JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826). Autograph letter to John Page, Philadelphia, 30 July 1776.
Two pages, 326 x 210mm, bifolium, with integral transmittal leaf addressed in his hand and franked ("free Th Jefferson") (small seal hole, not affecting text).
Writing in July 1776, only weeks after drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson sends war news to an old college friend and opines on the motto of an independent State of Virginia. Jefferson complains of disappointments in the field: "Washington’s and Mercer’s camps recruit with amazing slowness. Had they been reinforced more readily something might have been attempted on Staten island. The enemy there are not more than 8, or 10,000 strong. Ld. Howe has recd. none of his fleet, unless some Highlanders (about 8, or 10 vessels) were of it." Over the course of the summer, British forces on Staten Island would swell threefold and would soon overwhelm Washington's forces forcing him to abandon the city for the duration of the war. Jefferson also reports on the northern theatre and Arnold's race to build a naval squadron on Lake Champlain: "Our army at Tyonderoga is getting out of the small pox. We have about 150. carpenters I suppose got there by now. I hope they will out-build the enemy, so as to keep our force on the lake superior to theirs. There is a mystery in the dereliction of Crown-point. The general officers were unanimous in preferring Tyonderoga, and the Field officers against it. The latter have assigned reasons in their remonstrance which appear unanswerable, yet every one acquainted with the ground pronounce the measure right without answering these reasons." (Ironically, the Americans would abandon Ticonderoga the following year when they realized it was indefensible against Burgoyne's's forces advising southward from Canada.)
Jefferson also addresses Page's report of two French officers who had escaped Dunmore's custody after being captured as they attempted to sail into Norfolk with powder arms and medicine. To Page's suggestion that they travel to Philadelphia for a military assignment, Jefferson demurred: "I would not advise that the French gentlemen should come here. We have so many of that country, and have been so much imposed on, that the Congress begins to be sore on that head. Besides there is no prospect of raising horse this way. But if you approve of the Chevalier de St. Aubin, why not appoint him yourselves, as your troops of horse are Colonial not Continental?
Jefferson additionally responds to Page's complaint that he is unable to find an engraver to create an official seal for the State of Virginia: "we enquired into the probability of getting your seal done here. We find a drawer and an engraver here both of whom we have reason to believe are excellent in their way. They did great seals for Jamaica and Barbadoes both of which are said to have been well done, and a seal for the Philosophical society here which we are told is excellent. But they are expensive, and will require two months to complete it. The drawing the figures for the engraver will cost about 50 dollars, and the engraving will be still more. Nevertheless as it would be long before we could consult you and receive an answer, as we think you have no such hands, and the expence is never to be incurred a second time we shall order it to be done. I like the device of the first side of the seal much. The second I think is too much crouded, nor is the design so striking. But for god’s sake what is the ‘Deus nobis haec otia fecit.’ It puzzles every body here; if my country really enjoys that otium, it is singular, as every other colony seems to be hard struggling. I think it was agreed on before Dunmore’s flight from Gwyn’s island so that it can hardly be referred to the temporary holiday that has given you. This device is too aenigmatical, since if it puzzles now, it will be absolutely insoluble fifty years hence."
Rare. Jefferson letters written in 1776 seldom appear at auction. Rare Book Hub records the last example to appear at auction, apart from the present letter, was in 1931 (Anderson Galleries, 17 March 1931, lot 111). Provenance: Skinner, 19 November 1994, lot 31.