Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2 Father and Son

SHADWELL, though not on the real frontier of Virginia, lay in the midst of a sufficiently unpopulated territory. To the west loomed like a cloud the faint outlines of the Blue Ridge Mountains; to the south sloped the waters of the Northanna, or, as it became more popularly known, the Rivanna. Other settlers in the vicinity were few and scattered--Thomas Jefferson later thought that his father was among the first three or four to enter the district1--but the Three Notch'd Road, main artery of east-west travel, passed close to Peter's land and brought welcome relief from the monotony of wilderness existence.

A year after Peter arrived with his family the Virginia Assembly created a new county, Albemarle, out of this western part of Goochland.2 In so doing it displayed a spirit of optimism in the rapid growth of the colony's western domain which the future was amply to justify, though currently the total population of Albemarle County consisted only of about one hundred whites and a proportionate number of Negro slaves.3

Since Peter Jefferson had already officiated as magistrate and sheriff of Goochland County it was natural for him to be appointed one of Albemarie's six new justices of the peace and, in February, 1745, a judge of the Court of Chancery.4 The following month he was named Lieutenant Colonel of militia--comprising all the able-bodied men in the county entitled to bear arms--and ten years later achieved the high station of county lieutenant, or general commander.5

But the Jeffersons and their four small children (a further daughter, Elizabeth, had been born in November, 1744) had barely acclimated themselves to their new surroundings when a most unusual demand was transmitted to them. William Randolph, cousin to Jane Jefferson, bosom friend to Peter and imbiber of the famous punch bowl, died suddenly at Tuckahoe in 1745. Only thirty-three years of age, he was already a widower with three daughters, Judith, Mary and Priscilla, and one son, Thomas Mann, aged four. When his will came to be read, it was found to contain a remarkable provision. After specifying that he had nominated Peter Jefferson as his executor, it declared: "Whereas I have appointed by my will that my Dear only Son Thomas Mann Randolph should have a private education given him at Tuckahoe, my will is that my Dear and loving friend Mr. Peter Jefferson do move down with his family to my Tuckahoe house and remain there till my son comes of age with whom my dear son and his sisters shall live."6

-11-

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