Thomas Jefferson

The eighteenth century was a time of extensive migration in Virginia as settlers in the Tidewater pushed beyond the rivers to the West. In these western uplands, called the Piedmont, the settlers replicated, as best they could, the land use patterns, labor systems, and social structures they had left behind. The Jefferson family, led by Thomas's father Peter, was part of this western movement. At least three hallmarks of Thomas Jefferson's character and interests date to this background: his interest in western exploration and settlement; his belief and participation in public service; and his lifelong adherence to the plantation-slave system of agriculture.

Throughout his life at Monticello and Poplar Forest, his country retreat, Thomas Jefferson sought to create a classic example of the country gentleman's estate, based on his personal experiences, his reading, and a broad network of correspondence. Thomas Jefferson's world of books provided him with opportunities throughout his life to experience other aspects of the world and learn selectively from them to create an idealized realm, sometimes untempered by the reality of life experiences.

Life In the Piedmont

Fry and Jefferson map of Virginia

This is a second edition of a map originally drawn by Thomas Jefferson's father, Peter (1707/08-1757), and Joshua Fry (1700-1754) in 1751. This map includes Albemarle County, Virginia much the way it was in Jefferson's youth. Shadwell, the Jefferson family plantation, is indicated at the upper right. Peter Jefferson became one of the first magistrates of the county when it was formed in 1744. This upland expansion provided Virginia with much of the dynamic energy found in the state's expanding political, geographic, and economic life.

A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia

Peter Jefferson and Joshua Fry. A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia. . . . 1755. Reproduction of map. Geography and Map Division (1)

View from Monticello towards Charlottesville

Thomas Jefferson often used his telescope to study and enjoy the views over the Piedmont from Monticello, which was built on the top of a conical hill. Charlottesville was the site of the University of Virginia, and Jefferson could watch the progress of its construction without leaving his home. This view shows the fertile highlands and small hills typical of the area, and the University of Virginia can be seen under construction.

View from Monticello Looking Toward Charlottesville

Jane Pitford Braddick Peticolas (1791-1852). View from Monticello Looking Toward Charlottesville 1827. Copyprint of watercolor on paper. Courtesy of Monticello/Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc. (8a)

Thomas Jefferson acquires slaves, supplies, and services

During most of his life, Thomas Jefferson kept detailed records, in books like this one, on his slaves, farms, and garden. He recorded births, deaths, work assignments, and food and clothing allotments. Jefferson also included minute observations and calculations about the natural world; the work cycles at his plantations, mills, and manufactories; and the work of his labor force.

Thomas Jefferson. Memorandum Book, 1773. Page 2. Bound manuscript. Manuscript Division (38a)

Crop rotation plan for Monticello

Thomas Jefferson, like other enlightened farmers, took a scientific approach to farming with the help of his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph (1768-1828), who managed much of Jefferson's land after marrying Martha "Patsy" Jefferson in 1790. Jefferson's careful consideration of a workable method of crop rotation for Monticello -- an innovative practice at the time -- demonstrates his interest in scientific farming.

Crop Rotation Plan

Thomas Jefferson. Crop Rotation Plan undated. Manuscript plan. Manuscript Division (10)

Jefferson's larger family at work

In addition to their general labor, slaves contributed to Monticello by selling fowl and vegetables from their own flocks and gardens to the plantation masters. The plantation mistress or her daughters made these purchases and maintained the household records. This book had first been used by Jefferson for legal notes and then by his wife, Martha (1748-1782), for her household records and recipes. Jefferson's granddaughter, Anne Cary Randolph (1791-1826), continued these records in the early nineteenth century. Most of the purchases recorded were made from the house slaves, particularly the extended Hemings family.

Memorandum Book

Thomas Jefferson, Martha Jefferson, and Anne Cary Randolph. Memorandum Book, 1768-1769, 1772-1782, 1805-1808. Bound manuscript. Manuscript Division (14)

As dead to the world as she whose loss occasioned it

Thomas Jefferson was devastated by the death of his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson who died after giving birth to their sixth child, Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1784). Jefferson wrote little about his wife's death, making this entry into his account book on September 6, 1782: "My dear wife died this day at 11H -45' A.M." More than two months later he haltingly wrote to a French officer and friend, Marquis de Chastellux (1734-1788), that he was... "emerging from the stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as [she] was whose . . . loss occasioned it."

Thomas Jefferson to Marquis de Chastellux

Thomas Jefferson to Marquis de Chastellux, November 26, 1782. Manuscript letter. Page 2. Manuscript Division (14a)

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Life at Monticello

Jefferson's education plan for his daughters

After the death of his wife, Jefferson carefully planned the education and training of his daughters, Martha (1772-1836), Maria (1778-1804), and Lucy (1782-1784). In this letter, he laid out a plan of study for his daughter Martha, so that she would be able to fulfill the social role of plantation mistress. Learning the social graces of music, dancing, letter writing, as well as knowledge of literature and language ability were skills that he considered essential.

Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson, December 11, 1783. Manuscript letter. Manuscript Division (72)

Monticello's Lucy

Lucy (1811–?) daughter of Lilly and Barnaby, was born on Monticello and was one of Thomas Jefferson's slaves sold at public auction at Monticello in January 1827. Lucy and her parents were among the slaves whom Jefferson leased to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792–1875). This photograph was taken of Lucy in the mid 1840s.

Lucy

Lucy, ca.1845. Daguerreotype. Courtesy of Mason County Museum, Maysville, Kentucky (12)

Skills of slaves, inventory in hand of James Hemings

James was a member of the Hemings family inherited by Jefferson and his wife at the death of his father-in-law, John Wayles. James, the son of Elizabeth Hemings and, most probably, Jefferson's father-in-law, had been trained as a French chef. This was the final accounting inventory of Monticello kitchen utensils and equipment prepared and written by James Hemings (1765-1801), just two weeks after Jefferson honored the written promise of freedom he had made to James in 1793.

James Hemings. Inventory.

James Hemings. Inventory, February 20, 1796. Page 2 Manuscript. Manuscript Division (70)

Thomas Jefferson sells slaves to satisfy creditors

When his father-in-law, John Wayles (1715-1773) died, Jefferson, through his wife, inherited the estate and the debts that came with it. To settle the debts, Jefferson sold dozens of slaves. In these letters to his brother and an overseer, Jefferson reveals both his recognition of the property value of slaves and a human concern and respect for the unity of a slave family.

Thomas Jefferson to Bowling Clarke

Thomas Jefferson to Bowling Clarke, September 21, 1792, and Thomas Jefferson to Randolph Jefferson, September 25, 1792. Manuscript letters. Manuscript Division (109)

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

In 1873, the Pike County Republican, ran a series entitled, "Life Among the Lowly," Which included a memoir by Madison Hemings, a resident of Ross County, Ohio. Hemings stated that his mother Sally, who was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson and a slave of Thomas Jefferson, gave birth to five children "and Jefferson was the father of them all." Madison Hemings's statement has been contested for well over a century. In January 2000, however, after completion of a year's work by a research committee assessing the most recent evidence including a 1998 DNA study, the Monticello/ Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc, issued a statement stating that "the best evidence available suggests the strong likelihood that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a relationship over time that led to the birth of one, and perhaps all, of the known children of Sally Hemings."

Madison Hemings. "Life Among the Lowly, No. 1," Pike County Republican, March 13, 1873. Reproduction of newspaper article. Courtesy of Ohio Historical Society, Columbus (11)

Promise of freedom for James Hemings

On September 15, 1793, while residing as secretary of state in Pennsylvania, which had abolished slavery in 1780, Thomas Jefferson promised to free his slave James Hemings, after James had trained a replacement French chef. On February 5, 1796, Jefferson freed James and provided money for his return to Philadelphia. Jefferson manumitted or allowed to escape from bondage only ten slaves, all members of the Hemings family, out of over six hundred he owned over the course of his life. Five of those gained freedom in his lifetime, five under the terms of his will.

Promise of Freedom

Thomas Jefferson. Promise of Freedom, September 15, 1793. Reproduction of manuscript. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston (108)

View of Poplar Forest

Thomas Jefferson built his octagon house, in the Palladian style, at Poplar Forest, a plantation inherited from his wife Martha's father, John Wayles in 1773. Jefferson usually went to Poplar Forest several times a year, staying for up to two months to oversee plantation production and to avoid visitors at Monticello. Jefferson left Poplar Forest to his grandson Francis Eppes (1801-1881), who sold it two years later to a neighbor. The house remained a private home until 1984.

Les Schofer. View of Poplar Forest. Color photograph. Courtesy of the Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest (8c)

Isaac Jefferson

Isaac Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's slave, was trained as a tinsmith and nailmaker. He and his wife Iris and two children were deeded to Jefferson's daughter Mary at the time of her marriage in 1797. By 1798, Isaac was hired by Thomas Mann Randolph, who was managing Monticello for his father-in-law Thomas Jefferson. Though it is not clear how he came to do so, Isaac left Monticello four years before Jefferson died, and later moved to Petersburg, Virginia, where this photograph was taken when Isaac was seventy-years old.

Isaac Jefferson, 1845. Copyprint of daguerreotype. Courtesy of the Tracey W. McGregor Library of American History, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville (16)

Thomas Jefferson's hair

Thomas Jefferson's hair cuttings were taken on Jefferson's deathbed as keepsakes by his only surviving daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, and other family members. Three samples came to the Library of Congress in clearly identified envelopes with the papers of Jefferson. Martha wrote on one envelope: "My dear father Thomas Jefferson." The hair samples are cuttings without follicles and therefore are useless for DNA studies. Only the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation is known to have custody of additional cuttings of Jefferson's hair.

