Title: Portraits of signers of the Declaration of Independence
Call Number: MSS 12130
Citation: Robert Edge Pine. Copies of Pine's Portraits of Signers of the Declaration of Independence,1820, Accession #12130, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.
This photo has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.
Martha Wayles Skelton
(1748 - 1782)
Children:Six children, but only two daughters Martha and Mary lived to maturity.
Thomas Jefferson’s ancestors were early British emigrants to Virginia. His father was Peter Jefferson and his mother was Jane Randolph, of Scottish descent. He was born at Shadwell Plantation in Goochland, Virginia on April 13, 1743 which later became Albemarle County in 1744. His father, Peter, was a self-made surveyor-magistrate-planter who married into the distinguished Randolph’s. Two years after Thomas was born the family moved to Tuckahoe Plantation near Richmond. In 1752 the family returned to Shadwell. Thomas, the oldest of eight children was only fourteen when his father died. He inherited nearly 5,000 acres of land which he called Monticello, and later built his home there. He resided there his whole life when not serving in public office.
Jefferson at the age of nine commenced the study of classics with a Scotch clergyman named Douglas. In 1760, he entered William and Mary College and studied there two years. In 1762, Jefferson was admitted as a student-at-law in the office of George Wythe. In 1765 as a student, Jefferson heard the celebrated speech of Patrick Henry against the stamp act; and fired up by its doctrines, he became a champion of American Freedom. Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767 and opened a law practice but he only practiced before the higher court. In August 1774 he turned over his unresolved cases to his cousin Edmund Randolph.
On January 1, 1772, the six-foot two-inch, slender, red headed Jefferson married his cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, a wealthy widow of 23. Soon after their marriage Martha inherited 11,000 acres of land and 135 slaves from her father’s estate upon his death on May 28, 1773. Thomas and Martha had six children before she died in l782, but only two daughters Martha (Patsy) and Maria (Polly) lived to maturity.
In 1769 he was elected a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and served until 1775. In 1774, Jefferson wrote a powerful pamphlet called “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.” It disavowed parliamentary control of the Colonies and contended that they were tied to the King only by their own choice and recognition of mutual benefits. It was addressed to the King and published in England, under the auspices of Edmund Burke. This pamphlet gave great offence to Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, who threatened to prosecute him for high treason. His associates in the Virginia Assembly sustained Jefferson and the governor eventually allowed the matter to rest.
Jefferson was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775, but due to the death of his mother was absent from Congress from December 28, 1775 until May 14, 1776. On June 11, 1776, a committee consisting of Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Sherman, and Livingston were elected to draw up a Declaration of Independence. Jefferson suggested John Adams should write the Declaration. Adams declined, when questioned by Jefferson as to his reasons Adams stated “Reason first – you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second – I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third – you can write ten times better than I can.” At the age of 33 Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. With only a few changes from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, it was submitted to Congress on June 28, 1776. After voting in favor of independence on July 2, 1776, the congressmen spent two days abridging and revising Jefferson’s draft before finally approving the declaration on the evening of July 4, 1776. When Thomas Jefferson included a passage attacking slavery in his draft of the declaration, it initiated the most intense debate among the delegates gathered in Philadelphia, and his passage on slavery was the most important section removed from the final document. It was replaced with a more ambiguous passage about King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrections among us.” Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia, as well as Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But the inspiring language of its preamble, with its insistence of fundamental rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, became central to the aspirations of the United States and subsequently to those of many other nations.
After the Declaration was adopted and Independence voted on Jefferson returned to Virginia. In September 1776 he resigned from Congress. He was elected to the Virginia Assembly as he desired to serve his own state. He received a third election to Congress but declined it choosing to remain closer to home. From 1777 until 1779, Jefferson served on a commission revising the laws of Virginia. Of the laws Jefferson proposed one was a law forbidding the importation of slaves, another confirming the rights of freedom in religious opinion, and another established schools for general education.
In June 1779, Jefferson succeeded Mr. Henry as governor of Virginia, and the close of his administration was a period of great difficulty and danger. Richmond was partly destroyed in the spring of 1781 by the infamous Benedict Arnold and his invading British and Tory troops. Jefferson and his council narrowly escaped capture. A few months later the legislature met in Charlottesville and Jefferson recommended the combining of civil and military agencies under General Thomas Nelson (also a signer) and resigned his office. Again, he narrowly escaped capture by Banastre Tarleton who attempted to capture the members of the legislature at Charlottesville, a short distance from Jefferson’s residence. Jefferson sent his family away in his carriage staying behind to attend to matters when he saw Tarlton’s cavalry moving towards his house. Mounting his horse and riding through the woods he later reached his family in safety. General Thomas Nelson was then elected governor of Virginia. On June 12, 1781, it was ordered that an investigation of Jefferson’s conduct be made with reference to the lack of military precaution and expedition. He was formally vindicated by the House of Delegates.
Jefferson spent two years in Virginia and during that time his wife Martha died. Six year later, in 1782, Jefferson again joined Congress. In 1784, along with Adams and Franklin, he was appointed a minister to negotiate treaties of commerce with foreign nations. He was accompanied to France by his eldest daughter Martha (Patsy) and observed the beginnings of the French Revolution. In 1784, Jefferson wrote an essay on coinage and currency and to him we are indebted for the denominations of our money, the dollar as a unit, and the system of decimals. When Franklin returned home, Jefferson was appointed to succeed him as minister at the French court and served until 1789.
