You are here


Order: Tuscan

Source: Palladio  

Color: There is some evidence that the room was originally wallpapered; today painted oyster white.

Purpose of Room: Office for reading, writing, architectural drafting, and scientific observation  

Unusual architectural features: Part of a "suite" of Jefferson's private rooms, along with the Book Room, Greenhouse, and Bedroom; adjoins Jefferson's Bedroom via a passage and an alcove bed open on both sides; plan based on an octagon, a favored architectural shape for Jefferson

Furnishings of note: Reading and writing arrangement, which included a revolving chair, a table with a revolving top, a revolving bookstand made in the Monticello joinery, and a Polygraph copying machine (see a full article, or open a QuickTime movie that allows you to "operate" the device). The room also held a vast collection of scientific instruments, such as an orrery, microscope, and telescope.

Objects on Display in this Room

Primary Source References

1800 November 25. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "It [catalog of books] is lying I believe either on the table in my book room, or under the window by the red couch in the Cabinet."1

1801 October 8. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "From an actual survey of the plantation I occupy there (Which you will see in one of the desk drawers in my study)..."2

1801 December 4. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "It is in one of the volumes...which you will find in the press on the right side of the cherry sash door in my cabinet."3

1806 January 31. (Jefferson to James Ogilvie). "The arrangement begins behind the partition door leading out of the Book room into the Cabinet, and proceeds from left to right round the room; then entering the Cabinet it begins at the Eastern angle, and goes round that room."4

1808 October 4. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "But I think it must be in one of the cartoons in the Cabinet window near which I usually sit to write, that is to say near the red turning chair."5

1809 August. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "His cabinet and chamber contained every convenience and comfort, but were plain. His bed is built in the wall which divides his chamber and cabinet."6

1819 July 28. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "In my Cabinet, and in the window on the right of my writing table you will see 4. or 5. cartoons of papers. The 2d. and 3d. of these contain a compleat [sic] set of alphabeted papers..."7

Further Sources


lgrim's picture
Jefferson's cabinet - or study - is probably one of the most interesting rooms in any historic house in the United States. Nearly every element of the room speaks to Jefferson's unlimited curiosity and dedication to improving the human condition. Because of the layout of Jefferson's suite of rooms, a group of 25 people on a regular tour can't examine all the facinating objects included in the space. A number of pages on our web site allow anyone who is interested to study the room in much more detail. Some of my favorites include the Jefferson Encyclopedia entries on the orrery (model of the soloar system) and the polygraph (early copying machine).
Linnea Grim
ejohnson's picture
Probably no other room in the house immediately plunges the visitor so thoroughly into Jefferson's inner world as this one, with his reading and writing area, the revolving bookstand, his polygraph (copying machine) and his scientific instruments. It takes no effort to put Jefferson right in that space, watching him jot down his weather observations, penning a letter to John Adams, and checking botanical references. This room makes him come alive.
Eric Johnson


Login or register to participate in our online community.