Although he was born into one of the wealthiest families in North America, Thomas Jefferson was deeply in debt when he died. Jefferson’s trouble began when his father-in-law died, and he and his brothers-in-law quickly divided the estate before its debts were settled. It made each of them liable for the whole amount due – which turned out to be more than they expected.
Jefferson sold land before the American Revolution to pay off the debts, but by the time he received payment, the paper money was worthless amid the skyrocketing inflation of the war years. Cornwallis ravaged Jefferson’s plantation during the war, and British creditors resumed their collection efforts when the conflict ended. Jefferson suffered another financial setback when he cosigned notes for a relative who reneged on debts in the financial Panic of 1819. Only Jefferson’s public stature prevented creditors from seizing Monticello and selling it out from under him during his lifetime.
After his death, his possessions were sold at auction. In 1831, Jefferson’s 552 acres (223 hectares) were sold to James T. Barclay for $7,000, equivalent to $143 thousand today. Thomas Jefferson is buried on his Monticello estate, in Charlottesville, Virginia. In his will, he left Monticello to the United States to be used as a school for orphans of navy officers. His epitaph, written by him with an insistence that only his words and “not a word more” be inscribed (notably omitting his service as Governor of Virginia, Vice-President and President), reads:
one hundred and fifty slaves specially named and described in the said deeds, whereupon there remains to the said Thomas an equity of redemption on payment of the sums of money due to the said mortgagees respectively and for securing whereof the said mortgages were executed, and whereas the said Van Staphorsts & Hubbard have now lately and since the dates of the said deeds lent to the said Thomas the further sum of two thousand dollars, now therefore for securing the same, and in consideration of the further sum of five shillings to him in hand paid he hath given granted and conveyed unto the said Nicholas and Jacob Van Staphorsts & Hubbard all his right and equity of redemption in the said hundred and fifty negro slaves in full and absolute right and dominion. Provided nevertheless that if the said Thomas shall faithfully pay to the said Van Staphorsts & Hubbard the said sum of two thousand dollars with lawful interest thereon, then these presents to become void. Witness his hand and seal the day and year above written
The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, had an ambivalent relationship with the institution of slavery. During his lifetime, Jefferson attempted twice to legislate the emancipation of slaves, one time in 1769 at the Virginia General Assembly, and another in 1784 at the Continental Congress. Jefferson also railed against King George III of Great Britain and the slave trade in his draft copy of the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. Yet Jefferson, himself, acquired and sold hundreds of slaves throughout his lifetime, owning as many as 267 in 1822. A profligate spender, Jefferson was deeply in debt and had encumbered his slaves by notes and mortgages; he could not free them until he was free of debt, which he never achieved. All but one of Jefferson’s slaves was sold after his death to pay his debts.
Thomas Jefferson, who at the time of his death in 1826, had amounted an astounding at that time, $107K in debt which required the liquidation of all of his assets to attempt to satisfy. Had he survived in good health much longer, he very likely would have found himself a prisoner.
via Debtors Prison.
he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
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