Primary Resource

"Mr. Jefferson's Family"; an excerpt from The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson by Hamilton W. Pierson (1862)

In chapter 7 of The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson by Hamilton W. Pierson (1862), Edmund Bacon, an overseer on Thomas Jefferson's plantation Monticello from 1806 until 1822, tells about Jefferson's family.

Transcription from Original

"Mr. Jefferson had four children. Two of them died very young. The other two, Martha and Maria, were in France with him while he was Minister. They were in school there. Martha married Col. Thomas Mann Randolph, afterwards Governor of Virginia. Maria married John W. Eppes. He afterwards went to Congress. He was a very fine-looking man, and a great favorite with everybody. Mrs. Eppes died very young, and was buried at Monticello. She had one boy, Frank Eppes, a

— page 86 —

fine little fellow. He used to stay at Monticello a good deal.

"I knew Mrs. Randolph as well as I ever knew any person out of my own family. Few such women ever lived. I never saw her equal. I was with Mr. Jefferson twenty years and saw her frequently every week. I never saw her at all out of temper. I can truly say that I never saw two such persons in this respect as she and her father. Sometimes he would refer me to her, or she would refer me to him, a half dozen times in a day. Mrs. Randolph was more like her father than any lady I ever saw. She was nearly as tall as he, and had the same clear, bright complexion, and blue eyes. I have rode over the plantation, I reckon, a thousand times with Mr. Jefferson, and when he was not talking he was nearly always humming some tune, or sing-ins: in a low tone to himself. And it was just so with Mrs. Randolph. As she was attending to her duties about the house, she seemed to be always in a happy mood. She had always her father's pleasant smile, and was nearly always humming some tune. I have never seen her at all disturbed by any amount of care and trouble.

Mr. Jefferson was the most industrious person I ever saw in my life. All the time I was with him I had full permission to visit his room whenever I thought it necessary to see him on any business. I

— page 87 —

knew how to get into his room at any time of day or night. I have sometimes gone into his room when he was in bed, but aside from that I never went into it but twice in the whole twenty years I was with him, that I did not find him employed. I never saw him sitting idle in his room but twice. Once he was suffering with the toothache; and once, in returning from his Bedford farm, he had slept in a room where some of the glass had been broken out of the window, and the wind had blown upon him and given him a kind of neuralgia. At all other times he was either reading, writing, talking, working upon some model, or doing something else.

"Mrs. Randolph was just like her father in this respect. She was always busy. If she wasn't reading or writing, she was always doing something. She used to sit in Mr. Jefferson's room a great deal, and sew, or read, or talk, as he would be busy about something else. As her daughters grew up, she taught them to be industrious like herself. They used to take turns each day in giving out to the servants, and superintending the house keeping. I knew all her children just as well as I did my own. There were six daughters and five sons. Let me see if I can remember their names. The boys were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Merriweather Lewis, and George Wythe.

— page 88 —

The daughters were Anne, Ellen, Virginia, Cornelia, and a little thing that could just run about when I came away. Her name was Septimis, or something like that [Septimia]. Only two of them were married when I came away. Jeff. married Jane Nicholas, daughter of Gov. Wilson C. Nicholas, and Anne married Charles S. Bankhead. Anne, Ellen, and Merriweather Lewis had the fresh rosy countenance of the Jefferson family. The rest of the family, as far as I can remember—I don't remember about the little ones—had the Randolph complexion, which was dark and Indian-like. You know they claim to be descended from Pocahontas. Virginia and Cornelia were tall, active, and fine looking, with very dark complexions.

"Mr. Jefferson was perfectly devoted to his grandchildren, and they to him. They delighted to follow him about over the grounds and garden, and he took great pleasure in talking with them, and giving them advice, and directing their sports. I have heard him tell them enough of times that nobody should live without some useful employment. I always raised my boys to work. Mr. Jefferson knew this, and it pleased him. On Saturdays, when they were not in school, they often cut coal wood for the nailery. They could cut a cord a day and earn fifty cents. Governor Ran-

— page 89 —

dolph once told them that if they would cut off the bushes from a certain field, he would give them twenty dollars. His boys would often go and work with them like little Turks on Saturdays, so that my boys could go with them a-fishing. After a while they finished their job and got their pay. Mr. Jefferson heard of it. One evening I heard him talking with his grandchildren about it. He told them my boys had got twenty dollars—more money than any of them had got; that they had earned it themselves, and said a great deal in their praise, and in regard to the importance of industrious habits. Merriweather Lewis was a very bright little fellow. I always thought him the most sprightly of all the Randolph children. He spoke up and said, 'Why, grandpa, if we should work like Fielding and Thomas, our hands would get so rough and sore that we could not hold our books. And we need not work so. We shall be rich, and all we want is a good education, so that we shall be prepared to associate with wealthy and intelligent people.' 'Ah !' said Mr. Jefferson, and I have thought of the remark a thousand times since, 'those that expect to get through the world without industry, because they are rich, will be greatly mistaken. The people that do work will soon get possession of all their property.' I have heard him give those children a great deal of good advice. I

— page 90 —

remember, once, hearing him tell them that they should never laugh in a loud, boisterous manner in company, or in the presence of strangers. That was his own habit.

