COLLECTION GUIDES

1705-1827

Guide to the Microfilm Edition


Collection Summary

Abstract

This collection consists of approximately 9,500 items, including more than 9,000 pieces of correspondence (letters to Jefferson and retained copies of outgoing letters often made with a polygraph machine), journals, account books, and other personal papers of Thomas Jefferson.

Biographical Timeline

13 Apr. 1743
Born to Peter and Jane Randolph Jefferson at Shadwell in Albemarle County, Va.
Jan. 1758
Enrolled in school of Rev. James Maury; remained for two years.
Mar. 1760
Entered College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.
1762
Left college to study law under George Wythe.
1766
Began garden book.
1767
Admitted to Virginia bar.
1769
Construction of Monticello underway.
Elected to Virginia House of Burgesses through 1776.
Nov. 1770
Occupied Monticello after burning of Shadwell.
1 Jan. 1772
Married Martha Wayles Skelton.
Mar. 1773
Named to Committee of Correspondence to channel communication and to unify the colonies.
Jan. 1774
Began farm book.
July 1774
Delegate to Virginia Convention in Williamsburg; illness prevented attendance; drafted "Albemarle Resolutions."
Aug. 1774
Published "A Summary of the Rights of British America."
Chairman of Committee of Safety in Albemarle County.
Mar. 1775
Attended Second Virginia Convention.
May 1775
Delegate to Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Sep. 1775
Named commander of Albemarle militia.
June 1776
Virginia accepted his draft for state constitution, the first colony to become a state.
Completed Declaration of Independence.
2-8 July 1776
Declaration signed.
Sep. 1776
Resigned from Congress.
Oct. 1776
Attended sessions of Virginia House of Delegates through 1779 and started revision of Virginia legal code.
July 1779
Elected governor of Virginia.
June 1781
Retired from office after much dispute.
Sep. 1782
Wife Martha died.
Nov. 1782
Congress named him to peace commission in France.
Apr. 1783
Released from commission after preliminary peace signed with England.
Nov. 1783
Delegate to Virginia Congress; drafted 31 state papers.
May 1784
Appointed minister plenipotentiary with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to negotiate treaties of commerce with Europe.
Aug. 1784
Arrived in Paris.
Mar. 1785
Succeeded Franklin as minister to France after latter's retirement.
May 1785
Notes on the State of Virginia first published in Paris; written 1781-1782.
Jan. 1786
Virginia Assembly passed his "Ordinance of Religious Freedom," written in 1779.
Mar. 1786
Journeyed to London for seven weeks to assist John Adams.
Mar. 1787
Toured southern France and northern Italy for three months.
Oct. 1787
Re-elected minister to France for a three-year term.
Mar. 1788
Visited Germany and the Low Countries for seven weeks.
Nov. 1789
Returned to America.
Dec. 1789
Accepted President Washington's offer of position of secretary of state.
Reworked and expanded Monticello from 1789 until 1809.
Mar. 1790
Sworn in as secretary of state in New York.
Nov. 1790
Moved to temporary capital at Philadelphia.
May 1791
Traveled for a month with James Madison through New York, Vermont, and Connecticut to line up political support.
31 Dec. 1793
Resigned from position as secretary of state after conflicts with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.
Nov. 1796
Placed on Republican ticket for president in national election.
Feb. 1797
Votes counted; received second most votes to become vice president under John Adams.
4 Mar. 1797
Sworn in at Philadelphia.
Acted as president of the American Philosophical Society until 1814.
Sep. 1798
Wrote Kentucky Resolutions in defense of states' rights in protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Nov. 1799
Second set of Kentucky Resolutions passed.
May 1800
Republicans organized first national platform with a caucus, with Jefferson for president in election.
Dec. 1800
Tie between votes for Jefferson and Aaron Burr.
11-17 Feb. 1801
Special session of House of Representatives called to break the tie; Jefferson finally voted in as president.
4 Mar. 1801
Inauguration held in Washington, D.C.
May 1801
Tripoli declared war on the U.S. over commercial policy; warships sent to the Mediterranean.
Dec. 1801
Sent first annual message to Congress.
Feb. 1802
War with Tripoli declared.
Mar. 1802
Repealed Judiciary Act of 1801 to nullify judicial appointments.
Apr. 1802
Signed bill against internal taxes.
Oct. 1803
Louisiana Purchase ratified; bought for $15 million, it restored right of deposit at New Orleans.
Feb. 1804
Re-nominated and re-elected as president with George Clinton as vice president.
May 1804
Lewis and Clark departed from St. Louis to start exploration of new territory.
4 Mar. 1805
Second inauguration held.
June 1805
Peace treaty with Tripoli and Morocco signed.
Jan. 1806
House authorized $2 million to buy Florida from Spain.
Summer 1807
British troops began practice of impressment.
British ships banned from American waters after Chesapeake attack.
Dec. 1807
Embargo Act passed.
Mar. 1809
Repeal of Embargo Act.
Jefferson retired to Monticello.
Sep. 1814
Offered to sell personal library to Congress for $25,000; transferred six months later.
7 Mar. 1825
University of Virginia opened.
4 July 1826
Jefferson died at Monticello.

