With His Resignation As Secretary of State Fast Approaching, Thomas Jefferson Begins to Ship His Noted Library of Books Back to Monticello

He had also ordered 500 bottles of the best Bordeaux wine

The name Thomas Jefferson immediately evokes thoughts of the Enlightenment, and two of its prime attributes, wine and books

To Jefferson, wine was a metaphor for the positive attributes and institutions of human society that he zealously believed in, essentially standing for everything that he held to be innately good in humankind....

Read More

With His Resignation As Secretary of State Fast Approaching, Thomas Jefferson Begins to Ship His Noted Library of Books Back to Monticello

He had also ordered 500 bottles of the best Bordeaux wine

The name Thomas Jefferson immediately evokes thoughts of the Enlightenment, and two of its prime attributes, wine and books

To Jefferson, wine was a metaphor for the positive attributes and institutions of human society that he zealously believed in, essentially standing for everything that he held to be innately good in humankind. Every ideal and noble pursuit that Jefferson cherished in his life was expressed, at one or many points, with and through wine. At his heart, Jefferson was a romantic and wine was his muse.

He developed a reputation as a distinguished lover of wine, both among his contemporaries and in the subsequent historical record. Indeed, his image as a wine savant is surpassed only by his fame as a founding father, with books dedicated exclusively to the subject of him and wine. Wine, and Jefferson’s love of it, is a window through which we can better see and understand him in all of his forms: Jefferson the renowned dinner host encouraging scintillating conversation, Jefferson the thinker, Jefferson the inventor, Jefferson the scientist, Jefferson the prophet of liberty, Jefferson the diplomat, and others.

Throughout his life, books were vital to Jefferson’s education and well-being, and his love of them contributes to his reputation as a great Enlightenment figure. When his family home Shadwell burned in 1770, he most lamented the loss of his books. In the midst of the American Revolution and while United States minister to France in the 1780s, Jefferson acquired thousands of books for his library at Monticello. Books provided Jefferson with a broader and deeper knowledge of the contemporary and ancient worlds, and were the vehicle through which he developed his political philosophy. By the end of his term as President, Jefferson had acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States. It is a truly extraordinary fact that the President of the United States had its largest and greatest personal library. In time he sold his library to Congress as a replacement for the collection destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. This became the basis for the Library of Congress.

The first major American yellow fever epidemic hit Philadelphia in July 1793 and peaked during the first weeks of October. Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital, was the most cosmopolitan city in the United States. Major Revolutionary political figures lived there, and in the first week of September, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison that everyone who could escape the city was doing so. The epidemic depopulated Philadelphia: 5,000 out of a population of 45,000 died, and a chronicler estimated that another 17,000 fled. One of those was Jefferson himself, who first left the city for the country and then returned to Monticello. He took some of his books with him to the country. Jefferson knew he was going to resign as Secretary of State shortly, so as a beginning to shipping his entire library home from Philadelphia, he carried those books with him on his trek to Monticello. However, in Baltimore he decided to ship the books home rather than carry them.

Joseph Fenwick was a Maryland merchant based in Bordeaux, France. He had a business partnership with John Mason, the son of George Mason (author of the Bill of Rights). On October 10, 1792, Jefferson asked Fenwick to send him 500 bottles “of the best vin rouge of Bordeaux, such as is drunk at the best tables there.”

In the spring, on May 16, 1793, Fenwick wrote Jefferson from Bordeaux with good news on the wine front, informing him that they were shipping him via Baltimore “14 cases wine” of a 1788 vintage. By August 13, 1793, the wine had arrived in Baltimore under the care of merchant Archibald Campbell, who wrote to Jefferson on that date forwarding Fenwick’s letter, asking Jefferson where to send the wine, and for a bill to pay for the wine and the import taxes.

Jefferson received Campbell’s and Fenwick’s letters on August 16, and replied two days latter to Campbell that he should send the wine to Richmond so that it could be forwarded to Monticello. The merchants had laid out the funds to purchase and ship the wine, but at this point had not been paid for it.

Jefferson’s summary journal of communications records letters from Mason on September 11 and September 19 as Jefferson was headed home to Monticello to escape the yellow fever gripping Philadelphia. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, whose kind assistance we gratefully acknowledge, believes it is likely that he discussed payment with Mason when he passed through Baltimore on the 19th, although about this we cannot be certain. It does seem certain, however, that payment was at least one of the subjects of Mason’s letters.

Then, on November 20, 1793, Jefferson wrote to Mason from Philadelphia, to which he had just returned, stating that he would pay the draft on sight for the wine in question as well as the box of books he had had shipped home, as business had resumed in the city.

Autograph letter signed, Philadelphia, November 20, 1793, to Mason. “Being now returned to the neighborhood of Philadelphia, and business resumed in that place, I will pay on sight Mr. Fenwick’s draught: be pleased to accompany it with your own for the little disbursements made for me about the box of books &c. or if you prefer it, write me the amount of the whole, and I will remit you a bank post-note on the collector of Georgetown by the return of the post which brings your letter. I am with great esteem Dr. Sir Your most obedt. servt., Th: Jefferson.” Although wine is not specifically named in this letter, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson informs us that wine was indeed the subject, and was indeed what Jefferson was paying for.

A fine letter, and very unusual in that it relates to both books and wine, Jefferson’s great passions.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services