Examine selected books in the “Memory” (History) section and view the pages of History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, which chronicles events of that period.
Analysis of Ancient Mythology
Jacob Bryant believed that ancient mythology was grounded in fact. His New System, especially his discussion of the connection between Genesis and mythology, maintained a certain popularity during the late eighteenth century. Jefferson likely owned this work because of its currency, but perhaps he also appreciated the fact that Bryant was a renowned collector of books, famous for his collection of early English imprints.
Jefferson’s Copy of Works by Caesar
Because Jefferson received an education grounded in the classics, he naturally had a copy of the works of Julius Caesar in his collection. John Davies, president of Queens College and vice chancellor of Cambridge University, was best known for his annotated editions of Cicero.
In this copy, Jefferson has cut the pages of the Greek translation and interleaved them with the Latin to produce a bilingual reading copy.
History of the Americas
Abiel Holmes corresponded several times with Jefferson as he prepared this chronological history of the Americas. Jefferson suggested several sources that would assist him and eventually loaned Holmes his copy of Memoires de l’Amerique by the French explorer Baron de Lahontan when Holmes could not find the book. Holmes was the father of the poet, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
John Winthrop’s Account of Early Massachusetts
Although John Winthrop maintained this journal during his governorship of the fledgling Massachusetts Bay Colony, it was not published until 1790. Jefferson, who accumulated a significant collection on the early history of America, referred to this journal in his correspondence with John Adams (1735–1826).
John Winthrop (1587–1649). A Journal of the Transactions and Occurrences in the Settlement of Massachusetts and the Other New-England Colonies, from the Year 1630 to 1644. . . . Hartford: Elisha Babcock, 1790. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress(S. 456) (11.00.00)
History of Pennsylvania Government
Although the actual authorship of this work was in question at the time, Jefferson attributed it to Benjamin Franklin and annotated the title page to indicate it. Franklin later denied authorship, but Jefferson’s high regard for Franklin likely allowed his attribution to persist.
History of the Discovery and Settlement of Virginia
William Stith compiled this detailed factual history of Virginia by culling material from the Records of the Virginia Company, a manuscript archive that Jefferson later owned and used in his work.
In his Notes on Virginia, Jefferson objected to Stith’s perfunctory sense of history, noting that he was “a man of classical learning, and very exact, but of no taste in style. He is inelegant therefore, and his details often too minute to be tolerable even to a native of the country whose history he writes.”
Book that Made Washington Famous
This book is George Washington’s account of his trip to deliver a message from the governor of Virginia to the commander of the French forces who were setting up forts in territory claimed by Britain. The French commander’s refusal to leave resulted in the French and Indian War. Washington’s journal is historically significant because its publication directly led to the war and also established Washington’s reputation as a leader. This work received Jefferson’s close reading; he has changed in ink an incorrect place name on the accompanying map.
Mercy Otis Warren’s History of the Revolution
One of the most prominent women authors of her time, Mercy Otis Warren was well situated to write a contemporary history of the American Revolution. She was at the center of major events of the period, and her marriage to General James Warren gave her contacts important to rendering this insider’s fiercely egalitarian telling of the Revolution.
Jefferson was one of the original subscribers to the work and corresponded with the author as her writing progressed. In ordering subscriptions of Warren’s History for himself and his cabinet, Jefferson noted his anticipation of her truthful and insightful account of the last thirty years that “will furnish a more instructive lesson to mankind than any equal period known in history.”
The Jefferson Collection also contains a copy of Warren’s Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (1790). The original manuscript of Warren’s History is also held by the Library of Congress
Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814). History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution. . . . 3 vols. Boston: Manning and Loring, 1805. Volume II - Volume III. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 508) (01.00.00, 01.01.00, 01.02.00)
Early Biography of Washington
Although trained as a physician, David Ramsay achieved fame as a historian of the American Revolution. Jefferson owned five of Ramsay’s works and was instrumental in having Ramsay’s history of the American Revolution translated and published in French.
David Ramsay (1749–1815). The Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States of America, throughout the War Which Established their Independence; and First President of the United States. New York: Hopkins and Seymour, 1807. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress(S. 511) (15.00.00)
History of the Popes
This work and its author were the focus of controversy in the eighteenth century. Archibald Bower entered, left, and then re-entered the Roman Catholic Church as a Jesuit. His notoriety brought his History of the Popes some attention, including the accusation that it was largely a paraphrase of another work. Jefferson collected a number of church histories and shelved them under the category of “Ecclesiastical History.”
Lavoisier’s Ground-Breaking Book on Chemistry
Lavoisier proposed a new theory of oxidation to replace the early chemical phologistic theory in which combustible materials were believed to be partly composed of a material called “phologiston,” which was released when the materials burned. In a letter to the Reverend James Madison, president of the College of William and Mary and cousin of the U.S. president, Jefferson observed: “It is probably an age too soon to propose the establishment of system. The attempt therefore of Lavoisier to reform the chemical nomenclature is premature.”
Chemistry Book for Students
Many works in Jefferson’s collection were from authors in all fields who wanted to acknowledge and celebrate Jefferson and to receive his counsel. Such is the case with William Jacobs, who sent Jefferson copies of both of his scientific works. In his letter, Jacobs indicates that he gave the books to Jefferson to acknowledge Jefferson’s kindness to him, rather than “a desire of praise.”
The “Anatomy” chapter of Jefferson’s collection was made up entirely of modern studies. William Cheselden, English surgeon and anatomist, first published his popular Anatomy in 1713. Cheselden’s work appeared in English, rather than the traditional Latin, and was praised for the quality of its illustrations.
Fear of Premature Burial
Because of this book, fear of being buried alive became widespread in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, though modern scholars believe it rarely happened. In 1740 Jakob Benignus Winslow, who claimed that in his youth he had escaped being buried alive twice, published a work calling for development of definitive tests to verify death. Jean Jacques Bruhier d’Ablaincourt, who became a leading burial reformer, translated Winslow’s Latin treatise into French and added a lengthy section of his own with sensational stories to prove that premature burial was a serious problem and to suggest delayed burial as the solution. The English translator is unknown. Jefferson cataloged this work under “Zoology.” It is the only title of forty-six zoological treatises to survive the 1851 fire.
Jakob Benignus Winslow (1669–1760). [Jean Jacques Bruhier d’Ablaincourt (d. 1756)]. The Uncertainty of the Signs of Death, and the Danger of Precipitate Interments and Dissections, Demonstrated. . . . London, 1746. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1007) (20.00.00)
Famous American-Born Inventor
In many ways, American-born Sir Benjamin Thompson’s interests mirrored those of Jefferson and Franklin. This physicist, inventor, and historian who was created a count in Bavaria contributed to the scientific discussion that determined that heat was a form of motion. His research lead to practical applications—the Rumford fireplace, steam applications, the double boiler, a kitchen range, and a drip coffee pot. He also advocated the potato as a staple food in Europe. Jefferson placed the work in the category of “Technical Arts.”