Letter to Robert Finley regarding the sale of an enslaved man named Jef

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Letter to Robert Finley regarding the sale of an enslaved man named Jef



Colonel John Neilson (1745-1833) writes to Robert Finley asking him about the possible purchase of an enslaved man owned by a Mr. Mattison in Princeton for the price of 90 pounds. Neilson inquires about the skills and habits of the enslaved man.

This letter does not mention the name of the enslaved man, but Robert Finley's reply notes that the man's name is Jef.





Text (Transcript)

[page 1]
New Brunswick 25 Feb-ry 1794

Dear Sir, Permit me to trouble you once more on the subject of the negro boy belonging to Mr. Mattison, Mr. David Abeel informed me I could have him for £90— this is a high price but for a good servant I would be willing to pay a good price, this point is therefore to be established so far as every prudent measure can effect it, there are some traits in every person’s character with which the neighborhood in which he resides be acquainted, there are others which do not so publicly appear, and until particular inquiry is made may remain unknown even among those pretty well acquainted with his general character-- will you then indulge one in requesting you to attain information the best you can with respect to the following particulars

[page 2]
How old is the boy, is he not only free from the monstrous vice of frequent intoxication, but is he habitually a sober boy, is he faithful to his Masters service and of known honesty, is he moral in his common behavior, has he a constitutional turn for industry can he bear indulgence without making a bad use of it, has he any degree of ingenuity in performing the work he is acquainted with does he appear to have any desire of improving his mind if an opportunity was afforded him for instruction-- is he in any degree acquainted with taking care of and driving horses, does he understand any thing of the work necessary in a garden-- If these interrogatories can be answered in the affirmative with a moderate degree of propriety, will you be pleased to favor one farther by letting the squire know I will take the boy, if he can extend the first payment of £50-- to about the 10th of June.

[page 3] It would be more agreeable to me because it would be more convenient, and the remainder of the money the first Sept-r but if the first sum cannot be disposed with longer than first May I would not let it prevent the bargain.--
Pardon all this freedom & accept the best respect of Mr Neilson Mr Farmer & the rest of your acquaintances in my family & trust to my readiness to do you service in any term should you require it.--

Yours with friendship,

I would have come to Princeton myself & thereby saved you this trouble but I cannot at present leave home, inform yourself as soon as possible & let me hear from you by the first Post.

[page 4]
There is one more enquiry I would be glad to be satisfied in which I forgot to mention above & as necessary as any of the others and that is whether the boy is addicted to keep much company or accustomed to some abroad at night.

Original format

Manuscript letter 2 loose pages


Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

Archival collection

Neilson Family Papers, 1768-1908 (MC 933)

Archival location

Box 4, Folder 45: J & J Neilson - Papers relating to purchase of slaves


Neilson, John, “Letter to Robert Finley regarding the sale of an enslaved man named Jef,” Scarlet and Black Digital Archive, Rutgers University, accessed July 23, 2024, https://scarletandblack.rutgers.edu/archive/items/show/233.