Legacy Library: Thomas Jefferson

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Member: ThomasJefferson

CollectionsYour library (5,627), Books inherited from Peter Jefferson (1757) (7), Shadwell Library Reconstructed (1757-1770) (34), Books acquired while in Europe (1784-1789) (32), Monticello Library (ca. 1770s-1815) (5,027), Books inherited from George Wythe (1806) (197), Books presented to or acquired for others (87), Library Sold to Congress (1815) (4,889), Books not included in 1815 Sale (110), Retirement Library (1815-1826) (549), Poplar Forest Library (1811-1826) (71), Books not necessarily owned (3), All collections (5,628)

Reviews388 reviews

TagsPhilosophy (3,075), Moral Philosophy (2,499), Jurisprudence (2,279), History (1,545), Oeconomical Law (1,356), Politics (1,304), Fine Arts (854), Natural History (807), Civil History (735), Municipal Law (644) — see all tags

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About meThomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 - 4 July 1826), Virginia lawyer, diplomat, and statesman. Author of the Declaration of American Independence; of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom; and Father of the University of Virginia. First American Secretary of State, and third president of the United States.

About my libraryA lifelong, insatiable collector of books, Thomas Jefferson built several library collections. From his book lists and correspondence, we know that he had the following book collections. Of these, only the books sold to Congress (section d below) are currently represented in Jefferson's LT catalog; the other collections will be added over the coming months in cooperation with Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Do note that this is a work in progress - new information is being added, and partial records are still being reviewed and updated.

Shadwell Library (1757 to 1770)
Jefferson inherited his first library from his father, Peter Jefferson, when the latter died in 1757. On 1 February 1770, a fire destroyed almost all of the books in Jefferson’s home at Shadwell. It is not known if Jefferson kept a list of the books he had in his Shadwell Library at the time of the fire. If he did, it would very likely have been destroyed along with all of his personal papers. Thomas Jefferson's LT catalog will soon include a reconstructed list of books that he either inherited, acquired, or was familiar with and hence very likely owned at Shadwell.

Monticello Library Eventually Sold to Congress in 1815
(circa 1770s to 1815)

Jefferson’s second library and his largest is the book collection that he began at Monticello following the fire at Shadwell, and later sold to Congress in 1815. Following the Shadwell fire on 1 February 1770, Jefferson wasted no time in replacing the library he lost. The destruction at Shadwell added impetus to his ambitious plans to develop his library and to his efforts to build his new home at Monticello. By August 1771, Jefferson appears to have already built up a collection he considered to be worthy of inspection by others. In his letter to Robert Skipwith dated 3 August 1771, Jefferson invites Skipwith to the “new Rowanty,” evidently a reference to Monticello, his own "mountain of the world," or "Rowandiz, the Accadian Olympos," and to his library there.

Within this second library collection, we can identify the following sub-collections:

a. March 1783 Library Reconstructed (circa 1770s to 6 March 1783)
By 4 August 1773, Jefferson notes in his Memorandum Books a count of 1,256 volumes in his library at Monticello, not counting volumes of music nor the books he had in Williamsburg. It may well be around this time or even earlier that Jefferson creates a manuscript list or a catalog (which eventually becomes the 1783 Catalog) of the books he had on his shelves to help keep track of his burgeoning library.

In 1784 as he left America to take up his appointment by Congress as minister plenipotentiary to France, he very likely had with him this catalog of the books he owned, along with titles he intended to acquire abroad. Earlier the previous year in Philadelphia, he had noted on page 5 of this catalog a count of 2,640 volumes as of 6 March 1783. He also states that he had placed a checkmark before each title he owned, and that unmarked titles indicate books that he hoped to acquire. Using this specific notation recorded by Jefferson himself in his 1783 Catalog, scholar Thomas Baughn has reconstructed a list of books that Jefferson owned as of this date. A list of this March 1783 Library Reconstructed library is available here.

b. Books Acquired While in Europe (1784 to 1789)
During his appointment as minister plenipotentiary and later minister to France from 1784 to 1789, Jefferson purchased some 2,000 volumes. Before he returned to America in 1789, he compiled a separate list of the books he acquired while abroad. This 1789 Catalog is a 50-page unbound manuscript in Jefferson’s own hand and is today at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The manuscript pages have been digitized by the Society and are available here. A transcription of this manuscript made by Thomas Baughn is available here.

