Jefferson's handwritten Memorandum Book entries from June and July 1776

[Philadelphia, 1776]

30. Pd. Sparhawk for a pencil 1/6 a map 7/6.
              Pd. Dinner at Smith’s 8/6.
31.         Pd. expences riding 2/4.

1.            Pd. ferrge. of horses 8d.
3.            Pd. Towne for Doctor Gilmer 7/6.
               Pd. do. for myself 7/6.
               Pd. Smith in full 15/6.
4.            Pd. Sparhawk for a thermometer £3–15.
               Pd. for 7 pr. women’s gloves 27/.
               Gave in charity 1/6.

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris's portrayal of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson working on the Declaration, 1900.

Look closely at this excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum Book during a famous week in American history and see if you can spot a date that does not exist. June has 30 days, but in 1776, in what likely felt like the most significant week in his life, Jefferson recorded June 31st when noting he paid for riding expenses in Philadelphia.

Jefferson is famous for his meticulous record keeping, but in June, 1776, it appears he lost track of time. Just three weeks earlier he was appointed to the Committee of Five and designated as the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress tasked Jefferson and the committee to draft a type of document never previously seen in politics or government, and in itself an act of  treason. Between June 7 and 28, Jefferson wrote the Declaration, incorporated edits from his committee members, and submitted it to Congress for further discussion and editing over the next six days. No wonder he temporarily forgot how many days were in June.<

Throughout his life, Jefferson kept track of purchases and business in his Memorandum Book, an account ledger he maintained both at home and when traveling. Reviewing this, we can glean some details about Jefferson’s activities outside of Congress during the momentous summer of 1776. A far cry from the pastoral surroundings of Monticello, Philadelphia afforded access to fine imports, maps, curiosities, and many taverns. One tavern he frequented, “Smith’s,” or City Tavern, was popular with many members of the Continental Congress, who often met there in the evenings (and in what is an entire story unto itself, the tavern’s owner, Daniel Smith turned out to be a loyalist who fled Philadelphia in 1778).

On July 4 itself, Jefferson whiled away the hours with errands before the afternoon’s session of Congress. He recorded the temperature four times in balmy Philadelphia, likely using the new thermometer we see in the excerpt above that he bought from John Sparhawk’s store. He did other shopping, buying seven pairs of ladies’ gloves, and gave a donation to an unnamed charity.

In this long week ahead of July 4, Jefferson had much more on his mind than just the history-making events of Congress, or mundane temperature taking and shopping. Jefferson's letters from June of 1776 show his desire to return to Monticello, likely centered around the well-being of his wife Martha W. S. Jefferson. In a letter from about June 30, he wrote to Edmund Pendelton to “sollicit [sic] the substitution of some other person” in his position with the Continental Congress so he could return home for “domestic affairs.” However, he was compelled to maintain his position until September when he finally returned home. One wonders if Jefferson presented the seven pairs of “women’s gloves” he purchased on July 4 to Martha, or if they had been mailed ahead.

With all this to fill his thoughts, it is little wonder that Jefferson made a typo. As for June 31 itself, I am left to wonder if Jefferson ever noticed his error. There is no listed correction, and the next entry on July 1 is not combined with the erroneous one prior. So what happened when? Did he pay for “expences riding” on June 30 or July 1? Is the July 1 entry off by a day, and thus should be July 2? Is Independence Day the Fourth of July, or to Jefferson, was it the Third, or the Fifth? The answer will never be known!