Peter Jefferson's Death: August 17, 1757
On June 5, 1757, Peter Jefferson took ill at his home, Shadwell, located on the River Anna in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jane Jefferson sent Peter's man-servant, Sawney, to Castle Hill to request the services of their family friend, Dr. Thomas Walker. At the time, 14-year old Thomas Jefferson was just coming home for summer break from the Dover Creek School, near Tuckahoe Plantation. By July 13, Peter's health had not improved, and on that day, Peter Jefferson wrote his will, appointing Dr. Walker as one of the executors for his estate. The other men he appointed were friends and business associates, Thomas Turpin Sr., John Nicholas, John Harvie, and Jane Jefferson's cousin, Peter Randolph.
Dr. Thomas Walker and Thomas Turpin Sr. were partners with Peter Jefferson at The Loyal Land Company. John Nicholas and John Harvie were investors with Peter in a speculative land development and Peter Randolph was a lawyer and the family’s legal counsel in charge of handling the estate’s legal affairs. All were large land and slave owners who promised Peter and Jane that they would take care of any estate representation and family guidance. Although these men had access to a network of relationships that would help pave the way for young Thomas to take his rightful place among the gentry.
Peter Jefferson’s Will stated: “…I do appoint Constitute & Ordain the Honorable Peter Randolph Esq., Thomas Turpin the Elder, John Nicholas, Doctor Thomas Walker & John Harvie Execrs of this my last
Will & Testament & Guardian to all my Children in Testimony whereof I have signed, sealed, & Published this as my last Will and Testament. I give and devise to my dear & well beloved wife, Jane Jefferson, for and during her natural life or widowhood, the use and profits of the house & plantation whereon I now live.”
Dr. Walker made eleven visits to Shadwell before Peter passed away at age 49. Peter Jefferson requested to be buried at Shadwell, and hired local carpenter Samuel Cobbs to build the coffin. The traditional funeral service was performed by the Rev. Mr. James Maury, and afterward, Peter was buried at Shadwell among the graceful cedars.
Peter Jefferson died on August 17, 1757, leaving Jane Jefferson a widow at age 37. Peter provided well for Jane by leaving her the house and plantation at Shadwell for her lifetime, together with a sufficient portion of slaves, stock, and horses.
To the estate, he left speculative land holdings, rental properties, and unlike many of his peers, no debt. After 17 years of marriage, Jane was left with eight children ranging from ages 2 through 17, and then in charge of running the family plantation.
Young Thomas was on summer break from the Dover School at the time, but due to the circumstances, would never return. He revered his father, and realized that he would then have to become the man of the family.
“But thrown on a wide world, among entire strangers, without a friend or guardian to advise, so young too, and with little experience of mankind, your dangers great, and still your safety
must rest on yourself…I recollect that at 14 years of age, the whole care & direction of myself was
thrown on myself entirely, without a relative or friend qualified to advise or guide me…” ~ Th: Jefferson
This comment casts a curiously slanted image of Thomas’ mother, whom he apparently did not judge
qualified to advise him. Thomas would not receive any portion of his inheritance until the age of twenty-one,and was subject to the scrutiny from the executors of the estate, Dr. Thomas Walker and John Harvie, as well as his mother. Thus, at fourteen, he was then head of the family with all its many responsibilities, but he had no power.
The adolescent years are a time when boys normally struggle with parental control and begin to assert their authority. The troubled teen had no masculine companion within the immediate family after the death of his father. He had his mother, six sisters, and an infant brother. Due to the fact that Peter Jefferson was away on surveying trips much of the time, and young Thomas had been sent to boarding schools for his education, quality time with Thomas had been more the norm than quantity time. Bereaved Thomas felt that he had been deserted at the age of fourteen. In his Commonplace Book, Thomas protested his mother’s authority and brooded about his father’s death. He wrote about being friendless, alone, and suffered under the hands of women.
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