“an entire reformation on the rest of my household”

After her mother died, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson was taken to Paris in 1785 by her father when he was appointed minister to France. She was enrolled at the prestigious Abbaye Royale de Panthemont convent, but when she began to have thoughts of converting to Catholicism her father withdrew her. She returned to the United States in 1789 when Thomas Jefferson became secretary of state in George Washington’s cabinet. Patsy shortly thereafter married her second cousin Thomas Randolph. She managed the plantation at Monticello for her father while he was in New York and kept him informed about what was happening. Her account shows her to be a prudent housewife, a devoted, if somewhat critical, sister, and a dutiful daughter.

Monticello January 16th 1791I very much regret not having answered yours My Dearest Papa sooner. … I took an account of the plate china &c. and locked up all that was not in imediate use. … The spoons &c that are in use are counted and locked up night and morn-ing so that I hope to keep them all to gather till your return. It was very troublesome in the beginning tho now I have the boys in tolerable order. Every thing goes on pretty well. I have wrought an entire reformation on the rest of my household, nothing comes in or goes out without my knowledge and I believe there is as little wasted as possible. I visit the kitchen smoke house and fowls when the weather permits and according to your desire send the meat cut out. I can give but a poor account of my reading having had so little time to my self. … Polly improves visibly in her spanish which she reads with much more facility than when you went away. She was surprised that I should think of making her look for all the words and the parts of the verb. Also when she made nonsence but finding me inexorable she is at last reconciled to her dictionary with whom she had for some time past been on very bad terms. She has been twice thru her grammar since your departure. As for the harpsichord tho I put in fine order, it has been to little purpose till very lately, I am in hope she will continue to attend to that also. She is remarkably docile where she can surmount her Laziness of which she has an astonishing degree and which makes her neglect whatever she thinks will not be imediately discovered. … The morning of the 13th at 10 minutes past four we had an earth quake which was severe enough to awaken us all in the house and several of the servants in the out houses. It was followed by a second shock very slight and an aurora borealis. …
Believe me ever your affectionate child

Patsy’s letter is on page 235 of In the Words of Women. The illustration is from the Library Company.

posted December 27th, 2012 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad, Daily life, Education, France, Weather


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