Sources

For further information on Jefferson's library, see:

Sowerby, E. Millicent, ed. Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983.

Wilson, Douglas. "Jefferson's Libraries." Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. New York: Scribner, 1986.

Collection Description

The Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts held by the Massachusetts Historical Society, by number of documents, is second only to the Jefferson Collection at the Library of Congress. The Coolidge Collection chronicles the personal life of Jefferson, for it is composed, for the most part, of his private rather than his official papers. There are close to 9,500 items in the collection, including slightly more than 9,000 pieces of correspondence (letters to and from Jefferson); 400 architectural drawings; account books and journals, including Jefferson's farm and garden books (estate and plantation records); the manuscript catalog of his personal library; the manuscript of his only major published work, Notes on the State of Virginia; and other miscellaneous manuscript documents.

Thomas Jefferson retained the letters he received, filing them in his desk. His use of a polygraph (a letter-copying machine) enabled him to keep a copy of each letter he sent out. Late in his life, he made wet letterpress copies of his letters. His meticulous record-keeping accounts for the estimated total of 50,000 letters written by or to him that survive.

The letters penned by Jefferson found in the Coolidge Collection are mainly addressed to relatives, close friends, and business contacts, though many do deal with the politics of the time or are of a more public nature. There are also many letters of introduction and reference written to him. Other documents in his own hand include legal papers, promissory notes, accounts, tax statements, contracts, leases, indentures, and memoranda on Monticello. There are also, not in Jefferson's hand, accounts, bills, receipts, invoices, diplomas, some official papers such as Congressional documents, and some miscellaneous letters not addressed to Jefferson but found among his papers.

All dated letters and documents by Jefferson in the Coolidge Collection have been individually cataloged in the MHS card catalog. The card catalog also contains entries for most letters to Jefferson. Off-site researchers may consult the Catalog of Manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society (1969 and 1980 Supplement) for a list of individual items in this collection. Entries marked with an asterisk (Jefferson*) indicate Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III's 1957 additions to the original Coolidge Collection. These items appear in a separate chronological sequence on Reel 14 of this microfilm. A list of the undated items in this collection is available in the MHS library.

This microfilm edition was filmed in 1977.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, 1898, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., 1911, 1937, and Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III, 1957. Jefferson's manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence, which is included on this microfilm but is not a part of the Coolidge Collection, was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander C. Washburn, 1893.

Custodial History

The Coolidge Collection held by the Massachusetts Historical Society was compiled from four separate gifts by members of the Coolidge family over a span of 60 years. The Thomas Jefferson papers in their possession came to them through a circuitous route.

