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Thomas Jefferson Timeline 1743-1827

The Colonial Period, 1743-1774

April 13 (April 2, Old Style).* Thomas Jefferson is born at Shadwell plantation in Goochland (later Albemarle) County, Virginia, to Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor, and Jane Randolph, daughter of a prominent Virginia family.

*April 2 by the Old (Julian) Calendar, April 13 by the New (Gregorian) Calendar. The New Calendar was adopted by Great Britain and its colonies in 1752. To bring the calendar in line with the solar year, it added eleven days; the new year began in January rather than March.


Jefferson begins attending a local school run by a Scotsman, Reverend William Douglas.


Peter Jefferson dies.


Jefferson attends the school of the Reverend James Maury in Fredericksville Parish, twelve miles from Shadwell. He boards with Maury's family. At about this time, he also begins keeping a literary commonplace book, writing extracts in it from Greek, Latin, and English literature.


Jefferson attends the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. He studies mathematics and philosophy with William Small of Scotland. He learns French, practices the violin, and gains a reputation for studiousness. He attends dinners with Virginia governor Francis Fauquier. Jefferson graduates from William and Mary in 1762.


Jefferson begins law studies with George Wythe, his former teacher at the College of William and Mary and now his mentor in the legal profession.


Jefferson comes of age, inheriting 2,750 acres from his father's estate.


Jefferson passes his bar examination and returns to Shadwell. The courts close during the Stamp Act Crisis.


Spring-Summer. Jefferson, aged twenty-four, makes a tour of Annapolis, Philadelphia, and New York.


Jefferson begins practicing law in Albemarle and Augusta counties.


Jefferson begins building a new house, Monticello, at the top of an 867-foot mountain inherited from his father, near Shadwell.


Jefferson is admitted to the bar of the General Court of Virginia.

May. Jefferson takes his seat as representative from Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Edmund Pendleton and Jefferson's uncle (or possibly, cousin), Peyton Randolph, both prominent planters in the House, act as his mentors. Jefferson serves in the House of Burgesses for Albemarle County until 1776.


February 1. Shadwell, the Jefferson family estate, burns. Most of Jefferson's personal and family papers and books are destroyed.

November, Jefferson takes up residence at Monticello.


January 1. Jefferson marries Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, aged twenty-three. Her dowry almost doubles his land and slaves. In addition to Monticello, Jefferson's holdings will include several plantations in Albemarle County and Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County.

September 27. Martha (Patsy) is born. Jefferson and his wife Martha will have six children, only two of whom will live to adulthood.


January 14. Through the division of the estate of Jefferson's wife's father, John Wayles, the Jeffersons acquire by inheritance £4000 in debts as well as 135 additional slaves, among them Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings (c.1735-1807). Betty Hemings is the daughter of an African slave and an English sea captain and reportedly the mistress of John Wayles and mother of several of his children. Betty Hemings eventually has ten children, among whom are Robert, who works as Jefferson's valet; Martin, who acts as household butler; Sally (c.1773-1835), a chamber maid; John, who becomes a skilled cabinet-maker; and James, who trains in French cuisine in Paris and is employed as a chef. Documentation of Hemings family members, including Sally Hemings and the six children born to her who are noted in Monticello records. Unlike the members of other Monticello slave families, all of Sally Hemings' children who live to adulthood will gain their freedom. The youngest Hemings sons, Madison (b. 1805) and Eston (b. 1808), will be freed in Jefferson’s will.

The American Revolution  1774-1783


July. Jefferson drafts instructions for the Virginia delegates to the first Continental Congress. In the draft, Jefferson argues that Parliament has no governing rights over the colonies and asserts that the colonies have been independent since their founding. He describes the usurpations of power and deviations from law committed by King George III as well as by Parliament. Jefferson is not present in the Virginia House when his draft instructions are debated. While the House adopts a more moderate position, Jefferson's friends have his instructions published in August in Williamsburg, as A Summary View of the Rights of British America. The pamphlet is circulated in London as well as in Philadelphia and New York and establishes Jefferson's reputation as a skillful, if radical, political writer.


March 27. Jefferson is elected as a delegate to the second Continental Congress to replace Peyton Randolph, the former president of Congress, who is now presiding over the Virginia House of Burgesses. Jefferson attends the Virginia House of Burgesses until his departure for Philadelphia in mid-June.

June 20. Jefferson arrives in Philadelphia as the youngest Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congress. Other Virginia delegates are George Washington, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, Richard Henry Lee, and Edmund Pendleton. Jefferson is accompanied by Jupiter (d. 1800), his slave and personal servant since his school days at the College of William and Mary. Jefferson takes up residence on Chestnut Street, has a special writing desk made, and purchases a Windsor chair to go with it.

June-July. Jefferson drafts an address entitled "A Declaration of the Causes & Necessity for Taking Up Arms." Jefferson modifies some of the arguments he made in 1774 in A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

July. Jefferson drafts resolutions in response to British minister Lord North's proposal for reconciliation.

June-July. Jefferson copies out and annotates Benjamin Franklin's draft of the Articles of Confederation, the governing document of the Continental Congress.

June-July. Jefferson makes calculations on the cost of a war with Great Britain, , possibly taking notes from ongoing work in Congress. His calculations show that a six-month conflict would cost approximately three million dollars.

August 9. Having returned to Virginia, Jefferson attends the Convention, a common form of interim state government in the early years of the Revolution.

October 1. Jefferson returns to Philadelphia. He serves on several Congressional committees, among which are the Committee on Currency, the Committee on the Business of Congress, and committees addressing petitions and disputes.

