The Thomas Jefferson Papers

The Thomas Jefferson Papers Timeline: 1743 -1827

The Colonial Period, 1743-1774


April 13 (April 2, Old Style).* Thomas Jefferson is born at Shadwell plantation in Goochland (later Albemarle) County, Virginia, to Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor, and Jane Randolph, daughter of a prominent Virginia family.

*April 2 by the Old (Julian) Calendar, April 13 by the New (Gregorian) Calendar. The New Calendar was adopted by Great Britain and its colonies in 1752. To bring the calendar in line with the solar year, it added eleven days; the new year began in January rather than March.


Jefferson begins attending a local school run by a Scotsman, Reverend William Douglas.


Peter Jefferson dies.


Jefferson attends the school of the Reverend James Maury in Fredericksville Parish, twelve miles from Shadwell. He boards with Maury's family. At about this time, he also begins keeping a literary commonplace book, writing extracts in it from Greek, Latin, and English literature.


Jefferson attends the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. He studies mathematics and philosophy with William Small of Scotland. He learns French, practices the violin, and gains a reputation for studiousness. He attends dinners with Virginia governor Francis Fauquier. Jefferson graduates from William and Mary in 1762.


Jefferson begins law studies with George Wythe, his former teacher at the College of William and Mary and now his mentor in the legal profession.


Jefferson comes of age, inheriting 2,750 acres from his father's estate.



Jefferson passes his bar examination and returns to Shadwell. The courts close during the Stamp Act Crisis.


Spring-Summer. Jefferson, aged twenty-four, makes a tour of Annapolis, Philadelphia, and New York.


Jefferson begins practicing law in Albemarle and Augusta counties.


Jefferson begins building a new house, Monticello, at the top of an 867-foot mountain inherited from his father, near Shadwell.


Jefferson is admitted to the bar of the General Court of Virginia.

May. Jefferson takes his seat as representative from Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Edmund Pendleton and Jefferson's uncle (or possibly, cousin), Peyton Randolph, both prominent planters in the House, act as his mentors. Jefferson serves in the House of Burgesses for Albemarle County until 1776.


February 1. Shadwell, the Jefferson family estate, burns. Most of Jefferson's personal and family papers and books are destroyed.

November, Jefferson takes up residence at Monticello.


January 1. Jefferson marries Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, aged twenty-three. Her dowry almost doubles his land and slaves. In addition to Monticello, Jefferson's holdings will include several plantations in Albemarle County and Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County.

September 27. Martha (Patsy) is born. Jefferson and his wife Martha will have six children, only two of whom will live to adulthood.


January 14. Through the division of the estate of Jefferson's wife's father, John Wayles, the Jeffersons acquire by inheritance £4000 in debts as well as 135 additional slaves, among them Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings (c.1735-1807). Betty Hemings is the daughter of an African slave and an English sea captain and reportedly the mistress of John Wayles and mother of several of his children. Betty Hemings eventually has ten children, among whom are Robert, who works as Jefferson's valet; Martin, who acts as household butler; Sally (c.1773-1835), a chamber maid; John, who becomes a skilled cabinet-maker; and James, who trains in French cuisine in Paris and is employed as a chef. Documentation of Hemings family members, including Sally Hemings and the six children born to her who are noted in Monticello records, can be found in a report of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Unlike the members of other Monticello slave families, all of Sally Hemings' children who live to adulthood will gain their freedom. The youngest Hemings sons, Madison (b. 1805) and Eston (b. 1808), will be freed in Jefferson’s will.


A map of the British and French dominions in North America

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon A map of the British and French dominions in North America. with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements, humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Halifax

No stamped paper to be had.

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon No stamped paper to be had. [Philadelphia : Printed by Hall & Franklin, 1765]. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Printed Ephemera Collection.

Lord Norborne Berkeley Botetourt

enlarge image icon Lord Norborne Berkeley Botetourt to Thomas Jefferson, June 10, 1770, Printed Commission as Commander of the Albemarle County, Virginia, Militia. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.