Thomas Jefferson Timeline
How It All Went Down
Birth of Thomas Jefferson
Death of Jefferson's Father
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.
William & Mary
Thomas Jefferson begins studying at the College of William & Mary. Professor of Moral Philosophy William Small inspires the young Jefferson to consider how private virtue underlies public life. He becomes acquainted with the Lieutenant Governor, Francis Fauquier, and George Wythe, a famous and well-educated lawyer.
Jefferson graduates from William & Mary and begins reading law with George Wythe.
Thomas Jefferson, Lawyer
Jefferson concludes his studies with George Wythe, is admitted to the Virginia Bar, and moves back to Shadwell.
Virginia House of Burgesses
Jefferson, now 25 years old, is elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. He quickly allies himself with the young radical faction, led by George Washington and Patrick Henry. Around the same time, Jefferson begins construction on a new home at Monticello.
Marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton
Jefferson marries Martha Wayles Skelton, the recently widowed daughter of the wealthy planter John Wayles Sketlon. Martha is 5 years Jefferson's junior, very cultured, and quite pretty.
First Daughter Born
The first child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton, a daughter named Martha Jefferson, is born at Monticello. She will go by Patsy until she reaches adulthood.
Death of Jefferson's Father-in-Law
Martha Skelton's father, John Skelton, dies, leaving Jefferson a mixed-bag inheritance of some 5000 acres of land, more than 100 slaves, and massive debts.
In protest against the newly passed taxes on tea, Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Indians, raid the British ships docked in Boston harbor and dump their cargo of tea into the Charles River in an act that will become known as the Boston Tea Party.
The British Parliament responds to the Boston Tea Party by passing the Intolerable Acts (also known as the Coercive Acts) which close Boston Harbor, strip away many of Massachusetts' self-governing powers, and provide de-facto immunity to British soldiers.
Birth of Jane Randolph
The second child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton Jefferson, a daughter named Jane Randolph, is born. She will die one year later.
A Summary View of the Rights of British America
Jefferson authors A Summary View of the Rights of British America to instruct the Virginia delegates to the first Continental Congress. Its publication earns Jefferson a measure of fame among colonial politicians, establishing his reputation as an independence-favoring radical.
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia to coordinate colonial response to the Intolerable Acts. It agrees to boycott British goods and schedules a Second Continental Congress to meet the following spring, before disbanding on 26 October.
The Shot Heard 'Round the World
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress begins meeting in Philadelphia. Washington assumes command of the Colonial Army. Peyton Randolph, Jefferson's cousin, presides until he is called back to Virginia on 23 May 1775.
Jefferson in Congress
Jefferson arrives in Philadelphia to replace his cousin as a Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
Drafting Committee for Declaration of Independence
Richard Henry Lee, delegate from Virginia, introduces three resolutions calling for independence from Britain. 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
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
Following substantial edits, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence is approved by Congress. It is immediately published and circulated throughout the colonies and in Europe.
Return to Virginia
Jefferson leaves the Congress and returns to Virginia to take a seat as a representative in the Virginia House of Delegates. He begins working on a massive reform of the Virginia legal code.
Birth and Death of Third Child
The third child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton Jefferson, a son, is born. He will die unnamed just three weeks later.
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
Jefferson authors the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, disestablishing the Episcopalian Church as Virginia's state religion and inaugurating the doctrine of the separation of church and state. The statute, later cited by Jefferson as one of his life's greatest achievements, will not pass into law until James Madison shepherds it through the House in 1786.
Birth of Mary (Polly) Jefferson
The fourth child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton Jefferson, a daughter named Mary Jefferson, is born. She will be known as Polly until she reaches maturity.
Governor of Virginia
Jefferson is elected the second governor of Virginia, the previous governor, Patrick Henry, having already served three one-year terms.
Birth of Lucy Elizabeth
The fifth child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton Jefferon, a daughter named Lucy Elizabeth, is born. She will die before reaching the age of two.
British Invasion of Virginia
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.
George Washington's victory at the Battle of Yorktown, in tidewater Virginia, results in the surrender of Great Britain's army, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.
