Lifetime Learning

Virginia Connections

thomas-jefferson-quotes-i-never-considered-a-difference-of-opinion-in-politics-in-religion-in-philosophy-as-a-cause-for-withdrawing-from-a-friendby John Ragosta

Thomas Jefferson, on his way to college at William and Mary, first met Patrick Henry at a holiday party in 1759 at the home of Nathaniel West Dandridge. (The home, known as Oldfields, still stands.) Henry, six years older than the aspiring student, was already married with several children. Yet, with good food, charming company, and a lot of fiddle playing, one suspects that they both enjoyed the festivities a great deal.

The party is noteworthy, though, for another reason: it shows how closely-knit the various personal communities were in colonial Virginia. Dandridge was not only a Hanover County neighbor of Henry’s, but he was married to Dorothea Spotswood, the daughter of the former governor, Alexander Spotswood. Much later, Henry’s second wife would be the daughter of Nathaniel and Dorothea, another Dorothea, although she was only a toddler at the time of the 1759 party. Another Dandridge daughter, Elizabeth, married Philip Payne who, again, much later, comes to live near Patrick Henry at Red Hill in Charlotte County and becomes one of the executors of Henry’s will.

I was thinking about this party this week when looking into the Reverend John Thompson, long-serving minister at Little Fork Church in Culpeper County, who married Butler Brayne Spotswood, the governor’s widow. Initially the Widow Spotswood resisted Thompson’s advances, believing that the position of a rector’s wife was below her station. A rather emphatic letter from Thompson, though, insisted that there was no calling above that of minister and that being a minister’s wife was a highly respected position (both in heaven and on earth). Their marriage produced several children, half-siblings to the Dandridge matron.

Dandridge was also a first cousin of Martha Washington (although there is no indication that George and Martha, married early in 1759, attended the Christmas festivities in 1759) and brother-in-law of John Campbell of Williamsburg, who married Mary Dandridge Spotswood, the widowed daughter-in-law of Governor Spotswood.

This litany of relations could easily be expanded, but you can certainly be excused if all of this is starting to cause your head to spin. While genealogists revel in these connections, they can often contribute to a certain glazing-over of the eyes.

There is, though, in all of this, another example of an important lesson: in colonial Virginia, and in the early republic, many of the leaders were intimately connected by a web of family and personal relationships. How these relationships grew and faced strains often became topics of more than personal interest. Political relationships moved along these same webs.

These type of relationships, and their influence on Thomas Jefferson, will be the subject of the 2014 Summer Jefferson SymposiumThomas Jefferson: Family, Friends and Foes – on June 19-22. The festivities should produce a good deal of fun, but fiddling is not expected.

Thoughts on “Virginia Connections



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