The Thomas Jefferson Papers

The Thomas Jefferson Timeline: 1743 - 1827

The American Revolution


July. Jefferson drafts instructions for the Virginia delegates to the first Continental Congress. In the draft, Jefferson argues that Parliament has no governing rights over the colonies and asserts that the colonies have been independent since their founding. He describes the usurpations of power and deviations from law committed by King George III as well as by Parliament. Jefferson is not present in the Virginia House when his draft instructions are debated. While the House adopts a more moderate position, Jefferson's friends have his instructions published in August in Williamsburg, as A Summary View of the Rights of British America. The pamphlet is circulated in London as well as in Philadelphia and New York and establishes Jefferson's reputation as a skillful, if radical, political writer. Instructions.


March 27. Jefferson is elected as a delegate to the second Continental Congress to replace Peyton Randolph, the former president of Congress, who is now presiding over the Virginia House of Burgesses. Jefferson attends the Virginia House of Burgesses until his departure for Philadelphia in mid-June.

June 20. Jefferson arrives in Philadelphia as the youngest Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congress. Other Virginia delegates are George Washington, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, Richard Henry Lee, and Edmund Pendleton. Jefferson is accompanied by Jupiter (d. 1800), his slave and personal servant since his school days at the College of William and Mary. Jefferson takes up residence on Chestnut Street, has a special writing desk made, and purchases a Windsor chair to go with it.

June-July. Jefferson drafts an address entitled "A Declaration of the Causes & Necessity for Taking Up Arms." Jefferson modifies some of the arguments he made in 1774 in A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Continental Congress's Declaration of Causes of Taking Up Arms; Notes and Chronology | Continental Congress Declaration of Causes for Taking Up Arms; Drafts

July. Jefferson drafts resolutions in response to British minister Lord North's proposal for reconciliation. Draft of Continental Congress Resolutions on Lord North's Conciliatory Proposal; with Amendment by Benjamin Franklin

June-July. Jefferson copies out and annotates Benjamin Franklin's draft of the Articles of Confederation, the governing document of the Continental Congress. Thomas Jefferson's Copy of "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union"

June-July. Jefferson makes calculations on the cost of a war with Great Britain, , possibly taking notes from ongoing work in Congress. His calculations show that a six-month conflict would cost approximately three million dollars. Financial and Military Estimates for Continental Defense, July 2, 1775

August 9. Having returned to Virginia, Jefferson attends the Convention, a common form of interim state government in the early years of the Revolution.

October 1. Jefferson returns to Philadelphia. He serves on several Congressional committees, among which are the Committee on Currency, the Committee on the Business of Congress, and committees addressing petitions and disputes.

December 2. Jefferson proposes a resolution in Congress calling for the exchange of Ethan Allen, captured by the British at Montreal. He also drafts a declaration in January 1776 on the British treatment of Allen. Continental Congress to William Howe, Draft of Declaration on the British Treatment of Ethan Allen, January 2, 1776

December. Jefferson returns to Monticello.


January. Jefferson writes an "alternative" history of the colonies elaborating on what he wrote in 1774 in A Summary View of the Rights of British America. To show that the original English colonists saw themselves as independent of King and Parliament, he draws on Richard Hakluyt's The Principal Navigations Voyages Traffiques & Discoveries Made by Sea or Overland to the Remote & Farthest Distant Quarters of the Earth...., first published in London, 1598-1600. (Series 7, Volume 3, Historical Notes on Virginia)

March 31. Jefferson's mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, dies.

May 10. Congress passes John Adams's resolution charging the states to write constitutions and create new, independent state governments. Years later, John Adams describes this action as Congress's substantive declaration of independence, of greater political significance at the time than the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

May 14. Jefferson arrives back in Philadelphia to attend the second Continental Congress. He remains until September. Richard Henry Lee attends with Jefferson, but former Virginia delegates Edmund Pendleton and Patrick Henry remain in Virginia to attend the state Constitutional Convention.

May 15. The Virginia Convention appoints a committee to draft a constitution.

May 23. Jefferson moves to a new residence, the house of Jacob Graff, on the corner of Market and 7th Streets, farther out from the city center. He takes his writing desk and Windsor chair with him.

