Jefferson Revealed

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the state of Virginia. London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1787.  Acquired 1938 (A 1787 .J45)

Jefferson wrote this work in 1781, bringing the manuscript with him to Paris the following year. There he printed an edition of 200 copies for private distribution to friends and colleagues. To forestall piracies, Jefferson authorized this 1787 London edition for public sale. This is the copy that Jefferson retained and annotated extensively in anticipation of a revised edition. All told, he added some 500 lines on 50 pages, plus 16 inserted manuscript pages and additional notes and corrections. Jefferson’s revisions were eventually incorporated into an edition published in Richmond in 1853.

Benjamin Banneker, Copy of a letter from Benjamin Banneker to the secretary of state, with his answer. Philadelphia: Daniel Lawrence, 1792.  Acquired 1953 (A 1792 .B355)

America’s first African-American scientist, Benjamin Banneker was a free black and tobacco farmer in rural Maryland. In his spare time he studied astronomy, helped survey the new District of Columbia, and published a popular almanac calculated for Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region. Banneker proudly sent a copy of his first almanac to Jefferson, along with a letter chiding the author of the Declaration of Independence for his slave ownership and statements that blacks were less capable than whites. Banneker’s letter and Jefferson’s cordial but evasive reply were promptly published in this abolitionist pamphlet.

To the citizens of the Southern States … [Philadelphia?, 1796]  Acquired 1954 (Broadside 1796 .T6)

During the 1796 presidential election, Federalists seized upon Jefferson’s complicated views on slavery and the racial inferiority of blacks. This unrecorded broadside was one of many publications aimed at convincing southern voters to switch their allegiance from Jefferson to John Adams. Ignoring Jefferson’s position that emancipation must come through democratic process and not fiat, the anonymous author implies that Jefferson considered slaveowners to be morally depraved. Indeed, were Jefferson to be elected, Virginia’s 300,000 slaves would be set free, and “farewel to the safety, prosperity, the importance, perhaps the very existence of the Southern States.”

Joseph Carrington Cabell, Letter to John Hartwell Cocke, 4 July 1826.  Acquired 1957 (MSS 5644)

Cabell, Cocke, and Jefferson had worked for years to realize their shared dream of establishing the University of Virginia. In this letter written the day Jefferson died, Cabell relates Jefferson’s final hours. “His great wish throughout his illness has been to live till the 4th July and to be buried on that day. Yesterday he started up and said this is the 4th July, with his countenance lightened into pleasure … He has frequently declared that he did not wish to live any longer than the 4th July; & was not afraid to meet death. The night before last he said I resign myself to my God, & my child to my country.”

Henry Marie Brackenridge, A eulogy, on the lives and characters of John Adams & Thomas Jefferson. Pensacola, Fla.: W. H. Hunt, 1826.  Original McGregor Library (A 1826 .B73)

“We may seek in vain through the whole range of history, for a parallel to the lives and deaths of Adams and Jefferson,” said Brackenridge, a federal judge. His public eulogy of Adams and Jefferson—both of whom died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a document they mutually drafted and did so much to defend—was delivered in Pensacola to a large throng, including the widow of a Declaration Signer. This early Florida imprint is one of the rarest and most unusual of the many Adams-Jefferson eulogies.

Isaac Jefferson, “Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg, Virginia," and Daguerreotype of Isaac Jefferson, ca. 1847.  Acquired 1941 (MSS 2041)

Born into slavery at Monticello in 1775, Isaac Jefferson practiced tinsmithing, nailmaking, and blacksmithing there until 1796. He then moved with his family to the nearby estate of Thomas Jefferson’s son-in-law, where they remained until Isaac was freed in the early 1820s. Eventually he settled in Petersburg, where in 1847 local antiquary Charles Campbell recorded these reminiscences. The former slave’s memoirs contain much about daily life at Monticello, an account of the 1781 British invasion of Richmond (and Governor Thomas Jefferson’s narrow escape), and reminiscences of serving Jefferson in Philadelphia in the early 1790s.