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Peter Jefferson -- Thomas Jefferson's Father

“He was the kind of man people noticed. An imposing, prosperous, well-liked farmer known for his feats of strength and his capacity for endurance in the wilderness, Peter Jefferson had amassed large tracts of land and scores of slaves in and around what became Albemarle County, Virginia. There, along the Rivanna, he built Shadwell, named after the London parish where his wife, Jane, had been baptized.

The first half of the eighteenth century was a thrilling time to be young, white, male, wealthy, and Virginian. Money was to be made, property to be claimed, tobacco to be planted and sold…

As a surveyor and a planter, Peter Jefferson thrived there, and his eldest son, Thomas, born on April 13, 1743, understood his father was a man other men admired. Celebrated for his courage, Peter Jefferson excelled at riding and hunting. His son recalled that the father once singlehandedly pulled down a wooden shed that had stood impervious to the exertions of three slaves who had been ordered to destroy the building… The father’s standing mattered greatly to the son, who remembered him in a superlative and sentimental light…

Jefferson was taught by his father and mother, and later by his teachers and mentors, that a gentleman owed service to his family, to his neighborhood, to his county, to his colony, and to his king. An eldest son in the Virginia of his time grew up expecting to lead—and to be followed. Thomas Jefferson came of age with the confidence that controlling the destinies of others was the most natural thing in the world. He was born for command. He never knew anything else.

Thomas Jefferson grew up with an image—and, until Peter Jefferson’s death when his son was fourteen, the reality—of a father who was powerful, who could do things other men could not, and who, through the force of his will or of his muscles or of both at once, could tangibly transform the world around him. Surveyors defined new worlds; explorers conquered the unknown; mapmakers brought form to the formless. Peter Jefferson was all three and thus claimed a central place in the imagination of his son, who admired his father’s strength and spent a lifetime recounting tales of the older man’s daring. Thomas Jefferson, a great-granddaughter said, ‘never wearied of dwelling with all the pride of filial devotion and admiration on the noble traits’ of his father’s character. The father had shaped the ways other men lived. The son did all he could to play the same role in the lives of others.”

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From Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.

Today marks the birthday of my dad, a reader of this blog and the guy I thought about as I first flipped through these pages.

Now on the quotes page:

“Lately all my friends are worried that they’re turning into their fathers. I’m worried that I’m not.” – Dan Zevin

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

In case you don’t come here often, there’s more Jefferson-related stuff to see.

Thomas Jefferson

Meet Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson engraving after painting by Rembrandt Peale.

How Jefferson Fostered Compromise on the National Debt

Thomas Jefferson Randolph

Jefferson’s Advice to His Teenage Grandson

Top: Peter Jefferson; below: Thomas.

Thomas Jefferson