James Madison and the Jefferson Nephews

As a young adult, Thomas Jefferson’s best friend was a guy named Dabney Carr. They went to college together, and Carr married Jefferson’s younger sister Martha. He died at the age of 30, a few weeks after the birth of his youngest son (also named Dabney), and was buried on the grounds of Monticello.

Well, in 1784, Jefferson knew he was going to be leaving for France. Since he wasn’t going to be around, he needed to have someone close to home to make informed decisions about the schooling of his nephews, Peter and Dabney. (Apparently there was a third boy named Samuel! But I haven’t seen any mention of him in these letters. Very mysterious.)

He gave this esteemed position to his good buddy James Madison:

Essentially, 'I am entrusting you with the education of the sons of my dead best friend. Just write to my sister and she’ll do whatever you say.’ (Fun direct quotes: “sound masculine talents,” and “I believe he is about 14. years of age.”)

A couple months later, Madison replied with his progress so far:

(‘I’ve found a school for the older one. The schools around here suck, actually, but I’m doing the best I can.’)

After that he gave Jefferson periodic updates:


My favorite part about all this, though, is when Martha Jefferson Carr wrote to Madison. We apparently don’t have any of his letters to her, but we have two from her to him.


For Madison’s first letter to her, he tells Jefferson, “One of my brothers being called into that part of the Country by business, I wrote to Mrs. Carr and got him to wait on her.” Mrs. Carr replied saying, “I am Extreemly Oblige to you Sir for Your kind offer of forwarding my letters to my Brother but must defer writing to him till an other Oppertunity as I am fearfull of detaining Mr Madison who is So Obligeing as to wait at goochland Court for this.” For some reason I love the idea of James Madison’s little brother waiting around for Thomas Jefferson’s little sister to finish a letter.

Here’s the last mention of a nephew while Jefferson was still in France:

Aaaaand here’s something from that enclosed letter from Peter:


You were the first person I’ve cared for so much. The first person I really opened up to. And now I’m finding out that maybe you’re not the person I thought you were. Maybe you’ll prove me wrong, but until then I need to move on. I try not to think about you all the time, but I do. I still want to text you about things that happen during the day. But I don’t. I still want to send you things that remind me of you, which is a lot. But I don’t. Now whenever I text you I feel like I’m bothering you. So I won’t text you anymore. It didn’t use to be that way. I used to be able to tell you anything and text you whenever and not worry about it. But I guess things change. You’re still the first person I want to tell things too, but I’m starting to learn that you’re not going to be that person for me.

You told me what I wanted to hear. I believed you. I want to believe that you meant what you said, but there’s a part of me that wonders if you just said it because you knew it’s what I wanted to hear. You made me feel special. You knew I have self-confidence issues and you tried to help me past them. You told me you were surprised I was still single, how you’d never been with someone as pretty as me, how amazing I was. But clearly I still wasn’t enough. You built up my self-confidence and then without even knowing you tore it back down. Now I just feel like you used me. 

You will always be special to me, even though to you I know I’m just another girl. I don’t want to move on, but I have to. I can’t keep waiting around for you to text me, or trying to start conversations when you only reply in short sentences or one word answers. I can’t be the one who is always trying to see how things are going and initiate conversations. I want you to do that on your own. Maybe I ignored the warning signs so part of this is my fault, but I’m not taking all the blame here. Maybe it was just that our timing was off. Maybe it’s that we’re at different points in our life. I wish things were different, that you were the person I had hoped you were, but it doesn’t seem like you are. I will always want to be your friend and I hope we can go back to that close friendship we had before, but that is up to you. So until you decide to treat me like that good friend I was, I am moving on. I’m done caring. I don’t want to, but I can’t keep wondering about you. I need to be happy with myself and my life and I can’t do that if I’m still hung up on you. I can only hope that you contact me again, even if I know it will ruin the progress I have made of getting over you. But until then, I guess this is goodbye.