May-June. Jefferson writes several drafts of a constitution for Virginia, although he is not a member of the committee assigned to do so. He envisions a popularly-elected assembly and a senate drawn from among the assembly's members. Senators will serve for life, though Jefferson later amends this to nine years. In Jefferson's draft constitution, the royal governor is reduced to an administrator serving a one-year term. Among the proposed reforms are an independent judiciary, the extension of suffrage, the gradual abolition of slavery, the appropriation of unsettled western land as freeholds to independent farmers, and fewer obstacles to the naturalization of immigrants. Drafts and Notes on the Virginia Constitution | George Wythe to Thomas Jefferson, July 27, 1776

June 7. Richard Henry Lee, acting on instructions from the Virginia government, moves a resolution in Congress calling for a complete declaration of independence.

June 7. Congress appoints a committee to draft the declaration of independence in anticipation of the approval of Richard Henry Lee's resolution. The committee includes Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The committee prevails on Jefferson to draft the document.

Jefferson writes a draft in two to three days and submits this "original Rough draught" first to John Adams and then to Benjamin Franklin and two other committee members, who make a total of forty-seven changes to the draft.

Detail of Page One of Jefferson's original Rough draught of the Declaration of Independence
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Detail of Page One of Jefferson's "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence, from "We Hold These Truth To Be Self-Evident...."

June 28. The committee submits to Congress the emended draft, entitled "A Declaration by the Representatives in General Congress Assembled."

July 1. A vote in Congress on a declaration of independence finds nine states in favor, South Carolina and Pennsylvania opposed, Delaware delegates divided, and New York without instructions.

July 2. With the arrival of Caesar Rodney to break the Delaware deadlock, the absence of two opposed Pennsylvania delegates, and a change in position by South Carolina, Lee's resolution on independence passes, 12 to 0, with New York abstaining.

July 1-4. Congress debates the draft declaration, making thirty-nine additional changes. The most significant of these are Congress's deletion of Jefferson's arguments holding King George III responsible for the continuation of the slave trade in the colonies, and his strongly worded ending, which Congress replaces with the text of Lee's resolution.

July 3-4. Congress approves these final thirty-nine changes to the Declaration.

Jefferson objects to many of Congress's revisions. During the summer of 1776, he makes a copy for himself of his original rough draft without the deletions and circulates it among friends.

July 4. On Congress's orders, John Dunlap of Philadelphia makes printed copies of the Declaration.

July 8. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence takes place in Philadelphia.

July 9. General George Washington reads his printed copy of the Declaration to his troops in New York.
George Washington Papers Time Line: The American Revolution: 1776

July 19. Congress orders that a parchment copy of "The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America" be made. This parchment copy is signed by most of the delegates on August 2. Others sign at later dates.

June-August. Jefferson keeps notes on the proceedings in Congress. These notes chronicle Congress's move toward total independence and the debates on and passage of the Articles of Confederation. Jefferson indicates in his notes that all the delegates except John Dickinson signed the Declaration on July 4th, while other documentary evidence suggests that most signed it on August 2. Jefferson sent a copy of these notes to James Madison in 1783, and included them in the "Autobiography," he wrote in 1821.

September 9. Congress designates "United States" as the nation's official name.

September 26. Congress appoints Jefferson a commissioner to represent the United States abroad with Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane. But on October 11, Jefferson writes to John Hancock, declining the appointment. He returns to Virginia where he serves in the House of Delegates. Thomas Jefferson to John Hancock, October 11, 1776

October. Jefferson and James Madison serve in the Virginia House in Williamsburg, become friends, and begin a lifelong political partnership in which they exchange approximately 1200 letters.

James Madison, bust portrait miniature
enlarge image icon [James Madison, bust portrait miniature, facing slightly right] Painting: watercolor on ivory, in gold case. creator: Charles Willson Peale, 1741-1827, artist. created/published [1783].


Throughout this year, Jefferson serves as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and as a member of the committee to revise Virginia's state laws.

May 16. Jefferson begins a correspondence with John Adams. John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, May 16, 1777, responding to Jefferson's May 16 letter.

June 14. Jefferson's son, born May 28, dies at the age of three weeks.


Jefferson continues as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

August 1. Mary (Polly) Jefferson is born.


June 1. Jefferson is elected governor of Virginia for a one-year term.

June 18. Jefferson submits a Report of the Committee of Revisors to the Virginia House. The report includes Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom; a bill for reforming the legal code, especially the application of the death penalty; a bill for the General Diffusion of Knowledge, establishing a public school system; and measures for the expansion of suffrage and the abolition of feudal land inheritance laws. Only the last measures, for the abolition of primogeniture and entail as forms of land inheritance, pass the House. However, the House does pass a Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786.


Spring. James Monroe begins legal studies with Jefferson.

