Facts about Thomas Jefferson
Compiled by Donald Burger, Attorney at Law

Thomas Jefferson was a lawyer.

There are no surviving pictures of Martha Jefferson, the wife of Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, 50 years after his Declaration of Independence.

John Adams died the same day Jefferson did.

Peas were Jefferson's favorite food.

Thomas Jefferson was a water gardener, of sorts. He had a fish pond at Monticello. It was motar lined and about three feet deep. He used it to store freshly caught fish and eels. It has been restored and has a pleasing oval shape and is visible from the west side of Monticello. It is an example of Jefferson's practice of ferme ornee, the "interspersing of articles of husbandry with the attributes of a garden." Jefferson also sketched plans for a series of waterfalls for Montalto, the high mountain visible from Monticello (the little mountain).

Thomas Jefferson was one of the first advocates of the value of native plants. He collected native plants from throughout the New World, and sent examples to friends in Europe. One of the primary purposes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was to collect native plants. Jefferson featured native plants prominently in his gardens.

Jefferson had a greenhouse at Monticello, just off his library. It featured five giant double-sashed windows and a southeastern exposure.

Water was always a problem at Monticello. After all, Monticello is on top of a mountain. Wells were dug but they proved unreliable. Jefferson collected run-off rainwater from the terraces off the back of Monticello. He installed gutters on the terraces and directed the collected water into cisterns.

The mockingbird was Jefferson's favorite bird.

Jefferson was mostly a vegetarian, using meat as a condiment.

Monticello is 867 feet above sea level.

Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia was Jefferson's only published book.

By 1811 Jefferson was growing 160 peach trees, more than any other fruit tree.

Jefferson grew many apples. His favorite for cider was Taliaferro. This variety has been lost to commerce. If you know it, please e-mail me.

When Jefferson died he was deeply in debt. His possessions were sold at auction. Monticello itself and 552 acres was sold in 1831 for $7,000 to James T. Barclay. Barclay sold Monticello and 218 acres to US Navy Lieutenant Uriah P. Levy in 1836 for $2,700. Levy bought surrounding land and began buying back original furnishings. He is called "the Savior of Monticello." He died in 1862, during the Civil War. His will left the property to the United States for use as a school for the orphans of navy officers.
The Confederacy seized the property and sold it at auction to Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin F. Ficklin for $80,500 in confederate dollars. The property reverted to the United States at the end of the Civil War. Levy's descendants mounted a legal action to break Uriah's will. The court ordered Monticello sold once again at auction. The buyer this time was Jefferson M. Levy, the nephew of Uriah Levy. He paid $10,500 for Monticello and 218 acres.
He installed central heating and modern plumbing and continued to acquire original furnishings. He sold Monticello and approximately six hundred acres to the nonprofit Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923 for $500,000. That Foundation continues to operate Monticello today.

The road up the little mountain ends at the eastern side of Monticello. That is the view today's visitors first encounter. The western side of Monticello looks out over the yard and garden areas. The western side is sometimes referred to as the "nickel side" because it is that side that is featured on the back of the nickel.

We know so much about Jefferson because he retained copies of his correspondence. How to make those copies was a challenge in the 1700's. Jefferson owned several polygraphs, machines based on the pantograph, invented in the 1600's. The polygraph used a set of rigid rods to allow one pen to duplicate the action of the writer's pen. The copies were quite accurate. Jefferson owned several polygraphs.

Beautiful stone-work is expensive. Some parts of Monticello that appear to be made of stone are not. Jefferson practiced the art of "rustication." Wood was inscribed to look like stone bricks (like our modern 8x8x16 builder's bricks) and sand was blown onto the wet paint, giving the effect of stone-work. This is evident on the eastern side of Monticello. Washington also used this technique at Mount Vernon.

Jefferson was an avid book collector. He had one of the largest private libraries in the country. Jefferson sold the approximately six thousand volumes (complete with book cases designed for shipping) to the US Government to establish the Library of Congress. He sold the collection for $23,950. He immediately began buying new books for his own use.

Last revised November 30, 2006

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