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Jefferson in His Own Time

A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

Kevin J. Hayes

Publication Year: 2012

In this volume, Kevin J. Hayes collects thirty accounts of Thomas Jefferson written by his granddaughters, visiting dignitaries, fellow politicians, and others who knew him as a family man, public servant, intellectual, and institution builder. The letters and reminiscences of those who knew Jefferson personally reveal him to be a warm, funny man, quite unlike the solemn statesman so often limned in biographies.
To friends and enemies alike he was the model of a republican gentleman, profoundly knowledgeable in philosophy and natural history, able to converse in several languages, and capable of great wit but contemptuous of ceremony and fancy dress. Through these excerpts, we can see the nation’s third president as his family knew him—a loving husband, father, and grandfather—and as his peers did, as a tireless public servant with a fondness for tall tales. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxxiv

Thomas Jefferson was a funny guy. Whenever I tell people this, they respond with quizzical looks. “What do you mean by funny?” they ask. “How was Jefferson funny?” They react this way because history, which has largely ignored Jefferson’s delightful sense of humor, has conditioned them to react this way...


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pp. xxxv-xli

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A Conversation Always Varied and Interesting (1782)

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pp. 1-8

On the summit [. . .] we discovered the house of Mr. Jefferson, which stands pre-eminent in these retirements; it was himself who built it and preferred this situation; for although he possessed considerable property in the neighbourhood, there was nothing to prevent him from fixing his residence wherever he thought...

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A Man of Great Sensibility and Parental Affection (1784–1785)

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pp. 9-15

[15 August 1784] This day, by invitation, we dined with Mr. [Thomas] Barclay, in a friendly way, without form or ceremony. Mr. Jefferson and daughter dined with us, and two gentlemen who were not to be known. The dinner was in the French style; there is no such thing here as preserving our taste in any thing; we must...

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A Stock of Information Not Inferior to That of Any Man (1799)

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pp. 16-27

Monticello is situated four miles from Milford, in that chain of mountains which stretches from James’s-River to the Rappahannock, twenty eight miles in front of the Blue-Ridge, and in a direction parallel to those mountains. This chain, which runs uninterrupted in its small extent, assumes successively the names of the West, South...

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Fourth of July at the President’s Mansion (1801 and 1803)

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pp. 28-30

Mr. Craven, a neighbour and acquaintance of ours, departing for Phila. tomorrow, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of passing a few minutes with you, chiefly to draw a picture, which I know will give your patriotic heart delight, a picture of Mr. Jefferson in which he was exhibited...

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Visiting the President’s Mansion (1802–1803)

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pp. 31-35

Promised you in a former letter some account of Thomas Jefferson, now President of the United States. I have had several opportunities of seeing and conversing with him since my arrival at Washington. He is tall in stature and rather spare in flesh. His dress and manners are very..

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Large Stories (1804–1809)

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pp. 36-41

[23 November 1804] Dined with the President. Mrs. Adams did not go. The company were Mr. R[obert] Smith, Secretary of the Navy, and his lady, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, Miss Jenifer and Miss Mouchette, Mr. [Daniel] Brent, and the President’s two sons-in-law [Thomas Mann Randolph and John W. Eppes], with...

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The Marks of Intense Thought and Perseverance (1807)

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pp. 42-61

Jefferson is tall and thin, of a sallow complexion, with a fine, intelligent eye. Dr. M. [Samuel Mitchill] yesterday introduced me, and we spent a half hour with him, in which time he conversed in a very easy, correct, and pleasant style. His language is peculiarly appropriate, and his manner very...

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The Habitation of Philosophy and Virtue (1809 and 1837)

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pp. 44-61

“And is this,” said I, after my first interview with Mr. Jefferson, “the violent democrat, the vulgar demagogue, the bold atheist and profligate man I have so often heard denounced by the federalists? Can this man so meek and mild, yet dignified in his manners, with a voice so soft and low, with a countenance so benignant and intelligent...