Jefferson bequeathed his entire personal collection of correspondence, documents, and manuscripts to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph in 1826. Randolph published a four-volume edition of the papers, Memoirs, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson in 1829. In 1837, Jefferson's close friend, George Tucker, wrote a Life of Thomas Jefferson, relying on Randolph's collection and also a selection of letters held by Nicholas P. Trist, husband of one of Jefferson's granddaughters. Trist's collection indicates some division in the correspondence, but Randolph maintained possession of the bulk of the collection until he offered to sell it to the government in 1848.

On August 12, 1848, Congress authorized $20,000 to acquire the papers. As a condition of the purchase, the papers were deposited in the State Department for examination by Henry A. Washington, the librarian of the State Department. He was to divide and keep the "public" manuscripts and return the "private" papers, in which there then was little interest, to the family. Apparently, Washington divided the manuscripts inconsistently and neglected to return the "private" papers. In 1869, Randolph demanded recovery of this part of the collection in accordance with the act of 1848. The "private" papers finally were returned to him a year later in 1870.

Upon the death of Randolph in 1875, possession of this collection of "private" papers that would later form the core of the Coolidge Collection passed to his daughter, Sarah Nicholas Randolph. In 1889, she again offered the papers to Congress, but the bill for purchase failed to pass in 1892. The collection passed into the hands of Sarah's sisters, Carolina Ramsay and Cary Ann Nicholas Randolph, after Sarah's death in 1898.

Thomas Jefferson's great-grandson, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge of Boston, had become interested in the collection, and he obtained it from Carolina Ramsay. He presented this collection of approximately 9,000 items to the Massachusetts Historical Society in June 1898. His donation comprises the bulk of the present collection: approximately 8,800 pieces of correspondence, of which 3,280 are letters Jefferson wrote, 4,630 letters received; the garden book, 1766-1824; the farm book, 1774-1824; annotated almanacs from 1771-1776; account books for 1783-1790; manuscript expense accounts from 1804-1825; notes on the weather spanning the years 1782-1826; plans of American forts in 1765; law treatises, 1778-1788; legal papers, 1770-1772; and Jefferson's 1783 catalog of his personal library.

Thomas Jefferson Coolidge's son, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., visited Monticello in 1911 and found there Jefferson's original architectural drawings for his home in the hands of two of Thomas Jefferson Randolph's granddaughters, Mary Walker Randolph and Cornelia J. Taylor. After buying some of them, he deposited them at the Massachusetts Historical Society the same year. In December 1937, he presented to the MHS additional Jefferson-related material, including three volumes of "Acts of the Virginia Assembly," 1764-1765 and 1770-1772, two of which are believed to be Jefferson's own copies; correspondence between Jefferson and his business agents; correspondence between his daughters Martha and Maria and their respective husbands, Thomas Mann Randolph and John Wayles Eppes; and over 200 of the deposited architectural drawings.

The collection was completed in November 1957 with the gift of papers by Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, Jr.'s son, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III. He contributed 282 Jefferson letters dating from 1775-1827, including correspondence with business agents and overseers and letters between Jefferson, his daughters, and their husbands.

Other Formats

For digital images of the 1783 and 1789 Catalogs of Books, the manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence, the farm and garden books, the manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia, and Jefferson's architectural drawings, see the Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive.

Jefferson's farm and garden books have been published in facsimile as: Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book, 1766-1824 (Philadelphia, 1944; Charlottesville, 1976, 1987) and Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book (Princeton, 1953; reprinted 1974, 1985), both annotated and edited by Edwin M. Betts, and The Garden and Farm Books of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Robert C. Baron (Golden, Colorado, 1987).

The manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia served as the setting copy for the privately printed Paris edition of 1785. (When Jefferson was in Paris in 1785 representing the United States as a diplomat, he paid to have 200 copies of Notes printed for private distribution.) Two years later, in 1787, Jefferson authorized his London bookseller, John Stockdale, to publish for general sale a somewhat expanded edition of the work.

