Natalie Bober | Historian

Natalie Bober is an award-winning author who has written a number of history books for young adults. In addition to Thomas Jefferson, her subjects have included William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, Louise Nevelson, Marc Chagall, and Abigail Adams.
 


Declaration of Independence, “Original Rough Draught"

  Why do we care about Thomas Jefferson? What’s important to understand about him?
I often ask young people when I speak to them “Do you have the power to change the world? Who has the power to change the world?” Thomas Jefferson changed the world, not only by the words that he wrote but by the way in which he lived his life and I think that...the words—particularly in the Declaration of Independence which attested to the natural right of all men to live free—have ruled and shaped our lives to this day. It was interesting to me to hear Mikhail Gorbachev on the podium at Monticello for the birthday celebration say that Jefferson had been one of his heroes as he had been growing up and attending university. Jefferson did indeed not only change his country, but he changed the world.

Jefferson was born on the edge of the wilderness into a beautiful land and I think that the magic of the land in which he was born had a great influence on him. Again, I think it’s important to understand his mother. The fact that she would leave the opulence and the security of her father’s home and move to a tiny cabin on the edge of a wilderness with a man whom she loved tells us a lot about her. And I think she had some influence on Jefferson. But I think the strongest influence on him was unquestionably his father.

  Tell us about his father.
His father was a big man, his strength was legendary. He was an instinctively democratic man and because of that, the Indians who came past their door on their way to Williamsburg were always welcomed in his home. He had great respect for them and they in turn loved and respected Peter Jefferson.... And Jefferson saw this. His father was a great outdoorsman.

Obviously a plantation had to be completely self-sufficient and it was run by slave labor, but Jefferson saw examples of kindness to the slaves by both his mother and his father. His father was an outdoorsman. He taught the young Thomas to hunt, to paddle a canoe, to repair that canoe himself should it need it. And he taught him never to ask another to do what he could do for himself. He taught him to fish; he taught him to know the forest as few others did.

His father was a self-taught man. He had no formal education but he had taught himself the art of surveying, and he and his good friend Joshua Fry, who was a professor of mathematics at the College of William and Mary, had been asked by the geographer to the king of England to find and mark the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina. And Jefferson watched them when they returned home from trips and listened to their tales of adventure, fighting animals and snakes, tethering the horses to a tree and building a fire around them to keep the animals away at night. And he was subtly learning perseverance in the face of danger, and I think he learned many of the lessons from his father through these subtle exchanges, through watching.... He saw his father as vestryman in the church and then as the representative of the county of Albemarle in the House of Burgesses, and he was learning, again subtly, that privilege brings with it a duty to one’s country. And I think that was very carefully instilled in all the young people then.

His father died when he was quite young. He was 14 and it was a terrible blow to him. But when his father died, he left to him, “to my son Thomas,” his lands, his books and his bookcase and his mathematical instruments. And he had already impressed upon this son of his the importance of books, his own passion for learning and passion for books. And years later, the only thing that Jefferson ever wrote about his father was that “he studied much...he read much, he studied and he improved himself.” And I think Jefferson also improved himself through books. And books became for him the passion that ruled and shaped his life. And I think perhaps that was the greatest legacy that Peter Jefferson left to Thomas.

  How did Thomas feel when his father died?
Obviously it happened very suddenly so he wasn’t prepared for it, although death was a common occurrence at that time. But I think that he felt—he felt abandoned, he felt lonely. He felt as though the full responsibility for his mother and his younger sisters, all his sisters and a brother were on his shoulders.... I think he was bewildered. Fortunately, his father had left very specific instructions that he was to have what his father called “a thorough classical education,” and he had cautioned his wife not to ignore the exercise, the bodily exercise necessary for his health. Health was as important, exercising your body was as important, as exercising your mind even at that time.

And what happened ultimately was that Jefferson was sent away to school to the Reverend Maury’s. And that was perhaps another important influence on him. The Reverend Maury was a correct classical scholar, as Jefferson said; he had a fine library. Peter Jefferson had had a nice library, but nothing to compare with the 400 books that Reverend Maury had. And he learned from Maury, but he also made very good friends there. He met Dabney Carr at Reverend Maury’s school, and that became a very special relationship to him and the boys rode horses through the hills together.... Dabney would go home with him on weekends. Ultimately, a beautiful relationship developed among four of them: Thomas, his sister Jane, his sister Martha, and Dabney Carr. And ultimately of course, Dabney married Martha, and her children, their children, were a very important part of Jefferson’s life later on.