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The Sage of Monticello (1809)

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pp. 62-66

This village [Milton] is three miles from the seat of Mr. Jefferson, President of the United States; my stay there did not exceed one hour, and my opportunity of converse with this great man was much shorter than I wished; however from my own observation, and from correct and authentic information, I am enabled...

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Interview with Mr. Jefferson (1812)

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pp. 67-71

In pursuance of the recommendation of my friends, I set out, this morning, at 8 o’clock, for the purpose of waiting on Mr. Jefferson. On my arrival at the president’s house, I delivered my address to a servant, who in a few minutes returned with an answer, that Mr. Jefferson would be with me presently, and showed me into an elegant apartment. Mr...

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An Italian Friend Remembers Virginia and France (1813)

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pp. 72-76

Mr. [Thomas] Adams has sold the house in which he lived, and also all his properties, and he had bought another about one hundred sixty miles above Williamsburg, in Augusta County, and about fifty miles beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains (a name given them by the first European immigrants because the atmosphere...

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Man of the Mountain (1815)

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pp. 77-82

We left Charlottesville on Saturday morning, the 4th of February, for Mr. Jefferson’s. He lives, you know, on a mountain, which he has named Monticello, and which, perhaps you do not know, is a synonyme for Carter’s mountain. The ascent of this steep, savage hill, was as pensive and slow as Satan’s ascent to Paradise. We were obliged to wind two thirds round its sides before we...

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Monticello (1818)

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pp. 83-87

Having an introduction to Mr. Jefferson, I ascended his little mountain on a fine morning, which gave the situation its due eff ect. The whole of the sides and base are covered with forest, through which roads have been cut circularly, so that the winding may be shortened or prolonged at pleasure: the summit is an open...

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A Philosophical Legislator (1824)

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pp. 88-91

On the 18th instant, I left Hayes’s tavern, at the foot of the Blue ridge [. . .] and proceeded to Gooch’s, an excellent inn, to breakfast, where I saw the arrival of the Albion, at New York, with newspapers to the 30th April, and the sentence pronounced on [Arthur] Thistlewood and his associates. We shortly afterwards...

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Memorandum of Mr. Jefferson’s Conversations (1824)

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pp. 92-101

Mr. Jefferson is now between eighty-one and eighty-two, above six feet high, of an ample, long frame, rather thin and spare. His head, which is not peculiar in its shape, is set rather forward on his shoulders; and his neck being long, there is, when he is walking or conversing, an habitual protrusion of it. It is still well...

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From the University of Virginia to Monticello (1828)

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pp. 102-106

Having crossed the blue ridge, we arrived at a good-looking country house, and a mill called Brown’s Farm, situated at the base of the mountains, and took our dinner there. This house is surrounded by fields belonging to it, and from its piazza there is a very fine view of the mountains. From this place we had yet twenty...

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Recollections of President Jefferson (1828)

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pp. 107-115

Through the kindness of General Washington I was introduced to Mr. Jefferson, who proved one of my sincerest, though not most fortunate, friends. The coupling of his acquaintance with a speculation involving considerable loss and chagrin cannot, however, prevent my recurring to the period with a degree of pleasure which...

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A Father’s Grief, A Daughter’s Memories (1832)

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pp. 116-119

During my mother’s life he (Jefferson) bestowed much time and attention on our education — our cousins, the Carrs, and myself — and after her death, during the first month of desolation which followed, I was his constant companion while we remained at Monticello . . . As a nurse no female ever had more tenderness nor anxiety...

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Fond Memories from a Granddaughter (1839)

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pp. 120-122

Faithful to my promise, dearest — — — , I shall spend an hour every Sunday in writing all my childish recollections of my dear grandfather, which are sufficiently distinct to relate to you. My memory seems crowded with them, and they have the vividness of realities; but all are...

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Of Art and Religion (1841)

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pp. 123-127

In the summer of 1785, political duties had called Mr. Jefferson, then minister of the United States in Paris, to London, and there I became acquainted with him. He had a taste for the fine arts, and highly approved my intention of preparing myself for the accomplishment of a national work. He encouraged me to persevere...

