DescriptionThomas Jefferson Autograph Letter Signed "Th:Jefferson." Two pages with integral address leaf, 7.25" x 9.25", Paris, May 17, 1789, to William Jones, elder partner of the English firm, Farrel & Jones, tobacco merchants out of Bristol, England. Writing from Paris while serving his last year as the United States Minister to France, Jefferson discusses a proposition in which he may pay off his debt. He says, in full:
"I have now to acknolege [sic] the receipt of your favor of Octob. 20 and Dec. 20 my proposition (referred to in your letter of Octob. 20) was to fix times of paiment [sic] for my part of Mr. [John] Wayle's debt on his private account, and that these paiments [sic] of my third should discharge me & my property of all responsibility for the remaining two thirds. without having acceded to my propositions you propose that I should commence the paiments [sic], but I informed you (when I first wrote to you on the subject) that I owed another debt of smaller amount to Kippen & co. that I had made to them propositions like those I made to you, and that if both of you acceded, the profits of my estate should be divided between you in proportion to your debts. they acceded immediately. it is natural then that I should prefer making whatever paiments [sic] I can to them, because I know on what conditions I pay. the moment you think proper to conclude an arrangement with me, from that moment you shall begin to receive the paiments [sic] proposed. I believe I informed you that I had given orders to rent my whole estate for a sum certain, so that you & myself might see clearly what could be calculated on. besides this, I gave orders the last year for the sale of some lands in Goochland & Cumberland, amounting to between two & three thousand pounds value. as the paiments [sic] for these lands will probably be by instalments [sic], these instalments [sic] will be divided between Kippen & co. & yourself if our arrangement shall be concluded; or if not concluded, they will be paid wholly to Kippen & co. to that being debarrassed [?] of that debt I can be able to make you greater annual paiments [sic] whenever we shall have agreed finally. in the mean time my anxiety to get these two debts fixed and put under a certain & regular course of paiment [sic] is such, that I have asked of our government a leave of absence for six months from Paris, during which I shall go to Virginia. I have been for some time in daily & hourly expectation of receiving this permission. I suppose it will come by the English packet which sailed from N. York the 1st of April, & which I have not yet heard to be arrived. within a week after receiving that permission I shall sail for Virginia; and be there two months and the principal object of this letter is to intreat you to give full power to Mr. Hanson or any person you please to settle this matter. no endeavors shall be wanting on my part to have this done; and I am sure of corresponding dispositions on the part of Mr. Eppes & Mr. Shipworth. but in any event I hope you will authorize Mr. Hanson to conclude with me separately according to my original proposition. your letters to him if they go off immediately on your receiving this may arrive in Virginia as soon as I shall."
Thomas Jefferson lived in debt through a majority of his life. In addition to his own, he had inherited a huge debt from his father-in-law upon his death in 1774. He was very wealthy in land and slaves, but farming was unreliable. Despite his wealth, Jefferson was ill-equipped to manage his finances. He always lived well beyond his means, spending vast amounts of money on material goods. Jefferson was himself a creditor; but repayment on his loans were unreliable and he often had to take a loss. After his death, his debt was estimated by his grandson and executor of his estate, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, to have been upwards of $107,000, a staggering amount of money in the early nineteenth century.
Remnant of wax seal on address leaf, which is also addressed in Jefferson's hand. Light staining at the left edge. Some ink bleed-through on both pages. Slight smudging of ink near the lower edge. Address leaf is separating from the upper edge.
W.C. Putnam Collection for the benefit of the Acquisition and Conservation Fund of the Putnam Museum.
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