Notes on the State of Virginia
Jefferson begins writing Notes on the State of Virginia in response to a questionnaire he'd received as governor. The book, intended to explain Virginia to foreigners, will be published in 1785.
Birth of Last Child
The sixth and last child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton Jefferson, a daughter also named Lucy Elizabeth, is born. She will die three years later.
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.
Formal End of Revolutionary War
The Treaty of Paris officially brings an end to the Revolutionary War and confers international recognition on American independence.
Jefferson heads to the Confederation Congress as a Virginia representative. In 1784, he drafts a report that will serve as the basis for the influential Northwest Ordinances which will frame how the United States is to settle the West.
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.
Benjamin Franklin retires, leaving Jefferson as America's minister plenipotentiary in France.
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.
Polly Jefferson and Sally Hemings in France
Polly Jefferson arrives in France, accompanied by her father's slave, the 14-year old Sally Hemings. Some scholars speculate that the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson dates back to this point.
The Constitutional Convention starts to meet in Philadelphia, under the watchful eye of George Washington. Jefferson remains away in France. James Madison, Jefferson's best friend, is the Convention's star, and keeps Jefferson as informed about the details as he can, given the long distances his letters must travel and the Convention's self-imposed secrecy.
Beginning of French Revolution
The storming of the Bastille prison, in Paris, marks the beginning of the 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
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
Jefferson moves to New York, the nation's temporary capital, to take up his job as the United States' first secretary of state.
Deal with Hamilton and Madison
Jefferson helps broker a deal between Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury, and James Madison, now the most powerful man in Congress, to allow the federal assumption of state debts in exchange for the location of the permanent capital on the Potomac River.
Hamilton vs. Jefferson
Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton clash over the chartering of the US National Bank. This marks the first in what will become a string of bitter confrontations between Hamilton and Jefferson.
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
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
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.
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.
American Philosophical Society
Jefferson becomes the third president of the American Philosophical Society, founded by Benjamin Franklin.
Alien and Sedition Acts
The Adams administration sponsors the Alien and Sedition Acts, leading to the imprisonment of a number of Republican newspaper editors critical of the government. Jefferson feels the acts to be unconscionable violations of basic rights, and works with Madison to author, in secret, a pair of protests, the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.
Hamilton vs. Adams
With George Washington's death, the Federalist Party divides between its two most prominent remaining leaders, heralds John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. The two publicly attack each other in embarrassing acts of character assassination, undermining their party's appeal.
Revolution of 1800
Jefferson defeats Adams to win the presidency as Republicans sweep elections nationwide. What will come to be known as the "Revolution of 1800" marks the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another in American history.
The lame-duck Federalist congress passes the Judiciary Act, which stocks the courts with Federalist judges. Jefferson, furious, will spend much of his presidency trying to fight the lingering Federalist presence in government.
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
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.
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
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.
Daughter Mary Dies in Childbirth
Mary Jefferson Eppes, Jefferson's second daughter, dies while giving birth to her third child. On hearing the news Jefferson falls into a deep depression.
The Philosophy of Jesus
During his reelection campaign, Jefferson drafts a short volume entitled The Philosophy of Jesus to counter claims that he is godless. The original volume would eventually be lost to history, but a version of it was acquired by the Smithsonian in the late 19th century and can now be viewed online (source).
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.
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.
Retirement and Return to Monticello
Jefferson finishes his second term as president and heads back to Monticello.
Correspondence with John Adams
Jefferson reconnects with his old rival John Adams, as the two begin a famed correspondence. They will write to each other often for the next 14 years of their lives, until their deaths on the same day—4 July 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of American independence.
Library of Congress
Jefferson, struggling under his increasing debts, sells his 6000-volume library to Congress for $24,000. It will become the kernel for the Library of Congress, now the largest library in the world.
Commission to Study State University
The Virginia Legislature, under strong pressure from Thomas Jefferson, appoints a commission to study the feasibility of the creation of a state university.
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).
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.
Jefferson's health begins to fail.
Death of Thomas Jefferson
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.