The Jefferson architectural drawings in the Coolidge Collection are reproduced in Fiske Kimball's Thomas Jefferson, Architect (1916; 1968). Frederick Doveton Nichols's Thomas Jefferson's Architectural Drawings (1960 and more recently revised editions) contains a somewhat less complete and less detailed inventory of the MHS Jefferson architectural drawings.

The Massachusetts Historical Society also holds a 31-reel microfilm set of the papers of Thomas Jefferson filmed in 1944 with funds from Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III. This 16-reel microfilm edition, made in 1977, supersedes that set.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Correspondence, 1705-1826

Arranged chronologically.

This series consists of correspondence to and from Jefferson and miscellaneous manuscript items. When the collection was microfilmed, these materials were bound in 65 chronologically-arranged volumes, followed by the two volumes of undated manuscripts. All of the volumes have since been disbound and the papers filed into one chronological sequence.

Volume 1 (1705-1783) contains papers from the early period of Jefferson's life, including some family material from before his birth, estate accounts following the death of his father Peter Jefferson, and legal notes from Thomas Jefferson's early law career. Volumes 2-7 (1784-1789) contain papers covering Jefferson's service as minister to France, including letters of introduction, letters from Maria Cosway, Congressional documents naming him to his post, weather reports, and many accounts and bills from his stay in France.

Volumes 8-12 (1790-1793) contain papers covering Jefferson's service as secretary of state, including letters from Jefferson to his daughters at Monticello and many promissory notes demonstrating the degree of his indebtedness. Volumes 13-14 (1794-1799) cover the years following Jefferson's resignation from the cabinet and, beginning in 1797, his years as vice president under John Adams. Documents before 1797 include many notes on Monticello. This period also marks the beginning of Jefferson's correspondence with Tadeusz Kosciuszko, whom he attempted to assist in business matters.

Volumes 15-23 (1800-1804) contain papers covering Jefferson's first presidential term. Among the official papers are messages to Congress and letters to members of his cabinet. Other documents include a list of people entertained by the president at Monticello in 1803-1804. Volumes 24-32 (1805-1808) contain papers covering Jefferson's second presidential term, including communications with Congress; political letters to the Tammany Society, the Republicans of New Jersey, and the city of Boston; and a list of the vote to repeal the Embargo Act. Volumes 33-65 (1809-1826) cover the years following Jefferson's retirement from political life. From Monticello, Jefferson continued his correspondence with Tadeusz Kosciuszko, made peace with former rival John Adams, and corresponded with fellow Republicans, including Presidents Madison and Monroe.

The two undated volumes on Reel 13 contain miscellaneous manuscript material arranged in no particular order. Among the papers are drawings, fragments of letters, fragmentary memoranda concerning Monticello, and business and calling cards from trips abroad. Also included is Jefferson's 1789 Catalog of Books (the actual document is undated) listing books he purchased while serving as minister plenipotentiary in France between 1785 and 1789. The Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive contains digital images and a detailed description of the 1789 Catalog of Books.

See also Series II (Unbound manuscripts) and Series III (Manuscript additions) for additional correspondence and other manuscripts. Each series is arranged in a separate chronological sequence.

Reel 1
1705-1788

Note: The microfilm incorrectly identifies the contents of Reel 1 as "n.d.-1788." The undated material can be found on Reel 13.

Reel 2
1789-1797
Reel 3
1798-1802
Reel 4
1803-1805
Reel 5
1806-1807
Reel 6
1808-1809
Reel 7
1810-1812
Reel 8
1813-1816
Reel 9
1817-1818
Reel 10
1819-1820
Reel 11
1821-1822
Reel 12
1823-1826
Reel 13
Undated manuscripts

II. Unbound manuscripts, 1776-1827

Arranged chronologically.

See also Series I (Correspondence) and Series III (Manuscript additions) for additional correspondence and other manuscripts. Each series is arranged in a separate chronological sequence.