During Jefferson’s absence the Constitution had been formed and under George Washington was elected and inaugurated President of the United States. Upon his return Jefferson became Secretary of State in Washington’s administration and in the following years enjoyed interludes at Monticello as well as filling the highest offices in the land. He became Vice President (1797-1801) under Adams, and served two terms as President (1801-1809). The most prominent accomplishments of his administration were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, the Embargo Act on commerce and ocean navigation, and sending Lewis and Clark to the region of the Rocky Mountains then westward to the Pacific Ocean. At the close of his second term Jefferson was physically and mentally exhausted and retired to Monticello and private life. He spent the remaining seventeen years of his life regaining his health and corresponding, and also entertaining statesmen, scientists, explorers, and the general public, but never ventured far from Monticello. His final project was founding the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1819 of which he was rector until his death. Toward the end of his life his finances became particularly burdensome to him. He lived frugally to stave off disaster and sold off as much land as he could but eventually, he fell hopelessly in debt and was forced to sell his private library consisting of some ten thousand volumes to Congress. It became the nucleus of the Library of Congress.
Not only did Jefferson design and built his home Monticello, but also during his years in France he designed Virginia’s State Capitol Building in Richmond and his retreat Poplar Forest near Lynchburg, Virginia . After he retired to Monticello he also designed and helped supervise construction of many buildings at the University of Virginia. Jefferson collected paintings and statuary and was well known as a patron of the arts. He was a noted scientist in many fields and invented several interesting devices.
Jefferson died only hours before his old friend John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He had been in declining health since June 26th and was confined to bed. On the first of July he seemed better but was convinced that he would die soon. On July third he asked “is it the Fourth?” and was told it nearly was. Shortly after Jefferson had died, attendants found a gold locket on a chain around his neck, where it had rested for more than 40 years, containing a small faded blue ribbon that tied a lock of his wife Martha’s brown hair.
In 1874 Jefferson’s statue was placed in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1889, a bust of Jefferson was installed in the United States Senate Gallery of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. In 1923 the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation received title to Monticello and is now a national memorial open to the public. In the 1930’s Jefferson’s likeness was sculpted onto Mount Rushmore along with Washington, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. On April 13, 1943, the two hundredth anniversary of his birth, the Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. Jefferson is buried in the Jefferson Family Cemetery at Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia.
A plain six-foot-tall obelisk originally marked his grave, but due to defacing of the original obelisk by souvenir hunters, Congress appropriated money to have a much larger obelisk stand over his grave. (Note that today grave desecration is illegal in many states, including Virginia where Jefferson’s replacement grave marker is located. See VA Code Ann. Section 18.2-127 (making grave desecration a Class 6 felony). On April 18, 1882, Congress appropriated $10,000 for the erection of a new monument. Subsequently the new monument was moved to Monticello. It weighed about 16,000 pounds, and 10 horses were required to move it from Washington to the new location. And the new obelisk was twice the size of Jefferson’s original design. When the new monument was built, Jefferson’s grandchildren received many requests for the old one. One such request came from the University of Missouri. Missouri was important to Jefferson because it was within the vast region of the Louisiana Purchase, which Jefferson orchestrated in 1803 while President, which doubled the size of the United States. This request was strengthened because of Jefferson’s lifelong labors on behalf of state-supported education—the university was the first public university west of the Mississippi, and in 1862, the university became a public land-grant institution as part of the Morrill Act. The University of Missouri also had projected a curriculum and concept of higher education similar to those Jefferson had put into practice some years earlier at the University of Virginia. In addition, many first- and second-generation residents of Columbia and Boone County, Missouri were originally from Virginia and could claim “cousinship” of one kind or another with Jefferson. The fact that the state capital of Missouri, Jefferson City, was named after Jefferson probably further strengthened the appeal of the University of Missouri’s request.
The inscription of the obelisk was written by Jefferson:
Here was Buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
and Father of the University of Virginia
Born April 2, 1743 O.S.
Died July 4, 1826
The “O.S.” refers to the Old Style or Julian calendar in-use when he was born. (His birthday under the New Style or Gregorian calendar is April 13).
Jefferson himself wrote what he wanted written on the stone. Scholars find it interesting that he left out many of his other accomplishments, including (i) being the 3rd President of the United States (for 2 terms) during which he dispatched Lewis and Clark on the expedition to the Western Territory, (ii) having been the principal negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase (which nearly doubled the size of our young nation), (iii) serving as the Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to France, Secretary of State, and Vice President, (iv) having proposed using the decimal system for the U.S. currency, (vi) having proposed building an interstate highway system, (vii) founding the U.S. military academy at West Point, (viii) donating his personal library to the U.S. Government which became the nucleus of the Library of Congress, and (viii) his achievements in architecture, which involved helping design Washington, D.C., the Richmond state capitol, and Monticello, plus (ix) his love of antiques, music, gardening, scientific instruments and collections of natural history.
When Jefferson chose to highlight the three items for which he wished to be remembered, it is obvious that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, freedom of conscience to worship one’s God, and education were the priorities he most hoped would endure.
Kathryn Glynn, 2008
John Hamilton Works Jr 2023, 7th generation lineal descendant
- Barthelmas, Della Gray. The Signers of the Declaration of Independence. 1997
- Donaldson, Thomas. The House in which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, 1898, p. 49. https://archive.org/details/houseinwhichthom00dona/mode/1up?ref=ol&view=theater
- Ferris, Robert G. Signers of the Declaration. 1973
- Kean, Robert H. George Green Shackelford’s Collected Papers to Commemorate Fifty Years of the Monticello Association of the Descendants of Thomas Jefferson, Princeton University Press, 1965, pg. 9-18, particularly History of the Graveyard at Monticello.
- Lossing, B.J. Signers of the Declaration of Independence. 1857
- Sanderson, John. Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. 1823