Book Lists

Jefferson maintained several book lists which correspond to the book collections he owned at different times in his life. These constitute a chief source of information for most of the book titles found in the Thomas Jefferson's Libraries database. Apart from these Jefferson manuscript book lists, information found in several important print bibliographies and sale catalogues shed light on many of the book titles Jefferson owned, and what happened to them when they left his possession.

Manuscript Book Lists

1783 Catalog (Library Spanning circa 1770s to 1812)
The 1783 Catalog, a 246-page bound manuscript in Jefferson’s hand, is a record of his second library following the 1770 fire that destroyed Jefferson's library at Shadwell. It is unclear when exactly Jefferson began this particular book manuscript, but he most likely did so in the early 1780s. In 1812, when this catalogue became crammed with interlineations, erasures, and marginal insertions, Jefferson made a fair copy of it, and it is this 1812 Catalogue that he probably maintained up till his offer to sell his library to Congress in 1814. This fair copy was retained by the Librarian of Congress George Watterston who claimed it as his personal property when he was dismissed from his post in 1829. The 1812 Catalogue has never been found. The Trist Catalogue mentioned below is the closest approximation to the contents and order of this lost manuscript catalogue.

The 1783 Catalog is today at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a digitized version is available here. The catalog includes the titles found in the March 1783 Library Reconstructed list and the 1789 Catalog mentioned below. A transcription by Thomas Baughn is available here.

1789 Catalog (Library Spanning 1784 to 1789)
During his appointment as minister plenipotentiary and later minister to France from 1784 to 1789, Jefferson purchased some 2,000 volumes while abroad. Before he returned to America in 1789, he compiled a separate list of the books he had acquired. This 1789 Catalog is a 50-page unbound manuscript in Jefferson’s hand. It is at the Massachusetts Historical Society and a digitized version is available here. A transcription by Thomas Baughn is also available here.

Wythe Library List (September 1806)
In 1806, while Jefferson was in his second term as President of the United States, he inherited almost 650 volumes from his law tutor and lifelong friend, George Wythe, when the latter suffered an untimely death from arsenic poisoning. In November 2008, a manuscript book list in Jefferson's hand was discovered for the first time at the Massachusetts Historical Society in their Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, and identified as Jefferson's inventory of the books he received from Wythe. Of the 649 volumes in Wythe's bequest, Jefferson gave away 400 volumes to family members and other individuals, while retaining 249 volumes for his own library. This list, made up of three folded sheets forming twelve pages (eight pages written, and four pages blank), was created by Jefferson sometime during September 1806. Images of this book list are available here. A transcription by Jeremy Dibbell and Endrina Tay is available here.

Trist Catalogue (Sale to Congress in 1815)
Apart from the lost 1812 Catalogue that Jefferson sent together with his books when he sold his library to Congress in 1815, there is a second manuscript associated with the sale. In 1823 Jefferson commissioned Nicholas Philip Trist, the young man who would eventually become Jefferson’s private secretary and his grandson-in-law, to recreate a list of the books that were in his 1812 Catalogue and sold to Congress. This 113-page Trist Catalogue was rediscovered at the Library of Congress and published in the monograph, Thomas Jefferson’s Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order [2] by James Gilreath and Douglas L. Wilson in 1989. The manuscript has been digitized by the Library of Congress and is available here. Thomas Baughn re-transcribed the Trist manuscript for this project and this transcription is available here. The Trist Catalogue is the closest representation we have of the contents and order of Jefferson's lost 1812 Catalogue.

Retirement Library Catalogue (Library Spanning 1815 to 1826)
Following the 1815 sale of almost all of his library to Congress, Jefferson continued to acquire books. The Retirement Library Catalogue in Jefferson’s hand constitutes his third and final library at Monticello. This 83-page bound manuscript is at the Library of Congress and available online. A transcription completed by John R. Barden in 1999, and edited by Thomas Baughn is available here.

Print Bibliographies And Sale Catalogues

Sowerby Catalogue (Sale to Congress in 1815)
When the invading British army burned the congressional library in Washington, D.C. in 1814, an outraged Jefferson promptly offered his own library to Congress to replace the one that was lost. The handwritten 1812 Catalogue that Jefferson sent in 1815 to Congress along with his books was retained by the Librarian of Congress, George Watterston, and subsequently lost. In 1942, as part of the bicentennial commemoration of Jefferson’s birth, the Library of Congress commissioned E. Millicent Sowerby to compile an annotated bibliography of the 6,700 books Jefferson sold to Congress. Sowerby utilized the sources available to her at the time, and created her compilation based upon Jefferson's 1783 Catalog and printed catalogs of the books at the Library of Congress in the years following the sale. A five-volume work, The Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson [3], was published between 1952 and 1959. Up till 2007, this long-standing reference work for Jefferson scholars was only available in print. It is now available online through the Library of Congress. A transcribed electronic version was completed for this project and can be browsed here and searched here. John R. Barden transcribed and edited all five volumes of the Sowerby Catalogue in Microsoft Word between 1999 and 2002, and this electronic version was created when Stephen Perkins converted Barden's Word documents into XML in 2005. Special thanks to project volunteer Sara Ervin who, in 2010, incorporated ALL of Sowerby's additions and corrections published in Volume V into individual entries and annotations, which makes this online edition of Sowerby the most complete version available.

Poor Catalogue (Library Spanning 1815 to 1826)
After Jefferson died in 1826, his library at Monticello was sold at auction by Nathaniel P. Poor in 1829 in Washington, D.C. The Poor Catalogue [5] printed for the auction is available here, and is almost identical to the Retirement Library Catalogue mentioned above.