"He took great pleasure in the sports and plays of his grandchildren. I have often seen him direct them and enjoy them greatly. The large lawn back of the house was a fine place for their plays. They very often ran races, and he would give the word for them to start, and decide who was the winner. Another play was stealing goods. They would divide into two parties, and lay down their coats, hats, knives, and other things, and each party would try to get all that the other had. If they were caught in the attempt to steal they were made prisoners. I have seen Mr. Jefferson laugh heartily to see this play go on. The children about the country used to enjoy coming there. It was a fine place for them to play, and in the fruit season there was always the greatest quantities of good fruit. Jeff. Randolph used very often to bring his schoolmates there.

"Before the University of Virginia was established, a man of the name of Oglesby taught a school at Charlottesville. I think he was a Scotchman. I know he was a foreigner. He was a fine teacher, and had a very large school. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Wm. C. Rives, Walker Gil-

— page 91 —

more, Vaul W. Southall, Wm. F. Gordon, and a host of other boys went to his school. Almost every Friday evening Jeff. Randolph would bring a lot of his mates to Monticello to play and eat fruit. If they did not come on Friday they were pretty certain to come on Saturday. I gave them the keys of the house and garden, and very often they all stayed there over night. One Saturday a lot of the schoolboys that were not invited concluded that they would come also, and help themselves to fruit. They went around the back side of the garden, broke off the palings, and got in. They then climbed the trees and broke off a good many limbs, and did a great deal of damage. The other party attacked them, and they had a tremendous fight. The party that had broken in was much the largest, and they could not drive them off. They threw stones at the old gardener and hurt him very badly. They sent to the mill for me, and when I got there the other party were gone, and some of Jeff.'s party were a good deal hurt. Vaul Southall was very bloody. He had fought like a little tiger. Wm. C. Rives was one of Jeff.'s party. He was an uncommonly fine boy, and was always the peacemaker among the boys. Whenever they got into a difficulty among themselves, they would all say, 'Let Willie Rives settle it.' Both parties were always willing

— page 92 —

to select him as umpire. So I said to him,'Willie, why didn't you settle this matter without all this fighting?' He was very much excited, as well as all the rest of them. 'Why, sir,' said he, 'you know that I am a little fellow and couldn't do much fighting, but I called them all the hard names I could think of, and then I started to turn Rompo loose on them, and they all ran off.' Rompo was a very fierce dog. I should like very much to see Wm. C. Rives now. I suppose he is quite an old man, though I was a man grown when he was a little boy. He was at Monticello a great deal. Very often he did not like the doings of the other boys, when I gave them the keys to stay up there alone, and he would come down and stay all night at my house. He has stayed there many a night. The other boys were too intimate with the negro women to suit him. He was always a very modest boy. I once heard one of the other boys make a vulgar remark. He said, 'Such talk as that ought not to be thought, much less spoken out.' Mr. Jefferson thought a great deal of him, and so did all the family. I think it would have suited them all mighty well if he had married Ellen. But I don't think he ever courted her, and I don't know that she would have married him if he had. He got in love with Miss Walker and married her. I remember Ellen was one day at my house, and my wife was

— page 93 —

joking her about him, telling her what a fine thing it would be, he was such a fine young man, and had such a large property. After a while she said, 'Oh, he is too much of a runt to make anybody a husband,' and ran off as fast as she could.

"Gov. Randolph, Mr. Jefferson's son-in-law, was a very eccentric man, and would often do the most strange and laughable things. I remember, once, going with him to Edgehill, his plantation, to look after the hands that were at work in the harvest-field, cutting and putting up the wheat. He looked at the shocks, and a good many of them were not put up to suit him. He was riding 'Dromedary.' Suddenly he dashed away and rode him right through a large number of the shocks, scattering them in all directions. We then rode on to where the overseer was engaged with the hands. After getting through with all his business with the overseer, as he was leaving he told him he thought the old bull must have been in the lot; he had seen a good many shocks torn down and scattered about as he came along. The overseer looked at me and laughed. He understood the matter perfectly.