December 2. Jefferson proposes a resolution in Congress calling for the exchange of Ethan Allen, captured by the British at Montreal. He also drafts a declaration in January 1776 on the British treatment of Allen.

December. Jefferson returns to Monticello.


January. Jefferson writes an "alternative" history of the colonies elaborating on what he wrote in 1774 in A Summary View of the Rights of British America. To show that the original English colonists saw themselves as independent of King and Parliament, he draws on Richard Hakluyt's The Principal Navigations Voyages Traffiques & Discoveries Made by Sea or Overland to the Remote & Farthest Distant Quarters of the Earth...., first published in London, 1598-1600. (Series 7, Volume 3, Historical Notes on Virginia)

March 31. Jefferson's mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, dies.

May 10. Congress passes John Adams's resolution charging the states to write constitutions and create new, independent state governments. Years later, John Adams describes this action as Congress's substantive declaration of independence, of greater political significance at the time than the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

May 14. Jefferson arrives back in Philadelphia to attend the second Continental Congress. He remains until September. Richard Henry Lee attends with Jefferson, but former Virginia delegates Edmund Pendleton and Patrick Henry remain in Virginia to attend the state Constitutional Convention.

May 15. The Virginia Convention appoints a committee to draft a constitution.

May 23. Jefferson moves to a new residence, the house of Jacob Graff, on the corner of Market and 7th Streets, farther out from the city center. He takes his writing desk and Windsor chair with him.

May-June. Jefferson writes several drafts of a constitution for Virginia, although he is not a member of the committee assigned to do so. He envisions a popularly-elected assembly and a senate drawn from among the assembly's members. Senators will serve for life, though Jefferson later amends this to nine years. In Jefferson's draft constitution, the royal governor is reduced to an administrator serving a one-year term. Among the proposed reforms are an independent judiciary, the extension of suffrage, the gradual abolition of slavery, the appropriation of unsettled western land as freeholds to independent farmers, and fewer obstacles to the naturalization of immigrants.

June 7. Richard Henry Lee, acting on instructions from the Virginia government, moves a resolution in Congress calling for a complete declaration of independence.

June 7. Congress appoints a committee to draft the declaration of independence in anticipation of the approval of Richard Henry Lee's resolution. The committee includes Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The committee prevails on Jefferson to draft the document.

Jefferson writes a draft in two to three days and submits this "original Rough draught" first to John Adams and then to Benjamin Franklin and two other committee members, who make a total of forty-seven changes to the draft.
June 28. The committee submits to Congress the emended draft, entitled "A Declaration by the Representatives in General Congress Assembled."

July 1. A vote in Congress on a declaration of independence finds nine states in favor, South Carolina and Pennsylvania opposed, Delaware delegates divided, and New York without instructions.

July 2. With the arrival of Caesar Rodney to break the Delaware deadlock, the absence of two opposed Pennsylvania delegates, and a change in position by South Carolina, Lee's resolution on independence passes, 12 to 0, with New York abstaining.

July 1-4. Congress debates the draft declaration, making thirty-nine additional changes. The most significant of these are Congress's deletion of Jefferson's arguments holding King George III responsible for the continuation of the slave trade in the colonies, and his strongly worded ending, which Congress replaces with the text of Lee's resolution.

July 3-4. Congress approves these final thirty-nine changes to the Declaration.

Jefferson objects to many of Congress's revisions. During the summer of 1776, he makes a copy for himself of his original rough draft without the deletions and circulates it among friends.

July 4. On Congress's orders, John Dunlap of Philadelphia makes printed copies of the Declaration.

July 8. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence takes place in Philadelphia.

July 9. General George Washington reads his printed copy of the Declaration to his troops in New York.

July 19. Congress orders that a parchment copy of "The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America" be made. This parchment copy is signed by most of the delegates on August 2. Others sign at later dates.

June-August. Jefferson keeps notes on the proceedings in Congress. These notes chronicle Congress's move toward total independence and the debates on and passage of the Articles of Confederation. Jefferson indicates in his notes that all the delegates except John Dickinson signed the Declaration on July 4th, while other documentary evidence suggests that most signed it on August 2. Jefferson sent a copy of these notes to James Madison in 1783, and included them in the "Autobiography," he wrote in 1821.

September 9. Congress designates "United States" as the nation's official name.

September 26. Congress appoints Jefferson a commissioner to represent the United States abroad with Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane. But on October 11, Jefferson writes to John Hancock, declining the appointment. He returns to Virginia where he serves in the House of Delegates.

October. Jefferson and James Madison serve in the Virginia House in Williamsburg, become friends, and begin a lifelong political partnership in which they exchange approximately 1200 letters.


Throughout this year, Jefferson serves as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and as a member of the committee to revise Virginia's state laws.

May 16. Jefferson begins a correspondence with John Adams.

June 14. Jefferson's son, born May 28, dies at the age of three weeks.


Jefferson continues as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

August 1. Mary (Polly) Jefferson is born.


June 1. Jefferson is elected governor of Virginia for a one-year term.

June 18. Jefferson submits a Report of the Committee of Revisors to the Virginia House. The report includes Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom; a bill for reforming the legal code, especially the application of the death penalty; a bill for the General Diffusion of Knowledge, establishing a public school system; and measures for the expansion of suffrage and the abolition of feudal land inheritance laws. Only the last measures, for the abolition of primogeniture and entail as forms of land inheritance, pass the House. However, the House does pass a Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786.


