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thomas jefferson

thomas jefferson

thomas jefferson

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thomas jefferson
thomas jefferson

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Brief Biography of Thomas Jefferson

Born April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, Virginia; died July 4, 1826, Monticello)

Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph and designed the obelisk grave marker that was to bear three of his accomplishments and “not a word more:”

He could have filled several markers had he chosen to list his other public offices: third president of the new United States, vice president, secretary of state, diplomatic minister, and congressman.

For his home state of Virginia he served as governor and member of the House of Delegates and the House of Burgesses as well as filling various local offices — all tallied into almost five decades of public service.

He also omitted his work as a lawyer, architect, writer, farmer, gentleman scientist, and life as patriarch of an extended family at Monticello, both white and black. He offered no particular explanation as to why only these three accomplishments should be recorded, but they were unique to Jefferson.

Other men would serve as U.S. president and hold the public offices he had filled, but only he was the primary draftsman of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, nor could others claim the position as the Father of the University of Virginia.

More importantly, through these three accomplishments he had made an enormous contribution to the aspirations of a new America and to the dawning hopes of repressed people around the world.

He had dedicated his life to meeting the challenges of his age: political freedom, religious freedom, and educational opportunity.

While he knew that we would continue to face these challenges through time, he believed that America’s democratic values would become a beacon for the rest of the world. He never wavered from his belief in the American experiment.

Early Life and Monticello

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, on his father’s plantation of Shadwell located along the Rivanna River in the Piedmont region of central Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

thomas jefferson
thomas jefferson

1 His father Peter Jefferson was a successful planter and surveyor and his mother Jane Randolph a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families.

When Jefferson was fourteen, his father died, and he inherited a sizeable estate of approximately 5,000 acres.

That inheritance included the house at Shadwell, but Jefferson dreamed of living on a mountain.2

the clearing of a 250 feet square site

In 1768 he contracted for the clearing of a 250 feet square site on the topmost point of the 868-foot mountain that rose above Shadwell.

and where he played as a boy.3 He would name this mountain Monticello, and the house that he would build and rebuild over a forty-year period took on this name as well.

He would later refer to this ongoing project, the home that he loved, as “my essay in Architecture.”

The following year, after preparing the site, he began construction of a small brick structure that would consist of a single room with a walk-out basement kitchen and workroom below.

This would eventually be referred to as the South Pavilion and was where he lived first alone and then with his bride, Martha Wayles Skelton, following their marriage in January 1772.

Martha (known as Patsy) and Mary (known as Maria or Polly)

Unfortunately, Martha would never see the completion of Monticello; she died in the tenth year of their marriage, and Jefferson lost “the cherished companion of my life.”

Their marriage produced six children but only two survived into adulthood, Martha (known as Patsy) and Mary (known as Maria or Polly).5

Along with the land Jefferson inherited slaves from his father and even more slaves from his father-in-law, John Wayles;

he also bought and sold enslaved people.

In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these enslaved individuals lived at Monticello;

the others lived on his adjacent Albemarle County farms, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia. Over the course of his life.

he owned over 600 enslaved people.

These men, women and children were integral to the running of his farms and building.

and maintaining his home at Monticello. Some were given training in various trades, others worked the fields, and some worked inside the main house.

Elizabeth Hemings

Many of the enslaved house servants were members of the Hemings family. Elizabeth Hemings and her children were a part of the Wayles estate .

and tradition says that John Wayles was the father of six of Hemings’s children and, thus.

they were the half-brothers and sisters of Jefferson’s wife Martha. Jefferson gave the Hemingses special positions.

and the only slaves Jefferson freed in his lifetime and in his will were all Hemingses, giving credence to the oral history. Years after his wife’s death.

Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six of Sally Hemings’s children. Four survived to adulthood and are mentioned in Jefferson’s plantation records.

Their daughter Harriet and eldest son Beverly were allowed to leave Monticello during Jefferson’s lifetime .

and the two youngest sons, Madison and Eston, were freed in Jefferson’s will.


and Professional Life

After a two-year course of study at the College of William and Mary that he began at age seventeen, Jefferson read the law for five years with Virginia’s prominent jurist, George Wythe, and recorded his first legal case in 1767.

In two years he was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses (the legislature in colonial Virginia).

thomas jefferson
thomas jefferson


During the last seventeen years of his life, Jefferson generally remained at Monticello, welcoming the many visitors who came to call upon the Sage.

During this period, he sold his collection of books (almost 6500 volumes) to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress before promptly beginning to purchase more volumes for his final library.

Noting the irony, Jefferson famously told John Adams that “I cannot live without books.”10

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