c. 1783 Catalog (circa 1770s to 1812)
The 1783 Catalog manuscript, a 246-page bound manuscript in Jefferson’s hand, is believed to be a record of his library following the Shadwell fire in 1770. In 1812, when this catalogue became crammed with interlineations, erasures, and marginal insertions, Jefferson made a fair copy of this catalogue, and it is this 1812 catalogue that he probably maintained up till his offer to sell his library to Congress in 1814. This fair copy was retained by the Librarian of Congress George Watterston who claimed it as his personal property when he was dismissed from his post in 1829, and this catalogue has never been found. The Trist Catalogue mentioned below is the closest approximation to the contents and order of this lost manuscript catalogue. The 1783 Catalog is today at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The manuscript pages have been digitized by the Society and are available here. A transcription of this manuscript made by Thomas Baughn is available here.

d. Books Sold to Congress (1815)
When the invading British army burned the congressional library in Washington, D.C. in 1814, an outraged Jefferson promptly offered his own library to Congress to replace the one that was lost. The handwritten catalog that Jefferson sent to Congress along with his books was retained by the Librarian of Congress, George Watterston, but subsequently lost. This catalog has never been found. In 1942, as part of the bicentennial commemoration of Jefferson’s birth, the Library of Congress commissioned E. Millicent Sowerby to compile an annotated bibliography of the 6,700 books Jefferson sold to Congress. A five-volume work, The Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, was published between 1952 and 1959. This long-time standard reference work for Jefferson scholars is currently available online here through the Library of Congress; a transcribed electronic version of Sowerby's catalogue is available here, and her annotations will be added to the relevant records in Jefferson's LT catalog. Sowerby's catalog was used to create the first version of Jefferson's LT catalog, which is currently being augmented with additional data by Monticello.

There is a second manuscript associated with the books Jefferson sold to Congress. In 1823 Jefferson commissioned Nicholas Philip Trist, the young man who would eventually become Jefferson’s private secretary and his grandson-in-law, to recreate a list of the books sold to Congress. This 113-page Trist Catalogue manuscript prepared by Trist was rediscovered at the Library of Congress. The manuscript is available online here from the Library of Congress. The Trist list was also published as a monograph, Thomas Jefferson’s Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order by James Gilreath and Douglas L. Wilson in 1989. The notation for each title from this list can be found in most of the Comments field of each relevant title in Jefferson's LT catalog, and these are gradually being replaced by direct links to the Trist Catalogue, a transcription which is found here.

Retirement Library (1815 to 1826)
Following the 1815 sale of the bulk of his library to Congress, Jefferson continued to acquire books. The Retirement Library Catalogue in Jefferson’s own hand constituted his third and final library at Monticello. The 83-page bound manuscript is at the Library of Congress, and is available online here, with a transcription available here. After Jefferson died in 1826, his library at Monticello was sold at auction through auctioneer, Nathaniel P. Poor, in 1829 in Washington, D.C. The printed Poor Catalogue (available online here) is almost identical to the Retirement Library Catalogue. Both the Retirement Library Catalogue and the Poor Catalogue were transcribed by John R. Barden in 1999, and edited by Thomas Baughn. Books from the Retirement Library Catalogue and the Poor Catalogue are currently being added to Jefferson's LT catalog.

Poplar Forest Library (1811 to 1826)
After Jefferson’s retirement from public office in 1809, he also maintained a library at his Poplar Forest retreat in Bedford County from around 1811. At his death, his books were inherited by his grandson, Francis Eppes, who offered them up for sale in 1873. There is no separate sale catalogue for this library, except for the portion that was listed in the 1873 auction catalogue of George A. Leavitt, published in New York City. The Leavitt Catalogue was transcribed by John R. Barden in 1999, and edited by Thomas Baughn, and is available here. In 2007, Baughn reconstructed a list of books Jefferson is believed to have had at Poplar Forest, based on Jefferson's 1783 catalog and on notitia found in Jefferson’s Retirement Library manuscript and references to specific titles in his retirement correspondence. Books from this list will be included in Jefferson's LT catalog.

For more information, go to the Thomas Jefferson's Libraries website at Monticello. See also the Library of Congress' interactive exhibit, Thomas Jefferson's Library.