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A Visionary Who Loved to Dream Eyes Wide Open(1841)

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pp. 128-132

The house has two porticoes of the Doric order, though one of them was not quite completed, and the pediment had, in the meanwhile, to be supported on the stems of four tulip-trees, which are really, when well grown, as beautiful as the fluted shafts of Corinthian pillars. They front north and south: on the ground-floor were four...

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Talking with Jefferson: Two Accounts (1841 and 1863)

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pp. 133-140

The following anecdote was related by Mr. Jefferson to the writer, while on a visit to Monticello, in the year 1822. It was told in illustration of an opinion advanced by the former in relation to physiognomy, that although it was but folly to attempt a system of judging character from any particular conformation of features, yet the...

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A Man of Easy and Ingratiating Manners (1849)

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pp. 141-143

Having been set on shore on the north side of the river, when we arrived in Richmond, I was ordered to take the command of the Magazine and Laboratory at Westham, seven miles above that place. [. . .] In a few days after I took the command of the Magazine, I saw Mr. Jefferson, then Governor of the State, for the first time. He came to Westham with one of his council, Mr. Blair...

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The Last Days of Thomas Jefferson (1852)

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pp. 144-150

Our arrival was made known to Mr. Jefferson by his grandson; and on the following morning we were visited by Mr. Nicholas P. Trist, who had a short time before married one of Mr. Jefferson’s granddaughters — Miss Virginia Randolph — and who was residing with Mr. Jefferson at Monticello. Soon afterwards, the venerable...

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What Jefferson Was Like as a Grandfather, ca. 1856

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pp. 151-157

When he returned from Washington, in 1809, I was a child, and of that period I have childish recollections. He seemed to return to private life with great satisfaction. At last he was his own master and could, he hoped, dispose of his time as he pleased, and indulge his love of country life. You know how greatly he preferred...

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The Life and Death of Thomas Jefferson, ca. 1857

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pp. 158-168

Dear Sir: In compliance with your request, I have committed to paper my reminiscences of Mr. Jefferson, as they, still green and fresh in my memory, have occurred to me. I was thirty-four years old when he died. My mother was his eldest and, for the last twenty...

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Daily Life at Monticello (1862)

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pp. 169-179

Mr. Jefferson was six feet two and a half inches high, well proportioned, and straight as a gunbarrel. He was like a fine horse — he had no surplus flesh. He had an iron constitution, and was very strong. He had a machine for measuring strength. There were very few men that I have seen try it, that were as strong in the arms as his son-in-law, Col. Thomas Mann Randolph; but Mr...

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Thomas Jefferson (1868)

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pp. 180-183

Every authentick anecdote relating to those who have acted a conspicuous part in their country’s history is worthy of preservation. A few personal reminiscences of Mr. Jefferson may be interesting to your readers. I was a student at the University of Virginia during the latter years of Mr. Jefferson’s life, and at the time...

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Jefferson and the Boy Professor (1875)

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pp. 184-186

Early in December 1824 I travelled from Washington to Fredericksburg, where I stayed all night. I do not know how I was known, but a gentleman called on me, and asked me to his house, and I spent a pleasant evening. I saw some young Virginian ladies there and I thought they were very charming. I was amused...

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“Once the Slave of Thomas Jefferson” (1898)

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pp. 187-194

The Rev. Peter F. Fossett, of this city [Cincinnati], is probably the last surviving slave of Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Fossett is a very intelligent colored man. He is eighty-three years old and lives at No. 313 Stone Street in a comfortable, well furnished and well provided home. It was there that a Sunday..


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pp. 195-196

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 197-200


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pp. 201-210

E-ISBN-13: 9781609381387
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381202

Page Count: 254
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 -- Friends and associates.
  • Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 -- In literature.
  • United States -- History -- 1783-1865 -- Sources.
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