Spring. James Monroe begins legal studies with Jefferson.

June 2. Jefferson is re-elected governor of Virginia.

September. Jefferson begins planning an expedition of Virginia's militia, under the command of George Rogers Clark, against the British and their Indian allies at Detroit.

October. François Barbé de Marbois, secretary to the French legation in Philadelphia, sends a questionnaire to all state governors, including Jefferson, eliciting historical, geographical, economic, and cultural information about each of the states for the French government. Jefferson's December 20, 1781, reply to Marbois does not survive. After sending his answers to Marbois, Jefferson makes further changes to them in manuscript and gives a copy to a friend, the Marquis de Chastellux, a French officer serving with the American army. In 1784, Jefferson has 200 copies of Notes on the State of Virginia privately printed in France. His name does not appear as the author, a not unusual practice in that era. He distributes the printed copies to French, English, and American friends. The manuscript for the Notes with additions and revisions is at the Massachusetts Historical Society.


January. On behalf of the state of Virginia, Jefferson receives the recently published twenty-eight-volume Encyclopédie compiled by French philosophe, Denis Diderot, which is advertised in the Virginia Gazette as the "supreme work of the Enlightenment." It is delivered to Jefferson just before the British invasion of Virginia. He uses it for research in revising the manuscript of his Notes on the State of Virginia, and months later, after receiving a request from the state government, reluctantly turns the treasured volumes over to the state.

January 6-10. Having defected to the British, Benedict Arnold leads an invasion of Virginia, burning Richmond. Jefferson and other government officials are forced to flee the capital.

June 2. Jefferson's second term as governor expires, but before a new governor can be elected, a detachment from British General Lord Cornwallis's army attacks Charlottesville, and nearby Monticello. Jefferson, his family, and friends flee Monticello, barely escaping capture. The detachment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, leaves Monticello unharmed, possibly because Jefferson has become renowned for his hospitality to captured Hessian officers, mercenaries serving with the British, who are on parole and awaiting exchange.

June 12. The Virginia House elects Thomas Nelson Jr. governor and passes a resolution calling for an inquiry into the adequacy of Jefferson's preparations for defense against the British invasion and his flight from Richmond in January. On December 15, the House receives and accepts a committee's report absolving Jefferson of any blame.


Jefferson begins a lifelong friendship with William Short, a relative of Jefferson's wife, Martha.

September 6. Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton, dies after an illness of several months following the birth May 8 of her sixth child, Lucy Elizabeth. Jefferson is inconsolable for some time after her death. In a November 26 letter to his friend Marquis de Chastellux, Jefferson writes that in the wake of his grief, "Your letter recalled to my memory that there were persons still living of much value to me."

November 12. Congress appoints Jefferson as an additional commissioner to join John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Laurens in Europe to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain.

December 27. Jefferson arrives in Philadelphia to prepare for departure for France. Winter weather delays his departure, and he eventually declines the appointment. Congress withdraws it on April 1, 1783.


June 6. Jefferson is elected a delegate to Congress from Virginia.

November. Jefferson attends Congress at Princeton and then at Annapolis, where it reconvenes in December.

December. Congress appoints Jefferson, Elbridge Gerry, and James McHenry as a committee to arrange the ceremony for Congress's acceptance of George Washington's resignation of his military commission. George Washington Papers Time Line: The American Revolution

December 22. Jefferson writes his daughter Martha (Patsy), noting that she does not write him every week as he has asked. Jefferson guides his daughter's upbringing closely. In this letter he gives Patsy detailed instructions about how to dress.


March 1. Jefferson submits to Congress his Report of a Plan of Government for the Western Territory, establishing procedures for the entrance of new states. In it, Jefferson proposes that slavery be abolished in new states by 1800. Congress rejects this part of the plan and passes the revised Ordinance April 23. Jefferson blames Southern representatives for Congress's rejection of his original plan. The Ordinance of 1784 marks the high point of Jefferson's opposition to slavery, which is more muted thereafter.

March. Jefferson drafts a report for reform of coinage that proposes replacing the English system of pounds sterling, shillings, and pence with a fraction or decimal system having an American version of the Spanish dollar as the basic unit. The reform does not pass Congress at this time, but it is adopted with some changes in 1786 and becomes effective several years later.

May 7. Congress appoints Jefferson minister plenipotentiary to join John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in negotiating treaties of amity and commerce with European nations. Jefferson eventually replaces Benjamin Franklin as minister to France.

June-July. Jefferson travels throughout the eastern states, collecting information on their history, geography, agriculture, and commerce for his new role as minister in Europe.

July 5. Jefferson sails for Europe from Boston, accompanied by his twelve-year-old daughter Martha (Patsy) and William Short as personal secretary. James Hemings, his nineteen-year-old slave, follows soon after. William Short (1759-1849) is a young relative and protégé, who trained as a lawyer with George Wythe and served on the Executive Council of Virginia. James Hemings is the son of Betty Hemings and brother of Sally. Jefferson intends that he learn the art of French cooking in Paris.

August 3. Jefferson and his party arrive in Le Havre and travel on to Paris. Jefferson takes up residence first at the Hôtel de Landron and then at the Hôtel de Langeac on the Champs-Elysées. David Humphreys, secretary to commissioners Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams, joins Jefferson's household. Jefferson hires a Frenchman, Adrien Petit, to manage the household. At about the same time, Abigail Adams and her children John Quincy and Abigail arrive in Paris to join John Adams, who will be appointed the first ambassador to the Court of St. James's in London.


