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Before his death, Thomas Jefferson left explicit instructions regarding the monument to be erected over his grave. In this document (undated), Jefferson supplied a sketch of the shape of the marker, and the epitaph with which he wanted it to be inscribed:
"...on the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more:
Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia
"because by these," he explained, "as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered."
Jefferson further instructed that the monument was to be made of "coarse stone...that no one might be tempted hereafter to destroy if for the value of the materials."
Jefferson's hope that the material of the grave monument might deter vandals turned out to be misguided. The first documented marker for Jefferson's grave was erected in the Jefferson family graveyard at Monticello in 1833. Beginning almost immediately, the granite obelisk suffered continual damage at the hands of visitors as they chipped off pieces of the stone - not for the value of the material, as Jefferson had feared, but as souvenirs. According to Ellen Wayles Harrison, Uriah Phillips Levy, who purchased Monticello in 1836, moved the tombstone up to the house to protect it from further damage, and it was later taken by Thomas Jefferson Randolph to Edgehill for further safekeeping.
A joint resolution of Congress in 1882 provided funding for a new granite monument, which was eventually completed and erected at Monticello the next year. The decision was made by Jefferson's descendants to donate the original obelisk to the University of Missouri; it was unveiled at the university on July 4, 1885, and it now resides on the Francis Quadrangle.
- Leepson, Marc. Saving Monticello: The Levy Family's Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built. New York: Free Press, 2001.
- Monticello Association. "History." A history of the Jefferson family graveyard at Monticello, provided by descendants.