Leavitt Catalogue (Library Spanning 1811 to 1826)
After Jefferson’s retirement from public office in 1809, he also maintained a library at his Poplar Forest retreat in Bedford County, beginning around 1811. At his death, his books were inherited by his grandson, Francis Eppes, who offered them up for sale in 1873. There is no separate sale catalogue for this library, except for the portion that was listed in the 1873 auction catalogue of George A. Leavitt [6], published in New York City. The Leavitt Catalogue was transcribed by John R. Barden in 1999, and edited by Thomas Baughn for this project and is available here.

Reconstructed Libraries

Shadwell Library Reconstructed
(Partial Library Spanning 1757 to 1770)

Jefferson inherited his first library from his father, Peter Jefferson, when the latter died in 1757. On 1 February 1770, a fire destroyed almost all of the books at Jefferson’s home in Shadwell. It is not known if Jefferson kept a list of the books he had in his Shadwell Library at the time of the fire. If he did, it would very likely have been destroyed along with all of his personal papers. Here is a reconstructed list of books that Jefferson either inherited, acquired, or was familiar with and hence very likely owned at Shadwell. These titles have been compiled from will records from the estate of his father Peter Jefferson, book entries from his commonplace books, records of his book purchases found in the Virginia Gazette Daybooks, and books he recommended in his letter to Robert Skipwith in August 1771 the year following the fire at Shadwell.

March 1783 Library Reconstructed
(Library Spanning circa 1770s to 6 March 1783)

In 1784, as Jefferson left America to take up his appointment by Congress as minister plenipotentiary to France, he very likely had with him his 1783 Catalog of the books he owned, along with titles he intended to acquire abroad. Earlier the previous year in Philadelphia, he had noted on page 5 of this catalog a count of 2,640 volumes as of 6 March 1783. He also states that he had placed a checkmark before each title he owned, and that unmarked titles indicate books that he hoped to acquire. Using this specific notation recorded by Jefferson in his 1783 Catalog, here is a reconstructed list by Thomas Baughn of the likely books Jefferson owned as of this date.

Poplar Forest Library Reconstructed (Library Spanning 1811 to 1826)
The library that Jefferson maintained at his Poplar Forest retreat in Bedford County from around 1811 was inherited by his grandson, Francis Eppes at Jefferson’s death. Eppes later offered 675 volumes from this library up for sale in 1873. As mentioned above, there is no separate sale catalogue for this library, except for the portion that was listed in the 1873 auction catalogue of George A. Leavitt, published in New York City. In addition to this Leavitt Catalogue, in 2006 Thomas Baughn reconstructed a list of books Jefferson is believed to have had at Poplar Forest, based on notitia found in Jefferson’s Retirement Library Catalogue and references to specific titles in his retirement correspondence. This Poplar Forest Library Reconstructed list is available here.


Book Lists from Jefferson’s Correspondence

We are also transcribing other book lists drawn up by Jefferson and found in his papers. There are numerous such lists in his extensive correspondence & personal papers, and the following are available at this point in the project:

List of Books for a Private Library in Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, August 3, 1771 (Skipwith List)
Books recommended to Robert Skipwith in 1771

List of Books Acquired from Samuel Henley in Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Henley, March 3, 1785 (Henley List)
Books acquired from Samuel Henley, which are also found in the 1783 Catalog

List of Books Sold to Archibald Stuart in Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, May 23, 1795 (Stuart List)
Books sold to Archibald Stuart in 1795

List of Books for the Study of Law in Letter, Thomas Jefferson to John Garland Jefferson, June 11, 1790 (J.G. Jefferson List)
Books recommended to John Garland Jefferson for the study of law in 1790

Course of Reading for William G. Munford, December 5, 1798 (Munford List)
Course of reading drawn up for William G. Munford in 1798

List of Recommended Books for the Library of Congress, July 19, 1802
Books recommended for the Library of Congress, first proposed to Abraham Baldwin, chairman of the library committee, on April 14, 1802, and approved by the committee

List of Recommended Books on History, Natural Philosophy and Agriculture in Letter, Thomas Jefferson to John Wyche, October 4, 1809 (Wyche List)
Books recommended to John Wyche for the Westward Mill Library Society in 1809

Supplemental List of Recommended Books in Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Samuel R. Demaree, October 4, 1809 (Demaree List)
Recommended books on geometry, algebra, fluxions, the philosophy of the mind, morals, and rhetoric, to supplement the book list Jefferson had on the same day drawn up for John Wyche on October 4, 1809, which he enclosed to Demaree

List of Recommended Books for a System of Female Education in Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, March 14, 1818 (Burwell List)
Books recommended to Nathaniel Burwell for female education in 1818

More book lists from Jefferson's correspondence will be added as funding and manpower resources become available. Read about additional book lists to be added to our database in Future Additions.


NOTES:

1. E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson (Washington: Library of Congress, 1952-59).

2. James Gilreath and Douglas L. Wilson, eds., Thomas Jefferson’s Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order (Washington: Library of Congress, 1989).

3. Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library: A Catalogue of the Extensive and Valuable Library of the Late President Jefferson (Copied From the Original Ms., in His Hand-writing, as Arranged by Himself) To Be Sold at Auction, at the Long Room, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington City, by Nathaniel P. Poor, on the [27th] February, 1829 (Washington: Printed by Gales and Seaton, 1829).

4. George A. Leavitt & Co. Catalogue of a Private Library Comprising a Rich Assortment of Rare and Standard Works, Many in Fine Bindings … and a Number of Engraved Copper Plates: Also, the Remaining Portion of the Library of the Late Thomas Jefferson, Comprising Many Classical Works and Several Autograph Letters, Offered by His Grandson, Francis Eppes, of Poplar Forest, Va.: the Whole to be Sold by Auction at the Clinton Hall Sale Rooms, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, November 5th and 6th (New York: George A. Leavitt & Co., 1873).

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