Thomas Jefferson first visited New York City in May 1766, but little is known of his itinerary.1 He wrote that, on the way, his horse ran away twice and he almost drowned in fording a river.2 He later mentioned that he stayed at the same boardinghouse as Elbridge Gerry, a future advocate for the Republican cause.3 He then visited New York again in June 1784 on his way to Boston to sail for Paris.4 He stayed at Dorothy Elsworth's boardinghouse on 19 Maiden Lane for six nights, visited a bookshop at 1 Queen Street, took a ferry to and from Long Island on June 1, and on June 6 lodged at "Wilson's" at Fort Washington.5
Jefferson did not return to New York City until 1790 as a forty-seven-year-old international celebrity and secretary of state. Although Jefferson spent less than six months in residence, during this time he organized the first Patent Office, coordinated diplomatic affairs with Europe, served as Washington's assistant, and worked out a compromise with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton on a Federal assumption of state debts in return for a permanent capital on the Potomac.
After leaving Monticello on March 1, 1790, and spending a week in Richmond, Jefferson arrived in New York City on March 21, accompanied by his enslaved bodyservant, Robert Hemings. On this journey, he encountered 18 inches of snow and had to give up his own carriage and horses in Alexandria; the roads were so bad that the stage he rode in did not go more than three miles per hour.6 Upon arrival, he paid portage at the City Tavern (torn down in 1793), which was located on the block between Cedar and Thames Streets, at 115 Broadway, next to Trinity Church. He probably resided at Mrs. Dunscomb's boardinghouse on 22 King Street, however, until he moved into his own place on June 2. He wrote to his daughter Martha: "I find it difficult to procure a tolerable house here. ... I have taken an indifferent one nearly opposite Mrs. Elsworth's which may give me time to look about me and provide a better before the arrival of my furniture."7 His house, located at 57 Maiden Lane, was rented from Robert and Peter Bruce, grocers at 3 Front Street, "for a year @ £100."8 St. John de Crèvecoeur wrote that Jefferson "Lived in a Mean House in Maiden Lane and not approving much of the Stiff Style and Etiquette of New York he gave up all his Time to the Establishment of his new department, foreign affairs and Home."9 To his home he added a multi-windowed gallery in the back for his papers, books, and plants. A plaque erected in 1921 by the Home Insurance Company commemorates Jefferson's place of residence in the former capital.
Many venues in New York City have Jefferson associations. On July 10, Jefferson traveled to Fort Washington (near West 183rd Street) on the northern end of Manhattan with President Washington. They dined at Washington's 1776 headquarters, the present Morris-Jumel Mansion on West 160th Street and Edgecomb Avenue. On July 13, Jefferson took plants to Charles Brannon's "Tea Garden" (Spring and Hudson Streets) and went on excursions to Brooklyn, Jamaica, and Flushing (site of William Prince's nursery). He borrowed a book from the New York Society Library in City Hall, went to Hell Gate, and purchased many items, including an engraving of Joseph Wright's portrait of Washington and Bartram's Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida. He dealt with many merchants, whose names and locations are generally known. For example, he purchased Madeira from James Farquhar, a merchant at 5 Hanover Square; a revolving chair and its companion sofa from Thomas Burling, the well-known cabinetmaker at 36 Beekman Street; and china and glass from William Williams at 80 William Street and 30 Maiden Lane. He paid Ignatius Schnydore at 28 John Street for a fresco painting and Effingham Lawrence, a druggist at 227 Queen Street, for red bark and toothbrushes.
Although Jefferson did not have extensive ties with New York City again, except as a starting point for his tour of upstate New York and New England at the end of May 1791, it was in New York City that the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation formed in 1923 to acquire Monticello and turn it into a "national shrine." The majority of people who signed the Certificate of Incorporation were New York City residents, and their offices were located on 115 Broadway, the former site of the City Tavern where Jefferson had "paid portage" 133 years before.
- Rebecca Bowman, 10/98
1784: Departing for Paris
19 Maiden Lane. From May 30 to June 5, 1784 (and for two other days in 1791), Jefferson lodged here at the home of Mrs. Vandine (Dorothy) Elsworth.10
1 Queen Street. On May 31 and June 5, Jefferson visited the book store of James Rivington that was once at this location. On one of these visits he purchased a Spanish dictionary — probably the one he used to read Don Quixote. The street is no longer in existence, but it seems to have followed the same route as today's Pearl Street.11
Ferry to Long Island. On June 1, Jefferson took the ferry to and from Long Island. Historically, the Ferry's wharf was at the end of Maiden Lane, just east of Water Street, which was then on the waterfront.12
Fort Washington. On June 5, Jefferson lodged at "Wilson's" at Fort Washington, which was then located six miles north of the city's limits. The exact location of "Wilson's" is not known, but Fort Washington is located near present day West 183rd Street, near James Gordon Bennett Park.13
1790-1791: Service as Secretary of State
115 Broadway. On March 21, 1790, Jefferson arrived in New York and paid portage at City Tavern (torn down in 1793), which was located at this address.14 One hundred thirty-three years later, this location became the first headquarters of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation.
22 King Street. From March 21 to June 2, 1790, Jefferson lodged at the home of a Mrs. Dunscombe.15 The street no longer exists, but appears to have followed the same route as modern-day Pine Street.
57 Maiden Lane. For the majority of his time in New York, Jefferson leased a house at this location from grocers Robert and Peter Bruce for 100 pounds a year.16 In later years, the location became the headquarters of Home Insurance Co., which in 1929 installed a plaque commemorating Jefferson's residence in the former capital.
West 160th Street & Edgecomb Avenue. On July 10, 1790, Jefferson traveled again to the Fort Washington area, this time in the company of George Washington. They dined at Washington's 1776 headquarters, the present-day Morris-Jumel Mansion.17 (Eliza Jumel was Aaron Burr's second wife, whom he married late in life.)
Hell Gate. On July 11, 1790, Jefferson visited this narrow strait of the East River between Manhattan and Long Island. Hell Gate was located two miles to the northeast of the city's limits, almost directly to the east of what is now Central Park.18
Charles Brannon's Tea Garden. On July 13, 1790, Jefferson recorded "[c]arrying plants to Brannin's." Charles Brannon's Tea Garden was at what is now the intersection of Spring and Hudson Streets just north of the present-day Holland Tunnel.19
9. Crèvecoeur to William Short, ca. July 15, 1790, William Short Papers, 1778-1853, Library of Congress. Crèvecoeur's letter to Short is quoted in the editorial note following Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, March 18, 1790, in PTJ, 16:279. A transcription of Jefferson's letter and the editorial note are available at Founders Online.