- Margaret Bayard Smith, 1809
In his Library and Cabinet Thomas Jefferson thought, read, and wrote. These rooms also held his valuable collections of books and scientific instruments.
Library Audio Overview
Listen as Monticello Guide Ariel Armenta gives an overview of the Library and some of the interesting items it holds.
- Thomas Jefferson could read in seven languages, including English: he learned Ancient Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon.
- Jefferson designed the University of Virginia in this space, calling it “the hobby of my old age” and his “last act of usefulness.”
- Jefferson left behind over 19,000 surviving letters, many of them copies he made with his polygraph machine displayed on his desk.
The books on these shelves include period copies of volumes Jefferson owned as well as originals displayed behind glass. A devoted lover of reading and language, he amassed one of the largest private libraries in the country. When an invading British army burned the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812, Jefferson promptly offered his own library of 6,500 books to Congress. Even before these books left Monticello, he made plans for a new library. By his death in 1826, he owned some 1,600 volumes.
On one of the shelves, you will also see a copy of Oliver Cromwell’s death mask, which Jefferson purchased in London. Cromwell was an English revolutionary who deposed King Charles I of England during the English Civil War in the 1640s.
Declaration of Independence
During the Second Continental Congress in 1776, Thomas Jefferson was chosen to to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain. In a rented room in Philadelphia, Jefferson spent 17 days in the summer laying the moral and political foundation for the American Revolution by declaring the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” Relying on Enlightenment principles of self-government, Jefferson later described the Declaration of Independence as “an expression of the American mind.” The work of fulfilling the promises of the Declaration continues, and 2026 will mark its 250th anniversary.
The copy on display is an 1818 engraving by Benjamin Owen Tyler, the first of the decorative prints to have copies of the 56 signatures. See if you can find Thomas Jefferson’s.