  Tell us about Dabney Carr and Thomas Jefferson on top of the mountain.
Well, when Dabney would come home with Thomas on the weekends, they would ride their horses to the top of what they called “Tom’s mountain,” and they would study in the shade of a great old oak tree that they both loved and Thomas began to dream of someday building a house there. And he would share that dream with Dabney. They also promised each other that if one should die before the other...the one who was remaining would bury the friend on that mountaintop under the tree. Unfortunately, this came to pass much sooner than either one of them ever anticipated.

  Tell us about how close he was to Jane and what happened when she died. What did he lose when Jane died?
His sister Jane had been a very, very important part of his life. She was three years older than he, and growing up together, they were very close. She loved music—she sang and she played the pianoforte. And she taught him to read music and play and when his father realized that he could read music and that he loved it, he bought him a fiddle, as it was called in those days. And incidentally, most farmhouses with a boy in it had a fiddle in those days. They couldn’t transport the larger instruments, and they thought it was vulgar for a boy to puff out his cheeks to play a trumpet. But Jefferson and Jane did make music together, and they wandered through the forests together. She had his love of nature as well. They would go off together, they would gather wildflowers, they would sit on a stone and sing. And when she died very suddenly...when Jefferson was home for a short vacation, he was devastated, he was absolutely devastated. She and he had really been in tune with one another. Their minds were the same. She had a fine, sharp mind. They were kindred spirits. And he put away his violin. He stopped playing music. And he did what he always did during his life: he went right back to school and went to work and buried himself in his studies as a way of forgetting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t terribly long after that, that he lost Dabney Carr as well, and that was a terrible blow too.

  Tell us about his time in Williamsburg when he went off to William and Mary, and what he gathered from his group of mentors.
Well, he was very fortunate to be in Williamsburg at that time. He himself had realized the need to go to school and had requested permission of his guardian to go to William and Mary. And when he went there, he visited his mother’s cousin, Peyton Randolph, who lived in a grand house and Peyton Randolph invited him to live with him. But he said no, he wanted to live at the school, he wanted to be independent. You have to remember he was quite young, he was just past 16 when he went to school.

And the first year he wasted a lot of time. He joined an organization called the Flat Hat Club, which was the first college society devoted strictly to fun. And he went to the horse races and to the balls, and he danced and he was involved with a lot of the girls and he had a good time. When he went home that summer, he realized how much time he had wasted, and then Dabney Carr went back with him, and at that point he resolved that he would study. And incidentally, he offered to his guardian to pay for the first year out of his own pocket because he felt he had wasted the time, but his wise guardian said, “If you have sown your wild oats, the estate can well afford to pay for it."

And so he went back, and then he was very fortunate in that he met William Small, who was probably the only really fine professor at William and Mary at that time. William Small took a liking to him, treated him as the son he had never had, and Jefferson no doubt looked on Small as the father he no longer had. And Small introduced him to Governor Fauquier and to George Wythe, the brilliant jurist. And by this time, it was the brilliance and open-mindedness of this young Thomas Jefferson that inspired the governor to invite him to the palace once a week for dinner, conversation and music. He was invited to play in a little chamber group that the Governor had established. But at that table, this young boy from the tiny little area called Albemarle was exposed to the thought currents in Europe, what was then called the Enlightenment. He was exposed to theater, to politics, to culture that he never knew existed. And later on he said that he realized that this dining room table was truly his university.

  So John Page was his friend.
He met John Page at the college. John Page was a nephew of William Randolph, who had introduced Peter Jefferson to Jane Randolph. And John also had a fine mind. They had a shared love of astronomy, and frequently Jefferson would go home with John Page on a weekend.... John lived in a magnificent mansion called Rosewell that was said to have had 35 rooms. And it had a great lead roof...and they would spend untold hours on the roof sharing their love of astronomy. John eventually became governor of Virginia. They maintained a friendship for more than 50 years.

  Tell us about the courtship with Martha, when he did fall in love.
When he did fall in love with Martha Wayles Skelton, that was a real love affair. That was no longer a young boy in love with love. Martha had been married and widowed and had a tiny little son. And he probably met her in Williamsburg at one of the dances. I think that it was her love of music that initially attracted her to him. Martha was beautiful. She was bright, sensitive, and very talented, and they had much in common. I think in many ways Martha may have been very much like his sister Jane, and I think that may have been what attracted him to her in the first place.

