- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

ELKTON, Md. (AP) A letter found in a historic Cecil County home was written by Thomas Jefferson and is worth about $700,000, according to a manuscript expert at Christie's auction house in New York.
"Essentially, I knew it at a glance," said Chris Coover, the expert. "The handwriting is unmistakable."
A watermark on the paper from J. Whatman, the finest English writing paper of the time, and the distinctive Jefferson script are two of the telltale signs that proved the letter's authenticity, Mr. Coover said.
Jefferson's letter size and form were also distinctive, as was the third president's tendency to pen the body of the letter in one script and his signature in another, the expert said.
Appraising the value of historical documents is difficult, but a Jefferson letter of comparable content sold for $721,000 in 2000, Mr. Coover said.
"The content of this one is really quite exceptional," Mr. Coover said.
The letter, dated July 2, 1801, was the former president's reply to the Delaware Baptist Association, which wrote him a congratulatory note for winning the presidency and which mentioned his defense of religious freedom. In his reply, Jefferson thanked the group and reiterated his support for religious freedom.
The two letters were found March 23 in an envelope inside a cardboard box at the Hollingsworth House in Elkton, a Colonial-era home that is being converted into a museum by the Historic Elk Landing Foundation. Joanna Alford, a volunteer with the group, was asked to clean out the inside of the house.
Until now, the contents of Jefferson's letter were known only through a copy he made by pressing a thin sheet of paper over the letter when the ink was wet.
The letter is not for sale, board members said. But the group will meet this week to talk about what to do with it. The letter could be lent for a fee, for example, to museums or to the Library of Congress.
"It just opens up a whole realm of possibilities that we never anticipated," said Michael L. Dixon, president of the Historic Elk Landing Foundation.

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