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Thomas Jefferson

Correspondence, News, History and other Family Data


Thomas Jefferson, full-length portrait, standing beside table, facing slightly right, holding the Declaration of Independence and pointing to it.
Cornelius Tiebout,1777-1830, engraver.
Source: Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson

President from 1801-1809

This powerful advocate of liberty was born in 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia, inheriting from his father, a planter and surveyor, some 5,000 acres of land, and from his mother, a Randolph, high social standing. He studied at the College of William and Mary, then read law. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, and took her to live in his partly constructed mountaintop home, Monticello.

Freckled and sandy-haired, rather tall and awkward, Jefferson was eloquent as a correspondent, but he was no public speaker. In the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress, he contributed his pen rather than his voice to the patriot cause. As the "silent member" of the Congress, Jefferson, at 33, drafted the Declaration of Independence. In years following he labored to make its words a reality in Virginia. Most notably, he wrote a bill establishing religious freedom, enacted in 1786.

Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France in 1785. His sympathy for the French Revolution led him into conflict with Alexander Hamilton when Jefferson was Secretary of State in President Washington's Cabinet. He resigned in 1793.

Sharp political conflict developed, and two separate parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, began to form. Jefferson gradually assumed leadership of the Republicans, who sympathized with the revolutionary cause in France. Attacking Federalist policies, he opposed a strong centralized Government and championed the rights of states.

As a reluctant candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson came within three votes of election. Through a flaw in the Constitution, he became Vice President, although an opponent of President Adams. In 1800 the defect caused a more serious problem. Republican electors, attempting to name both a President and a Vice President from their own party, cast a tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The House of Representatives settled the tie. Hamilton, disliking both Jefferson and Burr, nevertheless urged Jefferson's election.

When Jefferson assumed the Presidency, the crisis in France had passed. He slashed Army and Navy expenditures, cut the budget, eliminated the tax on whiskey so unpopular in the West, yet reduced the national debt by a third. He also sent a naval squadron to fight the Barbary pirates, who were harassing American commerce in the Mediterranean. Further, although the Constitution made no provision for the acquisition of new land, Jefferson suppressed his qualms over constitutionality when he had the opportunity to acquire the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803.

Thomas Jefferson pix
From the original series painted by Stuart for the Messrs. Doggett of Boston
Library of Congress

During Jefferson's second term, he was increasingly preoccupied with keeping the Nation from involvement in the Napoleonic wars, though both England and France interfered with the neutral rights of American merchantmen. Jefferson's attempted solution, an embargo upon American shipping, worked badly and was unpopular.

Jefferson retired to Monticello to ponder such projects as his grand designs for the University of Virginia. A French nobleman observed that he had placed his house and his mind "on an elevated situation, from which he might contemplate the universe."
He died on July 4, 1826.
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Source: "Official" biography from


Thomas Jefferson
{Photograph of a painting by Thomas Sully in the United States Capitol.
Detroit Publishing Co. no. M 9858.
Library of Congress]


Vol. 1

This is an excerpt from the book written by Thomas Jefferson and published in 1829

January 6, 1821. At the age of seventy-seven, I begin to make some memoranda, and state some recollections of dates and facts concerning myself, for my own more ready reference, and for the information of my family.

The tradition in my father's family was, that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowdon, the highest in Great Britain. I noted once a case from Wales, in the law reports, where a person of our name was either plaintiff or defendant; and one of the same name was secretary to the Virginia Company. These are the only instances in which I have met with the name in that country. I have found it in our early records ; but the first particular information I have of any ancestor was of my grandfather, who lived at the place in Chesterfield called Osborne's, and owned the lands afterwards the glebe of the parish.

He had three sons ; Thomas, who died young, Field, who settled on the waters of Roanoke, and left numerous descendants, and Peter, my father, who settled on the lands I still own, called Shadwell, adjoining my present residence. He was born February 29,1707-8, and intermarried 1739, with Jane Randolph, of the age of nineteen, daughter of Isham Randolph, one of the seven sons of that name and family settled at Dungeoness in Goochland. They trace their pedigree far back in England and Scotland, to which let every one ascribe the faith and merit he chooses.

My father's education had been quite neglected ; but being of a strong mind, sound judgment, and eager after information, he read much and improved himself, insomuch that he was chosen, with Joshua Fry, professor of Mathematics in William and Mary college, to continue the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina, which had been begun by Colonel Byrd ; and was afterwards employed with the same Mr. Fry, to make the first map of Virginia which had ever been made, that of Captain Smith being merely a conjectural sketch. They possessed excellent materials for so much of the country as is below the blue ridge, little being then known beyond that ridge. He was the third or fourth settler, about the year 1737, of the part of the country in which I live. He died August 17, 1757, leaving my mother a widow, who lived till 1776, with six daughters and two sons, myself the elder. To my younger brother he left his estate on James river, called Snowdon, after the supposed birth place of the family : to myself, the lands on which I was born and live. He placed me at the English school at five years of age; and at the Latin at nine, where I continued until his death. My teacher, Mr. Douglas, a clergyman from Scotland, with the rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages, taught me the French ; and on the death of my father, went to the Reverend Mr. Maury, a correct classical scholar, with whom I continued two years; and then, to wit, in the spring of 1760, went to William and Mary college, where I continued two years. It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life, that Dr. William Small, of Scotland, was then professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a nappy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged and liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me, and made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed. Fortunately, the philosophical chair became vacant soon after my arrival at college, and he was appointed to fill it per interim: and he was the first who ever gave, in that college, regular lectures in Ethics, Rhetoric, and Belles Lettres. He returned to Europe in 1762, having previously filled up the measure of his goodness to me, by procuring for me, from his most intimate friend, George Wythe, a reception as a student of law, under his direction, and introduced me to the acquaintance and familiar table of Governor Fauquier, the ablest man who had ever filled that office. With him, and at his table, Dr. Small and Mr. Wythe, his amici omnium horarum, and myself, formed a partie quarree, and to the habitual conversations on these occasions I owed much instruction. Mr. Wythe continued to be my faithful and beloved mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life. In 1767, he led me into the practice of the law at the bar of the General Court, at which I continued until the Revolution shut up the courts of justice.

