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Jefferson (Thomas) Collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Custodial History
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Processing Information
  • General
  • Related Materials
  • Arrangement
  • Publication note

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
    Title: Thomas Jefferson collection
    Creator: Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826
    Identifier/Call Number: mssJefferson
    Physical Description: 47.3 Linear Feet (39 boxes, 3 volumes)
    Date (inclusive): 1764-1826
    Abstract: The Thomas Jefferson collection contains correspondence and documents; architectural drawings, plans, and surveys; accounts; and notebooks dating from 1764 to 1826. The bulk of the collection is correspondence pertaining to various aspects of Thomas Jefferson's political career, family life, and interests. Architectural drawings, plans, and surveys primarily relate to land and properties in Virginia, with many representing Monticello and the surrounding area.
    Language of Material: Materials are primarily in English; several items are in French, Spanish, and Italian.

    Conditions Governing Access

    RESTRICTED. Available with curatorial approval. Requires extended retrieval and delivery time.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Thomas Jefferson collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    The Thomas Jefferson collection was assembled by the Huntington Library, with the bulk of the material acquired through two sales from bookdealer George D. Smith of New York in 1916 and 1918. Material purchased in the 1916 sale had been held by Thomas Jefferson's great-great-granddaughter Cornelia Jefferson Taylor and the 1918 material was acquired by Smith from collector William K. Bixby. In addition, some items in this collection were purchased by the Huntington Library through auctions and sales by Anderson Galleries, the American Art Association, Maggs Bros., B.A. Brown, G.H. Hart and others, and several items were donated by individuals. This summary is based on information from Huntington Library legacy information files and summary reports, the Henry E. Huntington papers, manuscript catalog cards, and legacy manuscript housing folders. Source of acquisition is noted in item descriptions, when known.

    Custodial History

    Material purchased from William K. Bixby via dealer George D. Smith had been acquired by Bixby from George P. Coleman of Richmond, Virginia.
    The Thomas Jefferson collection also consists of a number of items transferred from other archival collections held at the Huntington Library; item call numbers reflect these removals and refer to the following collections: the R.A. Brock collection and papers (BR), the Rufus King papers (RK), the William Jones Rhees papers (RH), the William Eaton papers (EA), and the John Lorimer Graham papers (GM).

    Biographical / Historical

    Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743-July 4, 1826), the third president of the United States, was born at Shadwell, Virginia, the son of farmer, surveyor, and enslaver Peter Jefferson (1707/08-1757) and Jane Randolph Jefferson (1720-1776). Jefferson attended the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg from 1760 to 1762; he studied law following his graduation and was admitted to the bar in 1767. From 1769 to 1775, he served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In June 1775, Jefferson became a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, where he was tasked with drafting a declaration of independence from Great Britain in June 1776. He was governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War, from 1779 to 1781, and in 1783 was elected to Congress as a delegate from Virginia. From 1784 to 1789, Jefferson lived in France, first as a member of the commission appointed to negotiate commerce treaties with European countries, then as U.S. minister to France, returning to the U.S. as the French Revolution was underway. While in France, he published Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). In 1790, he was appointed secretary of state in the George Washington administration, serving until 1793. Jefferson was vice president of the U.S. from 1797 to 1801 in the John Adams administration.
    Jefferson was elected president of the United States as a Democratic-Republican in a close and contentious 1800 race which was not settled until February 1801; he served two terms from 1801 to 1809. The purchase of the Louisiana territory from France in 1803 was the major event of his first term in office; others include the First Barbary War and the ratification of the 12th amendment to the Constitution in June 1804. Events of Jefferson's second term include the Aaron Burr conspiracy and his 1807 treason trial, the 1807 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves which ended the Atlantic slave trade, and the Embargo Act of 1807 and subsequent trade embargo on foreign countries from 1807 to 1809.
    Following his presidency, Jefferson returned to Virginia for an active retirement. He was president of the American Philosophical Society for eighteen years. In 1815, he sold his voluminous library to Congress, helping to create the Library of Congress. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1819, designing the school's buildings and creating its curriculum; the university opened in 1825.
    Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton (1748-1782) in 1772; the couple had six children, two of whom lived to adulthood: Martha ("Patsy") Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836) and Mary ("Maria," "Polly") Jefferson Eppes (1778-1804). Martha married Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. (1768-1828) in 1790, and Mary married John Wayles Eppes (about 1773-1823) in 1797. Jefferson had a decades-long relationship with Sally Hemings (1773-1835), an enslaved woman in his household; Hemings had at least six children by him, four of whom lived to adulthood: Beverly Hemings (1798-?), Harriet Hemings (1801-?), Madison Hemings (1805-1877), and Eston Hemings Jefferson (1808-1856).
    Jefferson inherited his father's property in Albemarle County, Virginia at age 21, including the Shadwell plantation. He began construction of his home Monticello, designed by himself, in 1769; building and renovations continued to 1808. The Monticello estate included tobacco and wheat crops; vegetable and flower gardens; livestock; workshops for textiles, woodworking, nail making, and blacksmithing; and mills. The property was divided into separate farms named Monticello, Tufton, Shadwell, and Lego. In addition, Jefferson inherited properties in Virginia from his father-in-law John Wayles around 1774, including the plantations Elk Hill (or Elkhill) in Goochland County and Poplar Forest in Bedford County, which became his retreat during his retirement.
    Jefferson enslaved over 600 persons, primarily at his Monticello and Poplar Forest plantations. Enslaved laborers worked in the fields and gardens and undertook much of the skilled labor in the various workshops and mills on the property, including in the building trades, and constructed portions of Monticello and Poplar Forest. Enslaved persons also performed numerous domestic labor tasks in Jefferson's household, including the influential chef, James Hemings.
    Thomas Jefferson died at home at Monticello at age 83.

