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Thomas Jefferson Free Frank
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Thomas Jefferson. Free Frank on Autograph Address Leaf, to Samuel Garland, August 1822, Charlottesville, Virginia. 1 p., 9¾ x 7⅞ in. On wove paper, watermarked D Ames / dove with olive branch.

Inventory #26031.01       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Complete Transcript

free / Th: Jefferson

            Mr Samuel Garland / Lynchburg

[Garland’s Endorsement] T. Jefferson /Aug. 9, 1822
[Red stamped postmark:] CHARLS VA / AUG 11

Historical Background
Jefferson inherited a significant amount of debt from his father-in-law. In 1818, he co-signed a friend’s $20,000 loan, and became responsible for the debt when his friend died. Jefferson constantly lived beyond his means, spending large sums on constructing and furnishing Monticello, importing expensive French wines, and entertaining guests both wanted and unwanted.

Price fluctuations on commodities rendered his farm income inadequate and unreliable. In addition, the financial panic of 1819 affected him by lowering real estate values and making it harder for debtors to pay him. As seen in the letter that originally accompanied this free frank, 1822 was a particularly trying year. After putting off his creditors several times, he planned to make the next payment on time, but expected his March 1823 payment to be late, as he would need more time to get his tobacco crop from his Poplar Forest plantation in Bedford County, Virginia, to market in Richmond.

At the time of his death in 1826, Jefferson was more than $107,000 in debt. The next year, his estate sold 130 slaves, furniture, and crops. In 1831, Monticello was sold. Even that did not cover his debts. The last payment on principal was made fifty years after Jefferson’s death.

Condition: light toning; seal repair; dark, bold signature.

Free Frank
The Continental Congress gave the right to send mail without paying postal charges to its members in 1775. The First Federal Congress enacted a franking law for its members during its first session in 1789. At various times, Congress has extended the privilege to Presidents and Cabinet officers, military leaders, former members of Congress, former Presidents, Vice Presidents, widows of Presidents, postmasters, and soldiers during wartime. After the 1860s, personally signed free franks become rarer due to the increased use of secretarial signatures, signature stamps, and pre-printed envelopes. After years of abuse, Congress abolished the privilege in 1873, but restored it in 1891. The sitting president never regained the privilege, although Congress has granted the right to individual, and after 1958, to all former Presidents.

Samuel Garland(1789-1861) was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, but moved by 1813 to Lynchburg, where he established a law practice. He solicited payments from Jefferson more than once during the 1820s for some of his wealthy clients, including William Barrett. Garland supported railroad expansion into the western part of Virginia and was a founding trustee of the Lynchburg Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1829 to manufacture fabric from cotton, flax, hemp, and wool. In 1820, Garland owned three slaves, and he owned from eight to twelve slaves in Virginia between 1830 and 1860. However, he also owned hundreds of slaves at three plantations he operated in Mississippi in the latter part of his life.


For reference this is the full text of letter that originally went with this free frank:

                                                                        Monticello Aug. 9. 22

Your favour of the 1st is duly recieved. on reciept of a letter of Feb. 6. of the last year from mr William Barrett of Richmond informing me that he was in possession of my bond to Robertson & co. I stated to him that I believed I could make him semi-annual payments of 750.D. each until a full discharge of the debt. I made him two payments amounting to 1250.D. but failed entirely in my third of March last. the 4th which will be due the next month will be made at the stated time, as will those also of the ensuing year, except that that of March next may not be exactly to the day, as tobacco from Bedford can rarely be got to Richmond quite so early. I doubt if I shall be able to make good the omitted instalment the next year. if I do not, I must sollicit a delay of the final extinction of the debt another half year. I have deferred writing to mr Barrett only until I could accompany it with my remittance. Accept the assurance of my great respect.         

                                                                        Th: Jefferson

Mr Saml Garland