Before his death, Thomas Jefferson left explicit instructions regarding the monument to be erected over his grave. In this undated document, Jefferson supplied a sketch of the shape of the marker, and the epitaph with which he wanted it to be inscribed:

"... on the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more:

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

"because by these," he explained, "as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered."

Jefferson further instructed that the monument was to be made of "coarse stone ... that no one might be tempted hereafter to destroy it for the value of the materials."[1]

Jefferson's hope that the material of the grave monument might deter vandals turned out to be misguided. The first documented marker for Jefferson's grave was erected in the Jefferson family graveyard at Monticello in 1833. Beginning almost immediately, the granite obelisk suffered continual damage at the hands of visitors as they chipped off pieces of the stone — not for the value of the material, as Jefferson had feared, but as souvenirs. According to Ellen Wayles Harrison, Uriah Phillips Levy, who purchased Monticello in 1836, moved the tombstone up to the house to protect it from further damage, and it was later taken by Thomas Jefferson Randolph to Edgehill for further safekeeping.[2]

A joint resolution of Congress in 1882 provided funding for a new granite monument, which was eventually completed and erected at Monticello the next year. That monument, in the family cemetery at Monticello, is viewed by hundreds of thousands of people each year. The decision was made by Jefferson's descendants to donate the original obelisk to the University of Missouri. It was unveiled at the university on July 4, 1885, and the obelisk now resides on the Francis Quadrangle with a reproduction of the marble plaque with Jefferson’s epitaph. The restored original marble is now on display in Jesse Hall at the University of Missouri.

Further Sources


  1. ^ Thomas Jefferson, undated memorandum on epitaphThomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ Robert H. Kean, "History of the Graveyard at Monticello," in Shackelford, Descendants, 3-26.