April-May. John Adams and Jefferson successfully negotiate a loan from Dutch bankers to consolidate U. S. debts, pay long overdue salaries to French officer veterans of the American Revolution, and ransom American captives held by Algerian and Moroccan rulers who exact tribute from commercial shipping in the Mediterranean and hold hostage seamen of those countries unable or unwilling to pay.

Fall. Jefferson begins work with the Abbé Morellet on a French translation of his Notes on the State of Virginia. Having heard that a bad French translation is already in the works, Jefferson hopes to preempt it with his own. However, he is dissatisfied with Morellet's translation, published in 1787 as Observations sur la Virginie.


January 7. Jefferson writes to New Hampshire governor John Sullivan, giving him directions on how to find and convey to Paris the skeleton and hide of a moose. Jefferson aims to refute the argument of famed French naturalist Georges de Buffon that nature, animals, and by implication humans in the New World are less developed and smaller in stature than those on the European continent.

January-March. Jefferson drafts a proposal to form a concert of powers led by the United States to oppose the North African regimes, known as the "Barbary Pirates," who levy tribute on American and European commercial ships. Friends present his proposal in Congress, but it is rejected because of its expense, as John Adams had predicted to Jefferson.

March-April. Jefferson visits the Adamses in London. John Adams and Jefferson take a tour of the English countryside. During his visit to London, Jefferson is presented at court and snubbed by King George III.

Late Summer. Jefferson is introduced to Maria Cosway by the American artist John Trumbull at the Halle aux Bleds, the French grain market in Paris. Cosway is a talented English artist, raised in Italy, and married to the miniaturist Richard Cosway. She and Jefferson develop a close personal relationship.

October 12. After recovering from a broken wrist, Jefferson writes Maria Cosway a carefully crafted letter in which his "Head" debates with his "Heart" the contesting merits of love and pleasure, on the one hand, and intellect and rationality, on the other. Jefferson's letterpress copy survives.

October-November. Jefferson learns of "Shay's Rebellion" in western Massachusetts, first from John Adams in a November 30 letter, and later from John Jay in an October 27 letter. The rebellion, led by Daniel Shays, is directed by Western debtor farmers against Eastern creditors and the courts. Abigail Adams, who corresponds regularly with Jefferson, also writes him about the insurgency, and Jefferson, who is not as alarmed as the Adamses, replies in a February 22, 1787, letter that "I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere."


March-June. Jefferson travels through the south of France and in northern Italy. Thomas Jefferson's drawing of a macaroni machine and instructions for making pasta.

May-September. The Constitutional Convention meets in Philadelphia, presided over by George Washington. Madison has been keeping Jefferson informed of the developments leading up to it, and Jefferson generally supports the effort. Under the Articles of Confederation, the government has the power to negotiate treaties but cannot regulate trade, and this has hampered Jefferson's efforts to negotiate commercial treaties with France. In November, Jefferson receives a copy of a draft of the Constitution and generally approves it, but urges Madison and others to add a bill of rights and to limit the number of terms that a president can serve.

July. Jefferson's other daughter, nine-year-old Mary (Polly), arrives in Paris with the fourteen-year-old slave, Sally Hemings. They first go to London, where they stay for a short while with John and Abigail Adams before proceeding to Paris.


March-April. Jefferson travels through Holland and central Europe. June 19, he writes his "Hints to Americans Travelling in Europe" for Thomas Lee Shippen and John Rutledge Jr. (Shippen Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress).


May 5. Jefferson attends the opening of the French Estates-General and its debates at Versailles. The Estates-General have been called in the wake of the crown's increasing fiscal difficulties. Jefferson drafts a charter of rights with Lafayette in June. It serves as the basis for the French Declaration of Rights that Lafayette presents to the National Assembly in July.

July. Riots and mob actions, including the storming of the Bastille on July 14, occur in the streets of Paris. August, Lafayette and other French liberals meet secretly at Jefferson's home, the Hôtel de Langeac, just outside the city, to discuss a new French constitution.

September 26. The United States Senate confirms Jefferson's appointment as secretary of state in the administration of George Washington, first president of the United States.

September 28. Jefferson departs for home from the French port of Le Havre on board the Clermont. He does not learn of his appointment as secretary of state until he arrives in Norfolk, Virginia on November 23. On February 14, 1790 he accepts it reluctantly, because he had hoped to devote his time to Monticello and his private affairs.


February 23. Jefferson's daughter Martha (Patsy) marries her second cousin Thomas Mann Randolph at Monticello. They live at Edgehill, an estate two miles from Monticello.

March 21. Jefferson assumes the duties of secretary of state in New York City, where the federal government is located. At first he works cordially with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, helping to reduce Southern opposition to Hamilton's plan for federal assumption of state debts in return for the selection of a site on the Potomac River for the proposed capital city.

July 4. Jefferson submits to Congress his Report on the Subject of Measures, Weights, and Coins, an effort to establish uniform standards for coinage and weight measures. Jefferson is particularly excited by the discovery that the established weight for the American version of the Spanish dollar equals an ounce. He develops an ideal system of equivalencies between money and weight standards, but it is at odds with that of Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton, whose proposal is based on current business practices.


February 15. Jefferson sends President George Washington, his Opinion of the Constitutionality of the Bill for Establishing a National Bank. Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton argues that the Constitution provides implied powers to establish a Bank. Jefferson disagrees, and he sees Hamilton's plans for a national bank, the development of manufactures, and other related financial policies as creating conditions for the accumulation of the kind of power and corruption identified with the courts and monarchies of Europe.