  Tell us about when he was courting
There is a story told that Jefferson, when Jefferson was courting Martha, the two of them were in a room and Martha was playing the harpsichord and Jefferson was singing. And two suitors arrived at approximately the same time and were waiting in an outer room, and it was something about the music or the words that indicated to them that there was really no point in waiting, and they took their hats and left.

  Tell us about their first night at Monticello.
Yes. They had been married on New Year’s Day at The Forest which was John Wayles’ home, Martha’s father’s home. And the festivities lasted for two weeks, and then they started for Monticello. It took them quite a while to get there. The phaeton that they were driving needed repair and so they stopped at Tuckahoe for a few days. Then they continued on. But in Virginia the real winter doesn’t generally come until after the first of the year and then it sometimes comes rushing down in a torrent of wind and snow, and that is indeed what they met on their way. The snow came faster than they had anticipated, and they were forced to stop at their friend Edward Carter’s plantation, which is called Blenheim. They stopped there; they left the phaeton, and they continued on horseback for the rest of the journey. They left Blenheim at sunset. They made the rest of the journey on horseback. They arrived at the top of the mountain in three feet of snow. By now it was very late. The servants had given up hope of their arrival and had put out the fires and had gone to bed. And so when they arrived, Jefferson stabled the horses himself because he wouldn’t disturb the servants and lit a fire. And as Martha stood there shivering in her long cloak, he suddenly remembered a treasure, and he went to the bookcases and he found a half bottle of wine behind some books on a shelf. And he pulled it out, and they toasted each other with wine.... It provided warmth, it provided happiness, it was their supper, and there they started to sing, tradition tells us, and this is how they started their married life together in this little tiny 18-by-18 foot cottage clinging to the edge of the mountain 580 feet above the city of Charlottesville. They stayed on their mountain for several months. Martha had him all to herself until April, when they went down to Williamsburg, and this is probably the longest she ever had him to herself.

  Tell us about that. It was difficult. He was gone a lot and she was pregnant a lot.
When they did go down to Williamsburg in April, they did indeed confirm that Martha was pregnant. And she had many, many pregnancies. Martha was beautiful, but she was also fragile. And her mother had died in childbirth, and so she had a fear of childbirth to begin with, but for some reason she seems to have wanted to have children. They lost four, ultimately, of the six children that she did have, and there were innumerable miscarriages as well. And unfortunately Jefferson was at that point serving his country and was not able to be with her as much as he would have liked. Martha was the first child who was born, and she did indeed survive. They lost a son. They lost another daughter. At the time that Jefferson was in Philadelphia writing the Declaration of Independence, Martha was at home in Virginia suffering from the recent loss of a baby. And it was at that time that Jefferson wrote to John Page that “it is with great difficulty, great pain that I can stay here” because she was so ill and he really wanted to be home with her. It’s hard for us today to realize the anguish that he must have been suffering as he was writing the words of this great Declaration and she was home alone. There was no way that he could run home to be with her for a weekend. He was living in a three-mile-an hour world. It would have taken him better than a week to travel the distance from Philadelphia to Virginia and then another week back again and so, of necessity, Martha was alone a great deal of the time and suffered. She often went into states of depression because she wanted him with her and of course because she was losing these “dear pledges” as Jefferson called them, one after another.

  And eventually they weakened her so much that...
Ultimately she did die. There is speculation. Of course there’s no way to know for sure but there is speculation that Martha may have had diabetes. And that’s borne out by the fact that each of her babies was increasingly larger. The last child, Lucy Elizabeth—there is speculation that the child was 16 pounds although it’s hard to imagine that today. But they didn’t know what diabetes was and if they did know, they didn’t know a cure for it. And she ultimately succumbed after that sixth birth.

  Tell us about that day, about those last weeks when he was there with her.
Yes, he was with her. He was never apart from her during that time. As a matter of fact, there was a little room right off the bedroom where she was, and when she slept he was working on his Notes on the State of Virginia. But for the most part he sat with her, he held her hand, he tried to comfort her, he tried to feed her. And at the very end, the story is told that they read to one another verses from Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. And when Martha got too weak at one point to read, she started to write one stanza out and then was too weak also to do that, and Jefferson, knowing it by heart, completed it. But it was a stanza in which they talked about “that eternal separation that we are about to make.” And, although he kept trying to reassure her that she would live, that she wasn’t going to die, this was indeed the end.