Hair of Thomas Jefferson

Hair of Thomas Jefferson, 1826. Manuscript Division (13)

View of the west front of Monticello

Jane Pitford Braddick Peticolas painted Monticello for her friend, Ellen Randolph Coolidge (1796-1876), Jefferson's granddaughter, shortly after Jefferson's death. The painting portrays an idyllic scene with various Jefferson descendants enjoying themselves. No slaves are pictured, and perhaps they had all been sold when this picture was painted. Jefferson's designs for Monticello were based on the plans of the sixteenth-century Italian architect, Andrea Palladio, and incorporated the latest French designs. The intent was to create a little city in the country.

View of the West Front of Monticello

Jane Pitford Braddick Peticolas. View of the West Front of Monticello, c. 1827. Copyprint of watercolor on paper. Courtesy of Monticello/Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc. (8b)

Reusable pocket notebook

Thomas Jefferson used these ivory sheets to make penciled notes, which could then be erased once he transferred the information into one of his numerous permanent record books.

Ivory note pages owned by Thomas Jefferson. Courtesy of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc. (65)

Thread case of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

The thread case used by Thomas Jefferson's wife, Martha Jefferson (1748-1782), is one of her few relics kept by Thomas Jefferson. Martha's thread case and her household accounts for Monticello, both in the collections of the Library of Congress, document the economic and social role of the southern plantation mistress.

Thread case

Thread case, c. 1770. Manuscript Division (81)

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World of Books

"The three greatest men that have ever lived"

"Bacon, Locke and Newton" were "the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundations of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical & Moral sciences." So states Thomas Jefferson in this February 15, 1789, letter to John Trumbull, ordering copies of portraits of the three men. Their work in the "Physical & Moral sciences" was instrumental in Jefferson's education and world view. For example, Bacon's divisions of knowledge became Jefferson's divisions in his library catalog.

Thomas Jefferson to John Trumbull

Thomas Jefferson to John Trumbull, February 15, 1789. Manuscript letter. Manuscript Division (18)

Read the transcript

Jefferson's literary commonplace book

Thomas Jefferson began to maintain this literary commonplace book while a schoolboy and continued the practice into the 1770s, displaying his wide-ranging literary interests. He was a great admirer of the classical writers, particularly Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC). Jefferson's entry, as shown here, was taken from Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Jefferson and his wife, Martha, recopied this passage on her death bed.

Literary commonplace book

Thomas Jefferson, Literary commonplace book, 1750s-1770s. Bound manuscript. Manuscript Division (24)

"I cannot live without books."

On hearing of the sale of Thomas Jefferson's library to Congress as a replacement for the books burned by the British in August 1814, John Adams wrote to Jefferson on October 28, 1814: "By the Way I envy you that immortal honour: but I cannot enter into competition with you for my books are not half the number of yours." Jefferson did not reply to Adams' letter until June 10, 1815, but wrote "I cannot live without books, but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object."

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, June 10, 1815. Manuscript letter. Manuscript Division

Read the transcript

"Old Master had abundance of books"

Issac Jefferson (1775-c.1849), described Jefferson's reading habits: "Old Master had abundance of books; sometimes would have twenty of 'em down on the floor at once-read fust one, then tother." Trained as a tinsmith and nailmaker while a slave of Thomas Jefferson, Isaac related this information as part of an oral history given to Charles Campbell in 1847.

Memoirs of a Monticello slave

Memoirs of a Monticello slave, Isaac Jefferson, as dictated to Charles Campbell, 1847. Reproduction. Courtesy of Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, Special Collections Department University of Virginia Library (17)

Jefferson was an avid newspaper reader

Though Thomas Jefferson made conflicting statements about the American press, he was an avid reader of newspapers. The Genius of Liberty was just one of more than 70 newspaper titles represented in Jefferson's library when it was sold to the Congress in 1815. Jefferson's newspapers were nearly all destroyed in the fire of December 24, 1851. Jefferson also maintained newspaper clipping files and often wrote a subject notations in the margin.

The Genius of Liberty

G[eorge] Carter. The Genius of Liberty, July 3, 1798. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Reproduction of newspaper. Serial and Government Publications Division (23)

Revolving five-sided book stand probably designed by Jefferson

This cube-shaped book stand was probably designed by Thomas Jefferson to hold five books and allow the reader to rotate the stand, thus changing the book in view. The solid walnut stand, designed to sit on a tripod was made at the Monticello joinery, supervised by James Dinsmore and John Hemings.

Five-sided walnut book stand

Monticello Joinery. Five-sided walnut book stand, ca.1810. Courtesy of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc. (22)

Jefferson's favorite copying machine

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote tens of thousands of letters used the polygraph machine, invented by an Englishman John Isaac Hawkins (1772 1855) and produced in America by Charles Willson Peale (1741 1827) to produce copies for himself, as well as his correspondent. Jefferson provided Peale with many suggested improvements to the delicate mechanism, which Peale tried to incorporate in the machine. Jefferson used the machine from 1804 until his death. It is nearly impossible to determine which copy of the page was made by the pen held by Jefferson or the off-pen.

Polygraph machine modern reproduction

Charles Willson Peale, designer. Polygraph machine modern reproduction made by Wilman Spawn, c. 1974. Second view Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (59)

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