May 8. Jefferson explains to President Washington his involvement in the publication of Thomas Paine's new book The Rights of Man. Jefferson had written an endorsement published in the preface, describing current "heresies" against true republicanism, and readers correctly assume that the remarks are aimed at John Adams. In the fall, newspaper wars ensue from the incident.

May-June. Jefferson and James Madison embark from New York on a botanical tour of the northern states. Hamilton and his allies interpret the trip as a politically motivated journey for sounding out and recruiting potential allies in the growing conflict between Republicans and Federalists.

October 31. Philip Freneau publishes the first issue of the National Gazette in the current capital city, Philadelphia. He has established the newspaper at the urging of Jefferson, who also gives him a clerkship in the State Department. The newspaper will represent the views of Jefferson and his supporters, who oppose the Federalist policies of a national bank, an alliance with Great Britain, and the encouragement of manufactures. Hamilton and his supporters write for the pro-Federalist Gazette of the United States.


May 23. Jefferson sends President Washington a lengthy letter detailing his objections to Treasury Secretary Hamilton's programs. Washington recopies the letter himself and sends it to Hamilton for his response without disclosing its author. Dismayed at the political factions organizing around Jefferson and Hamilton, Washington writes each a letter urging cooperation and reconciliation. To Jefferson, Washington writes, "How unfortunate, and how much is it to be regretted then, that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals." He writes similarly to Hamilton. George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, August 23, 1792 | George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, August 26, 1792

Fall. In one of the first openly partisan electoral contests, George Clinton is supported by Jefferson's allies for the office of governor of New York, while Hamiltonians support John Jay. Clinton wins. Officials canvassing votes void some of those for Jay.


January 3. Jefferson writes to William Short, who is now United States chargé d'affaires in Paris, reproving him for expressing dismay at the increasing violence of the French Revolution. Lafayette has been arrested for treason and will spend five years in jail, and others of Jefferson's Paris acquaintance have been beheaded. While expressing sorrow at the losses, Jefferson argues that such sacrifices of "innocent blood" are a small price to pay for the liberty he believes will follow the excesses of the Revolution. Thomas Jefferson to William Short, January 3, 1793.

April 28. As Secretary of State, Jefferson writes an opinion for President Washington arguing that acceptance of the new French minister to the United States, Edmond Genet, is an acceptance of the new revolutionary government in Paris, led by the Girondins. Jefferson argues that the current French government is continuous with that of Louis XVI, with which the United States made a formal treaty of alliance in 1778 during the American Revolution. Hamilton argues that the treaty and diplomatic relationship were with the monarchy of Louis XVI and ended when Louis was dethroned, imprisoned, and executed on January 21, 1793, and that the relationship must be renegotiated.

Mid-August. Jefferson becomes disillusioned with Genet. As Secretary of State, he writes a justification for the U. S. government to request his recall as minister from France. Since his arrival in Philadelphia on May 16, Genet has compromised U. S. neutrality in the conflict between France and Great Britain. He has recruited American seamen and ships in privateering ventures and has attempted to organize a land expedition against Spanish-held territories in the Southwest. Washington strongly opposes any involvement in the European conflict and criticizes private political societies, the Democratic-Republican clubs, that have sprung up in the United States in support of France. Genet plans to appeal to Americans over the head of President Washington. Jefferson concludes that he has gone too far. In mid-August, the Jacobins gain control of the French government and many Girondists are imprisoned. Although recalled, Genet, a Girondin, dares not return to France, and he eventually receives asylum in the United States, settles on a farm in upstate New York, and marries Cornelia Clinton, the daughter of Governor George Clinton.

November 16. Jefferson writes to Eli Whitney, telling him that he approves of his efforts to win a patent for his cotton gin. Jefferson to Eli Whitney, November 16, 1793.

December. After a visit home to Monticello, Jefferson returns to Philadelphia, where one of the worst yellow fever epidemics of the century is raging. Jefferson resigns his position as secretary of state, effective December 31.


Winter-Summer. Jefferson returns to Monticello and introduces a seven-step crop rotation plan to restore the soil, long depleted by tobacco, on his lands in Albemarle and Bedford Counties, Virginia. He begins borrowing money from William Short to maintain a nailery on Mulberry Row at Monticello. There he supervises the manufacture of nails by his teenage slaves, among whom are Wormley Hughes, Burwell Colbert, and Joe Fossett. He establishes a sawmill and devotes himself to the renovation of Monticello. In 1799, Jefferson will return to the cultivation of the cash crop, tobacco, because of his mounting debts.

July. Jefferson learns of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania against the excise tax on whiskey, the area's main form of grain export. The excise tax is part of Treasury Secretary Hamilton's plans for funding the federal assumption of state debts from the American Revolution. George Washington and Hamilton march with the federal and militia armies against the rebellion, which soon dissolves.


October. James Madison visits Monticello to discuss the Jay Treaty with Jefferson. They are both opposed to its ratification. The treaty, negotiated with Great Britain by John Jay, addresses issues left unresolved since the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution. The Jay Treaty provides for compensation to British creditors from American debtors, many of whom are Virginians, and it arranges for the evacuation of British troops still occupying northwestern posts in the United States. However, it fails to address the all-important issue of American trading rights, especially in the British West Indies, and leaves the problem of the impressment of American seamen by the British navy unresolved. The treaty is immensely unpopular and furthers the development of party politics. The Senate narrowly ratifies it in April 1796.


