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Jefferson's Faulty Math: The Question of Slave Defections in the American Revolution


Pybus, C, Jefferson's Faulty Math: The Question of Slave Defections in the American Revolution, William and Mary Quarterly, 62, (2) pp. 243-264. ISSN 0043-5597 (2005) [Refereed Article]

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DOI: doi:10.2307/3491601


In London in April 1786, Thomas Jefferson found himself in the awkward position of negotiating with British merchants to whom he owed a great deal of money. On more than one occasion, Jefferson excused his incapacity to pay by claiming that General Charles Cornwallis had carried off thirty of his slaves, "the useless and barbarous injury he did me in that instance was more than would have paid your debt, principal and interest." Writing from Paris to a putative historian of the Revolution, Jefferson 'amplified this claim, saying Cornwallis "carried off also about 30. slaves: had this been to give them freedom be would have done right, but it was to consign them to inevitable death from the small pox and putrid fever then raging in his camp. This I knew afterwards to have been the fate of 27. of them ... I supposed the state of Virginia lost under Ld. Cornwallis's hands that year about 30,000 slaves, and that of these about 27,000 died of the small pox and camp fever." When he was Secretary of State, Jefferson took the part of his fellow Virginians to argue they should not be obliged to pay their debts because the British made the first infraction of the Paris Peace Treaty by refusing to return their runaway slaves. Virginia, the state that had incurred the greatest debt, also had incurred the greatest loss, he reasoned.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Thomas Jefferson, British, debt
Research Division:History, Heritage and Archaeology
Research Group:Historical studies
Research Field:North American history
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Understanding past societies
Objective Field:Understanding past societies not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Pybus, C (Professor Cassandra Pybus)
ID Code:37198
Year Published:2005
Web of Science® Times Cited:31
Deposited By:History and Classics
Deposited On:2005-08-01
Last Modified:2013-01-23
Downloads:1 View Download Statistics

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