"I Rise with the Sun"

Jefferson's Alcove Bed

A typical day for Jefferson started early, because, in his own words, "Whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun." He told of a fifty-year period in which the sun had never caught him in bed; he rose as soon as he could read the hands of the clock kept directly opposite his bed.

Record-Keeping

After rising, Jefferson measured and recorded the temperature. Around four o'clock in the afternoon, Jefferson repeated the measurement, as he found "the hottest point of the 24 hours is about four o'clock . . . and the dawn of the day the coldest." He also recorded the direction and speed of the wind and the amount of precipitation. From indoors, Jefferson could see a weathervane (weathervane.qt, 840K) positioned over the Northeast Portico of the house; he could also read the wind direction off a compass rose (connected to the weathervane directly above it) on the Northeast Portico's ceiling. Jefferson made note of the weather and other indexes of climate, such as the migration of birds and the appearance of flowers, throughout his life, wherever he was, including France, Washington, and Philadelphia. He shared his records with others in the hope of creating a national database of meteorological information.

Morning Preparations

Ivory tabs used by Jefferson to keep notesAfter his record-keeping, Jefferson started his own fire and soaked his feet in cold water. He maintained the foot bath for sixty years and attributed his good health in part to this habit.

Jefferson's clothes, according to his granddaughter, were "simple and adapted to his ideas of neatness and comfort . . . and sometimes blending the fashions of several periods." In his pockets, Jefferson carried such a variety of portable instruments for making observations and measurements that he's been dubbed a "traveling calculator." Among his collection of pocket-sized devices were scales, drawing instruments, a thermometer, a surveying compass, a level, and even a globe. To record all these measurements, Jefferson carried a small ivory notebook (pictured) on which he could write in pencil. Back in his Cabinet, or office, he later copied the information into any of seven books in which he kept records about his garden, farms, finances, and other concerns; he then erased the writing in the ivory notebook. 

"Mechanical Inventions"

Jefferson kept clothes in a closet at the foot of his bed, on what his grandson-in-law called a "turning-machine" (shown in conjectural drawing). Another guest reported: "In a recess at the foot of the bed was a horse with forty-eight projecting hands on which hung his coats and waistcoats and which he could turn round with a long stick; a knick-knack that Jefferson was fond of showing with many other little mechanical inventions."

Monticello was filled with Jefferson's innovations, many of which he designed or adapted "with a greater eye to convenience." As in the rest of the house, the bedroom's furnishings illustrate many of Jefferson's ideas about the efficient use of time, space, and light, including prominently placed clocks, space-saving alcove beds, and light-maximizing mirrors.

 

Back to A Day in The Life Next: »
"Drudging at the Writing Table"

 
Image Credits

  • Jefferson's Bedroom. Photographed by Robert C. Lautman.
  • Video footage of weathervane from Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson, produced for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation by Finley-Holiday Films. Available from the Monticello Museum Shops at (434) 984-9840.
  • Ivory Notebooks. Photographed by Edward Owen.
  • Conjectural reconstruction of the "convenient contrivance on which to hang cloths." Prepared by Mesick Cohen Waite Architects.

Discussion

says

I like this page because it describes typical daily activities for Jefferson. And it has a picture of the ivory notebooks Jefferson kept on hand for notetaking. Also, it has an illustration for the clothes horse, which is something visitors ask about often and that is hard to explain easily.

says

This is one of the oldest sections of the website and was developed for its initial launch in 1996. It's still one of the best ways to get an overview of Jefferson and his life at Monticello. In case you're interested, here's an archived version of the first monticello.org website (courtesy of the Way Back Machine at archive.org) http://web.archive.org/web/19961111105148/http://www.monticello.org/

says

Many visitors ask about the rounded area at the foot of Jefferson’s bed. A description such as “48-arm coat tree” is inadequate. Here they can see our best guess of the design of the in-season closet.

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