February 5. Jefferson frees James Hemings, as promised in a written agreement made September 15, 1793. The agreement promised Hemings his freedom if he trained a replacement in the art of French cooking. Having gained his freedom, Hemings moves to Philadelphia, but returns to Monticello in 1801 to work for wages as Jefferson's chef. He stays only briefly, however, and several months later apparently commits suicide at the age of thirty-six. The September 15, 1793, agreement can be found in Jefferson's papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

April 24. Jefferson writes to Philip Mazzei in Tuscany. Mazzei is an Italian merchant, physician, and writer, and a former neighbor in Virginia, who had advised him on how to grow grapes and olives on his land in Virginia. In this letter Jefferson writes that an "Anglican monarchical & aristocratical party has sprung up" in the United States whose aim is to return the country to "forms" of British government. He refers to great heroes of the Revolution, "Samsons in the field & Solomons in the council," who have "gone over to these heresies." A newspaper in Florence obtains a transcription of the letter, which is translated back into English and published in the United States on May 2, 1797 in Noah Webster's Federalist newspaper Minerva. George Washington assumes that Jefferson includes him among the "Samsons" and ends all correspondence with him.

December 7. Jefferson is elected vice president, having received the second largest number of electoral votes. John Adams is elected president.


March 4. Jefferson is inaugurated as vice president of the United States and begins gathering information on rules of parliamentary practice. As vice president, Jefferson presides over the Senate.

October 13. Jefferson's daughter Mary (Polly) marries her cousin John Wayles Eppes.


June-July. Congress passes what are collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts, the Naturalization Act, the Alien Act, the Sedition Act, and the Alien Enemies Act, are passed in the midst of a quasi-war with France and heightened public criticism of foreign policy. Americans learn of the "XYZ Affair," in which the French foreign minister Talleyrand attempts to extort money from American envoys sent to negotiate a reduction in hostilities between the United States and the French government under Napoleon Bonaparte. Popular outcry focuses on inaction by the Adams administration, which is striving to avoid a costly war. The Sedition Act, making it illegal to criticize the government or its officials publicly, is the most controversial of the Acts.

September-October. Jefferson and James Madison consult on how to block the Alien and Sedition Acts at the state level. Jefferson, who is still vice president, privately drafts resolutions against the Acts and has them introduced into the Kentucky legislature. Madison drafts similar resolutions for the Virginia legislature. In November the Kentucky legislature passes Jefferson's resolutions declaring the Acts void, and in December the Virginia legislature passes Madison's, declaring the Acts unconstitutional.


March 1. Jefferson leaves Philadelphia for Monticello, arriving there on the 8th. Throughout the coming year he devotes himself to Monticello's development. On his way to Philadelphia in November, he visits the new federal city, Washington, D.C., which he plays a key role in designing.

December 14. George Washington dies at Mount Vernon.

February. While in Philadelphia, Jefferson learns that his lifelong body servant and slave, Jupiter, has died. Jupiter had fallen ill but insisted on accompanying Jefferson in his travels. Unable to continue, and left in Fredericksburg, Virginia to recuperate, Jupiter had returned home to Monticello, where he died.

July. Jefferson works on a manual of parliamentary practice, which will be published in 1801 and become the procedural handbook for the Senate. About twelve years after Jefferson's death in 1826, the House adapts the Manual of Parliamentary Practice for its own use. The 1993 edition, still in use today in the Senate, includes Jefferson's preface and a list of the sources he used in writing it.

June. The U. S. capital is moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.

June 30. A false report that Jefferson is dead is published in Baltimore and taken up elsewhere throughout the country.

December 3. Electors meet in their states and cast votes for the next president of the United States. A tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron Burr does not become known till the end of the month. This throws the election into the House of Representatives which addresses the matter on February 11, 1801.


February 11. The electors' votes for president are officially opened and counted in Congress, which already knows that the vote is tied between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The House of Representatives meets separately and continues balloting for six days. On February 17, on the thirty-sixth ballot, Jefferson is elected president and Aaron Burr becomes vice president.

March 2. President John Adams appoints sixteen federal judges in a series of "midnight appointments" after the Judiciary Act, which establishes courts between the Supreme and the federal levels, becomes effective February 13. Republicans see this action as a Federalist attempt to gain control of the federal court system in the last hours of Adams administration. Adams also appoints John Marshall, an avowed Federalist, Chief Justice of the United States. Jefferson and Adams cease correspondence thereafter and do not resume it until 1812. The Judiciary Act is repealed on March 8, 1801.

March 4. Jefferson is the first president inaugurated in the new capital city. He walks to his inauguration from his residence, Conrad and McCunn's boarding house, a very short distance from the Capitol Building. "We are all republicans, we are all federalists," Jefferson says in his Inaugural Address. In Jefferson's handwritten copy, "republicans" and "federalists" are both lowercased. In the National Intelligencer, where the Address is published the same day, the terms are capitalized as would be appropriate for two political parties. In the weeks that follow, Jefferson sends copies of his Inaugural Address to two of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush and Samuel Adams, and to John Dickinson and Nathaniel Niles.

May. The Pasha of Tripoli declares war on the United States because it has been paying Tripoli less in tribute than it pays Algiers. Tripoli is one of several North African regimes collecting tribute from commercial shipping in the Mediterranean. On May 20, Jefferson sends a naval squadron to the area. In 1804, Stephen Decatur rescues American seamen held in the Bay of Tripoli on their captured ship, the Philadelphia. The naval war ends shortly thereafter.

