March 30 1816: Educating Jefferson’s Grandson


On March 30 1816, Thomas Jefferson writes to his son-in-law  John Wayles Eppes. The letter concerns the education of his grandson, Francis Wayles Eppes VII. Francis is fourteen years old. Jefferson thinks that he should learn Spanish. “It is a language,” he writes, “which will be very important to an American; as we shall have great intercourse with Spanish America within his day”.

Monticello Apr. [Mar.]1 30. 16.

Dear Sir –  Francis returns as much improved, I am in hopes, as you will have expected. he reads French with so much ease as to read it for amusement, has not much occasion for his dictionary, pronounces generally well, the few defects remaining being such as will be easily corrected hereafter. being kept almost entirely at French, he could afford only the time before breakfast for keeping up his Latin. yet he has done more than that, being very sensibly improved in his knowledge of the construction of the language. he will probably require at least two years more to perfect him in that, and to get so far advanced into the Greek as to be able to pursue it alone afterwards. I suppose you are well satisfied of the qualifications of the tutor in N. Carolina, to whom you propose to send him. our own to be sure are bad enough; yet I should not readily have believed they were before us there. at the New London academy there is a teacher (mr Mitchell I think is his name) about equal to mr Halcomb, a young man very anxious to do what is best, and open to advice. I am sure he would pursue any plan I should recommend to him; and should your mind not be made up for N. Carolina, I believe he would carry Francis on very competently. his situation there would have the advantages of being within 10. or 12. hours ride of you, and under my eye 3. months in the year for I pass that much at Poplar Forest in the 3. or 4. visits I make there in the course of the year. he would be more in the way too of being always furnished with the best books, and could take some future occasion of passing two or three months here again and of learning Spanish. Ellen has the true pronunciation more perfectly than myself. it is a language which will be very important to an American; as we shall have great intercourse with Spanish America within his day. I confess too I contemplate with pleasure his early familiarisation with that part of the country, having the wish to make him a comfortable future home there. after acquiring the languages, a course of a couple of years at Wm & Mary for Mathematics Etc. would be very necessary.

I am almost afraid to propose to you to yield to me the expence and direction of his education. yet I think I could have it conducted to his advantage. certainly no expence which could be useful to him, and no attention on my part would be spared; and he could visit you at such times as you should wish. if you say Yea to this proposition, he might come on to me at Poplar Forest for which place I shall set out about the 6th of April, and shall be there to about the 21st and could I hear from you soon after my arrival there, I could be taking preparatory steps for his reception and course to be pursued. all this is submitted to your good pleasure. Patsy, supposing mrs Eppes to have an attachment to flowers, sends her a collection of seeds. your servant asks for the large Lima bean we got from Wm Hylton from Jamaica. it has dwindled down to a very poor one, not worth sending if we had it to spare, which we have not. she thinks there may be some at Edgehill and is now sending to see. if there are any they are of the genuine sort & will be sent. all here join with me in affectionate esteem and respect to mrs Eppes & yourself.
Th: Jefferson

1 thought on “March 30 1816: Educating Jefferson’s Grandson

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    The PastNow blog has a very interesting approach to history, presenting events and often first-person writings from dates exactly 200 years in the past. I thought this was a fascinating piece showing a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to his 14-year-old son-in-law, with a prescient message about the importance of language education. So many people today are enraged when they hear “Press 1 for English” on a telephone menu, so I wonder what they would think to read this letter from one of our founding fathers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s