Thomas Jefferson Autograph Letter Signed as President. One page, 6.5" x 5", Washington, D.C., March 15, 1808. President Jefferson pens a seemingly mundane letter, inquiring about a missing shipment of boxes that was due to have arrived long ago, but the names and dates in the letter offer their own interesting stories and suggest intriguing possibilities.

    This personal letter, penned on a plain scrap of paper, reads as follows: "You were so kind as to forward me a bill of lading issued by the younger Capt. Hand for 7 boxes & a jar dated Feb. 5. So long a time having elapsed without hearing of him I begin to apprehend some inattention on his part, and [illegible] rather as I am told he has been here since that date. Will you be so kind as to have some enquiry made and to inform me what has become of the boxes. I salute you with great esteem and respect. Th: Jefferson."

    The letter is addressed to "Capt. Shee." Although we cannot be certain, it is probable that Jefferson is writing to Colonel Shee, formerly of the 3rd Pennsylvania Battalion of the Continental Army, whose service was honorable but apparently unremarkable.

    "The younger Capt. Hand" refers to Obadiah Hand, son of a Staten Island NY ship owner/operator, who served honorably in the Revolutionary War. Following his service, he returned to the shipping business, but only for a few years. In 1813, he was called upon again to serve his country in battle. As luck would have it, Hand had moved his family from Fort Mimms, Alabama, to St. Stephens, Alabama, shortly before the Creek Indian attack and massacre at the fort (August 30, 1813). In response, Hand immediately assembled a group of determined and sturdy men from St. Stephens and supervised the rapid building of a citizen's stockade named Fort Republic, to which he was later elected Captain. Unfortunately, no direct link between Colonel Shee and Captain Hand could be found, but it is interesting to note that Obadiah Hand's sister married into the Vanderbilt family, and that Hand's son, Samuel Patten Hand, was mentioned in commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt's will with a gift of $5000 in stock in the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company, a major part of the New York Central Railroad's Water Level Route from Buffalo, New York to Chicago.

    Although little of import was occurring in Jefferson's administration at the time this letter was written, we do know that he was anticipating the birth of the last of his five reported illegitimate children, mothered by Jefferson's slave Sally Hemings. Eston Hemings Jefferson was born on May 21, 1808, and as recent DNA testing has revealed, Eston's descendants are indeed descendants of the male Jefferson line, but the tests cannot show conclusively whether they are descended from Thomas Jefferson himself. Although we cannot confirm what was contained in the boxes and jar so anxiously anticipated by Jefferson, it is possible that they were gifts and necessaries for the mother and newborn. We can say with authority that two months prior to writing this letter, President Jefferson's law prohibiting the importation of African slaves became effective.

    All speculation aside, this remains a wonderful personal letter well suited to any presidential collection. Lightly age toned with a faint damp stain affecting the left portion of the letter. Upper left corner is trimmed away; a small section of the upper right corner is torn away. Very good to fine condition.

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    October, 2008
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