Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3 Education of a Virginian

PETER JEFFERSON left a comfortable estate to his family and in sound, manageable condition. Nor was it laden with the burden of debt that only too often frittered away the ostensible substance of the average Virginia holding. A life of unremitting activity and prudent investment had borne fruit. His lands at Shadwell, Monticello and its environs, Poplar Forest and elsewhere totaled somewhere around 7,500 acres, and were largely good, cultivable property. The group of buildings he had erected at Shadwell were sufficient for the current needs of his family. They were surprisingly well furnished; the inventory of his personal possessions discloses a cherry-tree desk, a walnut desk, two bookcases which housed his little library, black walnut tables and chairs to match, arm chairs, mirrors, dressing tables the inevitable beds and bedding, and fine silver services that were doubtless imported from England. Nor was his farm less well stocked: twenty-one horses, a goodly number of cows, hogs and sheep, and fifty-three slaves to tend the fields and take care of personal wants. The Jeffersons would not be poor.1

To his wife, Jane, Peter left the house and lands at Shadwell for life, one-sixth of the household goods and slaves, two work horses and onethird of the other farm animals. To the six daughters went body servants and the sum of £200 each, payable to them either on marriage or the attainment of twenty-two years of age. The slaves otherwise undisposed of went to his sons, Thomas and the infant Randolph; and the balance of his livestock was to be sold and the avails used "for the support and maintenance of my Family and for the benefit of my two sons equally." To Thomas, as the eider son, went the largest portion of the estate: "my mulatto fellow Tawny, my books, mathematical instruments, and my cherry tree desk and bookcase"; the choice of either his lands on the Rivanna or on the Fluvanna, election to be made within one year after he reached twenty-one; and the residuary estate. To Randolph went the lands which Thomas did not choose. However, all lands, no matter to whom granted, were made subject to "the maintenance of my family, the educanon of my younger children, and the payment of my daughters' Portions."2

As executors and guardians Peter chose an impressive assemblage: ColonelPeter Randolph, who was Jane's cousin; Thomas Turpin, who had married Peter's sister Mary; Dr. Thomas Walker of Castle Hill, who had attended Peter in his last illness; and John Harvie of Belmont, lawyer and

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