"I have at length procured a house in a situation much more pleasing to me than my present," wrote Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams on September 4, 1785. He went on to say, "It suits me in every circumstance but the price, being dearer than the one I am now in."1 The probable impetus for this move was his elevation to Minister to the Court of Versailles, replacing Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson signed the lease with Comte Auguste Louis Joseph Fidèle Armand de Lespinasse Langeac on September 5, 1785, specifying a rent of 3500 livres per year, paid quarterly; however, his actual rent, based on a private agreement, was 7500 livers per year.2 He and his daughter, Martha ("Patsy"), moved into his new home on October 17, 1785.3
That house was a townhouse called the Hôtel de Langeac, located on the corner of what is now the rue de Berri and the Champs Elysées. This location was just barely in the City of Paris, at that time a gated city. The Grille de Chaillot, a city gate, spanned the Champs Elysées at the rue de Berri. In addition, there was a smaller gate across the rue de Berri with the entrance to Hôtel de Langeac just inside it. In 1787, the City of Paris expanded and the Grille de Chaillot gate was moved to what is now the Place de l'Étoile.
In 1768, Louis-Phélypeaux de La Vrillière, Comte de Saint-Florentin, later the Duc de La Vrillière and a minister of Louis XV, acquired the property for his mistress, the Marquise de Langeac. Construction on the house began in 1768 following the design of the architect Jean F.T. Chalgrin. In 1774, work was interrupted due to the exile of the Marquise de Langeac following the accession to the throne of Louis XVI. In 1777, Comte D'Artois obtained the property but in 1778, the Marquise's son, the Comte de Langeac, regained possession of the property and work was restarted on the house.
The house was built on part of a larger piece of property that had once been the royal nursery. The two-story house contained 24 rooms, two of which were oval in shape, and a water closet, unusual for this time. In addition, there was a stable, a coach house, servants' quarters, a greenhouse, a kitchen garden, and an English garden separated from the Champs Elysées by a dry moat.
The house was shaped like the bottom half of an "H." The main entrance off the rue de Berri led into a spacious courtyard. To the right were steps leading into a reception hall, off which was a circular salon with a domed ceiling featuring a painting of the Rising Sun by Jean-Simon Barthélemy. Behind that, in the center of the "H" was an oval drawing room with steps leading to a garden. In addition, on this level were a smaller drawing room and a dining room seating 20 people. The bedrooms were on the second floor. The stables, coach house, and servants' quarters were to the left of the courtyard.
The house came unfurnished. Jefferson, therefore, had to buy suitable furnishings, as well as to hire a staff and purchase horses and a carriage.4James Hemings had accompanied him to Paris, later followed by his sister Sally Hemings; both were paid a salary. Jefferson also hired a full-time gardener and a regular coachman as well as additional inside servants – all of this on an income of 500 guineas per year.
In addition, ironwork was installed for security, the kitchen had to be outfitted to handle numerous guests and dinners, and linens had to be purchased, along with all the other necessities involved in running a large household.5
The Hôtel de Langeac was not only Jefferson's home. It was also where much of his official business was transacted. As a result, there was a steady stream of visitors – many coming on business, but also including friends. Large dinner parties were held in the home. William Short, Jefferson's protégé and secretary, lived in the house. In addition, John Trumbull, the English painter whom Jefferson met in London in 1786, lived for several months with the Jeffersons as he worked on his series of paintings commemorating the American Revolution.6
Jefferson lived in the house until September 26, 1789, when he returned to Virginia. When he left Paris, he had every intention of returning; however, President George Washington named him Secretary of State, duties which he commenced in March 1790. It was left to William Short and Adrien Petit, his Maître d'hôtel, to pack everything up for shipment to the United States, cancel the lease, take care of the servants, and sell off the horses and carriage. The final shipment from Paris contained 86 crates over and above what Jefferson had taken with him when he left Paris.7
Hôtel de Langeac was seized during the French Revolution and sold in 1793. The building was demolished in 1842.
1. Jefferson to Abigail Adams, September 4, 1785, in PTJ, 8:472-73. Transcription available at Founders Online.
2. Lease for the Hôtel de Langeac, [September 5, 1785], in PTJ, 8:485-89 (transcription available at Founders Online); Private Agreement for Lease of the Hôtel de Langeac, [September 5, 1785], in PTJ, 8:489-92 (transcription available at Founders Online).
6. Trumbull to Jefferson, August 28, 1787, in PTJ, 9:60. Transcription available at Founders Online.
7. Grevin packing list, July 17, 1790, William Short Papers, Library of Congress. See also Short to Jefferson, November 7, 1790, in PTJ, 18:30-39n. The accompanying editorial note, available at Founders Online, includes extensive data on the 86 crates packed by Grevin.