In 1769, I became a member of the legislature by the choice of the county in which I live, and so continued until it was closed by the Revolution. I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected : and indeed, during the regal government, nothing liberal could expect success. Our minds were circumscribed within narrow limits, by an habitual belief that it was our duty to be subordinate to the mother country in all matters of government, to direct all our labours in subservience to her interests, and even to observe a bigoted intolerance for all religions but hers. The difficulties with our representatives were of habit and despair, not of reflection and conviction. Experience soon proved that they could bring their minds to rights, on the first summons of their attention. But the King's Council, which acted as another house of legislature, held their places at will, and were in most humble obedience to that will: the Governor, too, who had a negative on our laws, held by the same tenure, and with still greater devotedness to it: and, last of all, the Royal negative closed the last door to every hope of amelioration.

On the first of January, 1772, I was married to Martha Skelton, widow of Bathurst Skelton, and daughter of John Wayles, then twenty-three years old. Mr. \Wayles was a lawyer of much practice, to which he was introduced more by his great industry, punctuality, and practical readiness, than by eminence in the science of his profession. He was a most agreeable companion, full of pleasantry and good humour, and welcomed in every society. He acquired a handsome fortune, and died in May, 1773, leaving three daughters: the portion which came on that event to Mrs. Jefferson, after the debts should be paid, which were very considerable, was about equal to my own patrimony, and consequently doubled the ease of our circumstances....

Thomas Jefferson's spouse, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson.

Read Martha Jefferson's biography

Newspaper Articles
on Thomas Jefferson

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Feb 22, 1826
Thomas Jefferson, late President of the United States, in consequence of his embarrassed circumstances, has applied to the legislature of Virginia for authority to dispose of his property by lottery. The application after discussion was referred to a committee who will no doubt report a bill in conformity to his wishes. – Frank. Gaz.
Submitted by Nancy Piper

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) March 8, 1826
The bill authorizing Mr. Jefferson to dispose of his property by lottery has passed the Virginia Legislature. The vote in the House of Delegates was ayes 125, noes, 62; in Senate, ayes 13, noes 4. – Balt. Amer.
Submitted by Nancy Piper

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Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pa) July 26, 1826
The following is an extract of a letter from a friend of the venerable Jefferson who attended his death bed:

“He called in his family a day or two before he expired and conversed separately with each of them. He expressly desired that there should be no pomp or parade at his burial. As you may well suppose, the fall of so great a man has produced a deep impression on all around him. The Professors and Students of the University, the Citizens of Charlottesville, the inhabitants of the adjacent county and strangers in the vicinity – all will repair to the Family Burial Ground to witness the interment at 5 o’clock this evening (the 5th). One among many affecting circumstances attending the closing scene of this great man has just reached me. Some time before his death, he presented to his daughter a small morocco case, which he requested her to open immediately after his decease. On opening the case it was discovered to contain an elegant and affectionate strain of poetry on the virtues of his dutiful and incomparable daughter.” – Enquirer.
Submitted by Nancy Piper

Richmond, July 14
Particulars of Thomas Jefferson’s Death
Died at Monticello, fifty minutes past twelve, July the 4th, Thomas Jefferson in the 84th year of his age. His health has been impaired by a too free use of the Hot Spring Bath in 1818. His indisposition had steadily increased until the last six months when it attained a troublesome and alarming violence, giving him certain indications of a gradual decay of health. The issue of this he early foresaw. On the 5th of June he observed to a friend that he doubted his weathering the present summer. By the 24th of June, his disorder and weakness having reached a distressing extent, he yielded to the entreaties of his family and saw his Physician (Doctor Dunglesson of the University.) On this occasion a friend having private business with him, he warned him that “there was no time to be lost,” and expressed the belief that he could not hold out to the fourth; that he had called in a physician and to gratify his family would follow his prescriptions, (which he cheerfully did) but that it would proved unavailing; the machine had worn out and could go on no longer. He retained during his illness and to the moment of his death the same serene, decisive and cheerful temper which had marked his life. Speaking with his usual spirit and animation of the University, he expressed his hope that the State would not now abandon it.

He spoke of the changes which he feared would be made in it; of his probably successor as Rector; of the services he had rendered to his native state and counseled and advised as to his private affairs. Upon being unusually ill for a short time, he observed very cheerfully, “Well, Doctor, a few hours more and the struggle will be over.” When the Doctor entered the room in the morning of his last day, his usual expression was, “Well, Doctor, you see I am here yet.” His disorder being checked, a friend expressed a hope of amendment. His answer was, “that the powers of nature were too much exhausted to be rallied.” On a member of his family observing that he was better and that the Doctor thought so, he listened with evident impatience and said, “Do not imagine for a moment that I feel the smallest solicitude as to the result.” On giving direction for his funeral, forbidding all pomp and parade, he was answered by a hope that it would be long ere the occasion would require their observance. He asked with a smile, “Do you think I fear to die?” Expressing himself pleased with the course and attentions of his physician, gratified by the affectionate solicitude o his family and servants, he uttered no thought, he expressed no feeling unworthy or unlike the meridian of his life. Death stole not upon him in the dark. He came not unexpected. He beheld his approaches and smiled on his terror. Thus died Thomas Jefferson. – Enquirer.



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