Thomas Jefferson was one of the most influential leaders in American history. Notable for penning the Declaration of Independence, his work led to the slaves’ liberty, and ultimately, to the nation’s freedom from British ruling. He was the 3rd President of the United States and he has left a fair share of inspiring and controversial footprints on the nation. Read on to learn 50 facts about Thomas Jefferson.
Fact 1: Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743.
- He was birthed at his father’s Shadwell plantation in Virginia, USA. He was of English descent, but many proclaimed he was possibly Welsh.
Fact 2: He was born to Jane and Peter Jefferson.
- Jane Randolph was a housewife, while Peter was a planter and surveyor. His father died when Thomas was 14 years old.
Fact 3: President Thomas Jefferson was preceded by President John Adams.
- President John Adams was the 2nd President of the United States. He served the country from 1797 to 1801.
Fact 4: His Presidency was succeeded by President James Madison.
- President James Madison served the country from 1809 to 1817. His greatest work was the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Like Thomas, James was also born in Virginia.
Fact 5: Thomas was elected as the 3rd President of the USA in 1800.
- He spent two terms in office from March 4, 1801, to 1809. But before he was vested with the highest power of the land, he served the country as the Vice President of President John Adams from 1797 to 1801. His political history began when he was the Governor of Virginia (1779-1781). He then became the Ambassador to France (1785-1789) and the Secretary of State (1790-1793).
Fact 6: Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
- The Declaration of Independence is one of the United States’ most important highlights in history. It was an official document that declared the country’s independence from the British rule under King George III.
Fact 7: He played a significant role in freeing the American colonists from the King of England.
- He was a significant contributor during the American Revolution as he supported the colonies’ struggle for liberty with his draft of the Declaration of Independence.
Fact 8: He was an archaeology enthusiast.
- Thomas always had a hankering to explore the unknown. He set the precedent for the objectives and methods of modern archaeological science.
Fact 9: He had an eye for architecture.
- Among the renowned buildings he designed, the most famous are Monticello, The Rotunda at the University of Virginia, and the Virginia State Capital. Monticello and The Rotunda are both World Heritage Sites.
Fact 10: The Monticello had an eclectic wine cellar.
- He was a wine connoisseur. His passion for wines developed on his trip to France, where he was exposed to a variety of tastes and textures. He even tried to grow European grapes for some homemade wines, but the plants didn’t flourish.
Fact 11: He also lived in France.
- He lived briefly in France in the 1700s as a diplomat.
Fact 12: Thomas loved foods so much, but his favourite was French cuisine.
- He always had the appetite to enjoy some of America’s well-loved foods, such as burgers, fries, and ice cream. These foods rose to popularity after his gastronomic passion permeated the country.
Fact 13: Besides his affection for tasty cuisines, Thomas was also a bibliophile.
- It was no secret that the late president was a bookworm. The Library of Congress was attacked by British invaders during the War of 1817. After this incident, Thomas offered his personal library as a replacement. It contained over 6,500 books and he sold it for $23,950.
Fact 14: Thomas attended only two official White House celebrations yearly: New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July.
- He began the yearly tradition of a public reception to commemorate the nation’s liberty against foreign invaders on the Fourth of July 1801. People were celebrating inside the mansion with plates of sweets and bowls of punch. This was done until the Civil War.
Fact 15: He liked mockingbirds.
- He even brought mockingbirds to the White House during his terms. Among all the mockingbirds he had, his favourite was Dick. Dick was the only bird that was allowed to roam the president’s office or perch on his shoulder.
Fact 16: His dress sense differed to what was expected of a president.
- Unlike other important figures, who would arrive in a carriage and dressed sophisticatedly, Thomas was an exception. He preferred riding his horse to an event, wearing plain and comfortable clothing.
Fact 17: Thomas had a secret retreat home – the Poplar Forest.
- It was located near Lynchburg, Virginia. It was an octagonal home that was designed according to his unique preferences. After years of building, the home was completed in 1809, just by the time he left the office. Today, the Poplar Forest is open for public viewing.
Fact 18: A controversy rose in 1801 that Thomas had an affair with a slave woman named Sally Hemings.
- It was circulated by a reporter named James Callendar who bribed the president for $200 and a postmaster job in exchange for his silence. Thomas gave him $50 instead, so James eventually broke the news. He also mentioned that the two had several children, but he wasn’t able to gather more details as he drowned in a river in 1803.
Fact 19: Thomas grew tomatoes back when they were still a rare commodity in Virginia.
- Eyebrows raised to his direction whenever he consumed tomatoes in front of witnesses.
Fact 20: Thomas feared speaking in public.
- He had a hard time delivering arguments while he was practising as a lawyer. He sometimes couldn’t express it eloquently as he could write them. This resulted in many weak dispositions and orations in the court.
Fact 21: Thomas was harsh on the Barbary Pirates.
- Instead of ailing to their requests, Thomas sent American warships to confront Barbary pirates (a band from North Africa who attacked, raided, and held hostages the crews of ships passing in the Mediterranean region). A treaty was declared in 1805 which led to the Second Barbary War in 1815. However, the Naval ships were successful in forcing the pirates to retreat.
Fact 22: Thomas grew more than 300 varieties of crops, sprouts, and flowers. One of these was ‘Papaver somniferum’, the poppy seed that can be used as opioid drugs.
- Although the poppy plant was common during that time, it is now under scrutiny by enforcers. The remaining plants in Monticello were pulled out in 1991.
Fact 23: Abraham Lincoln didn’t like Thomas’ political views and moral shortcomings.
