Examining the Details

This post is the third in the series, “Documenting a First Lady”


The note recently located in the archive at William & Mary is extremely short, but in examining its few details, we are able to make connections to the larger picture of the Monroes’ life in Washington, D.C.  The note reads:

Mrs Monroe requests Mr Smith will be so good as send by the bearer Tom, one hundred Dollars to the account of Mr Monroe
January 21th 1815

This is not the first reference to Elizabeth Monroe managing her own finances.  Bank records from the Monroes’ time in Washington show her withdrawing money for her own uses on other occasions as well. Given the glimpses of her independence and decisiveness shown in other surviving documents, it does not come as a surprise to see her accessing her own accounts in this way.

The “Mr Smith” to whom the note is addressed is Richard Smith, cashier of the Bank of the United States in Washington.  The first record of the family’s account with this bank comes in 1811, at the beginning of Monroe’s appointment as secretary of state, and continues through his presidency.  The majority of his banking interactions during those years are addressed to Richard Smith.

The third named party is Tom, the bearer of the note.  It appears that he is a member of the enslaved community that the Monroes brought with them to Washington, and is in a position of some trust and responsibility.  This is the first mention of Tom individually.  He is documented in two other instances during their years in the White House, when he was supervising the return of slaves engaged at the White House back to Monroe’s Charlottesville plantation, and when clothing was purchased on his behalf.  These references occur in 1817 and 1820, respectively.  The final reference to Tom comes in 1826, when Monroe detailed an incident in which Elizabeth lost consciousness and fell into an open fireplace, sustaining severe burns and bruising.   Immediately prior to the incident, she had stepped away to her rooms and closed the door behind her.  A servant by the name of Tom was passing by, heard a commotion inside the room, and immediately sought help.  He returned with the Monroes’ daughter Eliza, who could, with propriety, enter her mother’s rooms unbidden.  Although further identifying information is not given, based on the time frame and context, it seems likely that these entries refer to the same man.

Elizabeth Monroe’s documentary record is slim at best, but staff at the Papers of James Monroe continue to watch for hints and connections that will allow her story, and that of the members of their household, to be told more fully.


  1. Neal Eugene Monroe says

    It was with great pleasure that I read this short article about my Great Aunt Elizabeth Monroe. I do not think it unusual
    for a Lady of that time to manage her own finances. From what i have read most upper class Ladies were responsible for
    managing their own households. As for Tom that is a very high place of responsibility and respect. Thank you for the study and research into the Monroe family i defiantly would like to learn more.

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