Dabney Carr (1773-1837)

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Dabney Carr (April 27, 1773–January 8, 1837) was the son of Thomas Jefferson’s sister Martha Jefferson (1746–1811) and his close friend Dabney Carr (1743–1773).[1] Following his father’s death, Carr spent a great deal of his early life at Monticello under the care of Jefferson. Prior to his departure for Europe in 1784, Jefferson entrusted Carr to the care of his friend, James Madison, who enrolled the young man at Hampden-Sydney College. Carr attended the school from 1786 to 1789, but did not take a degree, instead entering the Reverend Matthew Maury’s boarding school in Albemarle County in 1790 to expand his knowledge of Greek and French. Three years later Carr decided to study law and Jefferson gave him full access to his library, suggesting numerous legal texts to him.[2] Carr was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1796 and set up practice in Charlottesville. From 1801 to 1811 he served as commonwealth’s attorney for Albemarle County. Carr married a cousin, Elizabeth Carr, in June of 1802. In March 1811 Carr was appointed a state judge on an interim basis but he failed to win confirmation from the general assembly. He was appointed and confirmed as a judge of the new chancery court at Winchester in January 1812. In April 1825 Jefferson hoped to convince Carr to oversee instruction in law at the fledgling University of Virginia, but in February 1824, Carr had been elected a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals and he served in that capacity for the rest of his life.[3] He died on January 8, 1837, and was buried in Shockoe Cemetery in Richmond.[4]


  1. For Carr's birth date, see "Register of St. James Northan [sic] Parish, Goochland County," WMQ, 15, no. 2 (1906): 119.
  2. Jefferson's reading suggestions to Carr can be found in his well-known letter of 19 August 1785, in PTJ 8:405-408; press copy at the Library of Congress.
  3. See Jefferson to Carr, April 3, 1825 and Carr to Jefferson, April 30, 1825. Manuscripts available online from the Library of Congress.
  4. Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser, 10 January 1837.

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