Timeline of Jefferson's Life and His Libraries
Shadwell Library (1757 to 1 February 1770)
Monticello Library Eventually Sold to Congress in 1815 (1770 to 1815)
Poplar Forest Library (1811 to 1826)
Retirement Library at Monticello (1815 to 1826)

Date Library Mss / Print Catalogue Public Life Private Life
1743                             Inventory of the Estate of Peter Jefferson (1757)   Thomas Jefferson born on April 13, 1743 at Shadwell plantation in Goochland (later Albemarle) County, Virginia.
1748-1751   Is tutored from age 5 at the "English school" at Tuckahoe plantation in Goochland County with his Randolph cousins and siblings, and learns the basics of English grammar, spelling, and composition.
1752-1757   From age 9, attends Reverend William Douglas' Latin school in the local parish, St. James Northam Parish, in Goochland County, and learns the rudiments of Latin, Greek, and French.
1757   Returns to Shadwell when his father, Peter Jefferson, dies on August 17, 1757 when Jefferson is 14 years old.
1758-1760 No surviving Jefferson mss   Attends classical scholar Reverend James Maury's school in Fredericksville Parish, located at the borders of Albemarle and Louisa counties. Most likely begins his literary commonplace book during this time, in which he copies extracts from Greek, Latin, and English literature.
1760-1762   Attends College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia from age 17, and comes under the tutelage of Scottish-trained Doctor William Small, professor of natural philosophy and mathematics.
1762   Begins reading law under George Wythe in Williamsburg.
1764   Comes into his inheritance at age 21.
1765   Passes his bar examination and returns to Shadwell.
Favorite sister Jane dies on October 1, 1765.
1765-1766   Probably begins his legal commonplace book and equity commonplace book during this time, in which he records notes of judicial decisions and other legal authorities in the course of his reading and study.
1767   Admitted to practice law before the General Court of colonial Virginia, and begins practicing as a lawyer in Albemarle and Augusta counties.
1768 Elected as Albemarle delegate to the House of Burgesses. Levels Monticello mountaintop.

Acquires books from the estate of Philip Ludwell.
1769-1774 Serves as Albemarle delegate in the House of Burgesses.  
1769   Begins construction of a small dwelling (later the south pavilion) at Monticello.
1770   Fire at Shadwell destroys most of his papers and his library on February 1, 1770.

Moves to south pavilion at Monticello on November 26, 1770.
1770                                                                                                 1783 Catalog   Begins to rebuild his library. Acquires books from Nathaniel Walthoe's "valuable collection of English, Latin, French, and Italian books."
1771   Draws up a list of recommended books for Robert Skipwith in August 1771.
1772   Marries widow Martha Wayles Skelton on January 1, 1772. Daughter Martha born on September 27.
1772   Acquires books from the estate of his wife Martha's deceased first husband, Bathurst Skelton.
1773   Records inventory of William Byrd II's Westover library in his Memorandum Book, from which he later acquires a number of titles.
1773   Records in his Memorandum Book a count of 669 books from the estate of his father-in-law, John Wayles, which he later receives in 1774.
1773   Records in his Memorandum Book a count of 1,256 volumes in his Monticello library as at August 4, 1773.
1774 Writes A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Retires from legal practice.

Second daughter Jane Randolph born on April 3, 1774.

Acquires books from the estate of Dabney Carr.
1775 Elected to the Continental Congress. Daughter Jane Randolph dies in September 1775.
1776 Drafts Declaration of Independence. Mother Jane Randolph Jefferson dies on March 31, 1776.
1776 Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Appointed to the Committee to revise the laws of Virginia. Acquires books from the libraries of Richard Bland, James Horrocks and Peyton Randolph.
1776-1779 Serves in the Virginia House of Delegates.  
1777 Drafts the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which is submitted to the General Assembly in 1779, and adopted in 1786. Unnamed son is born on May 28, 1777, and dies on June 14.
1778 Drafts the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge. Daughter Mary (or Maria) is born on August 1, 1778.
1778   Acquires a near complete set of the Virginia Gazette from the estate of Reverend William Willie.