June 2. Jefferson is re-elected governor of Virginia.

September. Jefferson begins planning an expedition of Virginia's militia, under the command of George Rogers Clark, against the British and their Indian allies at Detroit. George Washington Papers Time Line: American Revolution

October. François Barbé de Marbois, secretary to the French legation in Philadelphia, sends a questionnaire to all state governors, including Jefferson, eliciting historical, geographical, economic, and cultural information about each of the states for the French government. Marbois's Queries to the Governors of the States. Jefferson's December 20, 1781, reply to Marbois does not survive. After sending his answers to Marbois, Jefferson makes further changes to them in manuscript and gives a copy to a friend, the Marquis de Chastellux, a French officer serving with the American army. In 1784, Jefferson has 200 copies of Notes on the State of Virginia privately printed in France. His name does not appear as the author, a not unusual practice in that era. He distributes the printed copies to French, English, and American friends. The manuscript for the Notes with additions and revisions is at the Massachusetts Historical Society (see Related Web Sites).

A Plan of the entrance of Chesapeak [sic] Bay
A Plan of the entrance of Chesapeak [sic] Bay, with James and York Rivers; wherein are shewn the respective positions (in the beginning of October) 1. of the British Army commanded by Lord Cornwallis, at Gloucester and York in Virginia; 2. of the American and French forces under General Washington, 3. and of the French fleet under Count de Grasse. By an officer. created/published [1781]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Resolution Releasing Thomas Jefferson from Appointment as Peace Commissioner.
Resolution Releasing Thomas Jefferson from Appointment as Peace Commissioner. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.


January. On behalf of the state of Virginia, Jefferson receives the recently published twenty-eight-volume Encyclopédie compiled by French philosophe, Denis Diderot, which is advertised in the Virginia Gazette as the "supreme work of the Enlightenment." It is delivered to Jefferson just before the British invasion of Virginia. He uses it for research in revising the manuscript of his Notes on the State of Virginia, and months later, after receiving a request from the state government, reluctantly turns the treasured volumes over to the state.

January 6-10. Having defected to the British, Benedict Arnold leads an invasion of Virginia, burning Richmond. Jefferson and other government officials are forced to flee the capital.

June 2. Jefferson's second term as governor expires, but before a new governor can be elected, a detachment from British General Lord Cornwallis's army attacks Charlottesville, and nearby Monticello. Jefferson, his family, and friends flee Monticello, barely escaping capture. The detachment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, leaves Monticello unharmed, possibly because Jefferson has become renowned for his hospitality to captured Hessian officers, mercenaries serving with the British, who are on parole and awaiting exchange.

June 12. The Virginia House elects Thomas Nelson Jr. governor and passes a resolution calling for an inquiry into the adequacy of Jefferson's preparations for defense against the British invasion and his flight from Richmond in January. On December 15, the House receives and accepts a committee's report absolving Jefferson of any blame.


Jefferson begins a lifelong friendship with William Short, a relative of Jefferson's wife, Martha.

September 6. Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton, dies after an illness of several months following the birth May 8 of her sixth child, Lucy Elizabeth. Jefferson is inconsolable for some time after her death. In a November 26 letter to his friend Marquis de Chastellux, Jefferson writes that in the wake of his grief, "Your letter recalled to my memory that there were persons still living of much value to me." Epitaph for Martha Wayles Jefferson

November 12. Congress appoints Jefferson as an additional commissioner to join John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Laurens in Europe to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. United States Congress, Instructions to Commissioners, August, 1782

December 27. Jefferson arrives in Philadelphia to prepare for departure for France. Winter weather delays his departure, and he eventually declines the appointment. Congress withdraws it on April 1, 1783.


June 6. Jefferson is elected a delegate to Congress from Virginia.

November. Jefferson attends Congress at Princeton and then at Annapolis, where it reconvenes in December.

December. Congress appoints Jefferson, Elbridge Gerry, and James McHenry as a committee to arrange the ceremony for Congress's acceptance of George Washington's resignation of his military commission. George Washington Papers Time Line: The American Revolution

December 22. Jefferson writes his daughter Martha (Patsy), noting that she does not write him every week as he has asked. Jefferson guides his daughter's upbringing closely. In this letter he gives Patsy detailed instructions about how to dress. Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson, December 22, 1783.


George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland

enlarge image icon George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland /Sr.J.Reynolds, pinxt.; R.H.Cromek,sc. Engraving. Possibly plate from: History of England/John Adolphus. London: Cadell & Davies, 1802. created/published [1802?].