Thomas Jefferson as a child
Thomas Jefferson was born to Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph Jefferson on April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Va. Peter Jefferson was a landowner, surveyor, and public official of Albemarle County. Jane Randolph Jefferson was descended from one of the most prominent families in Virginia. The couple had two sons and six daughters.
In 1745 Peter Jefferson moved his family to Tuckahoe, the Randolph plantation near Richmond, Va. Thomas was schooled by private tutors until 1752, when his family returned to Shadwell. He continued his education at two boarding schools in Virginia, first in Northam and later in Fredericksville, until he was 16 years old.
When Thomas Jefferson was a child he enjoyed learning and developed a love of music. His musical interests included dancing, singing, and playing the violin. He read classical literature and mastered the language of Greek and Latin. He also spent his time outdoors exploring and studying nature around the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Shadwell. He excelled in science and architecture and was devoted to achieving a well-rounded education.
Peter Jefferson died in 1757, and Thomas became proprietor of the family estate because the law of primogeniture in Virginia granted the eldest son in a family the exclusive right to the father's inheritance. Jane Jefferson died in 1776, but little else is known about her life between 1757 and 1776 because Thomas made little mention of her in his memoirs.
In 1760, Thomas Jefferson enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. In his first two years he studied mathematics and science under William Small and history and law under George Wythe, one of the leading scholars in Virginia. Jefferson often spent up to 15 hours a day studying. He pursued a career in law under Wythe's guidance beginning in 1762. He gained admittance to the Virginia bar in April 1767 and earned a reputation as a distinguished legal scholar.
Jefferson returned to Shadwell in 1768 and built a mansion on an 867-foot mountain near Shadwell using the architectural skills he had previously aquired. He named his new estate Monticello, an Italian word meaning "little mountain."
Jefferson was married on Jan. 1, 1772, to Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow whose estate more than doubled Jefferson's landholdings when the couple combined their properties. Thomas and Martha Jefferson had six children, but only two survived childhood, Martha (called Patsy, born in 1772) and Maria (called Polly, born in 1778).
Political Career of Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson was elected to the House of Burgesses, Virginia's representative assembly, in Williamsburg In 1769. He used his comprehensive knowledge of law to support the colonial opposition to British legislation and taxation. He emphasized that Great Britain had no legal authority to govern and delegate authority in the colonies.
Jefferson's first published essay, "A Summary View of the Rights of British America" (1774), insisted upon independence from Great Britain as the only solution to liberate the oppressed colonies. After his essay was published, most of the Virginia legislature was not prepared to accept such a radical position against Great Britain. However, over the next year hostilities between the colonists and British authorities reached a boiling point, and the American Revolution began in Massachusetts at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.
In 1775 the Virginia legislature appointed Jefferson as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The Continental Congress recognized his idea for the colonies to secede from British rule as the best course of action.
On June 11, 1776, Jefferson was selected to a committee, which included John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to outline a formal document justifying the reasons for declaring independence from Great Britain. Jefferson's talent for influential writing was admired by committee members so he was chosen to prepare the first draft. His words expressed what a majority of colonial citizens desired when he wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happines."
The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, which officially announced the separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain. Jefferson and other delegates signed it, but he was not credited as the principal author until 1790. Between 1776 and 1777 the Continental Congress wrote the Articles of Confederation, which was ratified in 1781 as the first constitution of the United States.