Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

magnificent in itself, begins now to wear the solemn livery of antiquity as it is viewed through the deepening twilight of almost half a century, certainly performs a meritorious service, and can scarcely need a justification.” But if a subject of interest when contemplated in this view--if to the philosopher it affords a profound and gratifying theory in his annals of manhow vastly more important, and what a matter of exultation, must it be to those who reflect that it was their fathers who exhibited this noble spectacle to the world, and that the rights and privileges which they enjoy are the splendid result of their exertions! Their characters must become not only the subjects of curiosity, but their names of enduring gratitude, and the events of their lives not only the theme of frequent conversation, but familiar as household terms. It is under these impressions that these memoirs are presented to the publick; the memoirs of him whose name is one of the brightest in the revolutionary galaxy.

Thomas Jefferson was descended from a family who had long been settled in Virginia, the province of his nativity. His ancestors, according to a late biographer, had emigrated there at an early period; and although bringing with them, as far as is known, no fortune be yond that zeal and enterprize which are so useful and necessary to adventurers in a new and unknown coun try, and no rank beyond a name which was free from dishonour, they had a standing in the community high ly respectable, and lived in circumstances of considerable affluence. “The tradition in my father's family," says the subject of this sketch, in his modest and in teresting memoirs, “was, that their ancestor came to

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowden, the highest in Great Britain. I noted once a case from Wales in the law reports, where a person of our name was either plaintiff or defendant, and one of the same name was secretary to the Virginia Company. These are the only instances in which I have met with the name in that country. I have found it in our early records ; but the first particular information I have of any ancestor, was of my grandfather, who lived at the place in Chesterfield called Ozborne's, and owned the lands afterwards the glebe of the parish. He had three sons: Thomas, who died young; Field, who settled on the waters of Roanoke, and left numerous descendants; and Peter, my father, who settled on the lands I still own, called Shadwell, adjoining my present residence. He was born February 29, 1707-8, and intermarried, 1739, with Jane Randolph, of the age of 19, daughter of Isham Randolph, one of the seven sons of that name and family, settled at Dungeness, in Goochland. They trace their pedigree far back in England and Scotland, to which let every one ascribe the faith and merit he chooses."

Thomas Jefferson was born April 2, old style, 1743, at Shadwell

, in Albemarle county, Virginia, and was the eldest of eight children. His father, though his education had been entirely neglected in early life, yet, being a man of strong mind and sound judgement, he, by subsequent study, acquired no inconsiderable knowledge and information. His progress must have been not only rapid but profound, since we find him appointed in the year 1747 one of the commissioners with Joshua Fry, Professor of Mathematicks in William and

[ocr errors]

Mary College, for determining the division line between Virginia and North Carolina; an appointment no less creditable to his talents than his integrity, a confidence in the latter of which is peculiarly necessary in setding the boundaries between jealous and independent territories. After this service, he was again employed with the same gentleman to make a map of Virginia, the first which had ever been made, that of Captain Smith being indebted more to fancy and conjecture than to fact. The father of Thomas Jefferson died August 17, 1757, leaving a widow, who lived until 1776, and six daughters and two sons. To the youngest son he left his estate on James River; to the eldest, with whose life we are engaged, the lands on which he was born, and lived, and died.

Young Jefferson was placed at an English school at the age of five years; and at a Latin one at the

age

of nine, where he continued until the death of his father. When that event happened, he was placed under the tuition of the Reverend Mr. Maury, whom he represents

"correct classical scholar," and with whom he remained two years; when in the spring of 1760 he entered William and Mary College, and continued there the space of two years more. At the latter place it was his great good fortune, and what he considered as fixing the destinies of his life, that Doctor William Small, of Scotland, was then Professor of Mathematicks in the institution; "a man," says his pupil, "profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, of correct and gendemanly manners, and with an enlarged and liberal mind." An attachment was soon formed between these

as a

[merged small][ocr errors]

congenial spirits, and they became daily and inseparable companions. From the conversations of this learned man, and true friend, Jefferson confesses that he first imbibed his views of the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed.

Doctor Small returned to Europe in 1762, having first occupied the philosophical chair at the College, and filled up the measure of goodness to his young friend by procuring for him a reception as a student at law under the direction of the celebrated George Wythe, the most distinguished man of his age, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and afterwards Chancellor of the state of Virginia. With this gentleman he was also united not merely by the ties of professional connexion, but by a congeniality of feeling and similarity of views alike honourable to them both; the friendship formed in youth was cemented and strengthened by age, and when the venerable preceptor closed his life in 1806, he hequeathed his library and philosophical apparatus to a pupil and friend who had already proved himself worthy of his instruction and regard.

In 1767 he was introduced to the practice of the law at the bar of the General Court of the colony, and at which he continued until the revolution. His legal career was not only pursued with zeal, but attended with overflowing success. In the short period he devoted himself to it, he acquired an enviable reputation; and a monument of his professional labour and legal research still exists in a volume of reports of adjudged cases in the supreme courts of Virginia, compiled and digested amid the engagements of active occupation.

as the

But his energy and talents were demanded by his fellow citizens for publick life, and his country would not permit him to remain in a private station, or attend to ordinary affairs; their hopes and desires already pointed to him, and their interests directed his aim to higher objects and more extensive usefulness. As early

year 1769 he was elected a member of the provincial legislature from the county where he resided, and continued a member of that body until it was closed by the revolution. In consequence, he became associated with men who will always stand in bold relief among the first, the most ardent, and most determined champions of our rights.

While here, he made one strenuous but fruitless effort for the emancipation of the slaves: so early had a love of liberty and a detestation of tyranny been imprinted on his mind. His failure is ascribed to the effect of the regal government, from which nothing liberal, or that innovated on established errour, could expect success.

The minds of the generality were fettered and circumscribed within narrow limits by an habitual belief that it was a duty to be subordinate to the mother country in all matters of government, to direct the colonial labours in subserviance to her interests, and even to observe a bigoted intolerance for all religions but her own. 6. The difficulties with our representatives," he writes, “were of habit and despair, not of reflection and conviction.” And thus this noble attempt was considered as the attempt of rashness, and met the fate of folly. And that which has since immortalized its authors and promoters, was first conceived by the mind and enforced by the eloquence of

« PředchozíPokračovat »