In his library, part of his private office, Thomas Jefferson received incoming mail and stored his valuable collection of books and scientific instruments. 

Audio Overview

  • 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 proposed one of the first American attempts at a broad public education system, a “Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.” 

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Click any of the links below to learn more about the objects in this room:


Books


The books on these shelves are period copies of books Jefferson owned. The ones behind glass belonged to Jefferson, a devoted lover of reading and language. Over the course of his life he collected 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.


Declaration of Independence

Find the copy of the Declaration of Independence hung by the entry to the library. With its stirring endorsement of liberty and equality, the Declaration of Independence has inspired generations of Americans and many others around the world. In the early 19th century, engraved prints began to celebrate the legacy of the Declaration. This is Benjamin Owen Tyler’s 1818 engraving, the first of the decorative prints to have copies of the signatures. Tyler dedicated this engraving to Jefferson and sent him a copy just like this one. Jefferson owned two other engravings of the Declaration.


Thomas Jefferson
"When we descended to the hall, he asked us to pass into the Library, or as I called it his sanctum sanctorum, where any other feet than his own seldom intrude." —Margaret Bayard Smith, 1809

Octagonal Filing Table

octagonal table
Do you see the small table with eight sides? Jefferson used this filing table to catalog incoming letters. Each drawer is marked with letters of the alphabet so that Jefferson could alphabetize his incoming mail. This singular piece of furniture was a critical component of Jefferson’s system of organizing thousands of pages of correspondence.


Mockingbird


Did you find the mockingbird? Look up. It’s on top of a piece of tall furniture. That’s Jefferson’s pet! Mockingbirds have a beautiful song and can imitate human voices, which is why Jefferson kept them around while he worked in his office. While he loved birds—and horses, too—he did not keep cats or dogs as pets.


Before you leave this space, take a peek inside the family sitting room.


The Randolph and Hemings Families


Jefferson’s adult daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, used this space as a sitting room and an office. Martha and her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, had 11 children. Many of them lived at Monticello during Jefferson’s retirement years on the second and third floors of the home. From this room, Martha Randolph directed the daily work of 10-15 enslaved people who worked in the house. She also educated her children in this room.

Family relations were complicated at Monticello. In the years following his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson fathered six children with an enslaved woman named Sally Hemings. Four children survived to adulthood, three sons and one daughter: Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings. Sally Hemings and her children were legally Jefferson’s property. The Hemings children would be among the 9 enslaved people Jefferson freed or allowed to run away, but Sally Hemings would never be formally freed.


Next Room: CABINET

Move ahead to the small, green room - Jefferson's home office

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