Friday, June 10, 2011

Adventures in Research

So, for the past couple of days I was hard at work, tracking down the ownership history of a plot of land, in response to a patron's question. (*warning* if you do not wish to read a long, drawn out account of my pursuit of the answer, just skip down to the bottom and read the results of my search). The patron had read somewhere that TJ gave Thomas Mann Randolph and Martha Jefferson Randolph a tract of land from his Poplar Forest estate when they got married.  Then, Jefferson left the Poplar Forest estate to his grandson, Francis Eppes, in his will. It was not entirely clear what happened to the thousand acre plot of land, given as a dowry to the Randolphs, in the meantime. First, I found a promising book written about Poplar Forest, but the only information I could glean from that source was that Jefferson did indeed convey 1,000 acres (which somehow turned into 1,441 acres later on) to his daughter and son-in-law in 1790. There was no mention of what happened to the plot after that, but I did confirm that it was not part of Francis Eppes' inheritance. Eppes actually received considerably less acreage than Jefferson originally owned at Poplar Forest, because a lot of it was left for Jefferson's other grandson, TJ Randolph. Some for his personal use, and some to sell off to help cover TJ's outstanding debts. Next, I consulted a biography on Thomas Mann Randolph (there are too many Thomas's in this family). Then, I stumbled upon a brief paragraph about the property and I thought I had hit the jackpot. The author reported that TM Randolph had sold the property to John Watson in 1810, citing a deed draft that is part of a collection of Jefferson papers at UVA. So, naturally I had to see this deed for myself. But while searching the Bedford County records on microfilm, I discovered a deed conveying 840 acres of the Randolph land at Poplar Forest to Anne Moseley in 1810. You might be wondering, how could the Randolphs sell all of their Poplar Forest land to John Watson and also sell 840 acres of the same land to Anne Moseley? Well, the answer is, they couldn't and they didn't. (this is the part where I bang my head against a wall). My supervisor pointed me in the direction of the Princeton published Thomas Jefferson Papers. It turns out that the whole story was laid out pretty concisely in a handy little footnote. The deed to John Watson was drawn up, but the sale was never completed (explaining the absence of documentation in the county records). 840 acres of the land was sold to Anne Moseley in 1810, and the Randolph's conveyed the leftover land to their oldest daughter, Ann Cary, as a dowry upon her marriage to Charles Lewis Bankhead.

So, that is the saga of the Poplar Forest land. I regret that it took me nearly 8 hours to find this information, when it was so readily available, but I guess that's an inducement to hone more efficient research techniques.

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