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1805 Letter: Thomas Jefferson's Letter is On Sale for $35,000

A letter dating back to 1805 shows other facets of Thomas Jefferson’s character. It proved that he had a human-all-too-human side to his personality. This rare 1805 latter is now on sale for $35,000 at Raab Collection.

May 14 2014, 6:57am CDT | by

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1805 Letter by Thomas Jefferson is On Sale for $35,000

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1805 Letter: Thomas Jefferson's Letter is On Sale for $35,000

Raab Collection of Philadelphia is selling a rare 1805 letter written by former President Thomas Jefferson at price of $35,000. "In a letter the existence of which was unknown until now, and which provides a rare glimpse into his human side, Jefferson requests that his assistant and former overseer Bowling Clark appraise the parcels," stated Raab Collection on its website

Poplar Forest was Thomas Jefferson’s home away from home. He used to go there to relax and seek peace of mind from the rat race. It originally belonged to his wife’s father who left it for his daughter. When she passed away it automatically went to Jefferson. 

Built upon thousands of acres of land, the forest provided Jefferson with a steady income due to the crops that were reaped from it. Over a hundred slaves were kept to work on the crops as well. This was also the venue where Jefferson pursued his private interests. 

"The time is now approaching when I shall wish to be parceling off some of my lands here to my grandchildren."

Jefferson decided to apportion the land of Poplar Forest between his two daughters and their grandchildren. And he had over eight grandkids. He wrote a letter to a subordinate named Clark explaining how the property was to be divided. Several facts came out in the open thanks to this frank and revealing letter. 

"Bowling Clark was Jefferson’s overseer at Monticello in 1786–87. He lived in Bedford County by about 1788 and served as Jefferson’s overseer at Poplar Forest from 1789–1801. Jefferson described him as “an honest & judicious man.” In 1801 Clark moved to Campbell County, where he was a farmer and horse breeder, but correspondence between the two indicates that Clark was assisting Jefferson with projects or information for Poplar Forest until at least 1814.

The Clarks and Jeffersons had known each other for decades, a relationship going back to Bowling’s grandfather Capt. Christopher Clark and Thomas’s father Peter Jefferson. Bowling’s father Micajah Clark was a close neighbor of Thomas Jefferson, had acted as Jefferson’s surveyor and laid out some of his land."

Finally, before his death, Jefferson gave away his entire wealth which was concentrated in Poplar Forest to Eppes, his favorite grandchild. Eppes knew that Jefferson was not well off by then and tried to return the estate to him, but Jefferson refused the offer. 

"In July 1805 Jefferson was at Poplar Forest for a short visit. He wrote to Clark to inform him that he was at last constructing a building there, and to ask him to help appraise the value of his land so that he could dedicate portions of the property to his grandchildren."

"...The building of a house here, which we begin this fall..."

Autograph letter signed, Poplar Forest, July 24, 1805, to Clark.

“I had intended to have asked the favor of seeing you here on my present visit, but the account I received of your health was such that I could not ask or expect it. I defer for that satisfaction therefore to this time 12 month when the building of a house here, which we begin this fall, will call me here, & I shall hope your health will be reestablished. The time is now approaching when I shall wish to be parceling off some of my lands here to my grandchildren. This renders it necessary that I should understand the separate value of each portion of them distinctly. As no person is so well acquainted with them as yourself, I must ask a favor of you to consider the questions on the paper enclosed, and to write at the end of each the answer in figures, and to send me the same paper to Monticello, by the first post. Having asked the same favor of some others, as soon as I receive your answer I shall be able to conclude finally in one case which presses. I by no means mean to give you the trouble of re-inspecting the lands; you know them so well that your answer given on recollection of them & reflection will perfectly answer my purpose. It is of no consequence at the valuation be at what they might sell for at market; provided all are valued on the same scale, so as to know their comparative worth, it will be sufficient. Wishing you a speedy reestablishment of health, I offer my friendly salutations & assurances of great esteem, Thomas Jefferson.”

Finally, when a long time had passed, Eppes sold the estate and shifted to Florida where he led a successful life. The original letter that Jefferson had written to Clark is on auction for $35,000. It is indeed a memento and shows Jefferson from a very human angle as an ordinary person engaged in matters having to do with the distribution of property among his grandchildren. 

Who will be willing to pay so much for a letter that is so old is anybody’s lucky guess. There are passionate collectors though and any one of them may decide to pay the colossal amount in order to gain possession of the letter. 


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