of a four horse team at the time he is made to say he heard it. that he heard it

He is made to say that in an establishment where there was a super abundance of servants he was called on, a mere boy to discharge the duties of coachman waiter and attended on his masters person kindling his fires &cc. Mr. Jefferson rose at dawn and always kindled his own fire. His confidential servant Burwell Colbert was the only one who placed his wood and water and had access to his room besides the person who cleaned it and made up his bed. And this was punctually done while he was at breakfast and making the round of his workshops and garden immediately after. Israel was never employed in any part of trust or confidence about the house at Monticello.

The gorgeous landau which so dazzled Israel's youthful imagination, was made at Monticello by Mr. J's own mechanic and was a very plain affair. Whatever of French there might have been about the harness must have been the remains of an old harness used in Paris 25 or 30 years before. It has as much the appearance of a newly imported French harness as the individual who had played upon a German flute had of visiting Germany. The highest price horse of the team cost $120. The driving with reigns more than one horse is more recent than is imagined.

I have a distinct recollection of its introduction from my father's driver, on his first attempt, not croping the inside reigns and his companions laughter at him, having previously ridden one of the pairs of horses. Late in the last century all the posting in England was done in this way, until very recently in Cuba with the two wheeled one horse vehicle with shafts, the Volanti, the driver rode the horse.

After Jefferson returned from France, his journeyings were all made on horse all in a sulky his daughters marrying, he possessed not coach, save the Presidential, in which he was himself but once during his eight years of office. Reigns to drive more than one horse to the prejudice of an old man were not safe over Va roads. The extra pair of horses was the price he paid for his mountain residence 600 feet above the level of the river at its base.

In this very aristocrative county as Israel is made to allude to it under the war taxes of 1814 only four-four wheeled pleasure carriages were listed for taxation and these very unostentatious: On the sale of Mr. Jefferson estate in 1827: 1828 and 1829 his best high land, equal to any in the county brought on credit of one, two and three years without interest minimum price two dollars per acre: slaves less that an average to two hundred dollars each. This lasted from 1819 to 1830. There was scarcely an estate in the county of 900 square miles and 25,000 population that would have realized $100.00 cash. There was not $5000 worth of silver plate in the county. Men worth $20,000 property passing as rich. There was neither wealth nor destitution. The inmates of the poor or alms house did not exceed 50. The inherited property very moderate. The richest were architects of their own fortunes: great simplicity of dress, little money: abundance of the necessities of life and many of its comforts. The writer of this article with open shirt busom, wore neither shoes nor hat winter or summer until nine or ten years old, and was never chided for exposure to cold (word crossed out) weather. At fourteen riding with Mr. J. then president, to visit a neighbor they met a negro. Mr. J. returned his salute, he did not, on passing him. Mr. J. asked him if he permitted a negro to be more a gentlemen than myself himself. I have he has never failed to return their salutations since. Marrying in 1815, his wedding coat was made of wood which grew on the back of his grandfather's sheep. So much for Israel's idea of aristocracy as he is made to appear.

Israel is made to revive and confirm of his own knowledge a calumny generated in the hot bed of party malice. Mr. Jefferson and his daughter with her large family occupied the same wing of the building: the private access to their apartments ever contiguous; every member of this family repelled with indignation this calumny. Mr. J did not liberate this woman and her family as Israel is made to state. To my knowledge and the statements other gentlemen made to me 60 years ago the paternity of these persons was admitted by two other persons. He liberated his servant Burwell and four of his mechanics. Two of them were of the family. Mr. J's mechanics kept under his own eye and his entire household servants were the descendants of Betty Hemings, born 1735 died 1805 or their wives, except as under cooks and his drivers. Israel was not one of this family. It was a source of bitter bitter jealousy to the other slaves who were always anxious to assign for it any reason but the true one, very superior intelligence capacity and fidelity to trusts. To John Hemings, Joe Fossett and Burwell Colbert, he gave small annual salaries. Not one of this family ever mentioned were ever punished in their lives. If this charge was true, why revive it, for what purpose. Similar charges have been recently published against Mr. Jefferson's younger grandson upon somewhat similar evidence. Men who lived and died without reproach. What is the motive of such calammies? It cannot be personal hostility, because these writers never know these persons. Can it be that they felt the necessity of pondering to a ferocious hate of the southern white man—which devours with depraved appetite every invention of calumny, and ever circulation of malignity that can blacken or degrade his character.

On Israel's visit to Virginia in 1866 the mutual greeting between him and myself and family were of the most cordial and kindred character. I must view him as the tool of some unprincipaled caterer. He could have told his amanuensis and probably did, that this haughty Randolph as he is made to call him, was the only man south of the Potomac, who ever had the temerity to present to a legislative body, a distinct proposition for the manumission of the colored race, (see Journal of the Va Legislature, Jan 1833). On presenting himself for re-election as one of the two delegates to be elected. He had to encounter opponents, two pro slavery men: the most talented, and best speaker in the county viz: Govn. Gilmer and Mr. Nelson. The latter having, the other destined to fill the highest offices. His life agricultural, not professional, without training or habit of discussion, he had to meet these gentlemen single handed and unaided, on the stump before huge and excited audiences for five days of elaborate discussion. Uttering from the hustings this previously considered sentence viz: He stood before them an avowed abolitionist, indifferent as to the means, but inflexible as to the purpose: was re-elected by a handsome majority. These facts as mentioned to show how strong must have been the cause, which could carry an election against such great disadvantages. This feeling continued to gain ground steadily: and I cannot doubt that had it not been for Northern abolitionism, the seven border states before 1860 would have made decisive progress towards manumission. Southern abolitionism was peaceful reform, addressed to the white population of the slave states. Northern abolitionism was revolution, addressed to the slaves: its means servile insurrection and civil war. The Northern crushed out the Southern and gave birth to the pro slavery party.

Subsequently the people of Virginia town, reposing in the hours of night, in all the confidence of peace and conscious innocence of all purpose of wrong to mankind: were suddenly invaded and attacked by a band of armed men, from the non-slave holding states: unarmed men were shot down in the streets; murder was committed: men were seized and dragged from the habitations at night: attempts were made to excite servile insurrection and civil war in its most horrid form. All of this would have been deemed comparatively un-important as an act of isolated fanaticism. But when from the masses west and of the non slave hold states came approval sanction: apologies of this act: reproaches against the person whom it was attempted to slaughter in cold blood: sneers at the State ridicule at the supposed terrors of the unarmed women and children of Virginia: it told of a ferocious hatred that must have its food of blood: and produced such a revulsion amongst this intensely union loving people that in 1861 but one vote was cast against secession. This person asked to change his vote, but was made to stand as a monument of the freedom of opinion.

Israel spoke truly of my loss of property. He might have heard that the rings were taken from the fingers of the females of my family. Too old for the field too much distrusted as an abolitionist for council I was repentively inactive. My descendants fought on every field and bled on many.

This subject may be discussed one hundred years hence: not now. The southern people desire the word of the president be adapted in good faith, viz: Let us have peace.