We can say with certainty that Thomas Jefferson both cultivated and ate tomatoes. His garden book records the planting of tomatoes in the Monticello vegetable garden from 1809 until 1824. As these are the only years for which he made detailed planting records, we can assume that he planted tomatoes both before and after these dates. Presumably he was cultivating them as early as 1781, when he wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia: "The gardens yield musk melons, water melons, tomatas, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculent plants of Europe." In other words, the tomato is not singled out as anything unusual in Virginia gardens.
Jefferson always credited a Portuguese doctor who came to Williamsburg in the mid-eighteenth century with being the first to introduce the tomato as a food plant to Virginia. This Dr. Sequeyra firmly believed that daily consumption of the tomato not only maintained health but prolonged life.1
It was, though, quite uncommon in some parts of Virginia for the tomato to be eaten. Jefferson reportedly created some consternation when he publicly ate a tomato in front of the present Miller-Claytor house in Lynchburg.2
- Lucia Stanton, 12/10/82
Primary Source References
1811 February 11. (Memorandum for Poplar Forest). "prepared bed next Southwardly for tomatas."3
1813 March 2. (Jefferson to Randolph Jefferson). "I send enough to put you in stock ... tomatas ...."4
1814 March 21. (Seed & Grain committed to care of W. McAndrews for Mr. Jefferson). "Large white cabbage, white onion, tomata ...."5