Thomas Jefferson's Advice to
his Eleven-Year-Old Daughter, 1783
Thomas Jefferson's wife, Martha, died at their home at Monticello in September 1782 soon after the birth of their sixth child. Jefferson was devastated and sunk into a depression that lasted over a period of years.
Shortly after his wife's death, Jefferson's duties as a member of the Continental
Congress required that he leave Monticello and that he entrust the care of his
three living children - Martha (Patsy), Mary and Lucy - to others.
In November of 1783 the Continental Congress was meeting in Annapolis, MD. Jefferson
took time out from his duties to write to his oldest daughter - eleven-year-old
Patty - who had been left in the care of Mrs. Thomas Hopkinson, the mother
of a friend.
Much has changed since the time that Jefferson wrote to his young daughter -
our world would be as foreign to him as his would be to us. However, Jefferson's
letters reveal that the trials and tribulations of parenthood remain a constant
through the passage of time.
Jefferson constructs a strict schedule for his daughter's education and expects
regular updates. He is disappointed:
"Annapolis, Nov. 28th, 1783
My Dear Patsy
After four days' journey, I arrived here without any accident, and in as good
health as when I left Philadelphia. The conviction that you would be more improved
in the situation I have placed you than if still with me, has solaced me on
my parting with you, which my love for you had rendered a difficult thing.
The acquirements which I hope you will make under the tutors I have provided
for you will render you more worthy of my love; and if they cannot increase
it, they will prevent its diminution.
Consider the good lady who has taken you under her roof. . . as your mother, as the only person to whom, since the loss with which heaven has been pleased to afflict you, you can now look up.
With respect to the distribution of your time, the following is what I should approve:
From 8. to 10. o'clock practise music.
From 10. to 1. dance one day and draw another.
From 1. to 2. draw on the day you dance, and write a letter next day.
From 3. to 4. read French.
From 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.
From 5. till bedtime, read English, write, &c.
..I expect you will write me by every post. Inform me what books you read, what tunes you learn, and inclose me your best copy of every lesson in drawing. Write also one letter a week either to your Aunt Eppes, your Aunt Skipworth, your Aunt Carr, or the little lady from whom I now enclose a letter. . . . Take care that you never spell a word wrong. Always before you write a word, consider how it is spelt, and, if you do not remember it, turn to a dictionary. It produces great praise to a lady to spell well...
If you love me, then strive to be good under every situation and to all living creatures, and to acquire those accomplishments which I have put in your power, and which will go far towards ensuring you the warmest love of your affectionate father,
P. S. - keep my letters and read them at times, that you may always have present in your mind those things which will endear you to me.
Annapolis, Dec. 22, 1783
My Dear Patsy
I hoped before this to have received letters from you regularly and weekly by
the post, and also to have had a letter to forward from you to one of your aunts
as I desired in my letter of Nov. 28th. I am afraid you do not comply with my
desires expressed in that letter. Your not writing to me every week is one instance,
and your having never sent me any of your copies of Mr. Simitiere's drawing lessons
is another. I shall be very much mortified and disappointed if you become inattentive
to my wishes and particularly to the directions of that letter which I meant
for your principal guide.
I omitted in that letter to advise you on the subject of dress, which I know you are a little apt to neglect. I do not wish you to be gayly clothed at this time of life, but that your wear should be fine of its kind. But above all things and at all times let your clothes be neat, whole, and properly put on. Do not fancy you must wear them till the dirt is visible to the eye. . .. Some ladies think they may. . . be loose and negligent of their dress in the morning. But be you, from the moment you rise till you go to bed, as cleanly and properly dressed as at the hours of dinner or tea.
A lady who has been seen as a sloven. . . in the morning, will never efface the impression she has made, with all the dress and pageantry she can afterwards involve herself in. Nothing is so disgusting to men as a want of cleanliness and delicacy in women. I hope, therefore, the moment you rise from bed, your first work will be to dress yourself in such style, as that you may be seen by any gentleman without his being able to discover a pin amiss, or any other circumstance of neatness wanting...
Present my compliments to . . . Mrs. Hopkinson whose health and happiness I have much at heart. I hope you are obedient and respectful to her in every circumstance and that your manners will be such as to engage her affections. I am my Dear Patsy, yours sincerely & affectionately,
Jefferson's letters appear in: Boyd, Julian P. (ed), Papers of Thomas Jefferson vol. VI (1950); Brodie, Fawn M. Thomas Jefferson, An Intimate Life (1974).
How To Cite This Article:
"Thomas Jefferson's Advice to His Eleven-Year-Old Daughter, 1783" EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2007).