Thomas Jefferson suffered from periodic headaches throughout his life. Passing mentions in his correspondence and entries in his account books give some idea of their frequency, severity, and treatment.Anchor

Primary Source References

1764 March 20. (Jefferson to William Fleming). "I will endeavor to answer it as circumstantially as the hour of the night, and a violent head ach, with which I have been afflicted these two days. ... My head achs, my candle is just going out."[1]

1776 May 24. (Edmund Pendleton to Jefferson). "I am sorry to hear your pleasure at home was interrupted by an inveterate head ach."[2]

1778 February 21. "Pd. for half a pound Jesuit’s bark 50/."[3]

1784 March 1. (Jefferson to William Short). "Having to my habitual ill health, had lately added an attack of my periodical headach, I am obliged to avoid reading writing and almost thinking."[4]

1784 March 16. (Jefferson to James Madison). "I know he [Philip Mazzei] will be worse to me than a return of my double quotidian head-ach."[5]

1784 May 10. "Pd. Dr. Murray in full £35–4."[6]

1784 May 17. "Pd. for ... bark 3/9."[7]

1784 May 22. "Pd. Dr. Bass for bark 7/6."[8]

1784 June 8. "Pd. at Newhaven for 2. oz. bark 6/."[9]

1790 May 1. "Pd. for 1.oz. bark 3/."[10]

1790 May 3. "Pd. ... 4. 1 oz. bark 3/—7. Do. 3/."[11]

1790 May 10. "Pd. for washing 13/3—bark 3/."[12]

1790 May 23. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "A lingering head-ach still prevents me from answering fully your favors of April 23. and May 3. Having taken the bark till it ceased to produce any effect, I discontinued for some days. I shall resume it to day, and hope it will remove the small and feeble returns which still keep me from business."[13]

1790 June 4. "Pd. for an oz. red bark 3/6."[14]

1790 June 13. (Jefferson to Peter Carr). "I have been prevented acknoleging sooner the receipt of yours of April 30, by an attack of the periodical head ach which came on me the 1st. of May, and has not yet quitted me. The first week was violent, the rest has been moderate and for these 10. days past I have been able to do business."[15]

1790 June 13. (Jefferson to George Buchanan). "I am to return you thanks for your kind favor of May 28. which found me so far recovered as to have no further occasion for medecine. It was the first time the bark had ever failed to remove my complaint very speedily."[16]

1790 August 30. "Pd. ... Lawrence ¼ ℔ red bark 10/.[17]

1791 June 23. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I am in hopes the relaxation it gave me from business has freed me from the almost constant headach with which I had been persecuted thro the whole winter and spring."[18]

1807 March 16. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "[T]he remains of a bad cold hang on me, & for a day or two past some symptoms of periodical head-ache."[19]

1807 March 20. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I am now in the 7th. day of a periodical head-ache, & I write this in the morning before the fit has come on. the fits are by no means as severe as I have felt in former times, but they hold me very long, from 9. or 10. in the morning till dark. neither Calomel nor bark have as yet made the least impression on them."[20]

1807 March 20. (Jefferson to Albert Gallatin). "[I]ndeed I have but a little moment in the morning in which I can either read, write or think; being obliged to be shut up in a dark room from early in the forenoon till night, with a periodical head-ache."[21]

1807 March 23. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "[M]y fits of head-ach have shortened from 9 hours to 5. but they have stuck some days at 5. hours, and when they will give further way cannot be devined."[22]

1807 March 27. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "[M]y fit of yesterday was so mild that I have some hope of missing it to-day. I write this in the morning, but will keep it open till the evening to add the result of the day. ... P.S. afternoon. I have scarcely had any sensation of a fit to-day: so that I consider it as missed."[23]

1808 March 29. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "I must here close, being under an attack of periodical head-ach. it began on Friday last. Sunday it was severe. yesterday more moderate, so that I hope it is on the wane. about an hour in the morning is all the time I have to write in the day."[24]

1808 April 3. (Jefferson to Cornelia Jefferson Randolph). "I mentioned in my letter of last week to Ellen that I was under an attack of periodical head-ach. this is the 10th. day. it has been very moderate and yesterday did not last more than 3. hours."[25]

1808 April 12. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "I am entirely recovered from my head-ach."[26]


Further Sources


  1. ^ PTJ, 1:15-16. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ PTJ, 1:296. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ MB, 1:459. For Jefferson's use of medicinal bark, see MB, 1:459n88. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ PTJ, 6:570. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  5. ^ PTJ, 7:30. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  6. ^ MB, 1:547. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  7. ^ MB, 1:548. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  8. ^ MB, 1:549. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  9. ^ MB, 1:552. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  10. ^ MB, 1:756. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  11. ^ MB, 1:757. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  12. ^ MB, 1:757. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  13. ^ PTJ, 16:436. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  14. ^ MB, 1:758. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  15. ^ PTJ, 16:487. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  16. ^ PTJ, 16:487. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  17. ^ MB, 1:764. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  18. ^ PTJ, 20:568. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  19. ^ Family Letters, 302. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  20. ^ Family Letters, 304. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  21. ^ L&B, 11:165-66. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  22. ^ Family Letters, 304. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  23. ^ Family Letters, 305. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  24. ^ Family Letters, 338. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  25. ^ Family Letters, 339. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  26. ^ Family Letters, 340. Transcription available at Founders Online.