Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV

A Capacity for Involvement

As I grow older I set a higher value on the intimacies of my youth, and am more afflicted by whatever loses one of them to me.

Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald, July 28, 1787 1

It was rare for a man to know Thomas Jefferson well and not cherish the friendship all his life. This was as true of his early youth as during his manhood. James Maury had four students besides Jefferson who were age fourteen to sixteen, one his own son. All became intimate friends. Jefferson corresponded with two of the four until his death— James Madison (cousin of the president), later president of William and Mary College, and James Maury, Jr., who abandoned Virginia colony to become a British merchant. The latter would lament, at Jefferson's death in 1826, "on hearing my antient class mate had left me the sole survivor of the five who were together somewhat more than three score and ten years ago." Dabney Carr, the closest of all his youthful friends, married Jefferson's sister Martha. "Never had man more of the milk of human kindness," Jefferson wrote of him, "of indulgence, of softness, of pleasantry, of conversation and conduct." 2

There were difficulties only with John Walker, son of one of the executors of his father's will. When young Walker married Elizabeth Moore, he invited Jefferson to be one of the "bridemen" at his wedding. He set up housekeeping on a nearby plantation, and even made Jefferson executor of his estate in his will. But years later in an explosive and bitter assault, he privately accused Jefferson of having on numerous occasions tried to seduce his wife.

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