June 2. Jefferson pays Martha Washington a visit of condolence at Mount Vernon.


January 1. Jefferson replies to a letter from Connecticut's Danbury Baptist Association. In his reply Jefferson explains his position on the issue of the government establishment of religion.

September. James Callender makes the accusation that Thomas Jefferson has "for many years past kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves," Sally Hemings. It is published in the Richmond Recorder that month, and the story is soon picked up by Federalist presses around the country. Callender, a Republican, has previously been an avid investigator of Federalist scandals. In 1798, Jefferson had helped pay for the publication of Callender's pamphlet The Prospect Before Us, which claimed to expose John Adams as a monarchist. However, when Jefferson, now president, fails to reward Callender with the office of postmaster in Richmond, Virginia, Callender turns on him.


January 18. Jefferson asks Congress for funds for an expedition to explore the Mississippi River and beyond in search of a route to the Pacific. Meriwether Lewis, Jefferson's private secretary, begins planning the expedition, which forms late in 1803.

April 30. Robert Livingston, ambassador to France, and James Monroe, special envoy, conclude a treaty of cession in Paris in which the United States purchases from France the whole of the Louisiana territory for fifteen million dollars. The territory, approximately 800,000 square miles comprising the Mississippi River Valley and most of the present-day Midwest, almost doubles the size of the United States. Jefferson's original expectation was that Livingston and Monroe might persuade the French to yield a portion of the Mississippi River Valley for ten million dollars. However, Emperor Napoleon of France has just lost an army and the island of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean to Toussaint L'Overture, leader of a slave insurrection, and he is no longer interested in maintaining a French foothold in North America. He offers the United States the whole of the territory.

July 4. News of the purchase of the Louisiana territory is announced in the United States. Jefferson drafts an amendment that if ratified would make the purchase of the Louisiana territory constitutional retroactively. The draft contains measures for the removal of Indian tribes to the other side of the Mississippi River and prohibits American settlement above the 33rd Parallel. Draft of Constitutional Amendment Incorporating Louisiana Territory into the United States

October. A special session of Congress dispenses with Jefferson's draft amendment and ratifies the purchase of the Louisiana territory. Congress also passes legislation giving Jefferson authority over the provisional governments established there.


April 17. Jefferson's daughter Mary (Polly) Jefferson Eppes dies from complications in childbirth. She is twenty-five years old. Abigail Adams, learning of Jefferson's loss, writes him a letter of condolence. June 13, Jefferson responds to her letter and a correspondence follows. However, it soon ceases when political differences on old issues resurface: Jefferson's support of James Callender's pamphlet criticizing Adams in 1798 and John Adams's appointment of "midnight judges" during the last weeks of his presidency in 1801.

May. The expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark departs, moving up the Missouri River.

July 12. Alexander Hamilton dies after being shot the previous day by Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey.

November. Jefferson is re-elected president. He receives the votes of all state electors except those of Connecticut, Delaware, and two from Maryland. George Clinton is his vice president.

November. Jefferson begins planning an expedition up the Red River to Spanish territory in the southwest.


March 4. Jefferson is inaugurated as president for a second term.

April 7. Lewis and Clark depart from Fort Mandan in what is now North Dakota for the Pacific. They report to Jefferson on the findings of the first year of their expedition.

June 4. The U. S. and Tripoli sign a peace treaty, ending the Mediterranean naval war between the two countries.

August-October. Zebulon Pike begins an expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Thomas Freeman accepts Jefferson's invitation to head the Red River expedition.


February-March. Joseph H. Daveiss, a Kentucky Federalist, writes Jefferson several letters warning him of possible conspiratorial activities by Aaron Burr. Daveiss's July 14 letter to Jefferson states flatly that Burr plans to provoke a rebellion in Spanish-held parts of the West in order to join them to areas in the Southwest to form an independent nation under his rule. Similar accusations are appearing against local Republicans in a Frankfort, Kentucky newspaper, Western World, and Jefferson dismisses Daveiss's accusations against Burr, a Republican, as politically motivated.

April 19. Jefferson nominates James Monroe and William Pinckney as joint commissioners to Great Britain. British warships have been boarding and searching American ships and seizing American as well as British seamen, claiming that they are British deserters. Jefferson hopes to resolve the issue and maintain American neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and France.

July. Zebulon Pike's expedition, which began in the fall of 1805, is at the Arkansas River.

September 23. Meriwether Lewis writes Jefferson about the expedition's return to St. Louis.

September-October. Jefferson receives further information from a variety of sources in Pennsylvania and New York, including Generals William Eaton and James Wilkinson, that Aaron Burr is organizing a military expedition against Spanish possessions for the purpose of separating western territories from the United States. Eaton, a veteran of the recent Tripolitan War, claims that Burr tried to recruit him. Wilkinson, commander of United States military forces in the West, provides information about the conspiracy after having been implicated in it himself. He does not specifically name Burr.

November 27. Jefferson issues a proclamation declaring that "sundry persons, citizens of the U.S. or resident within the same, are conspiring & confederating...against the dominions of Spain" and requiring that all military and civil officials of all states and territories of the United States prevent "the carrying on such expedition or enterprise by all lawful means within their power."


January 17. Aaron Burr is captured near New Orleans. He escapes but is recaptured and imprisoned. In April, Burr is charged with treason and tried in Richmond in a federal circuit court presided over by John Marshall. Burr is acquitted. Later, with other charges pending, Burr escapes to England.