“And she asked him not to marry again and he did indeed promise....”

  She exacted a promise...
Yes, she did exact a promise from him. On the very last day of her life, some of the house servants who felt close to her were allowed to come in to see her, and they were witness to a scene in which she told him, Thomas, what she wanted him to do or what she hoped he would do and one of things that she feared most was that her children would be brought up by a stepmother as she had been. And she asked him not to marry again and he did indeed promise that he would never remarry and that he would care for the children.

When she finally did close her eyes, he fainted. And he was carried out of the room insensible, as his daughter described it. And his sister Martha Carr was with him, and ultimately Martha Carr called out, “For God’s sake, leave the dead and come and take care of the living” because she feared that Jefferson himself was going to die. And it was weeks and weeks before he finally came to. I’m sure that there was a lot of guilt, a lot of wonder at whether any of this had been his fault because there had been so many pregnancies. But of course we have to realize that in those days, many children died and women felt the need to have one after another in order to have some survive. There is speculation that it was Martha who insisted that she have more children. One will never know for sure.

But I think that it was at this time that a bond began to form between Jefferson and his daughter Martha, who they called Patsy. And Patsy was the only one apparently who could get through to him, and she was his constant companion. She sat with him in this room. They brought in a pallet, and they laid it out on the floor, and this is what he slept on. He stayed there in his library for weeks, and when he finally rode out on his horse, she followed behind. She writes that she was witness to many an outburst of grief. But she was constantly with him. And ultimately was able to pull him out of his stupor.

  Tell us about that relationship with Martha through their lives. And Maria too, if you can. We’d like to hear about the daughters.
Martha and Maria were very different girls. They had very different relationships with their father. Martha’s relationship was probably far closer to her father because of her experience with him at the time of her mother’s death and also when shortly after Martha died, Congress very wisely offered Jefferson the post of minister plenipotentiary to France and he accepted immediately. He had turned it down when Martha was ill. He took Patsy with him. But Polly, as they called their second daughter, was too young to go, and the baby was obviously just an infant. And so Martha’s sister, Elizabeth Eppes, took both the girls and kept them and brought them up. But Patsy went with him, and the bond was cemented there.

  Tell us more about his relationship with Martha..
With his daughter Martha, whom he came to call Patsy to distinguish her from her mother Martha, the relationship was really remarkable. He wrote letters to Martha. And his letters give us a glimpse into the soul of Thomas Jefferson that just is not visible in any of the tangible memorials that he left. We see another side of him—he became both father and mother to his girls. He enveloped them in a kind of motherly softness, but he expected a tremendous amount of them. And it’s interesting to compare to the role of parent and child today. He wrote one letter to Martha outlining a course of study for her where he planned every moment of the day without even leaving time to eat. She must dance at this time, and draw at this time, and study French and read...and Martha complied sometimes. He told her in his letter that if she did these things, and if she excelled at them, she would endear herself even more to him, he would love her even more.

When she complained that she was having difficulty with one subject, he told her, “We are always equal to what we put our mind to.” He told her, “It’s amazing how much can be done if we are always doing.” “Never be idle,” he told her. And she knew that he practiced what he preached, and so she did try, but she had quite a sense of humor. She was witty, and she asked him if he would write her a longer letter. In return for the longer letter, she wrote back and told him that she appreciated what he had done, but that it would have been even longer had he not left such wide margins. But she did strive to please him when she could.

Maria, on the other hand, was...well, she was initially named Mary, but she was called Polly and it wasn’t until she finally came to France that she became Maria. But Polly, in Virginia with the Eppes family, was not anxious to leave and come across the ocean by herself to be with a father who she really didn’t remember too well. Jefferson, on the other hand, was very worried that she was going to forget him. And he wanted her there. Also, he had lost the little baby who Martha had delivered just before she died, to whooping cough at the age of three. And, incidentally, it took seven months for the letter that Elizabeth Eppes wrote to Jefferson telling him of the loss of this baby to reach him. And he was devastated at that point and he wanted Polly with him. He sent her dolls, he sent her sashes from Paris, he sent her all kinds of enticements, but it took quite awhile until she came.

