The Fur Trade/Mountain Man era would have never occurred had it not been for the existence and influence of one Thomas Jefferson. So, let’s backtrack to the beginning by detailing the life of this great leader.
According to the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time, Thomas Jefferson was born on April 2, 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia.In 1752, when Jefferson was nine years old, England and her colonies switched to the Gregorian Calender, which was more in line with the astronomical year. This conversion necessitated the deletion of 11 days to bring the calendar more in step. Today, we recognize Jefferson’s birthdate as April 13, 1743. More information about the two calendars and the switch is located here: http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/old-style
Born to a successful planter and surveyor, Peter Jefferson, and Jane Randolph, a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families, Thomas inherited a considerable estate. Jefferson began building Monticello at the age of twenty-six years old.
Three years later, at the age of 29, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, with whom he happily shared life until her death ten years later in 1782. During that ten years, six children were born, with only two surviving to adulthood. Jefferson never remarried. He maintained Monticello as his home throughout his entire life.
From his inheritance and through his marriage, Jefferson owned 200 slaves, with almost half under the age of 16. 80 of these slaves lived at Monticello and 120 lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations in Bedford County on his Poplar Forest estate. In his lifetime, Jefferson freed the children born into slavery by Sally Hemings. More on that later.
Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary, where he learned and then practiced law. In his early professional life, he served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses. In 1776, as a member of the Continental Congress, he was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth, or status, and that the government is the servant, not the master, of the people.
When Jefferson left Congress in 1776, he returned to Virginia and served in the legislature. He was elected and served as governor from 1779 to 1781. During his last year as governor, he was charged with failure to provide for the adequate defense of Richmond although he knew a British invasion was imminent, and of cowardice and “pusillanimous conduct” when he fled the capital and returned to Monticello during the moment of crisis. In June 1781 he retired from the governorship. The Virginia assembly subsequently voted that “an inquiry be made into the conduct of the executive of this state.” Jefferson was exonerated. In fact, the assembly unanimously voted a resolution of appreciation of his conduct. The episode, however, left Jefferson bitter about the rewards of public service although his hiatus from public service lasted a mere 3 years.
He became a trade commissioner for France. It was at this time that he met Sally Hemings, who was his deceased wife’s half-sister and also a slave on his plantation back at Monticello. She was 14 years of age when she accompanied Thomas Jefferson’s youngest daughter Mary (Polly) to Paris after the death of her sister, Lucy, from whooping cough. Jefferson was 44 and, at the time, 7 years a widower. His daughter, Polly, and Sally stayed for two years in Paris. Because slavery was abolished in France after the Revolution in 1789, Sally was paid a wage of approximately $2 per month by Jefferson while she lived in France. When Jefferson announced his intended return to the USA, Sally could have stayed in Paris and would have been free. It is said she based her return to the USA, as a slave, upon a promise by Jefferson to free any/all of her children when they turned 21. Sally did not work in the fields, nor did any other slave of mixed heritage. She worked in a domestic capacity at his estate.
It is said that Jefferson started what would be a 35 year relationship with Sally Hemings while in Paris. Sally Hemings’ first child died soon after her return from Paris in 1797. Jefferson recorded slave births in his Farm Book. Unlike his established practice of noting the fathers of all other slaves, he did not indicate the father of Hemings’ children. It was not unusual for men to take slave women as concubines during that time. All that was asked is that they be discreet. Marriage for a slave was illegal, although many took on common-law relationships. There was no indication that Sally had such a relationship with other slaves. According to Sally’s son, Madison, while young, he and his siblings “were permitted to stay about the ‘great house,’ and only required to do such light work as going on errands”. At the age of 14, each of the children began their training. The brothers learned from the plantation’s skilled master of carpentry, and the daughter was taught the skills of spinning and weaving. The three boys all learned to play the fiddle, while Jefferson played the violin. Jefferson was determined through DNA testing conducted in 1998, to be the father of, at least, Sally’s last son, Eston Hemings, He is reputed to be the father of all six of her children.
Jefferson also served as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister. During this period, he avidly studied European culture, sending home to Monticello, books, seeds and plants, statues and architectural drawings, scientific instruments, and information.
In 1790, he accepted the post of Secretary of State under his friend George Washington. His term was marked by his opposition to the pro-British policies of Alexander Hamilton. Along with James Madison, he founded the Democratic-Republican Party, the second political party in the United States, organized to oppose the centralizing policies of the Federalist Party run by Alexander Hamilton. In 1796, as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Republicans, he became vice-president after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes.
Four years later, in 1800, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. The Democratic-Republicans, aka as the “Jeffersonian Republicans,” came to power with Jefferson’s election in 1800, and dominated national and state affairs until the 1820s.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition. His second term is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France although his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812.
The last 17 years of his life were lived at Monticello. During this period, he sold his collection of books to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress. At the age of 76, he founded the University of Virginia. He spearheaded the legislative campaign for its charter, secured its location, designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first rector.
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, just hours before his close friend, John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of our nation’s day of independence. He was eighty-three years old and a faithful and tireless servant of his country for over five decades. He authored the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. He voiced the aspirations of a new America as no other individual of his era.
It was Jefferson’s wish that his tombstone reflect what he had given. Subsequently, Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph reads:
HERE WAS BURIED, THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S. DIED JULY 4. 1826