Reviews: The reviews currently included here are taken from Sowerby's annotations. They have been edited for capitalization, but otherwise have been left in original form. Additional reviews are being added from Jefferson's correspondence by Monticello.

Tags: The tags as currently included here, for the library sold to Congress, are as given in this chart, as designed by Jefferson in the manuscript catalogue of his library, 1815. A rough approximation appears here (with links to the tags). Links to the bibliographic chapters in Sowerby's text are available here. The tags for his Retirement Library are in accordance with his classification scheme in his Retirement Library Catalogue.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Please contact Libraries of Early America coordinator Jeremy Dibbell.

GroupsLibraries of Early America


Real nameThomas Jefferson

LocationMonticello, Charlottesville, VA

Favorite authorsNot set

Account typepublic, lifetime

URLs /profile/ThomasJefferson (profile)
/catalog/ThomasJefferson (library)

Member sinceSep 3, 2007

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Books From Jefferson’s Library Turn Up After More Than a Century
Published: February 21, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/books/23jefferson.html?_r=1&ref=arts -- Article from the New York Times about some books from the TJ retirement library which are now in the collection of Washington University in Saint Louis.
Mr. President, I've been to your magnificent house twice, and I'm honored to see that I share 27 books with you! Please give my regards to Mr. Adams.
I share 12 books with Mr. Jefferson. Awesome! But all thanks to George Wythe for getting the man addicted to books in the first place :)
TJ--I enjoyed visiting your home on the mountain recently. We share only one book--Webster's Compendious Dictionary. You would be happy to note that Webster published an even bigger tome in 1828. You would have been impressed. So it goes.
Dave Yarington
The Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, & the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello present

John Adams & Thomas Jefferson: Libraries, Leadership and Legacy

Boston, MA and Charlottesville, VA
June 21-27, 2009.

The Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Monticello are please to announce a weeklong conference focusing on the personal libraries of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. John Adams & Thomas Jefferson: Libraries, Leadership and Legacy will take place in two locations Boston and Charlottesville during the week of June 21-27, 2009. A full description of the conference, including participants, registration, and agenda information, can be found at www.adamsjefferson.com.

John Adams & Thomas Jefferson: Libraries, Leadership and Legacy will explore the presidents′ reading and books as a means of understanding the intellectual roots of the American polity. Presentations will consider how each man developed his library, discuss how reading significantly shaped the political, philosophical, and religious identities and actions of Adams, Jefferson, and their contemporaries, and address the enduring legacy of these Founders’ intellectual heritage today.

This first half of this ambitious conference will be staged in Boston from Sunday, June 21 Tuesday, June 23, and then move to Charlottesville from Thursday, June 25 Saturday, June 27. Each location will feature a keynote speaker, four theme-based panels devoted the discussion of pre-circulated papers, and private tours of significant holdings and historic sites related to Adams, Jefferson, and their reading and book collecting. Conference attendees are invited to attend sessions at one or both venues.

A book of the conference proceedings will be publishing Fall 2010 by Robert Baron and Fulcrum Publishing, generous sponsors of this conference.

If you have additional questions about this conference, please call 303-277-1623 and ask for Bob or Patty.

I share four titles with TJ. Neat. :]
Dear Thomas:

So happy to have access to your library. Cannot tell you how much I appreciate your intellectual rigor, talents, sense of honor & inspiration. Especially fond of your agricultural and botanical pursuits. Thanks for sharing your home - it's a lovely place. Although in many ways we are different, I aspire to follow your example.

For truth,
Mr. President,

Best wishes on your birthday!
We share Corpus juris civilis ... ex Dionysii Gothofredi recognitione, but we can't combine unless you enter the author: Denis Godefroy.
Your copy of Renati Des-Cartes Principia philosophiae is combined with a lot of English editions. It might fit better with the other Elzevir editions in Latin in my catalog (and Karl Popper's), where it's listed as Renati Des-Cartes opera philosophica.
Like zoinks! It's Thomas Jefferson.
Dear Thomas Jefferson, Sir,
I'm not an American - that's why I don't call you Mr.President - but I have always had a great admiration for you. Now, as I can look into the catalogue of your library, I'm still more admiring you! And we may have some common interests...
You have a nice statue here in Paris where you lived for a while - I like to look at it each time I pass in the neighbourhood, thinking of your part in the story of humanity and human spirit.
That's why I would like you to accept my invitation to become friends.
Respectfully yours
Mr. President, I am a fan of yours (though too young to have actually voted for you).
I am very pleased that we share 4 books. It puzzles my why you are not reading more novels? See my library for some recommendations.

