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HE common maxim, that "blood will tell," is as well enforced in the case of Thomas Jefferson as of George Washington, or any other conspicuous character. Though it must never be forgotten that some other things "will tell," also. Work will tell; virtue will tell; persistent effort will tell; manhood, worth, courage will tell; all good qualities have a telling force. Not all good blood tells for great character. In families of the best blood, only a few become conspicuous. Though good blood is a good thing, there are better things-strong mind; noble will; virtuous heart; resolute high-mindedness.
The ancestors of Thomas Jefferson, on his father's side, were of good Welsh stock, occupying good places in society in the mother country, and exhibiting strong force of character and rightness of purpose. They did not deteriorate in their change of home. The forest did not hurt them; the new experiences rather developed their power.
Virginia was begun as a settlement as early as 1607, thirteen years before the Mayflower reached Plymouth Rock. The ancestors of Jefferson were some of the early comers. They took up large landed estates, and became thrifty and influential. Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas, was born February
29, 1708. His early education was neglected, but he made it up as well as he could, by much reading and intelligent observation. He learned surveying, and did much good service in that line in the early days of Virginia. He was the intimate friend of William Randolph, of Tuckahoe, and the preferred suitor for the hand of the oldest daughter of Isham Randolph. Three years before he was married he "patented," as it was called, a thousand acres of land on the James river, which included the tract and hill since called Monticello, and went about preparing for a home. He was married to Jane Randolph in 1738. The Randolphs were English people of opulence and high standing. They were educated and influential; had large landed estates; kept up old English customs prevalent among the gentry, and did what they could to renew old England in America. It was their expectation to see great estates and rich scenes of opulence and taste all over the rich Virginia lands.
Peter Jefferson was a strong, large, independent, honest and warm-hearted man. He had cultivated a strong taste for literature, and read many of the old poets with hearty appreciation. Thomas Jefferson, the subject of this sketch, was born April 2, 1743, and was the third child, Jane and Mary being older. Six other children constituted the family group.
At five years old he was sent to an English school, in which he learned the rudiments of an education. An evidence of an early activity of his mind is given, of his remembering when two years old of being handed up on a pillow to a slave and being carried on horseback when the family moved to Tuckahoe for a time. A year or two later he remembered, when his dinner was delayed, of going out and repeating the Lord's prayer, in the hope of sooner getting his dinner. Few memories go back even to the third year.
At nine years old, on the return of the family to Shadwell, their home, he was placed in the school of Mr. Douglas, a Scotch
clergyman, who taught him in Latin, Greek and French. While here his father died, leaving him at fourteen years of age to the sole care of his mother. This is another instance of a widow's son rising to greatness and worth, by the inspiration and help of a mother's wisdom and love. It is recorded of her that she was a beautiful and accomplished woman; cheerful, with a fund of humor and fond of writing letters. Well educated as she was for her time, with these things related of her, it is evident that the literary talent was in her, though developed only in her friendly letters. As both father and mother gave evidence of literary taste, and both belonged to strong families, and the mother especially to one of the most intellectual and vigorous families in the colony, it is clear that on grounds of heredity it would be reasonable to expect good literary abilities in their children. Thomas showed a combination of the physical and intellectual qualities of both parents. His father was large and muscular; his mother slender and fine-fibered. He was tall, slender, agile and closely made. He had his father's strength and his mother's fiber and endurance. From the accounts given of the two, Thomas was a genuine combination of the leading qualities of both.
Added to this favorable heredity bias toward literary pursuits, there was the early training in language, having begun Latin, Greek and French as early as nine years of age. To his susceptible and imaginative nature, this early training in language must have given a strong bent toward a close observation of the elegance and finish and force of complete forms of speech, and an appreciation of the thought couched in what he read. Books early became his boon companions. Their thoughts becamo his thoughts. The humor, piquancy, liveliness of his mother, must have acted on the strong talent received from both parents, as yeast in bread, to give it ferment, stir and uplift. He drew nourishment from her brain as well as breast. Brainy forces went into his original make-up, and brainy influences were about him from the beginning.
Still more: when his father died, he left the request that Thomas should be sent to college, so that from that time the
boy's mind began to shape itself to this course, and familiarize itself with its coming career.
With his strong and delicate nature, and the early influences that educated him, it is easy to see that he must grow up to be a sort of natural harp through which the winds of a revolutionary period would blow to make strong and stirring music. He was born to be a force in the world.
His father was a surveyor, and traversed all the valleys and hills of that fine country on foot. He became a footman of the woods, and learned to love their wild retreats. He had, too, the hunter's eye and taste, and led his son to find health and delight in the woods and on the mountains. This gave him an intimate acquaintance with nature, and filled his mind with figures and forces which much enriched his literary and intellectual work in after years.
The loss of his father, doubtless, deeply impressed his young mind, and the intimacy with his mother after he was thrown wholly upon her for counsel and guidance, further deepened his thoughtfulness, and ripened and enriched his character. With such a constitution, the circumstances which surrounded his early life did much to educate and develop him.
In 1760 he entered William and Mary college at Williamsburg. This town was then the capital of the colony, the seat of learning, and the gathering place of the dignity, learning, and worth of Virginia. It gave him an opportunity to be for awhile in this center of the leading men of the times in this oldest English colony in America and to form the acquaintance of some of them. The educating influence of great men on susceptible and ambitious youth, is very great.
On his way to Williamsburg he spent a few days at the residence of Colonel Nathan Dandridge, and made the acquaintance of Patrick Henry, then a young man who had failed as a merchant and was idling away his time in the vicinity of his home in the frolics and dances of the young people, and in fishing, hunting and story telling. "His passion," said Mr. Jefferson of him afterward, "was fiddling, dancing and pleasantry." Jefferson was fond of the violin, the dance, and every social
pleasantry. Now, at seventeen, the quaint, piquant, brilliant, half-philosopher, half vagrant young man Henry, had many charms for him. They were much unlike, but there were deep points of similarity, which made them friends for life. Not many months afterward, Mr. Henry called on Jefferson and informed him that he had studied law, and was at the capital to obtain a license to practice, indicating the quickness with which great things were done in those early days.
Jefferson was admitted to an advanced class in college and continued there two years. Williamsburg had many attractions for him the first year which interfered somewhat with his study; but the second year he gave himself to unremitting work, studying fifteen hours a day and making rapid progress.
As a student he was about equally fond of mathematics and the classics, both of which branches of learning he continued to pursue, more or less, through life. He became a good Latin and Greek scholar, and read many ancient works in these ancient languages. He became familiar with written French; learned something of Anglo-Saxon, Spanish and German. His early literary inclinations became more and more established, till early in his life he became a general scholar for his times, and a devoted friend of books as well as men.
His mathematical professor in college was Doctor Samuel Small, who soon conceived a great interest in young Jefferson, and not only instructed him with great care, but made him a personal friend and companion, and did much to shape his life. Indeed, Mr. Jefferson said, late in life, that the instruction and intercourse of Doctor Small "probably fixed the destinies of his life."
In his youth he was away from home and among strangers, with none to guard or counsel him, and late in life he wrote of of this to a young relative similarly situated: "I had the good fortune to become acquainted very early with some characters of very high standing, and to feel the incessant wish that I could ever become what they were. Under temptations and difficulties, I would ask myself: What would Doctor Small, Mr. Wythe or Peyton Randolph do in this situation? What course in it will