An interesting insight into Jefferson, though, is that at one point when both his daughters were in a Catholic school in France, Patsy wrote a letter to Jefferson telling him that she wanted to become a nun. Characteristically, Jefferson said nothing and did nothing for a few days. Then he just quietly got in his phaeton, rode to the school, went in and spoke to the Mother Superior. Then he went up, found Patsy and Polly, and just took them out of school. Not a word was ever mentioned.

“"We must suffice unto ourselves,” he said. And that was the way in which he dealt...with life in general.”


Head and Heart Letter

  Maria Cosway.
Jefferson met Maria Cosway at a time in Paris when he was perhaps more susceptible to a romantic attachment than he had ever been. Patsy was happily ensconced in school. Polly was resisting all attempts to lure her to Paris. He had just learned that his baby had died. He was a lonely widower. Martha had been gone four and a half years. And he met the beautiful and talented Maria Cosway, and she literally swept him off his feet. Maria was beautiful and graceful. She had fair skin and deep blue eyes and a mass of blond curly hair framing her face. She was all the things that Jefferson liked in a woman. And she was talented, she was musical, and she was an artist. And she was married. And Maria was a devout Catholic so that Jefferson had to have realized that this relationship could go nowhere. But he fell deeply in love with her. And they had a beautiful, beautiful month together with what he called their “charming coterie.” He was introduced to Maria by John Trumbull, the artist. And they saw something beautiful in Paris everyday, and they had either breakfast or dinner together everyday, either alone or in this “coterie” as he called it. Unfortunately, he fell and broke his wrist and as he said, “how the wrist was broken would be a long story for the left hand to tell.” But it effectively brought an end to the romance. He ultimately wrote to Maria a letter which has been called the most extraordinary letter ever written to a pretty lady by a distinguished man, and it’s called a “Dialogue Between the Head and the Heart.”

I think we have to backtrack a little bit and say that Maria probably never understood the depth of Jefferson’s feelings for her. She was beautiful and talented, but she was very much involved with Maria Cosway, very self-centered, coquettish. She loved the attentiveness of this distinguished gentleman and was flattered by it. I’ve never had the sense that she felt for him the way he did for her. Ultimately, this controlled man, this man who was always in control of his emotions, wrote this letter in which the head—reason—battles with emotion: the intellect versus the romantic. And...he never saw her after she left Paris, he never saw her again. He always hoped he would. But in his letter to her, the head wrote, “the art of life is the art of avoiding pain.” And this is what he had always done himself. “We must suffice unto ourselves,” he said. And that was the way in which he dealt with the death of his wife and this is the way he dealt with life in general. With Maria he had let himself go and now the heart had the final say. The heart said that knowing her, the joy of knowing her for that month was worth the price he had to pay of losing her. So in the end, the heart really won. But he did get on with his life and never did have any permanent connection with Maria Cosway. He wrote to her at one point when he was leaving for America and he said, “I am going to America and you are going to Italy. One of us is going the wrong way, for the way will ever be wrong that leads us further apart.” I think ultimately his feelings for her turned from passion to a tenderness, but he loved her all the rest of his life.

  Sally Hemings.
I think we must consider who Thomas Jefferson was. The idea that Thomas Jefferson could have had a young mulatto mistress in a house overflowing with young children whom he adored is inconsistent with everything we know about the real Thomas Jefferson. His granddaughter Ellen said, “There are such things as moral impossibilities."

“...it was the tug of family that pulled at him relentlessly, that gave him his meaning for life.”

  What is it about Thomas Jefferson that touches you so deeply?
I think that to understand that even after he had become a prominent figure on the national stage, it was the tug of family that pulled at him relentlessly, that gave him his meaning for life. His relationship with his grandchildren particularly was extraordinary, and I think that it is in that relationship that Thomas Jefferson steps off the pages of the history books and becomes a living man.

  Tell us how.
Well, his grandchildren adored him, and he adored them. He became their father. The house was always overflowing with grandchildren, and there are many wonderful stories that the grandchildren tell, particularly about running after him with delight in the garden, chasing him, enjoying watching the blossoms come up, knowing though never to set foot in a planting bed. He would never have to tell them. He never raised his voice to them. He would simply say “Do” or “Do not” very quietly. And they listened. There was never a question. No wish of theirs was too small for him. Ellen said he seemed to read their hearts. He was like...he would wave a fairy wand and produce exactly what they wanted: a first silk dress, a guitar, a watch. He knew their hearts. They could come to him with problems; they could talk to him. This reserved, austere man just unwound with his grandchildren, just let himself go, understood them, responded to them.

