Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8 Revolutionary Remonstrance

LIFE was hot easy for the young married couple those first months at Monticello. Living quarters were confined; the single bachelor room which was adequate for Jefferson had now to hold a young wife as well, accustomed to the spaciousness of her father's home. The mountaintop was littered with unfinished structures, piles of lumber, stone and earth, and the constant hammering and disorder of building operations. But Virginia women, plantation-reared, showed a surprising adaptability to pioneer conditions, and Martha, or Patty as she came to be affectionately called, no doubt adjusted herself readily to housekeeping under difficulties. Jefferson remained with her at Monticello for several months until she became acclimated, leaving both his law business and the affairs of the colony to take care of themselves.

Martha's young son by ber former marriage, John Skelton, had probably been left behind at The Forest in the custody of her father, though she doubtless intended to bring him to Monticello in the spring. There is no evidence, however, that the transfer was ever made, and young John died in his grandfather's home sometime in 1772.1

His mother was not long left childless. On September 27, 1772, not quite nine months after the wedding ceremony, a daughter was born to the Jeffersons. Named Martha after her mother--and nicknamed Patsy by her father-- the infant ailed at first, but soon grew robust and became a staff of comfort to Jefferson in his later widowed existence.

In the due rotation of the moons five more children came in regular sequence, but of them only one other besides Martha survived. This was Mary or Maria--nicknamed Polly-born on August 1, 1778. The others, all daughters, except for one impermanent son, did not survive the ailments of childhood. The last, and doubtless the one that finally contributed--with several intervening miscarriages--to Martha Jefferson's death, was Lucy Elizabeth, born May 8, 1782.

Martha Jefferson brought to her husband what seemed to be a substantial fortune. Her first husband had left her some property, and her father. John Wayles, was reputed rich and was certainly possessed of considerable lands and a luxurious way of life. On May 28, 1773, Wayles died at the age of fifty-eight, leaving three daughters to divide his estate. Their three husbands, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Eppes and Henry Skipwith, were named as executors in his will. Much of Martha's inheritance was already provided for by her mother's will and a substantial settlement made

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