"The main road from the western part of the State to Richmond ran between Monticello and Edgehill. There was always a great deal of hauling on that road, and teams were almost constantly passing. They got in the habit of camping in the

— page 94 —

 lane just beyond Mr. Randolph's house, and burnt his rails, and made him a heap of trouble. He sent his overseer one night to remonstrate with them against burning his rails. There were a large number of them, and they just laughed at him, and finally gave him a tremendous whipping. When Mr. Randolph heard of it he said he would go himself next time. He was tall, swarthy, and rawboned—one of the stoutest men I ever saw, and afraid of nothing. He was generally dressed in the most indifferent manner, and was very queer any way. The Randolphs were all strange people. John Randolph, you know, was one of the most eccentric men that ever lived, and I think Gov. Randolph was full out as strange a man as he. They were as much alike as any two steers you ever saw.

"A few nights after the overseer was whipped, they camped again, built their fires, were cooking their supper, and Gov. Randolph went down to see them. They soon discovered him, creeping about very slyly and watching them, and thought it was somebody trying to steal their horses. They were often troubled in this way; negroes and others would get their horses and ride them off, and they would have a great deal of trouble to find them in the morning. At length they gave chase, and he allowed himself to be very easily taken. They ac-

— page 95 —

cused him of trying to steal their horses, said they would have him punished, and demanded that he should tell them where a magistrate lived. He pointed to his own house, and told them that a magistrate lived there. Two of them led him to it. It was the strangest-looking house you ever saw, as strange as himself. They led him into the piazza, and he told them he would go in and get the magistrate. He soon reappeared with his pistols, let them know he had brought them to his own house, stormed at them with his big grum voice in the roughest manner until he had scared them sufficiently, and then very calmly told them to be careful whom they arrested hereafter, gave them some good advice, and sent them away. I knew one of those wagoners very well. He used often to tell of it, and laugh at the way they were taken in by the Governor.

"Governor Randolph was a very hard rider. It was a very common thing with him when he was Governor to start from Richmond after supper and ride ' Dromedary' home by daylight next morning. He would do strange things with that horse. They were just suited to each other. I have often seen him take hold of his tail and run him up the mountain as hard as he could go.

"Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Randolph and I were once riding up the mountain together, and we over-

— page 96 —

took an old bald-headed negro, who did nothing but haul wood and water. 'Isaac,' said Mr. Randolph, with his big grum voice, 'have you got any tobacco?' 'Yes, master,' said he, taking off his hat and making a low bow with a great flourish, and handed him the tobacco out of the top of his hat. Mr. Jefferson laughed and said, 'It comes from a very shining place.'

"Governor Randolph was a very poor manager. He often had to sell off negroes to pay his debts. Here is a bill of sale for a woman I bought of him. She belonged to an excellent family of servants. He wished me to take another woman instead of her, but I preferred her decidedly, and would not do it, and, as he was obliged to raise the money, he let me have her.

"'BILL OF SALE.

"' I hereby convey to Edmund Bacon, for the sum of five hundred dollars, namely, in cash five hundred dollars, and in his note of hand $ due on demand, a full and indefeasible right, title, and estate in a female slave, Maria, daughter of Iris, born at Edgehill, this day put into his possession, and I, for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators, &c, the said title to the said slave do forever warrant and defend to the said Bacon, his heirs or

— page 97 —

assigns. Witness my hand and seal this October 9th, 1818.

"'Th. M. Randolph. [seal.]

"'Done in presence of

"'Daniel Caldase,

"'William F. Cardin,

"'James O. Wallers.'

"While he was Governor his debts troubled him a great deal. I often loaned him money, and he often applied to me to help him raise it from others. When he must have it, and could get it in no other way, he would be obliged to sell some of his negroes. Here is one of his letters to me.

"It is superscribed:

"'Mr. Edm. Bacon, by Phil.

"'Dear Sir: It is so absolutely necessary to me to have as much as $150 by to-morrow evening, to send by express to pay into the Bank of U. S., and Bank of Virginia in Richmond, before 3 o'clock on Wednesday next, that I am forced, against my will, to importune you farther with the offer of the little girl at Edgehill. Do you think it would be possible for us to borrow that money between us by 3 o'clock to-morrow? I should have set off down to-day, but the hope of succeeding to-morrow

— page 98 —

 so as to do by sending, has stopped me. I am obliged to be in Richmond on the Board of Public Works week after next, and my presence is more wanted now at Edgehill than Varina. Besides, my wife is really ill to-day. Could you prevail on your mother to lend as much money?

