Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III

A Sense of Family

Be you, my dear, the link of love, union, and peace for the whole family. The world will give you the more credit for it, in proportion to the difficulty of the task.

Thomas Jefferson to his daughter Martha, July 17, 1790

One might assume that Thomas Jefferson as the eldest son with six sisters and a younger brother grew up in the most favored family position, the potential heir and young aristocrat, treated by his family, his friends, and numerous slaves with all the deference due his status and obvious promise. The real childhood was more complicated. Jefferson gives us a clue to the complication by passing on to his grandchildren his first childhood memory. As Henry Randall heard it, "He used to mention as his first recollection his being handed up and carried on a pillow by a mounted slave, as the train set off down the river towards Tuckahoe." 1 The earliest memory of any person is usually significant, even though distorted by feeling and enshrouded by time. How old was Jefferson, what was the journey, and why did he remember it?

William Randolph, who had helped shape Thomas Jefferson's destiny by giving his father the site for the Shadwell home in which he was born, had remained an intimate family friend. Randolph's wife died sometime before 1742, leaving two daughters and a son. Ill himself, and full of baleful premonitions, Randolph made Peter Jefferson one of the executors of his estate and begged him, in the case of his own death, to move with his family to the commodious Randolph estate at Tuckahoe and raise both families of children together. Peter agreed.

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