John Trumbull (1756-1843) was an American portraitist and painter of historical events. Trumbull and Thomas Jefferson met in London in 1786 and thereafter maintained a regular correspondence during their mutual tenure abroad.

On meeting Trumbull in April 1786, Jefferson promptly invited his new acquaintance to visit him in Paris. Trumbull arrived on the continent that August and spent several weeks in Jefferson's household.[1] The two men enjoyed social outings in the French capital and introduced one another to various acquaintances, including Trumbull’s friends Richard and Maria Cosway.[2]

During his first stay in Paris, Trumbull began composing Declaration of Independence, laying the groundwork for his famous painting of the Continental Congress. Jefferson himself offered advice to the young artist and, in 1787, posed for his own portrait in the composition.[3] By 1789, the course of their connection had grown so amiable that Jefferson offered Trumbull the post of private secretary.[4] Trumbull, however, was not prepared to form "decided plans."[5]

Both Trumbull and Jefferson returned to America late in 1789. From that time, their correspondence tapered off. Trumbull attributed the waning of their friendship to political and religious differences of opinion.[6] Jefferson himself recalled their friendship fondly, writing to Trumbull in 1817 that "the lapse of 28. years ... since our first intimacies, has diminished in nothing my affection for you. we learn, as we grow old, to value early friendships, because the new-made do not fit us so closely."[7]

Final letters between Trumbull and Jefferson focused once again on the artist's Declaration of Independence. Prints of the final painting were complete and Jefferson ordered two copies glazed and framed.[8] Today, John Trumbull's Declaration hangs in Monticello's Entrance Hall.

- Nancy Verell, 8/8/2017


  1. ^ John Trumbull, Autobiography, Reminiscences and Letters of John Trumbull, from 1756 to 1841 (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1841), 95.
  2. ^ Trumbull, Autobiography118.
  3. ^ Trumbull, Autobiography96150.
  4. ^ Jefferson to Trumbull, May 21, 1789, in PTJ, 15:143-44. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  5. ^ Trumbull to Jefferson, May 26, 1789, in PTJ, 15:151-52. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  6. ^ Trumbull, Autobiography169-72.
  7. ^ Jefferson to Trumbull, January 10, 1817, in PTJ:RS, 10:654. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  8. ^ Jefferson to Trumbull, July 15, 1823, Gilder Lehrman Collection, New-York Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.