First expresses interest in acquiring books from the library of Reverend Samuel Henley, a purchase that is eventually completed in 1785.
1779-1781 Serves as Governor of Virginia.  
1779 Succeeds, through the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary, in abolishing the School of Divinity there, and setting up its first schools of Philosophy, Mathematics and Science, Medicine, Law, and Modern Languages.  
1780 Begins his Notes on the State of Virginia. Elected member of the American Philosophical Society. Daughter Lucy Elizabeth (I) born on November 3, 1780.
1781 British troops arrive at Monticello on June 4, 1781. Retreats with family to Amherst County and eventually to Poplar Forest until July 24, 1781. Daughter Lucy Elizabeth dies on April 15, 1781.
1782   Daughter Lucy Elizabeth (II) born on May 8, 1782. Wife Martha dies on September 6.

First Monticello house substantially completed.
1783-1784 Serves in the Continental Congress as delegate from Virginia. Records a count of 2,640 volumes in his Monticello library as at March 6, 1783 in his 1783 Catalog of books.

Sells 46 books, mainly French ones on natural law, to James Monroe on May 10, 1784, before leaving Annapolis, Maryland to take up his new diplomatic appointment in France.
1784-1789 1789 Catalog /
1783 Catalog
Serves in France as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate treates of amity and commerce with foreign powers, and later replaces Benjamin Franklin as minister to France. Draws up his 1789 Catalog listing the over 2,000 books he acquires during his time in Europe between 1784 - 1789. It is unclear when he begins his 1789 Catalog, probably during the second half of the period. The book entries in the 1789 are also found in the 1783 Catalog - it is unclear whether these entries were entered in his 1783 Catalog in Europe, or after his return to the United States.
1784   Arrives in Paris with daughter Martha on July 5, 1784.
Daughter Lucy Elizabeth dies in October.
1785 Publishes 200 copies of his Notes on the State of Virginia in Paris for private distribution.  
1786 In London to negotiate foreign commercial treaties from March 11 to April 26, 1786. Tours English landscape gardens with John Adams from April 4 to 9.  
1787 Tours southern France and northern Italy from February 28 to June 10, 1787. Daughter Mary arrives in Paris on July 15, 1787.
1788 Travels to Amsterdam to negotiate American funding plans, and makes tour of the Rhine River Valley.  
1789 Leaves France with his family to return to the United States on home leave, and receives his appointment as Secretary of State by George Washington.  
1790   Daughter Martha marries Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. at Monticello on February 23, 1790.
1790   Books acquired in Europe arrive in Philadelphia from Paris.
1790-1793 1783 Catalog Serves as Secretary of State of the United States in New York City, and then in Philadelphia.  
1791   First grandchild, Anne Cary Randolph, is born on January 23, 1790.

Acquires books from John Carey's library.
1794   Books in Philadelphia return to Monticello.
1796   Begins remodeling and enlarging Monticello.
1797-1801 Serves as Vice President of the United States.  
1797-1815 Serves as president of the American Philosophical Society.  
1797   Daughter Mary marries John Wayles Eppes at Monticello on October 13, 1797.
1800 Prepares his Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States, which is published in 1801. Solicits ideas from Joseph Priestley and Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours on the scientific courses to be taught at a university in hopes of establishing in Virginia a university or college on a "reformed plan."
1800-1808   Collects newspaper clippings of poems and prose, including political, sentimental, and humorous songs, satires, parodies, and ballads.
1801-1809 Serves as third President of the United States in Washington, D.C.  
1802 Prepares a catalogue of books to be acquired for the Library of Congress.  
1803 Concludes Louisiana Purchase. Launches the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Northwest.  
1804   Compiles from the Gospels his The Philosophy of Jesus.

Daughter Mary dies at Monticello on April 17, 1804.
1805     States in a letter to Littleton W. Tazewell dated January 5, 1805 his intention to bequeath his library to the University of Virginia if established, and estimates that his library collection had by then cost him no less than $15,000.
1806 Wythe Library List /
1783 Catalog
  Inherits the library of George Wythe.

Begins construction on his octagonal retreat at Poplar Forest in Bedford County, Virgnia.
1809 1783 Catalog Retires from the presidency on March 11, 1809. Returns to Monticello on March 15, 1809.
Visits Poplar Forest (which is still under construction) for the first time after leaving the presidency in November 1809.
Completes remodeling of Monticello and construction of dependencies during the year.

Declares in a letter to James Madison dated October 5, 1809 that he had given up on the idea of bequeathing his library to the University of Virginia as initial hopes of establishing such an institution had waned by 1809.
1811       Begins to transfer books from Monticello to Poplar Forest for his library at his Bedford retreat.

