Collecting Jefferson

Ovid. Pvb. Ovidii Nasonis Metamorphoseon libri XV. Antwerp: Apud Iacobvm Mevrsivm, 1657.

Over the course of his life Thomas Jefferson acquired and organized three personal libraries. The first was destroyed on February 1, 1770 when his house at Shadwell burned down. The second was sold to the United States government in 1815 to become the nucleus of the Library of Congress. Jefferson's final library was dispersed after his death to help pay his enormous debts.

Jefferson rarely wrote anything in his books aside from his special bookmark, shown here. The ownership marks Jefferson wrote in his books were his own initials "T" and "I" (the letter "I" being used for "J" in Latin) next to the signatures at the bottom of pages. Signatures are the alphabetic succession of letters that indicated the order in which printed sections of a book were to be gathered up and bound.

With this latest addition, the Library now owns nearly 200 titles from Jefferson's personal libraries.



[Jefferson, Thomas]. Notes on the State of Virginia. [Paris]: 1782 [actually 1785].

Notes on the State of Virginia is Jefferson's only full-length published book, written in response to a 1781 questionnaire sent him by François Marbois, then Secretary to the French Legation in Philadelphia. After Jefferson circulated a few privately printed copies in 1785, the threat of an unauthorized French translation led him to publish authorized editions of the book in French and English in 1787.

The copy on display is from the privately printed edition and was inscribed and presented by Jefferson to David Rittenhouse in July 1785. Rittenhouse, an astronomer and mathematician, was well known to Jefferson through his service as engineer to the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety during the Revolutionary War. Rittenhouse shared many of Jefferson's scientific interests and worked with him to establish a decimal system of weights and measures.

The Library also owns a copy of the 1785 edition inscribed and presented by Jefferson to the Marquis de Lafayette.



Jefferson, Thomas. Autograph letter, signed, to the Marquis de Lafayette. 7 July 1789.

Jefferson writes to Lafayette that the Comte de Mirabeau was mistaken in informing the French Assembly that Jefferson had made an offer to Jacques Necker to obtain grain from America and been refused. Jefferson emphatically denies that he made such an offer and declares that Necker asked him to make known in the United States that "corn & flour would meet with a good sale in France." Jefferson conveyed this message to John Jay who had it published in an American paper which he forwards. He requests that Lafayette correct de Mirabeau's error in the Assembly.

Although the harvest had begun in southern France, there was still a severe food shortage in Paris. Seven days after this letter was written, the Bastille was stormed.



Jefferson, Thomas. Autograph letter, signed, to William H. Cabell. 11 August 1807.

Jefferson responds to Cabell's request for an opinion on a Congressional act for accepting the service of volunteers in the armed services. He explains in general that strict construction should not interfere with the original intent of a law and states that the purpose of this particular law was to provide relief for the militia and that the executive has the discretion to determine the means of doing so.

Jefferson then replies to specific questions on the organization of volunteer forces. He states that general executive powers allow officers to be appointed by warrant before commissions are issued and that state governors have the power to accept offers of service. He then recommends that all offers of service be accepted so that a surplus in one district may supply a deficiency in others and that a preference be given to men volunteering for the regulars.


Jefferson, Thomas. Autograph letter, signed, to H. P. Van Bibber. 5 Jan 1825.

Jefferson writes to the father or guardian of future University of Virginia student Andrew Van Bibber concerning the opening of the University. He explains that he is waiting for three professors from England and will advertise their arrival in the papers. He notes that textbooks will not be selected until the professors have arrived and will be available at the opening of classes for ten percent over cost from an "able" bookseller in Charlottesville. Finally Jefferson states the qualifications for entering the schools of Latin, mathematics, and natural philosophy. Andrew Van Bibber enrolled in the first session of the University of Virginia, studied modern languages, natural philosophy, and chemistry and later farmed in Mathews County, Virginia.



Tazewell, John A. Autograph letter, signed, to Littleton Waller Tazewell. 6 May 1825.

John A. Tazewell, a student in the University of Virginia's first class, sends a statement of expenses to his father with excuses for not writing sooner. He explains that changes in the hours of lectures due to Professor Long's return to England required Tazewell to change the time he usually wrote home; in addition, he explains that he suffers from rheumatism in his right arm. Tazewell itemizes his travel expenses from Norfolk and costs of room, board, furnishings and books in Charlottesville, notes that the University requires fees to be paid in advance, and encloses eight receipts. Littleton Waller Tazewell was at the time one of the senators from Virginia and a political enemy of John Quincy Adams.


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