Thomas Jefferson Timeline

  • He was born.

    He was born.
    Thomas Jefferson is born in Shadwell, Virginia, the eldest son of Peter Jefferson, a farmer/surveyor, and Jane Randolph, the wealthy scion of an aristocratic family.
  • Father dies.

    Father dies.
    Peter Jefferson dies, leaving his fourteen-year-old son Thomas his slaves and lands. Thomas becomes head of the Jefferson household, but is able to continue his studies thanks to the guardianship of his family's friends.
  • Married

    Jefferson marries Martha Wayles Skelton, the recently widowed daughter of the wealthy planter John Wayles Sketlon.
  • Daughter born

    Daughter born
    The first child, a daughter named Martha Jefferson, is born at Monticello.
  • First Continental Congress

    First Continental Congress
    The First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia to coordinate colonial response to the Intolerable Acts.
  • The shot heard round the world

    The shot heard round the world
    The Battles of Lexington and Concord mark the start of the American Revolutionary War.
  • Second Continental Congress

    Second Continental Congress
    The Second Continental Congress begins meeting in Philadelphia.
  • Drafting committee for Declaration of Independence

    Drafting committee for Declaration of Independence
    Jefferson, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and two others, is assigned to the committee charged with drafting what will become the Declaration of Independence.
  • Editing Jefferson's Declaration

    Editing Jefferson's  Declaration
    The Second Continental Congress adopts Richard Henry Lee's independence resolutions. Jefferson's declaration is received by the Congress, which engages in two days of line-by-line edits.
  • Declaration of Independence

    Declaration of Independence
    Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence is approved by Congress. It is immediately published and circulated throughout the colonies and in Europe.
  • Birth and Death of child

    Birth and Death of child
    A son is born and then dies three weeks later.
  • Governor of Virginia

    Governor of Virginia
    Jefferson is elected the second governor of Virginia.
  • Birth of 4th child

    Birth of 4th child
    The fourth child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton Jefferson, a daughter named Mary Jefferson, is born.
  • Resignation from Governorship

    Resignation from Governorship
    Jefferson finishes his second term as governor and immediately steps down, leaving Virginia without an executive until his successor is elected eight days later.
  • Death of Martha Jefferson

    Death of Martha Jefferson
    Weeks after giving birth to her sixth and last child, Martha Skelton dies. Before dying, she makes Jefferson promise never to remarry. Her death leaves Jefferson shattered, wandering around Monticello babbling incoherently with his eldest daughter.
  • Jefferson in Europe

    Jefferson in Europe
    Jefferson travels to Europe with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in order to negotiate commercial treaties with European nations and service the United States' wartime debt. Jefferson brings his twelve-year-old daughter Patsy with him.
  • Minister Plenipotentiary

    Minister Plenipotentiary
    Benjamin Franklin retires, leaving Jefferson as America's minister plenipotentiary in France.
  • Breaking a bone

    Breaking a bone
    Jefferson breaks his wrist while trying to vault a fence to impress the young, married Maria Cosway, with whom he is infatuated. Their relationship will only end after Jefferson sends her a long "Dialogue Between My Heart and My Head" explaining why they cannot be together.
  • Beginning of French Revolution

    Beginning of French Revolution
    Jefferson supports a moderate, aristocratic faction, lending a hand to the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, issued on 26 August 1789.
  • Return to America

    Return to America
    After Patsy threatens to convert to Catholicism and become a nun, Jefferson returns to the United States to put his daughters into a more wholesome environment. He fully expects to return to France. However, when Jefferson arrives in Norfolk, Virginia he finds a letter from President Washington congratulating him on his appointment as secretary of state.
  • Secretary of State

    Secretary of State
    Jefferson moves to New York, the nation's temporary capital, to take up his job as the United States' first secretary of state.
  • Divisions between Federalists and Republicans

    Divisions between Federalists and Republicans
    France begins mass conscription as the European wars escalate in scale. Back in the United States, France's decision fans the flames of the fight between the Federalists and the Republicans, to new heights, as Hamilton, a Federalist, supports Britain, while Jefferson, the leader of the Republicans, supports France. Increasingly frustrated with Hamilton and the divided cabinet, Thomas Jefferson pressures President Washington to let him resign.
  • Resignation and Return to Monticello

    Resignation and Return to Monticello
    Jefferson resigns as secretary of state and goes home to Monticello to tend to his fields. Unbeknownst to him, Madison begins to plan Jefferson's presidential campaign for 1796.
  • Election of 1796

    Election of 1796
    George Washington's farewell address marks the start of the first contested presidential campaign in American history, pitting Federalist John Adams against Republican Thomas Jefferson. Adams will win the election by 3 votes in the Electoral College.
  • Vice Presidency

    Vice Presidency
    As the runner-up in the presidential election, Jefferson becomes John Adams' vice president. Jefferson authors A Manual of Parliamentary Procedure to keep order in the Senate and keeps aloof from the administration while sponsoring attacks against Federalist politicians.
  • Jefferson Inaugural

    Jefferson Inaugural
    Jefferson is sworn in as the third president of the United States in the new capital city of Washington, D.C., becoming the first president to take office there. Historians believe that his inaugural address is the first speech he has ever delivered in public.
  • Marbury v. Madison

    Marbury v. Madison
    Supreme Court Justice John Marshall establishes the principle of Judicial Review with his landmark ruling in Marbury v. Madison. Jefferson, not a fan of the Federalist Marshall, finds the ruling undemocratic.
  • Louisiana Purchase

    Louisiana Purchase
    Jefferson purchases the 800,000-square-mile Louisiana Territory from French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte for $15 Million, or roughly 4 cents an acre, effectively doubling the size of the United States overnight.
  • Lewis & Clark Expedition

    Lewis & Clark Expedition
    Jefferson charters the Lewis and Clark expedition—led by his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis—to survey the new Louisiana Territory, establish friendly relations with the American Indian tribes living inland, and search for a Northwest Passage allowing easy travel to the Pacific.
  • Second Inaugural

    Second Inaugural
    Jefferson is inaugurated into a second term in the presidency, following a landslide victory in the election of 1804. His second inaugural address is, as far as we know, the last public speech of his life.
  • Embargo Act

    Embargo Act
    Responding to increasingly fraught relations with Britain, Congress enacts Jefferson's embargo act, halting all trade between the United States and Great Britain. The act does little to change relations with Britain, but nearly destroys the American economy.
  • Charter for UVa

    Charter for UVa
    The Virginia Legislature charters the University of Virginia. Jefferson convinces the state to locate it in Charlottesville, within walking distance of Monticello (indeed, on a clear day, Jefferson can see the campus from his home).
  • Retirement and Return to Monticello

    Retirement and Return to Monticello
    Jefferson finishes his second term as president and heads back to Monticello.
  • Jefferson Oversees Launch of UVa

    Jefferson Oversees Launch of UVa
    The University of Virginia accepts its first class of students. Thomas Jefferson, who has designed the campus, hired the faculty, and even written the syllabi, is elated.
  • Thomas Jefferson dies.

    Thomas Jefferson dies.
    Thomas Jefferson dies in his bed in Monticello, on the same day as John Adams, fifty years to the day after the publication of the Declaration of Independence. On his deathbed, John Adams famously declares, "Thomas Jefferson survives." Adams is, alas, wrong: Jefferson passes away five hours or so before Adams, at roughly 12:50 in the afternoon.