Sunday, June 27, 2010

june 27, 1810 (wed.)

Even in retirement there's not enough time to follow every interest. Judge Thomas Cooper writes asking Mr. Jefferson to join him in the study of mineralogy, but fascinated as Mr. Jefferson is by natural philosophy, his time and energy right now are largely taken up with sheep and sheep dogs for the Merino project.

He forwards Judge Cooper's letter to James Cabell, writing that in his old age he is out of touch with the current state of the science, familiar with nothing past the time of Linnaeus. Tongue in cheek, he writes, "... [M]ihi Cui bono?" ("What good is it to me?") It's safe to joke around like this with a friend who knows he's not really that self-centered. Heaven help his image if some literal-minded historian in the future, who doesn't know him that well, misinterprets the remark. The early 19th century has no emoticons to designate "just kidding."

Science, religion, and politics are mixed in this age of enlightenment. Judge Cooper, along with Joseph Priestley and others, lives in Philadelphia now because the politico-religious climate in England was hostile to their ideas. Several years ago, angry mobs burned Dr. Priestley's house in a full-scale riot. It's a bit safer to hold dissenting and progressive ideas in this new country.

Monday, June 14, 2010

june 14, 1810 (thurs.)

As Mr. Jefferson sat at his writing desk this morning, two unrelated items of correspondence caused waves of memories of that awful summer twenty-nine years ago, when he helplessly watched as his wife lay dying, to batter down his careful defenses and wash over his mind.

Three days ago he sent what he hopes will be the final letter and document about the ongoing business of the Bathurst Skelton estate -- business that should've been settled three decades ago. Bathurst Skelton had been his dear Patsy's first husband.

Funny how having been a lawyer for other people's estate-related problems doesn't make it any easier to deal with his own.

Then yesterday he received word that Patsy's sister, Elizabeth, has died. He writes, "nearly the last of my early & most beloved friends has now dropt off, and I really view myself as a solitary trunk in the fields with all it's limbs fallen from it."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

june 13, 1810 (wed.)

Mr. Jefferson got word from his cousin, George Jefferson, that more rods of iron are on their way for his nail factory. The nailery, which has been in operation since 1794, isn't really a factory full of large steam-powered machines, like the new spinning and weaving factories one hears about in England. Rather, it more resembles a smithy, although there is a simple machine to cut the iron to proper lengths. About ten or so enslaved teenaged boys work there. The nails are not only used at Monticello, but are also sold locally. Mr. Jefferson hopes that this profit-making business can help pay off his debts, that it can provide a more steady income than he gets from agriculture, which is dependent on widely fluctuating weather and market conditions.

Friday, June 4, 2010

june 4, 1810 (mon.)

Mr. Jefferson is always looking for ways to improve the new country he declared independent in 1776, especially in agriculture. One of his many ongoing projects is raising Merino sheep, a breed known for its fine wool. His friend, James Madison (currently in Washington, D.C. serving as President), is working with him on this scheme. Joseph Dougherty is getting a ram and a ewe for each of them from a shipment William Jarvis sent from Portugal, sending the animals from Alexandria. The plan is to breed them, and then to distribute rams for free around Virginia, thus making the usually expensive animals available for farmers to start their own flocks.