Massachusetts Historical Society
Thomas Jefferson Papers: an electronic archive

Thomas Jefferson
Farm Book, [manuscript], 1774-1824
From the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

Summary description

This manuscript volume, Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book, forms part of the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts. This volume contains Thomas Jefferson's working records primarily of his home, Monticello, and his private retreat, Poplar Forest, but also other farms and estates that he owned in Albemarle, Bedford, and Campbell counties in Virginia including Lego, Shadwell, Tufton, Elk Hill, Willis's Creek, and Bear Creek. Jefferson's property holdings were significant; he inherited and purchased land, and acquired several estates through marriage. The Farm Book contains two lists of his properties, one dated 1794 (page 32) and another from 1810 (page 127). Each list shows that he owned more than 10,000 acres.

The volume contains detailed information about farming activities and Jefferson's livestock and slaves. In 1795 and 1796 Jefferson wrote short entries outlining the plowing, sowing, planting, and cutting activities; these "Diary" (Jefferson's term) entries are arranged by date. He also maintained precise lists. Some lists include the names and locations of his slaves; others tracked the cloth, bedding, and food (fish, bread, and beef) distributed to them. The volume contains inventories of livestock (horses, sheep, cattle, etc.) and numbers of hogs killed during various years. The middle sequence of pages (pages 61-119), entitled, "Aphorisms, Observations, Facts in Husbandry," contains concise notes, observations, and calculations about farming subjects such as equipment, livestock, workers, plants, crop rotation, and spinning.

The Farm Book contains three sequences of pages. The first (pages 1-60) and third (pages 123-174) sequences, consisting of lists, inventories, and diaries, are arranged in rough chronological order. The first sequence spans the years 1774 to 1805, and the third sequence spans the years 1809 to 1824, but not every type of record is assembled for every year and some inventories cover many consecutive years, with gaps. The middle section (pages 61-119), a sequence of concise notes about various farming topics, includes both dated and undated entries.

Physical description of manuscript volume

The Farm Book is a bound manuscript volume. There is no formal title page. The first 168 pages in the volume are part of an original sequence of 174 pages established by Jefferson. Each page measures approximately 6 1/8 x 7 3/4 inches. After Jefferson's death, the Farm Book was bound or rebound in leather, but before the bound volume came to the Massachusetts Historical Society, an unknown person removed 6 pages of manuscript text (73-74 and 171-174) that are now owned by the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of the Princeton University Library. The removed pages "Leaves from Jefferson's Farm Book" do not appear in this electronic edition of the Farm Book. (However, facsimiles of the six manuscript pages owned by Princeton University are stored in an archival enclosure with the original manuscript volume.)

In 2000, the volume was disbound by the Massachusetts Historical Society conservation staff. Individual pages were cleaned, deacidified, and repaired and reinforced with Japanese tissue paper and wheat paste. The conservator added hinges along the spine for the eventual rebinding of the volume. Digitization project staff scanned the pages and then a conservation bookbinder rebound the volume.

Additional information: References to Sally Hemings

In his Farm Book, Thomas Jefferson recorded information about his slaves. Sally Hemings and her children are listed on numerous pages of the volume. For a list of the Farm Book pages mentioning Sally Hemings, please refer to References to Sally Hemings in Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book.

About the transcription

The electronic version of the text of Jefferson's Farm Book featured on Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive was derived from The Garden and Farm Books of Thomas Jefferson, Robert C. Baron, ed. (Golden, Colo., 1987) with the permission of Fulcrum Publishing.

Fulcrum Publishing, based in Colorado, publishes non-fiction books about gardening, travel, Native American culture, conservation and the environment, and the American West. The published transcription of Jefferson's Farm Book can be ordered online, The Garden and Farm Books of Thomas Jefferson, Robert C. Baron, ed.

Use of the images

Permission to reproduce images of manuscripts and/or publish transcriptions of collections must be obtained in writing from the Massachusetts Historical Society. Please forward requests to the Reference Librarian, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215, or send an email message to: library@masshist.org.


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