"'Your friend,

"'Th. M. Randolph.

"'Mr. BaconMay 9, 1819.'

"I raised the money for him, and the next day paid him two hundred dollars for Edy. She was a little girl four years old. He gave me this receipt:

"'Received from Edmund Bacon two hundred dollars for Edy, daughter of Fennel, now at Edgehill, and I bind myself to make a complete title in the said Edy to the said Bacon. Witness my hand, this May 16, 1819.

"'Th. M. Randolph.'

"He was finally unable to meet his obligations, failed completely, and lost every thing. Mr. Jefferson, in making his will, had to take especial care to prevent Mr. Randolph's creditors from getting what property he left for Mrs. Randolph.

— page 99 —

"Before he died his mind became shattered, and he pretty much lost his reason. He had no control of his temper. I have seen him cane his son Jeff, after he was a grown man. Jeff. made no resistance, but got away from him as soon as he could. I have seen him knock down his son-in-law Charles L. Bankhead with an iron poker. Bankhead married his daughter Anne. She was a perfectly lovely woman. She was a Jefferson in temper. He was the son of a very wealthy man who lived near Fredericksburg. He was a fine-looking man, but a terrible drunkard. I have seen him ride his horse into the bar-room at Charlottesville and get a drink of liquor. I have seen his wife run from him when he was drunk and hide in a potato-hole to get out of danger. He once stabbed Jeff. Randolph because he had said something about his abuse of his sister, and I think would have killed him, if I had not interfered and separated them.

"One night he was very drunk and made a great disturbance, because Burwell, who kept the keys, would not give him any more brandy. Mrs. Randolph could not manage him, and she sent for me. She would never call on Mr. Randolph at such a time, he was so excitable. But he heard the noise in the dining-room and rushed in to see what was the matter. He entered the room just as I did, and Bankhead, thinking he was Burwell, be-

— page 100 —

gan to curse him. Seizing an iron poker that was standing by the fireplace, he knocked him down as quick as I ever saw a bullock fall. The blow pealed the skin off one side of his forehead and face, and he bled terribly. It if [sic] had been a square blow, instead of glancing off as it did, it must have killed him.

"Bankhead came to me one Court day at Charlottesville and told me he did not want me and one of our overseers that was with me to leave him that day. He did not tell us what he wanted, and we had no idea. We saw that he did not get drunk that day as usual, and we were surprised at that. Towards night he came to us and said he wanted us to start home with him. We rode out of town some distance towards Monticello, and he got off his horse and hitched him to the fence, and requested us to hitch ours and stay with him. We still had no idea of what he was about, or what he wanted of us. At length Phil. Barbour and Wm. F. Gordon rode along. Gordon had been employed in a suit against Bankhead, and in making his speech he had taken a lawyer's privilege and said a good many severe things about him, for which he had determined to fight him. Bankhead went out immediately in front of Gordon and requested him to get down; said he wanted to speak to him. Gordon made some excuse, and declined. Bankhead

— page 101 —

asked him again, and Gordon, who seemed to have no idea what he wanted, gave some reason that I have forgotten, and again declined. Bankhead then told him he had insulted him, and began to curse him with all his might. He told him that he was armed, and that if he did not get down, he would bring him down—he would shoot him; 'but,' said he, 'if you will get down, I will throw away my pistols, and agree to fight you with nothing but what my mother gave me.' It was no use for Gordon to refuse, nor for us to try to prevent the fight. He got off his horse, and he had hardly touched the ground, before at it they went, and I never in all my life saw such a fight. They fought and fought, and neither seemed to get the least bit of advantage over the other. They clinched several times, and tried to throw each other down, but both were too strong and supple. Neither could get the other down. I never did see as even a match. I think they must have fought a half an hour, and both of them were as bloody as butchers, when I told Phil. Barbour it would never do for us to let them fight any longer—we must separate them. So he took hold of Gordon, and I took hold of Bankhead, and we just pulled them apart.

"Bankhead got the worst of it. One eye was badly injured, and I think never did get entirely over the hurt. Bankhead was the stoutest, but

— page 102 —

Gordon had the best wind. I often heard him describe the fight, and laugh about it afterwards. He said he thought of crying 'Enough!' several times, but Bankhead kept him so busy he hadn't time.

"I bought a negro woman and her two children of Bankhead. Here is his receipt:

"'This writing proves that I have sold and received payment for a negro woman named Winny, and her two children, and that I promise and am bound to give a bill of sale for s'd negro's, having received payment.

"'As witness my hand, &c.

"'Chas. L. Bankhead.

"'Test,

"'Thos. Wells.

"'1st July, 1814.'"