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Whalebone and Ivory Walking Stick
Created: c. 1809
Materials: whalebone, ivory, gold
Dimensions: 92.7 (36 1/2 in.)
Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by gift or purchase to an unidentified person; by gift or purchase to the Hon. Breckenridge Long; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1955
Accession Number: 1955-74
Historical Notes: In 1809, the young Virginia congressman Joseph Cabell presented this walking stick (engraved "TJ," "Joseph C. Cabell to his friend Christmas 1809") to Jefferson, who had just recently retired from the presidency. Jefferson was first introduced to this fellow Virginian by the Philadelphia physician and botanist Benjamin Smith Barton. Barton sent Cabell to meet Jefferson at the President's House in June 1806, bearing a generous letter of introduction, in which he called him "a young Virginian of uncommon merit."1 Like Jefferson, Cabell graduated from the College of William and Mary and then studied law. He spent over three years in Europe, where he met many of Jefferson's friends, including Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Robert Fulton, and the comte de Volney.2
Cabell entered the Virginia Senate in 1810. Within a few years he became the "main pillar of support" for Jefferson's plan for a state system of elementary, intermediate, and higher education.3 Jefferson described his plan to Cabell as
culling from every condition of our people the natural aristocracy of talents and virtue, and of preparing it by education, at the public expense, for the care of the public concerns.4
Most importantly, Jefferson relied on Cabell to generate support in the Virginia legislature for funding a school that he hoped to begin in Albemarle County. First named the Albemarle Academy, then Central College, this school became the University of Virginia after years of negotiations led by Cabell and Jefferson.5
In his last letter to Cabell, in April 1826, Jefferson wrote:
We have now 166 students; and, on the opening of the law school, we expect to have all our dormitories filled. Order and industry nearly complete, and sensibly improving every day.6
Cabell continued to shape the young university after Jefferson's death. He was a member of the Board of Visitors from its inception in 1816 to 1856, and also held the position of rector from 1834 to 1836, and again in 1845 until his death in 1856.7
- Text from Stein, Worlds, 429-30
- 1. Barton to Jefferson, June 10, 1806, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Recipient's copy available online. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 2. "Joseph Cabell," DAB; Nathaniel F. Cabell, ed., Early History of the University of Virginia as Contained in the Letters of Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell (Richmond: J.W. Randolph, 1856), xxvii-xxix.
- 3. Jefferson to Cabell, Monticello, January 5, 1815, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online. Transcription available at Cabell, Early History, 37.
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. Malone, Jefferson, 6:142, 247, 267-74.
- 6. Jefferson to Cabell, April 21, 1826, in Cabell, Early History, 377.
- 7. "Joseph Cabell," DAB; Cabell, Early History, xxxv.