Thursday, February 12, 2015

Colonial Write Stuff

We're often told to be careful what we write. A rude email or Facebook post  or a scandalous tweet can come back to haunt you. But I doubt ggggggreat grandpa Ambrose Coleman had any idea that a note he wrote to his cousin in 1801 would be posted for the world to read more than 200 years later.
        Of course, I was delighted to find the letter online to help with my current genealogy research.
         The letter survived because Ambrose's cousin was James Madison who was serving as Thomas Jefferson's  Secretary of State in 1801. The National Archives and University of Virginia Press have posted Madison's papers on the Founders Online website.
          Ambrose apologized for writing, "but necessity will compel a person to do that he is ashamed of."  Ambrose was looking for financial aid. Evidently, before the Revolution, Ambrose ran up a tab at the local British Merchant who escaped to Scotland when the fighting started. Ambrose said he tried to settle the debt a couple of times but there was no way to contact the merchant. Now, suddenly, the sheriff is at the door, wanting to collect the debt plus interest! Ambrose owes 8 pounds and change. "We have had a poor Crop year with us and I am not Able to discharge it without selling something that I can Illey spare," he writes.
         Ambrose's mother was Eleanor Madison, a great aunt to the future president. Ambrose lives on a plantation next door to Madison's home at Montpelier. Ambrose, who was about 64 when the letter was written, mentions all the help he had received in recent years from Madison's father, James Madison Sr., who died at Montpelier about six months before the letter.
        Ambrose doesn't come right out and ask the Secretary of State for money. Instead he asks him to contact Ambrose's brother and let him know of the need. The site suggests that the "brother" might be Daniel Coleman who was serving in the Virginia legislature at the time, but according to the genealogical information available on Daniel, he was a distant cousin to Ambrose. Based on the 1764 will of Ambrose's father, Ambrose had only one brother, James, who died in 1796 according to posted genealogies.
         Yes, the letter raises questions about the mystery brother, and it is a bit embarrassing to have an ancestor begging so, but it makes Ambrose seem human, don't you think?


No comments:

Post a Comment