Gentlemen I applaud this work!

I await the personal libraries of your 38 colleagues, Mr. President, with bated breath! How does yours compare with Madison's?
Hello Mr. President, and welcome to LibraryThing.

i LOVE the picture of your library!
however it looks as though it could be improved by the addition of a comfy chair. i have an old recliner out in the garage that i'm willing to part with. let me know if you're interested.

Hey Tom,
Happy New Year! So glad you joined LT. Isn't it great?
While I'm a South Shore native and therefore more partial to my hometown homeys - the Adamses - I just wanted to say that you're, as we say around here, wicked cool.
Also, GREAT job on the introduction to "America (the Book)" by Jon Stewart et al. Very funny stuff.
PS The lady you asked about in your PS in "America" is now having a child. That boat's sort of sailed. However, it looks as though you're not afraid of social networking online, so try match.com. Keep on keepin' on, buddy!
Dear Mr. President,
The Unitarian Universalist Association is so fond of you that the district where I live was named the Thomas Jefferson district in your honor. Perhaps you would care to join us sometime for a discussion in the Unitarian Universalist Readers group. Deepest regards.
Very nice, and who cares if you're not the third president of EVERYONE on LT, as was mentioned in the blog comments! I share two books with you, Mr. President. I find that interesting, even if you are not the third president of EVERYONE on . . . Sorry, I already said that.
Hi there! I'm glad you made your library public, but I'm a bit worried that your LibraryThing membership is a lifetime account. Aren't you afraid it will expire?
As an architect, an employee of the federal government, and an alumnus of the University of Virginia, I feel I've earned a certain kinship with you, Mr. Jefferson; now that kinship is further strengthened through books.

Your librarian, by the way, should revise the "about me" above. You clearly asked to be remembered for the things you designed rather than the positions he held:


It's all there on the marker you designed for your own grave...
My dear M. Jefferson, it is an honour to be the only person sharing Buchanan's British Grammar with you.

I have long believed that if Mr. Jefferson were alive in the late 20th/early 21st century, he would be an avid user of technology and the Internet. Apparently I was right--but perhaps not about that "if [he] were alive..." part.

Furthermore, I am quite awed that Jefferson and I share two books (The Canterbury Tales and The Iliad). My library is strongly weighted toward the "modern," which in this case can be loosely defined as books written and published after Mr. Jefferson's time.

Many thanks to the Thingamabrarii who are cataloging Jefferson's library for the edification of those who came into this world too late to peruse the real thing.
Hey, TJ - love your library, and I'm a big fan of your memorial in DC too, btw - you may not know this, but FDR set up a really nice spot for you - an ascent to a beautiful shining temple dedicate to democracy, in a grove of cherry trees above calm waters. It is easily the most beautiful memorial there, I think you would approve.
What a bloody wonderful idea.
Hey. Glad to have you onn board. If you can make it online doing something worthwhile, maybe it'll set a trend for the living congress to do the same. ...nah, probably not.

A quick question for ya, though: if you wrote something, and there's more than a few on LT that might have it, should you list yourself as an LT Author?
Mr. Jefferson, I have a concern about your tags. While I know that English spelling was still somewhat variable during your lifetime, it has now been standardized, and we refer to "ancient," not "antient," history.

Oh, and thank you for inventing the swivel chair.
Mr. Jefferson, I seem to recall your having a Facebook account at the University of Virginia; does it still exist?
Mr. Jefferson, may I suggest that your "About Me" be revised? Your tombstone famously reads:


...with no mention of your political offices.
Mr President, I am saddened to report that we share no books in our libraries thus far. I am looking through your collection on architectural references and plan to seek a copy of The Designs of Inigo Jones. I also notice that much of your collection is rather dry. On the chance that you may enjoy something more diverting, perhaps I could recommend the works of Mark Twain.
Good pic, too bad about the screening.
A few years ago, my wife and I accumulated a book collection that was as large as the library that you gave to Congress (in size, if not in 'seriousness'); and I can recall wondering how large an overlap our collections had.

Thanks for putting your catalog on LT so that i can finally answer that question.

(TJ: are you on LJ?)
You're cute. Friend me on MySpace!
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