Kurt's Historic Sites

Thomas Jefferon's Monticello

Thomas Jefferson

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Charlottesville, VA July 12, 2005 2nd Declaration Signer visited; 26th President visited; 10th Vice President visited

Photographed July 12, 2015.

As the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson is one of the best-remembered Founding Fathers of the United States. Coincidentally, he died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration’s adoption — July 4, 1826. He was laid to rest the following afternoon in an unpretentious burial service in the family graveyard southwest of his mansion on his Virginia slave plantation, Monticello.

A historical marker within the bounds of the graveyard explains its eighteenth century origins. A youthful Jefferson made an agreement with his schoolmate, friend, and brother-in-law, Dabney Carr, that upon their deaths they would be buried in a particular spot on the Jefferson property near an oak tree. Carr died in May 1773 at age 29, and his friend ensured their pact was kept. The young man’s gravestone says it was dedicated by the third president, “who of all men loved him most.”

Photographed July 12, 2005.
Photographed July 12, 2005.

From an early age I have striven to get as close to a person’s interment site as possible for two reasons: to have a greater personal connection to the site and for any inscription to appear larger and more legible in photographs. As a ten-year-old, I was scrawny enough to momentarily slip through the gate of the Monticello graveyard and stand right beside the Jefferson obelisk. I remained outside the perimeter when I visited for a second time on July 12, 2015, which unintentionally was exactly a decade after my initial Monticello trip, to the day.

Circa March 1826, Jefferson left instructions for his eventual gravesite near Carr’s. He sketched an obelisk and asked that his epitaph include three achievements as testimonials that he lived. Those were his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, as well as his role in the founding of the University of Virginia in 1819. By this account, he did not “wish most to be remembered” for his service as secretary of state, vice president, or president. The aged statesman also noted that his obelisk should be constructed “of the coarse stone of which my [mansion’s] columns are made, that no one might be tempted hereafter to destroy it for the value of the materials.” The monument was significantly damaged, however, by souvenir hunters over the course of half a century and the present memorial replaced it in 1883. The original 1833 obelisk is now kept at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Photographed July 12, 2005.
Photographed July 12, 2015.

Most of the Monticello property is governed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The graveyard, however, is controlled by the Monticello Association, which was founded in 1913 by Jefferson’s kin. The association’s membership is open to adopted children, stepchildren, and spouses of regular members who are lineal Jefferson descendants. Its website text states burial in the graveyard “is open to direct, lineal descendants of Thomas Jefferson, through his daughters Martha and Maria,” whom he shared with his wife, Martha Wayles. Unlike the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the Monticello Association does not recognize the substantial evidence that indicates the POTUS fathered children with a Black woman named Sally Hemings, whom he enslaved. In 2002, the organization voted 74-6 to deny Hemings’ descendants admission into the association and thereby continue to prohibit their interment in the Jefferson family burial ground.

Fast Facts

Born: April 13, 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia

Spouse: Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson (m. 1772-1782)

Political Affiliation: Democratic-Republican Party

Gubernatorial Term: 1779-1781

Served in Cabinet of: George Washington

Cabinet Position: Secretary of State (1790-1793)

Vice Presidential Term: 1797-1801 under John Adams

Presidential Term: 1801-1809

Vice Presidents: Aaron Burr (1801-1805); George Clinton (1805-1809)

Died: July 4, 1826 in Charlottesville, Virginia

Cause of Death: Pneumonia; Toxemia; Uremia

Age: 83

Interment: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

"I must ever believe that religion substantially good which produces an honest life, and we have been authorised by one, whom you and I equally respect, to judge of the tree by it’s fruit. our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our god alone. I enquire after no man’s, and trouble none with mine: nor is it given to us in this life to know whether your’s or mine, our friend’s or our foe’s are exactly the right."
- Thomas Jefferson
September 26, 1814 in a letter to Miles King

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

“About Us.” Monticello Association. Accessed December 29, 2021. http://www.monticello-assoc.org/about.html.

Davenport, Andrew M. “Mourning at Monticello.” In Mourning the Presidents: Loss and Legacy in American Culture, edited by Lindsay M. Chervinsky and Matthew R. Costello, 33-55. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2023.

“Epitaph Of Thomas Jefferson.” Library of Congress. Accessed December 29, 2021. //www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jeffleg.html#207.

“The Graveyard Today.” Monticello Association. Accessed December 29, 2021. http://www.monticello-assoc.org/the-graveyard-today.html.

Jefferson, Thomas. Thomas Jefferson to Miles King, September 26, 1814. Letter. From National Archives, Founders Online. Accessed December 16, 2021. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0495.

“Jefferson’s Funeral.” Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Accessed December 29, 2021. https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-funeral.

Lamb, Brian and the staff of C-SPAN. Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb? A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. Rev. ed. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

Martin, Russell L. “Jefferson’s Cause of Death.” Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.monticello.org/research-education/thomas-jefferson-encyclopedia/jeffersons-cause-death/.

Smith, Leef. “Jefferson Group Bars Kin Of Slave.” Washington Post, May 6, 2002. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2002/05/06/jefferson-group-bars-kin-of-slave/5abfc946-c1bc-4ff0-b50f-8de1f23fbe31/ (accessed December 30, 2021).

Stockman, Farah. “Monticello Is Done Avoiding Jefferson’s Relationship With Sally Hemings.” New York Times. June 16, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/16/us/sally-hemings-exhibit-monticello.html.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. “Crops, Produce, and Livestock.” Accessed September 4, 2022. https://www.monticello.org/slavery/the-plantation/work-on-the-monticello-plantation/crops-produce-and-livestock/.

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