March. The Monroe-Pinckney Treaty between Great Britain and the United States, negotiated a year earlier, is made public in Washington. It does not include any guarantees against impressment, although the British have offered informal assurances. Jefferson finds the Treaty unacceptable and the Senate refuses to ratify it. Secretary of State James Madison suggests defusing the situation by forbidding British seamen to serve on American trading ships.

June 22. The British warship Leopard attacks the American ship Chesapeake off the Virginia coast because its captain refused to allow the British to board and search for deserters. Three American seamen are killed and eighteen wounded as the British force a boarding and remove four alleged deserters. After learning of the attack on June 25, Jefferson calls an emergency cabinet meeting.

July. Jefferson and his cabinet release a proclamation closing American ports to all British ships except those with emergencies or on diplomatic missions. The Revenge will carry an ultimatum to Great Britain. Meanwhile, state governors are to call up troops for the federal army.

October-December. James Monroe's further negotiations with Great Britain on the boarding and searching of American ships and other issues fail. In December, as the war between Great Britain and France escalates, Jefferson learns that Napoleon will extend his blockade to American shipping and authorize French seizure of American ships.

December 14. The Nonimportation Act becomes effective, and on December 18, the Senate passes the Embargo Act. The Nonimportation Act was drafted in 1806, but Congress has awaited the outcome of negotiations before making it effective. The Embargo Act closes all American ports to foreign trade, allowing only coastal trade. In 1808, further measures tighten the Embargo Act and prohibit exports by land. Opposition to the Embargo Act is especially strong among New England Federalist merchants. Jefferson also receives many letters of protest from ordinary citizens. Anonymous to Thomas Jefferson, February 2, 1808, Signed A True Republican


April 19. Jefferson declares the Lake Champlain region to be in a state of insurrection because of its outright violations of the Embargo Act.

November 8. In his Annual Message to Congress, Jefferson calls for an increase in domestic manufactures. He cites the beneficial expansion of manufacturing since the Embargo Act has been in effect.

December 7. James Madison is elected president.


March 1. Jefferson signs the Non-Intercourse Act, which effectively repeals the Embargo Act of 1807 but continues restrictions on trade with Great Britain.

March 4. Jefferson retires from public office, and James Madison is inaugurated president. Jefferson leaves Washington and returns to his home, Monticello, in Virginia. He never leaves Virginia again.

July 15. John Adams writes Jefferson that it would be a shame for them to die without having explained themselves to each other. Adams and Jefferson correspond for about three years, during which they review the events of the Revolution and range over a variety of political and philosophical issues. During 1811-12, a mutual friend Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia had facilitated the reconciliation of Adams and Jefferson, who had been estranged for about a decade.

February 20. Jefferson's bill for the establishment of free public education in Virginia is defeated in the state legislature.

September 21. Jefferson offers to sell his library of nearly 6,700 volumes to the federal government. The government's own library was lost in August when the British burned the Capitol in Washington, D.C. In January 1815, Congress purchases Jefferson's library for $23,950, and it is shipped to Washington by wagon in May. Jefferson's library becomes the foundation for the collections of the Library of Congress.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison September 24, 1814


January 9. Jefferson writes Charles Thomson that an "acquaintance of fifty-two years...calls for an interchange of notice now and then, that we remain in existence, the monuments of another age...." More specifically, Jefferson tells his old friend of his work on what will become "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," a volume of clippings he has been making from different language editions of the New Testament, creating a "paradigma" of what he considers the moral teachings of Jesus.


March 4. James Monroe is inaugurated as president.

October 6. The cornerstone is laid for Central College, which will later become the University of Virginia.


February 4. Jefferson writes an introduction for a collection of letters, confidential notes, and reports written while he was secretary of state. He has had them bound in three quarto volumes. His grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who inherits his papers, gives them the name of "Anas," as a Greek plural of the suffix employed to form the term "Jeffersoniana."

August 1-4. Jefferson chairs a commission meeting at Rockfish Gap, Virginia to plan the University of Virginia. Jefferson writes the commissioners' report. On January 25, 1819, the Virginia state legislature charters the University.


April 22. Jefferson writes John Holmes, a Congressman from Maine, criticizing the Missouri Compromise which maintains the balance of free and slave states in the Union by admitting Maine with Missouri. In 1819, a bill to admit Missouri to the Union was before Congress when a New York representative proposed an amendment prohibiting slavery in the new state. Though this measure did not pass, Jefferson sees the debate surrounding the Compromise as an example of unprofitable northern interference in a southern institution. He has completely withdrawn from his earlier calls for abolition, viewing it as a problem so complex as to be intractable and therefore best left to the next generation to accomplish. Jefferson describes the Missouri Compromise as a "fire bell in the night" and the "knell of the Union."


January-July. Jefferson works on and off on an autobiographical essay. He is seventy-seven.


April. Jefferson prepares instructions for recruiting faculty in Europe for the University of Virginia.

November 3-15, Lafayette, visiting America, is fêted at the University of Virginia and visits Jefferson at Monticello.


July 4. Jefferson dies shortly after 12 noon, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He is eighty-three years old. Several hours later John Adams dies in Massachusetts, and the nation is struck by this remarkable coincidence. The last letter Jefferson wrote to Adams was on March 23.


January 27. Monticello, its furnishings, and Jefferson's slaves are sold in an executor's sale. One hundred and thirty slaves are sold at auction. During his lifetime Jefferson distributed substantial property to his heirs; however, he died more than $100,000 in debt.