- Even with his “seething animosity” towards Thomas, Abraham still recognized the president’s work on the Declaration of Independence.
Fact 24: Thomas’ greatest achievement was doubling the size of the country.
- His efforts in the Louisiana Purchase, a treaty and a transaction with France, helped in expanding the country’s soil. He went through a careful diplomacy deal with Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon priced 830,000 square miles of land for $22 million, but he settled for $15 million
Fact 25: He was the “founding father” of the University of Virginia.
- Thomas was an avid learner, and his advocacy for education propelled him to develop an institution for higher learning. This led to the building of the University of Virginia which opened in 1825. However, the school’s “founding father” has not always been welcomed. In 2018, students protested against Thomas Jefferson for being a rapist and a racist.
Fact 26: Thomas was in awful financial shape despite inheriting his father’s estate.
- He put a great dent in his pocket after mindlessly spending money on property expansions and renovations.
Fact 27: He had an extensive and elaborate journal about his day-to-day life.
- During the construction of Monticello (meaning “little mountain” in Italian), he was busy recording everything about his routine. He talked about the weather, animals, the slaves’ diet, and even his plans on having a garden.
Fact 28: Thomas died owing $107,000, or roughly $2 million today.
- His father-in-law, John Wales, was in debt. When John died in 1774, Thomas was held responsible for this gentleman’s debts too.
Fact 29: He was annoyed when Congress wanted to revise the Declaration of Independence.
- He included in the passage about the slave trade, which was heavily criticized by Congress. They wanted that part to be omitted, much to the dismay of Thomas.
Fact 30: Thomas was criticized for supporting slavery.
- He gathered 200 slaves and perpetuated them with acts of cruelty, with almost half of them under the age of 16. But in a book that he published in 1785, he recognized slavery as morally repugnant. However, Thomas didn’t hesitate to benefit from them, which led to a backlash on his reputation even today.
Fact 31: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed away on the same day.
- Thomas and John didn’t get along well, especially when Thomas kept on lamenting John’s preference for the centralized and meddlesome government. They strangely died on the same day, July 4, 1826, with John passing away 5 hours after Thomas.
Fact 32: Thomas wrote his own epitaph.
- He even designed his own grave marker and directed it to be made of inexpensive materials.
Fact 33: He was multilingual and could speak 4 languages – English, Italian, Latin, and French.
- He could also read in Greek and Spanish.
Fact 34: He became a lawyer in 1767.
- He graduated from the University of William and Mary.
Fact 35: Thomas was referred to as the “Founding Foodie” and “America’s First Foodie”.
- The late president’s gastronomy was very evident in his time. He served pasta and macaroni to his guests and had even planned on developing a macaroni machine. There was even a mac ‘n cheese recipe in his own handwriting!
Fact 36: Thomas drafted a day of prayer and fasting in response to the Boston Tea Party.
- The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that happened on December 16, 1773. Around 342 chests of British East India Company tea was thrown into Boston’s harbour.
Fact 37: Thomas played the violin.
- Violin was his first well-loved musical instrument, although he was more skilled in cello. He practised the violin when he was still a child and developed his skills later on in college. His violin skills paid off as he used it to woo his wife.
Fact 38: Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, in 1772.
- Martha was 23 years old then. They were married for 10 years before she passed away in 1783 from unknown causes.
Fact 39: Thomas was a father of six, but only two of his daughters survived to adulthood.
- His family expanded with 12 grandchildren whom he loved and cherished throughout his life. Several of them even lived with him at Monticello.
Fact 40: Jefferson loved playing with his grandchildren, a particular favourite game was a game of ‘Chess and Goose’.
- Goose is one of the USA’s first board games. It is similar to what we know as “Chutes and Ladders”.
Fact 41: The front side of the $2 bill shows Thomas Jefferson.
- He is also immortalized on the nickel, as well as on Mount Rushmore. Other US presidents featured on America’s money include Abraham Lincoln on the cent, Franklin Roosevelt on the dime, George Washington on the quarter-dollar, and John F. Kennedy on the half-dollar.
Fact 42: A statue was dedicated to Thomas in 1943 for his 200th birthday.
- The Jefferson Memorial is in Washington, D.C. It stands at 19 feet tall.
Fact 43: Thomas was the third of 10 children.
- But only eight of them survived to adulthood.
Fact 44: Thomas left behind what may be the first ice cream recipe in America.
- It consisted of 6 egg yolks, two bottles of cream, a half-pound of sugar, and one vanilla bean.
Fact 45: Ice cream became popular in the U.S. because of Thomas’ affection for this frozen treat!
- Although it wasn’t the first time that someone brought ice cream to America, his frequent serving of it raised awareness of this delicious treat. He served it at events to surprise his guests. He loved ice cream so much that he ordered some special moulds from France!
Fact 46: He and his son-in-law invented the plough that could navigate hills.
- Thomas never ran out of things to solve! He even improved the dumbwaiter which has been greatly used as an elevator for foods and other goods.
Fact 47: The 1800s famous catchphrase “My name is Haines” was credited to Thomas Jefferson.
- There was a time when the president met a man who complained about everything that was wrong in Washington. When the man knew that it was the president he was speaking to, he was deeply embarrassed and said, “My name is Haines.”
Fact 48: Thomas got a subpoena.
- He was asked to testify in court with James Wilkinson’s letter informing him of a Mexican invasion. However, the president refused to appear.
Fact 49: Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s Founding Fathers.
- They are a group of patriots who united the 13 colonies. Among them were John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
Fact 50: He loved writing.
- He wrote over 19,000 letters in his lifetime.