    Scope and Contents

    The Thomas Jefferson collection contains correspondence and documents; architectural drawings, plans, and surveys; accounts; and notebooks dating from 1764 to 1826. The bulk of the collection is correspondence and includes letters to Jefferson as well as letters from him, which are mostly letterpress and polygraph copies of outgoing letters created by him. Correspondence pertains to Jefferson's political career as governor of Virginia, minister to France, secretary of state, vice president, and president; most letters from his post-presidency concern the founding of the University of Virginia. Also present are numerous letters to various family members, especially daughters Martha Jefferson Randolph and Mary Jefferson Eppes and their husbands Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. and John Wayles Eppes, which discuss family activities, education, travel plans, and health. Many items in this collection relate to Jefferson's properties and estates, especially Monticello and Poplar Forest; letters, documents, and account books concern horticulture, crops and tobacco, and seeds, as well as household expenses, finances, and goods. Several items pertain to or mention slavery and enslaved persons as well as Native Americans—see Scope and Contents notes for more information.
    The architectural drawings, plans, and surveys in the collection primarily depict land and properties in Virginia, with many representing Monticello and the surrounding area. Architectural drawings also include those created by Jefferson for the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, the Virginia capitol and the city of Richmond, and the Hôtel de Langeac in Paris. Volumes in the collection include account books, a memoranda book, legal case and fee books, and a daybook of market accounts kept by Jefferson's maître d'hôtel Étienne Lemaire during his second presidential term. Also present are parts for Jefferson's polygraph machine.

    Processing Information

    The Thomas Jefferson collection was reprocessed in 2021-2022 by Melissa Haley as part of the American Presidential Papers Project. The items had been physically assembled and arranged by former Huntington Library staff; material was rehoused during reprocessing. Previously assigned item-level call numbers have been retained.
    The number of pages for each item is noted in parentheses in item-level Scope and Contents notes; page totals include enclosures if present. Document measurements are included at the item level for drawings, surveys, and oversize items.
    Previously assigned legacy terminology regarding autograph, endorsement, and franking status of items was retained. Items marked autograph indicate the item is in the handwriting of the author of the letter or document. Endorsement usually refers to a signature of the addressee or individual authorized to read and respond to a letter and indicates that they have done so. In Jefferson's case, he endorsed letters received with the sender's name, date of letter, and date received; he also endorsed copies of his outgoing letters with name of recipient and date sent. Franking indicates the presence of an authorized signature for mailing purposes.


    Item HM 5721 (4) has been missing since at least February 1987; receipt for shoes purchased from John Minchin, 1801 March 5, with note and signature of Jefferson.

    Related Materials

    Related collections at the Huntington Library:


    Arranged into the following series: 1. Correspondence and documents; 2. Architectural drawings, plans, surveys; 3. Volumes; 4 Polygraph machine parts.

    Publication note

    Most Jefferson letters and documents have been published in Founders Online, National Archives ; in Julian P. Boyd et al, editors, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-); and/or in J. Jefferson Looney et al, editors, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004-). Letters acquired from William K. Bixby via dealer George D. Smith were published in the limited-edition Thomas Jefferson Correspondence: Printed from the Originals in the Collections of William K. Bixby (Boston, 1916). Some architectural drawings and a memoranda book have been published—see item descriptions in series 2 and 3.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Families -- United States -- History
    Families -- Virginia -- History
    Slavery -- United States -- History -- 18th century
    Slavery -- United States -- History -- 19th century
    Elk Hill (Va.)
    Monticello (Va.) -- History -- Sources
    United States -- Foreign relations -- 1789-1809
    United States -- Politics and Government -- 1775-1783
    United States -- Politics and Government -- 1783-1809
    United States -- Politics and Government -- 1809-1817
    United States -- Politics and Government -- 1817-1825
    Virginia -- History -- 1775-1865 -- Sources
    Virginia -- Politics and Government -- 1775-1783
    Account books -- United States -- 18th century
    Account books – United States – 19th century
    Architectural drawings (visual works)
    Architectural drawings (visual works) -- United States -- 18th century
    Architectural drawings (visual works) -- United States -- 19th century
    Commonplace books -- United States -- 18th century
    Land surveys -- Virginia -- 18th century
    Land surveys -- Virginia -- 19th century
    Letterpress copies -- United States -- 18th century
    Letterpress copies -- United States -- 19th century
    Letters (correspondence) -- United States -- 18th century
    Letters (correspondence) -- United States -- 19th century
    Receipts (financial records) -- 19th century
    Bacon, Edmund, 1785-
    Barnes, John, 1730-1826
    Brockenbrough, Arthur S., 1780-1832
    Carr, Martha Jefferson, 1746-1811
    Cocke, John Hartwell, 1780-1866
    Eppes, Elizabeth Wayles, 1752-1810
    Eppes, Francis
    Eppes, Francis, 1747-1808
    Eppes, John Wayles, 1773-1823
    Eppes, Maria, 1778-1804
    Randolph, Martha Jefferson, 1772-1836
    Randolph, Thomas M. (Thomas Mann), 1768-1828
    Poplar Forest (Va.)
    University of Virginia
    University of Virginia. Library