Sister Martha Jefferson Carr dies on September 3, 1811 at Monticello.
1812 1812 Catalogue (lost mss) / No surviving Poplar Forest library mss   Creates a fair copy of his 1783 Catalog, referred to here as the 1812 Catalogue, which most likely excluded the books already at or intended for his Poplar Forest library.
1814 Named a trustee of Albemarle Academy. Contemplates offering his library again to the University of Virginia, should it be set up, when the library and scientific apparatus of the late Joseph Priestley is offered up for sale.
1815 Sells some 6,500 volumes of his personal library to Congress after the British destroy the United States Capitol and the Library of Congress in 1814. This library was re-created by E. Millicent Sowerby in her 5-volume Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson published between 1952-1959. Brother Randolph Jefferson dies on August 7, 1815.
1815                       Retirement Library Catalogue/
No surviving Poplar Forest mss
  Begins his third and final library at Monticello.
1816 Writes introduction and revises translation of Destutt de Tracy's A Treatise on Political Economy.

Named a visitor of Central College (which later becomes the the University of Virginia).
1817   Has his granddaughters, Cornelia Jefferson Randolph and Ellen Wayles Randolph, label his books in his Poplar Forest library.
1818 Attends the Rockfish Gap conference from August 1 to 4, 1818 to choose the site for the proposed University of Virginia.  
1819 University of Virginia chartered on January 25, 1819. Named to the Board of Visitors on February 13, and elected rector on March 29. Begins his second compilation from the Gospels, his The Life and Morals of Jesus.
1820   Creates, between February and April 1820, a fair copy of the catalogue of books in his Retirement Library.
1821 Writes his Autobiography at age 77.  
1823 Trist Catalogue   Has his secretary, Nicholas Philip Trist, re-create a catalogue of books that he sold to Congress in 1815 as he begins to plan the library collection for the University of Virginia.
1824 University of Virginia Library Catalogue(s) [Original Jefferson mss lost, probably in the 1895 Rotunda fire]   In April 1824, Francis Walker Gilmer is sent to Great Britain by the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia to recruit faculty and acquire scientific apparatus. He is tasked by Jefferson to acquire the books needed for the Anglo-Saxon course, in order for classes to begin in early 1825. Between June and September 1824, Jefferson draws up a desiderata list of 6,860 books estimated to cost $24,076 for the University of Virginia Library, with help from retired president James Madison for books on theology.
1825 University of Virginia opens on March 7, 1825. In January 1825, books acquired by Francis Walker Gilmer from London bookseller John Bohn begin to arrive at the University. Jefferson revises his desiderata list to take into account these London acquisitions. He also solicits and incorporates book recommendations from university faculty, and then has Nicholas Philip Trist make a fair copy of his revised desiderata list. He sends this list (known today as "President Jefferson's Catalogue of Books For the University of Viriginia Library, 1825" or in short, the "1825 UVA Library Catalogue") on June 3, 1825 to Boston booksellers, Cummings, Hilliard and Co., commissioned by the Board of Visitors of the university to purchase additional books for the university library.
1826 Retirement Library Catalogue/
No surviving Poplar Forest mss
  Draws up will on March 16, 1826, and in a codicil on March 17, bequeaths his library to the University of Virginia.
1826   Dies at Monticello on July 4 at age 83.
1826 His grandson and executor, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, obtains permission on October 7, 1826 from the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia to have Jefferson's Retirement Library books temporarily stored at the university for safekeeping, on the understanding that these may need to be withdrawn and sold to settle Jefferson's debts.  
1827       Monticello's furniture and slaves are sold at auction in January 1827.  
1828       In early 1828, the Catalogue of the Library of the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA: Published by Gilmer, Davis, & Co., 1828) detailing the library collection of the university is published under the direction of the faculty.

In December 1828, Thomas Jefferson Randolph reclaims Jefferson's Retirement Library books from the University of Virginia.
1829     Poor Catalogue His 1,600-volume Retirement Library is sold at auction by Nathaniel P. Poor in Washington, D.C. from February 27 to March 11, 1829.  
1831       The Monticello house and property are sold in 1831.

The remaining unsold books from the 1829 sale are sold at auction in Philadelphia by Moses Thomas on December 3, 1831.
1851       A fire on December 24, 1851 at the Library of Congress destroys two-thirds of the books Jefferson sold to the nation in 1815.  
1873     Leavitt Catalogue Some 675 volumes from the Poplar Forest library that was bequeathed to his grandson, Francis Eppes, are sold at auction by George A. Leavitt in New York City, New York from November 5 to 6, 1873.  

Updated: August 22, 2018

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