Reel 13
1776-18 May 1810
Reel 14
20 May 1810-1827 and undated

Note: The microfilm contains no descriptive information separating Series II (Unbound manuscripts) and Series III (Manuscript additions).

III. Manuscript additions, 1765-1826

Arranged chronologically.

This series consists of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III's 1957 gift of 282 manuscripts, primarily correspondence between Jefferson, his two daughters Martha and Maria, and their husbands; and correspondence between Jefferson and his business agents. Individual items in this series are identified in the MHS card catalog with the location "Jefferson*." Note: On the microfilm, papers for the year 1788 follow papers dated 1826.

See also Series I (Correspondence) and Series II (Unbound manuscripts) for additional correspondence and other manuscripts. Each series is arranged in a separate chronological sequence.

Reel 14

IV. Other volumes, 1766-1824

Reel 15
Garden book, 1766-1824

Jefferson's garden book, together with his farm book (below), contains detailed records of his estates, including notes on horticulture and agriculture and Jefferson's calculations and observations on construction.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive contains digital images and a detailed description of this item.

Reel 15
Legal papers, 1770-1772
Reel 15
Memorandum book, 1771

This and the following three memorandum books consist of manuscript pages bound with published almanacs. Note: All four memorandum books are located on the microfilm following the target "Almanacs, 1771-1776."

Reel 15
Memorandum book, 1772
Reel 15
Memorandum book, 1774
Reel 15
Memorandum book, 1776-1778
Reel 15
Farm book, 1774-1824

Jefferson's farm book, together with his garden book (above), contains detailed records of his estates, including notes on horticulture and agriculture and Jefferson's calculations and observations on construction.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive contains digital images and a detailed description of this item.

Reel 15
Manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence, 1776 [incomplete]

This manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence, one of several in Jefferson's hand circulated to his friends, represents the text as originally drafted by the Committee of Five, before revision by Congress. Note: Although the Declaration of Independence is included on this microfilm, it is not a part of the Coolidge Collection.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive contains digital images and a detailed description of this item.

Reel 15
Law treatises, 1778-1788
Reel 15
Manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia, [1781-1785]

This manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson's only extended published work, contains information on the natural history, resources, and institutions of Virginia, as well as many of Jefferson's own thoughts and theories. The manuscript is comprised of 142 full-size pages and 63 partial-page attachments (which were affixed to the full-size pages with sealing wax). The full pages include some "fair copy pages" (full-length manuscript pages Jefferson created when he copied a previous draft by hand), as well as some full-page additions. Smaller pieces of paper--partial pages--allowed Jefferson to further expand and/or revise his text. Some of the partial-page additions were additions to the running text, while other partial-page additions replaced sections of text.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive contains digital images and a detailed description of this item. The manuscript of Notes that appears on Reel 15 is the manuscript used by generations of scholars. In 1977, when this microfilm was made, the manuscript was in a non-original binding, and the images on the microfilm depict tightly bound facing pages and show the partial-page attachments in position within the text. The front and back of each hinged attachment was filmed, and many of the hinged attachments were filmed with blank sheets of paper inserted to allow the distinction of the paper's edges. (The previous microfilm edition, made in 1944, didn't consistently film the front and back of each hinged attachment.) The original manuscript was thoroughly conserved in 1999, and shortly thereafter, each manuscript component was digitized. The manuscript that appears online includes images of passages of text that had formerly been obscured by revisions attached to the pages by Jefferson. To view the complete manuscript and all its components, use the online version at: http://www.masshist.org/thomasjeffersonpapers/notes/. For a complete explanation of the manuscript, see: http://www.masshist.org/thomasjeffersonpapers/notes/about.php.

Reel 15
Loose memoranda related to Notes on the State of Virginia

Loose documents, filmed at the end of the manuscript, are available online at: http://www.masshist.org/thomasjeffersonpapers/notes/additional.php.

