The Private Jefferson

From the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society

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About the Exhibition: As author of the Declaration of Independence, architect of the Virginia State Capitol, founder of the University of Virginia, and third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson is one of history’s best-known figures. Surprisingly, the largest collection of Jefferson’s private papers (more than 8,000 pieces) cannot be found in his native Virginia but is instead in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Highlights: For the first time since the late 1800s, the most significant pieces from the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts returned to Virginia to be displayed in the VMHC's exhibition, The Private Jefferson: From the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical SocietyThe Private Jefferson featured Jefferson's manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence and more than sixty architectural drawings, broadsides, and letters. The exhibition offered a unique opportunity to see these important American documents in one place. 

Related Resources:

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Jefferson's Handwritten Copy of the Declaration of Independence, 1776
Jefferson's Handwritten Copy of the Declaration of Independence
Jefferson, unhappy with the changes made by the Continental Congress to his draft of the Declaration of Independence, made several copies of the text "as originally framed," including this one, to show friends and colleagues how his text had been altered. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
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John Adams Handwritten Copy of the Declaration of Independence
John Adams Handwritten Copy of the Declaration of Independence
John Adams served with Thomas Jefferson on the committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. Adams's copy shows the text before it was further edited by the committee and before Congress made much more substantive changes. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
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Printed version of the Declaration of Independence
First printed version of the Declaration of Independence
One of only 26 known copies of the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
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Drawing of an observation tower, ca.1771; never built
Drawing of an observation tower, ca.1771; never built
In his enthusiasm for garden temples and decorative objects in the landscape, Jefferson designed observation tower to overlook Monticello. The notes on the reverse of the plans indicate that the windows in the towers were to "direct the line of sight to Monticello."
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Virginia Capitol, 1785
Virginia Capitol, 1785
Front elevation of the Virginia State Capitol, showing its relationship to the Maison Carree, a Roman temple in the French city of Nimes. One of a series of elevations made while Jefferson worked with Charles-Louis Clerisseau in Paris. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
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Jefferson’s manuscript for his book Notes on the State of Virginia
Jefferson’s manuscript for his book Notes on the State of Virginia
Although the manuscript title page of Notes is dated “1782,” Jefferson continued to edit and add to the manuscript until he privately published it in Paris in 1785. Almost half the manuscript pages have one or more partial-page attachments once affixed to the original text with sealing wax. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
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Farm Book, 1774-1824
Farm Book, 1774-1824
Lists of slaves leased and retained, 1801; slaves at Bedford (Poplar Forest), 1805, and index to "Aphorisms, Observations, Facts in husbandry," pp. 60-61. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)