  Tell us the story of being at the White House.
Ah, you have to see him, really, to appreciate the kind of person he was, teaching his children the game of goose, which was the first board game in America, playing other childish games with them, sitting on the floor at the White House and playing with them and greeting a visitor that way and looking up and saying to him, “If you have grandchildren, you’ll understand.” This was the real Thomas Jefferson.

  Tell us about Poplar Forest with these two teenage girls.
Jefferson had a retreat, a little jewel of a house called Poplar Forest just outside of Lynchburg. And he would run there to get away from the hubbub of Monticello, from the constant stream of visitors. He would go there to read, to study, to think. It was a long drive—it took two and a half to three days by carriage. And he went to be by himself, but he always chose one or two of the grandchildren to accompany him. And whoever was chosen considered it a special treat. They vied for the privilege of going with him. And if you think of this small house, isolated to a great degree, and you think of two teenage girls perhaps going with their grandfather and being happy to spend time just with him. And if you think of the kind of man who would be happy, would indeed choose to have teenage granddaughters as his company rather than an adult whom he might have a stimulating conversation with...he wanted to be with them, and they in turn wanted to be with him. And I think this is an extraordinary relationship when we think about the significance of it.

  Finish up telling us about Maria, her death.
Maria, or “Polly” was very different from Martha. She was hauntingly like her mother. And Jefferson worried always that she would meet the same fate that her mother did, and indeed, he was correct. She did die very young of complications of childbirth. Maria was beautiful, she was fragile, she was delicate, but she didn’t like being told she was pretty. She wanted to be as intelligent as her sister Martha because she hoped that in that way her father would love her more—despite all his protestations that he loved them equally. Maria, though, in her own way was really tied more to the Eppes family, the people who had brought her up, than she was to Jefferson. But it’s understandable if she spent all her childhood there and she ultimately married Jack Eppes. And that was a beautiful relationship. During her final illness—she died right after she gave birth to a baby—she was quite ill, and her milk dried up. And her sister Martha, who had just had another child—Martha had 12 in all—simply took over nursing her sister’s baby when Maria was unable to do it. But Jefferson always feared that she would die in childbirth, and indeed she did and it was tragic.


Declaration of Independence, Signed by Congress

  What do you see as the essence of his life? What is his significance to us now?
Why is he important? He’s important to us because primarily because of the incandescent words he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, that....He was talking about natural rights...about a God-given freedom: “the God who gave us life gave us liberty.” His words in 1776 were words that are totally applicable today.


Declaration of Independence, Earliest Known Draft,

  If you could choose to be present at one moment in Jefferson’s life, what moment would it be?
I would love to be there when he was writing the Declaration of Independence. I would love to see him struggling the way I struggle when I write, the way students struggle today for the right, for exactly the right word, the right phrase, trying to match the sound and the sense of each of the words, the cadences...thinking through the ideas that he’d been studying of John Locke, of Montesquieu, all the reading that he had done over the years coming together. He had no notes in front of him, but it was all coming together for him in his head. He had been living this; he had been thinking about it, he had been studying it, he was ready. He needed not a note in front of him. And he was trying to express, in language used by men, just the common sense of the situation. He was trying to make the rest of the world understand why it was necessary for us to separate from Great Britain. He knew he was risking his life. He knew he could be hanged. And he knew that we needed, as a new nation we would need, the support of the rest of the world, and he was trying to explain why we wanted our independence. And he struggled over each word, writing, crossing out, 147;interlining,”as he said. And then, as a page got too messy, copying it “fair.” I think this must have been a wonderful, wonderful time. I would like to be able watch this and to see what was going on in his mind and to see the way this document evolved. Incidentally, he wrote it in separate sections. And then he put it all together at the end and he didn’t necessarily write the first section first.

  Where was he when he was doing this?
He was in a little house on Market Street in Philadelphia, writing on this wonderful desk that is considered the single most important iconographic object in American history, this little desk that he had designed himself and had made. Because he was riding back and forth from Philadelphia to Virginia and he was wasting time, he had a desk designed on which he could write and read. It had a drawer. It had sand for blotting and nibs for his pen, and he was writing on this. His servant, Bob Hemings, was with him—he would serve him tea while he was working. And Jefferson would bathe his feet in cold water every morning before he began to work, which was something he did all his life. He would play his violin periodically...and he would write without any notes. I would love to have been a little fly on the wall then, watching.

  Return to top