Reel 16
Account book, 1783-1790

Note: This volume is identified on the shelf as "Memorandum Book, 1783-1790."

Reel 16
Bank book, 1783
Reel 16
Translation of Volney's Ruins, 1801

This manuscript consists of Jefferson's translation of 12 chapters of Les Ruins, ou Meditation sur les Revolutions des Empires, by the French philosopher and parliamentarian Constantin Francois Chassebouef, Comte de Volney.

Reel 16
Parliamentary law, 1801?
Reel 16
Weather recordings, 1782-1826; bulk: 1802-1816

Note: This volume is identified on the shelf and on the microfilm as "Weather, 1802-1816."

Reel 16
Expenses, 1804-1826

Note: This volume is identified on the shelf as "Memorandum Book, 1804-1826" and on the microfilm as "Expenses, 1804-1820."

Reel 16
1783 Catalog of Books, [ca. 1775-1812]

This catalog consists of a list of books that Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress in 1815. Although the list is believed to have been started around 1775, it is commonly called the "1783 Catalog." It contains over 2,460 original entries with additions totaling more than 6,000 by 1815. The books are classified according to a system Jefferson developed based on Francis Bacon's The Advancement of Learning. Jefferson's system, in turn, was used by the Library of Congress in its original classification scheme. Note: On the microfilm, this catalog is identified as: "Catalogue of Jefferson's Library."

The Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive contains digital images and a detailed description of this item.

Enclosed with the catalog of books are several loose booklists, including one created by Jefferson as a way of inventorying and grouping the books he received from the estate of George Wythe. The document is undated but was created by Jefferson around September 1806. The first five pages of the Wythe list consist of books listed under separate headings representing the names of people to whom Jefferson intended to give the books. The final three pages contain a list of books that Jefferson retained for his personal collection. Digital images of the Wythe list can be found at: http://www.masshist.org/database/doc-viewer.php?item_id=1768.

V. Architectural drawings, ca. 1772-1819

This series consists of some 440 manuscript drawings. A majority of the drawings (approximately 245, including notebook pages) are plans for Jefferson's home, Monticello, but the series also contains plans of his other homes, such as his Paris apartments; sketches for friends' homes; and "public" drawings for municipal and civic institutions, including the University of Virginia, Capitol buildings for Washington and Richmond, the President's House, and the governor's residences at Williamsburg and Richmond. Also included are some 40 sketches of miscellaneous household objects and machines. Most of the drawings were done by Jefferson himself, but the series also contains 30 drawings by other individuals, ranging from a design for the Washington Treasury Office by George Hadfield to sketches for timbers of a barn in an unknown hand.

The Jefferson architectural drawings are not included on the microfilm edition of the Coolidge Collection. The Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive contains digital images and detailed descriptions of these items.

Preferred Citation

Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.

Persons:

Adams, Abigail, 1744-1818.
Adams, John, 1735-1826.
Cosway, Maria Hadfield, 1759-1838.
Eppes, Maria, 1778-1804.
Jefferson, Peter, 1708-1757.
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826--Farm book.
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826--Garden book.
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826--Notes on the state of Virginia.
Ko'sciuszko, Tadeusz, 1746-1817.
Madison, James, 1751-1836.
Monroe, James, 1758-1831.
Randolph, Martha Jefferson, 1772-1836.
Wythe, George, 1726-1806.

Organizations:

Monticello (Va.).
Poplar Forest (Va.).
Republican Party (U.S. : 1792-1828).
Shadwell (Va.).
United States. President (1801-1809 : Jefferson).

Subjects:

Account books--1783-1890.
Agriculture--Virginia.
Architectural drawing--18th century.
Embargo, 1807-1809.
Family history--1750-1799.
Family history--1800-1849.
Plantations--Virginia.
United States--Politics and government--1775-1783.
United States--Politics and government--1783-1809.
Virginia--History.
Virginia--Politics and government.