Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

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Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia.

"Thomas Jefferson first came to Williamsburg to attend the College of William and Mary in March 1760. Until April 1762, Jefferson lodged and boarded in the building known today as the Sir Christopher Wren Building. College course in Jefferson's day consisted of only two years. At that time there were seven faculty including the college president and two professors. William Small, who had a strong influence on Jefferson, was the professor of natural philosophy (that is in our terminology, science and math), moral philosophy (ethics, rhetoric and belles lettres).

Jefferson remained in Williamsburg to read law for the next five years under George Wythe, the distinguished jurist who was to become the first professor of law at William and Mary in 1779. In 1772, the rector asked Jefferson to design an addition to the College. Due to the disruption of the Revolutionary War, work on the addition was halted and never resumed. Later, as governor of Virginia and a member of the William and Mary Board of Visitors, Jefferson drafted reforms of the curriculum and governance of the College."[1]

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.

Jefferson Quotes

This quote was formerly in Swem Library on the lobby wall: "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." --Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820 (The 'institution' Jefferson is referring to is the University of Virginia.)

From his 1821 Autobiography: "went to Wm & Mary college to wit in the spring of 1760 where I continued 2. years. it was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr Wm Small of Scotland was then professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communicn correct & gentlemanly manners, & an enlarged & liberal mind. he, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed. fortunately the Philosophical chair became vacant soon after my arrival at College, and he was appointed to fill it per interim: and he was the first who ever gave in that college regular lectures in Ethics, Rehtoric & Belles lettres. he returned to Europe in 1762. having previously filled up the measure of his goodness to me, by procuring for me, from his most intimate friend G. Wythe, a reception as a student of law, under his direction, and introduced me to the acquaintance and familiar table of Governor Fauquier, the ablest man who had ever filled that office. with him, and at his table, Dr Small & mr Wythe, his amici omnium horarum, & myself, formed a parti quarré, & to the habitual conversations on these occasions I owed much instruction. mr Wythe continued to be my faithful and beloved Mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life. in 1767." "National Archives Founders Online" Thomas Jefferson Papers Library of Congress

Jefferson Project at Swem Library

The Jefferson Project was funded by the Papers of Thomas Jefferson and the Delmas Foundation to enable Swem Library to scan its approximately 700 Jefferson items (documents by and to Jefferson). There is a record for each item with a link to the scan of it in Swem Library’s online catalog.

One can browse by picking “advanced” search and putting Thomas Jefferson in “everything” with a location of manuscripts. This will get a few hits that aren’t relevant, but most of the relevant ones will be there. For instance, the letters to and from William Short may be found by adding Short in as a search and they include many fascinating ones concerning Jefferson’s time in Europe. Swem Library hopes, eventually, to have a website that will feature the project and provide more direct access to the images.

Material in the Special Collections Research Center

  • Thomas Jefferson Collections, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
  • Images of Jefferson's letters in Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center are available via the library catalog or the W&M Digital Archive.


"Jefferson Goes To School in Williamsburg" by Dumas Malone, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Volume 33, Number 4, Autumn, 1957. Essay read in the Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall on October 5, 1957 at College of William and Mary.

External Links

  • Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, a wiki of "trustworthy information on Thomas Jefferson and his world by Monticello researchers and respected Jefferson scholars."

Need help?

To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for an overview of the Special Collections Database, W&M Digital Archive, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, card catalogs, and other tools available to help you find material of interest in William & Mary Libraries Special Collections Research Center.

Questions? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at or 757-221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at William & Mary.

A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.