Early life and career
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743, Old Style, Julian calendar), at the family home in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia, the third of ten children. He was of English, and possibly Welsh, descent and was born a British subject. His father Peter Jefferson was a planter and surveyor who died when Jefferson was fourteen; his mother was Jane Randolph.[a] Peter Jefferson moved his family to Tuckahoe Plantation in 1745 upon the death of William Randolph, the plantation's owner and Jefferson's friend, who in his will had named him guardian of his children. The Jeffersons returned to Shadwell in 1752, where Peter died in 1757; his estate was divided between his sons Thomas and Randolph. Thomas inherited approximately 5,000 acres (2,000 ha; 7.8 sq mi) of land, including Monticello. He assumed full authority over his property at age 21.
Education, early family life
Wren Building (rear), College of William & Mary where Jefferson studied
Jefferson began his childhood education beside the Randolph children with tutors at Tuckahoe. Thomas' father, Peter, was self-taught, and regretting not having a formal education, he entered Thomas into an English school early, at age five. In 1752, at age nine, he began attending a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister and also began studying the natural world, for which he grew to love. At this time he began studying Latin, Greek, and French, while also learning to ride horses. Thomas also read books from his father's modest library. He was taught from 1758 to 1760 by Reverend James Maury near Gordonsville, Virginia, where he studied history, science, and the classics while boarding with Maury's family. During this period Jefferson came to know and befriended various American Indians, including the famous Cherokee chief, Ontassete, who often stopped at Shadwell to visit, on their way to Williamsburg to trade. During the two years Jefferson was with the Maury family, he traveled to Williamsburg and was a guest of Colonel Dandridge, father of Martha Washington. In Williamsburg the young Jefferson met and came to admire Patrick Henry, who was eight years his senior, sharing a common interest of violin playing.
Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, at age 16 and studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under Professor William Small. Small introduced Jefferson to George Wythe and Francis Fauquier along with British Empiricists including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. Small, Wythe and Fauquier recognized Jefferson as a man of exceptional ability and included him in their inner circle where he became a regular member of their Friday dinner parties where politics and philosophy were discussed. Jefferson later wrote that he "heard more common good sense, more rational & philosophical conversations than in all the rest of my life". During his first year at the college he was given more to parties, dancing and was not very frugal with his expenditures; during his second year, regretting that he had squandered away much time and money, he applied himself to fifteen hours of study a day. Jefferson improved his French and Greek and his skill at the violin. He graduated two years after starting in 1762. He read the law under Professor Wythe's tutelage to obtain his law license, while working as a law clerk in his office. He also read a wide variety of English classics and political works. Jefferson was well read in a broad variety of subjects, which along with law and philosophy, included history, natural law, natural religion, ethics, and several areas in science, including agriculture. Overall, he drew very deeply on the philosophers. During the years of study under the watchful eye of Wythe, Jefferson authored a survey of his extensive readings in his Commonplace Book. So impressed with Jefferson, Wythe would later bequeath his entire library to him.
1765 was an eventful year in Jefferson's family. In July, his sister Martha married his close friend and college companion Dabney Carr, which greatly pleased Jefferson. In October, he mourned his sister Jane's unexpected death at age 25 and wrote a farewell epitaph in Latin.
Jefferson treasured his books. In 1770, his Shadwell home was destroyed by fire, including a library of 200 volumes inherited from his father and those left to him by George Wythe. Nevertheless, he had replenished his library with 1,250 titles by 1773, and his collection grew to almost 6,500 volumes in 1814. The British burned the Library of Congress that year; he then sold more than 6,000 books to the Library for $23,950. He had intended to pay off some of his large debt, but he resumed collecting for his personal library, writing to John Adams, "I cannot live without books."
Lawyer and House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Jefferson served 1769–1775
Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767 and then lived with his mother at Shadwell. In addition to practicing law, Jefferson represented Albemarle County as a delegate in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1769 until 1775. He pursued reforms to slavery. He introduced legislation in 1769 allowing masters to take control over the emancipation of slaves, taking discretion away from the royal governor and General Court. He persuaded his cousin Richard Bland to spearhead the legislation's passage, but reaction was strongly negative.
Jefferson took seven cases for freedom-seeking slaves and waived his fee for one client, who claimed that he should be freed before the statutory age of thirty-one required for emancipation in cases with inter-racial grandparents. He invoked the Natural Law to argue, "everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person and using it at his own will ... This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because it is necessary for his own sustenance." The judge cut him off and ruled against his client. As a consolation, Jefferson gave his client some money, conceivably used to aid his escape shortly thereafter. He later incorporated this sentiment into the Declaration of Independence. He also took on 68 cases for the General Court of Virginia in 1767, in addition to three notable cases: Howell v. Netherland (1770), Bolling v. Bolling (1771), and Blair v. Blair (1772).
The British Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in 1774, and Jefferson wrote a resolution calling for a "Day of Fasting and Prayer" in protest, as well as a boycott of all British goods. His resolution was later expanded into A Summary View of the Rights of British America, in which he argued that people have the right to govern themselves.
Monticello, marriage and family
Jefferson's home Monticello
In 1768, Jefferson began constructing his primary residence Monticello (Italian for "Little Mountain") on a hilltop overlooking his 5,000-acre (20 km2; 7.8 sq mi) plantation.[b] Construction was done mostly by local masons and carpenters, assisted by Jefferson's slaves.
He moved into the South Pavilion in 1770. Turning Monticello into a neoclassical masterpiece in the Palladian style was his perennial project.
On January 1, 1772, Jefferson married his third cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, the 23-year-old widow of Bathurst Skelton, and she moved into the South Pavilion. She was a frequent hostess for Jefferson and managed the large household. Biographer Dumas Malone described the marriage as the happiest period of Jefferson's life. Martha read widely, did fine needlework, and was a skilled pianist; Jefferson often accompanied her on the violin or cello. During their ten years of marriage, Martha bore six children: Martha "Patsy" (1772–1836); Jane (1774–1775); a son who lived for only a few weeks in 1777; Mary Wayles "Polly" (1778–1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781); and another Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1785). Only Martha and Mary survived more than a few years.
Martha's father John Wayles died in 1773, and the couple inherited 135 people of color who were legally enslaved, 11,000 acres (45 km2; 17 sq mi), and the estate's debts. The debts took Jefferson years to satisfy, contributing to his financial problems.
Martha later suffered from ill health, including diabetes, and frequent childbirth further weakened her. Her mother had died young, and Martha lived with two stepmothers as a girl. A few months after the birth of her last child, she died on September 6, 1782, at the age of 33 with Jefferson at her bedside. Shortly before her death, Martha made Jefferson promise never to marry again, telling him that she could not bear to have another mother raise her children. Jefferson was grief-stricken by her death, relentlessly pacing back and forth, nearly to the point of exhaustion. He emerged after three weeks, taking long rambling rides on secluded roads with his daughter Martha, by her description "a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief".
After working as Secretary of State (1790–93), he returned to Monticello and initiated a remodeling based on the architectural concepts which he had acquired in Europe. The work continued throughout most of his presidency, being finished in 1809.