Thomas Jefferson's funeral was a simple affair. He was buried in the Monticello Graveyard at 5:00 PM on July 5, 1826, a rainy day and the day after his death. At his own request, the ceremony was simple and quiet. No invitations were sent, but friends and visitors were welcome at the grave. The coffin, believed to have been made by John Hemmings and most likely wooden, was carried to the grave by "servants, family and friends." The service was conducted by the Reverend Mr. Frederick Hatch, rector of the Episcopal Church in Charlottesville.
Primary Source References
1826 July 4. (Resolution at a meeting of citizens of Charlottesville). "Resolved, That a committee be appointed to make arrangements for the citizens to attend the funeral, in procession."
1826 July 6. (H.H. Worthington to Reuben B. Hicks.) "I have just returned from Monticello. Tho' the weather was very inclement all of the students, and a great many of the citizens of Charlottesville were present. As the deceased requested there was nothing like pomp or ceremony in the funeral."
1826 July 6. (Anonymous letter "from the University of Virginia"). "He was buried yesterday, without any pomp or procession, in compliance with his dying request, but very many attended the burying place at Monticello to see him interred."
1826 July 11. (Richmond Enquirer). "He expressly desired that there should be no pomp or parade at his burial. As you may well suppose the fall of so great a man has produced a deep impression on all around him. The Professors and Students of the University, the Citizens of Charlottesville, the inhabitants of the adjacent country, strangers in the vicinity - all will repair to the Family Burial Ground to witness the interment at 5 o'clock this Evening (the 5th.)."
1857 May 16. (Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Henry S. Randall). "For the details of Mr Jefferson’s funeral I must refer you to my brothers and sisters. I was not present nor was my sister Cornelia. She was with me in Boston when in July 1826, we received a summons to hasten on to Virginia if we wished to see our grandfather alive. We set off immediately but heard of his death on our arrival in New York. In those days of stage coaches and slow Steamers the journey was a long one and when we reached Monticello the funeral was over. I made no inquiries about it. I seemed to attach no importance to such details. He was gone. His place was empty. I visited his grave, but the whole house at Monticello, with it’s large apartments and lofty ceilings, appeared to me one vast monument."
1875 October 15. (Andrew K. Smith's Account of Jefferson's Funeral). "The time of the funeral was fixed for 5 o’clck, P. M., July 6, and it was arranged that the procession should form on the court-house square at 4 o’clock, but a difference of opinion arose as to whether the citizens or students were entitled to the right in the procession, and much time was lost, and several of us, becoming tired of the discussion, turned our horses’ heads to the mountain. On arriving at the cemetery, we found that the coffin had been removed from the house and was resting on narrow planks placed across the grave, (with a view of enabling the great number expected to have a better opportunity of seeing it.) Ex-Governor Thomas Mann Randolph (who was not on good terms with Mr. Jefferson,) thought it the duty of his son to inform the clergyman that they were awaiting the arrival of the citizens, professors and students, and his son, deeming it the duty of his father to do so kept silent [and] the services went on to the close of the same. The grave was filled up, and the thirty or forty persons who witnessed the interment started for home, and met the procession, numbering about one thousand five hundred persons, coming up the mountain. They were sorely disappointed, and, in some cases, angered at the report we made, and were only satisfied when an explanation was made the next day in the Charlottesville Advocate...Among the students present at the funeral, I recollect seeing Edgar A. Poe, a high-minded and honorable young man, though easily persuaded to his wrong; also, Robert M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, and Colonel John S. Preston, of South Carolina. I believe the last two persons are still living."
- 1. James A. Bear, Jr., "The Last Few Days in the Life of Thomas Jefferson," Magazine of Albemarle County History 32 (1974): 77.
- 2. "Communicated for the Central Gazette, July 4th, 1826, 3 o'clock P.M.," Richmond Enquirer, July 14, 1826, p. 2.
- 3. Henry Horace Worthington Letter to Reuben B. Hicks, July 6, 1826, Accession #1368, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.
- 4. "Extract of a letter from the University of Virginia, dated the 6th instant," Richmond Enquirer, July 14, 1826, p. 2.
- 5. From an "extract of a letter from a friend, who attended at [Jefferson's] death bed," quoted in "Mr. Jefferson," Richmond Enquirer, July 11, 1826, p. 2.
- 6. Letterbook, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, University of Virginia. Transcription from the Family Letters Digital Archive.
- 7. Andrew K. Smith, "Jefferson," Charlottesville Weekly Chronicle, October 15, 1875. Transcription from the Family Letters Digital Archive.