U.S. President Thomas Jefferson Little-Known Facts

About the U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, history, trivia, and little-known facts.


3rd President



When Jefferson was a boy, he and his best friend, Dabney Carr, used to rest under an oak tree not far from the site on which Monticello was later built. The two boys pledged to each other that when they died, they would be buried together under that oak. While Jefferson was away in Europe, Dabney died and was buried in the local cemetery. When Jefferson returned, he ordered the remains disinterred and redeposited under the oak, as promised. Jefferson and his family were later laid to rest in the same spot.

Jefferson was a gifted inventor, who devised dozens of handy gadgets for his personal convenience. Among his noteworthy inventions are a revolving chair, a hemp machine, a pedometer to measure the distance of his walks, a walking stick which unfolded into a chair, a plow that won a gold medal at a French exhibition, a revolving music stand, and a letter-copying press.

Jefferson never patented any of his inventions, because he wanted the people to have free use of them.

In 1785 Jefferson wrote a scientific treatise called Notes on the State of Virginia. He was motivated to undertake the project by his disgust with the conclusions of the French scientist Buffon, who asserted that everything in America--including the "organs of reproduction" of the inhabitants--was smaller than its European counterpart.

Jefferson originally designed Monticello with a billiard room in the dome, but before it could be completed, Virginia had outlawed billiards.

Jefferson's sister Elizabeth was seriously retarded, and remained a responsibility for Jefferson and his mother until she wandered into the woods one day and died at the age of 30.

Jefferson dearly loved his pet mockingbird, which he kept in his study in Washington. Whenever he was alone, he let the bird fly freely around the room. He taught it to sit on his shoulder and even to peck its food from his lips. When Jefferson went upstairs, it hopped after him, step by step.

Despite his reputation as a kind master, 22 of Jefferson's slaves were among the thousands of blacks in Virginia who joined the British forces in the Revolution in hopes of winning their freedom.

Monroe Trotter, a leading black editor in the early 20th century, claimed that he was a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

In 1792 Secretary of State Jefferson secretly entered a contest to choose the architect to design the White House, but the prize went to James Hoban of South Carolina. Jefferson had entered the competition under a pseudonym and never told his friends about his failure. His participation was not discovered until the 1930s, when it was found that one of the unsuccessful designs submitted by an unidentified person exactly matched a drawing in one of Jefferson's personal notebooks.

Jefferson was understandably proud of his skill at languages. In addition to Greek and Latin, he knew French, Italian, Spanish, and German. On one occasion he boasted to John Quincy Adams that he had taught himself Spanish in just 19 days. Adams, who was a brilliant linguist himself, dryly noted: "Mr. Jefferson tells large stories."

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