Original Jefferson letter found among archives
ON THE GREEN | Two graduate students working in archives recently acquired by the UD Library have discovered a letter written by Thomas Jefferson about the death of another prominent Colonial figure, John Dickinson.
The letter was found in the Rockwood Museum archives, which the Library received as a gift from New Castle County, Del., last year. Located in Wilmington, the Rockwood is a Victorian house museum with a conservatory and furnishings from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Graduate students Amanda Daddona and Matt Davis are processing the Rockwood archive, which includes thousands of documents, maps, letters, photographs, albums, diaries, deeds, business records, ephemera and other items from the 17th century until the late 1970s. In November, the students found the original letter, which was written by Thomas Jefferson while he was president, among the many boxes of unsorted early material of the Bringhurst family, the original family that owned Rockwood.
The letter, dated Feb. 24, 1808, was posted from Washington and addressed to Dr. Joseph Bringhurst, who had informed Jefferson in an earlier letter about the recent death, in Wilmington, of John Dickinson.
In the letter of tribute and condolence, Jefferson said Dickinson was “among the first of the advocates for the rights of his country when assailed by Great Britain” and “one of the great worthies of the revolution.”
In addition to the Jefferson letter, Daddona and Davis found two John Dickinson letters, which are notable in their own right. Dickinson was known as the “Penman of the Revolution” for his early “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies,” which argued the cause of liberty. Dickinson served in the Continental congresses and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. UD residence halls are named in his honor.
“Processing a Special Collection is a process of discovery,” says Susan Brynteson, vice provost and May Morris Director of Libraries. “What a thrill for the graduate students who discovered this during their work at the University of Delaware Library! A memory always to be cherished.”
Daddona, a history graduate student, says she was astonished when she discovered the letter. “The whole reason I am interested in history is because of my earlier studies of Thomas Jefferson, so I couldn’t believe it when I found this letter,” she says.
“Finding this letter was an unexpected surprise, as the bulk of the collection focuses on the more recent history of the Bringhurst family,” says Davis, who is a graduate assistant in political science and international relations and who holds the John Sweeney Fellowship at the UD Library, sponsored by the Friends of Rockwood.
L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, librarian in the Special Collections Department in the Library, calls the find “a wonderful experience” for the students.
“The graduate assistantship program really opens campus learning as students are exposed to the importance of historical resources and how they are managed in a research library,” Melvin says. “At the same time, the Library benefits from the academic focus and research skills that each graduate student brings.”
The letter by Jefferson was known to exist, but because it was in private hands, the location of the original was unknown until this discovery.