Several members of Thomas Jefferson's family played the guitar. When in Philadelphia in 1776, Jefferson purchased "guitar strings" from merchant Michael Hillegas.[1] Since he did not specify that they were bought for someone outside his household, it is probable they were for his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. There is no record of what type of guitar she might have played; she was also an accomplished keyboard player.

In 1788, when Jefferson and his daughters lived in Paris, he bought a guitar from an unknown source for eighty-four livres (then the equivalent of fourteen dollars) for his ten-year-old daughter Maria.[2] This was probably the Spanish guitar that was returned to Monticello in 1824. Jefferson's granddaughter Virginia Randolph described it as belonging formerly to her "Aunt Maria. ... It appears to be a very sweet toned instrument, and looks all spanish."[3] There are also various payments for a "guitar master" until the Jeffersons' departure from Paris in the fall of 1789.[4]

Document believed to be in Jefferson''s hand on "finger board Spanish Guitar."

In 1816, Jefferson purchased a guitar from a departing neighbor, Robert Sthreshly, for $30.[5] He gave it to his granddaughter Virginia, then fourteen. Many years later she recalled this unexpected gratification of her "great desire" to have a guitar.[6] This guitar is presumably the ten-string English guitar presently in the Monticello collection.

- Lucia Stanton, 3/93


  1. ^ MB, August 31, 1776, 1:423. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ MB, September 5, 1788, 1:714. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ Randolph to Nicholas Trist, January 9, 1824, Nicholas Philip Trist Papers #2104, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. ^ MB, 1:729, 1:733, 1:734, 1:737, 1:740, 1:741, 1:744. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  5. ^ MB, March 4, 1816, 2:1319. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  6. ^ Randolph, Domestic Life348.