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Thomas Jefferson was the United States’ first secretary of state, the second vice president, and the third president. He is best known as a draftsman of the Declaration of Independence of the US, as well as the statesman responsible for the Louisiana Purchase.
Thomas Jefferson is also known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. This group of American leaders was responsible for leading the war for independence from Great Britain, unifying the Thirteen Colonies, and building a frame of government for the United States of America upon republican principles during the second half of the 18th century.
Thomas was born in 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia, and he died in 1826 in Monticello, Virginia at the age of 83. During his life, he was an advocate of total separation of church and state, investing in education, and individual freedom as the core meaning of the American Revolution.
While you might’ve learned a lot about Thomas Jefferson in school, there are still many facts you probably never heard about. That’s why we prepared this article for you, in which we’ll cover some of the unusual things about him. Let’s go!
Starting off our list of facts about Thomas Jefferson is his love for the written word. He owned thousands of books, and loved to read, even if the text was written in Latin. It’s very likely that his personal collection of books was the largest in the US in that period.
During his retirement, the Library of Congress was raided by the British in 1814, and Jefferson offered his books as a replacement. The collection that was sold to the Library had almost 6,500 volumes.
At the time, he needed money to pay off his debts, but soon enough he started buying books again. On one occasion, Thomas told his friend and the 2nd President of the United States, John Adams, that he just cannot live without books.
Jefferson was obsessed with building things, and once he retired, he committed himself to learn and practice architecture. In 1768, he started constructing his summer retreat Monticello on a hilltop overlooking his 5,000-acre plantation. This house would later become his primary residence, and he spent nearly 40 years working on it.
On the other hand, he didn’t build things just out of a hobby. Jefferson designed the rotunda at the University of Virginia, and the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. Monticello and the University of Virginia are both included on the World Heritage List. He was once quoted as saying “Architecture is my delight and putting up, and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.”
From 1784 to 1789, Jefferson served as a Minister to France and spent these few years living in Paris. Upon his return to the United States, he brought his love for the nation’s cuisine and fine wine back with him. He made two vineyards at Monticello and was soon acknowledged as a wine expert.
Another thing he brought over from France was his love for the frozen treat we all love – the ice cream. He wasn’t among the first ones who brought over some tasty recipes, but he did serve it frequently enough to raise awareness about it.
In fact, besides bringing over the recipes, he also imported special molds and tools to help his staff prepare them properly. At the time, there was no refrigeration, so the desserts had to be kept in ice houses and brought out as a surprise to guests of summer parties.
During his stay in Paris, Jefferson was accompanied by two of his slaves, James and Sally Hemings. At that point, Thomas offered James to train to become a chef in France. If he would do that and cook meals for Jefferson in Paris, he would be freed upon return to America.
That’s how James became the first American who trained to become a chef in France. When Hemings returned to America, Thomas didn’t want to let go of the yummy French meals yet, and James continued preparing meals for Jefferson, for a small wage.
Hemings was determined to gain freedom, which he finally managed to negotiate in 1796, after training his brother Peter for three years to replace him as a chef. James suffered from alcoholism and committed suicide five years later at the age of 36.
And what happened to his sister, Sally? Don’t worry, we’ll get to her portion of the story soon!
Ooops, looks like political scandals aren’t just a part of the 21st-century political scene. One of the unusual facts about Thomas Jefferson is that he once bribed a reporter to try to cover up an affair he was having with one of his slaves.
James Callendar was an investigative journalist who wrote articles that exposed several indiscretions of various politicians, including John Adams and Alexander Hamilton.
Jefferson was no different and in 1801, Callender assumed that he was involved in an affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. As you can notice from her last name, she was a younger sister of James Hemings, who we mentioned earlier in the article.
Before Callender broke the news, he went to Thomas and asked for $200 and a job as a postmaster, but Jefferson only offered him $50. James decided to publish the story about the secret relationship that resulted in Sally giving birth to several children.
The story was ignored by many of Jefferson’s supporters and Callender never finished his research, because he drowned in the James River in 1803. Modern-day DNA later confirmed that Jefferson was the father of Sally’s children.
Just when you thought that this story couldn’t get any juicier, we’re bringing you more facts about Thomas Jefferson to spice it up. He was married to Martha Wayles for ten years, and their marriage ended with her untimely death at the age of 33.
Now, here’s where things get messy. Martha’s father, John Wayles, had an affair with Sally’s mother, Elizabeth Hemings. Many historians believe that Martha was a half-sister to both Sally and James.
One of the most shocking facts about Thomas Jefferson is that he was terrible at managing his own money. While he had many different skills and interests, he never managed to learn how to be good at personal finances.
He came from a wealthy family and inherited his father’s estate. He also had a very successful career, good status and connections, which opened a whole world of new opportunities for him.
Despite all of this, he was in debt for most of his life. The problem he had with money was that he was spending more than he was bringing in. Jefferson was constantly expanding his property, renovated his house, and made costly additions.
In addition to all of this, he also inherited debt from his father-in-law, John Wayles after his death in 1774. When Thomas died, he owed $107,000, which would be somewhere around $2 million today.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were close friends during their 20s. When John became the second president of the United States, Thomas served as his vice-president. During this time, the duo realized they have many political disagreements, and over time started resenting each other.
The two of them made amends many years later, and here’s the unusual thing – they both died on the same day, just a few hours apart. To make the matter even more intriguing, they died on July 4th, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence being adopted.
Thomas Jefferson led an interesting life and accomplished many things in his time. However, shortly before he died, he wrote his own epitaph that would mention his 3 greatest accomplishments. Here’s what written on his gravestone:
“Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia”
Interestingly enough – there’s no mention of him being the President of the United States!
And, those were some of the most interesting facts about Thomas Jefferson, his life, his work, and the messy relationships between his and the Hemings family. Now tell us – which one of these did you find the most interesting, and which one did shock you? Let us know in the comments below!
While you’re here, don’t forget to check out our other articles about the Founding Fathers – George Washington and Benjamin Franklin!