From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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It is unclear if Jefferson ever played billiards, but there is some documentary evidence that he did not look favorably on the game. He writes in Thoughts on Lotteries: "...But there are some [games of chance] which produce nothing, and endanger the well-being of the individuals engaged in them, or of others depending on them. Such are games with cards, dice, billiards, etc."[1]

Billiards in the Dome Room?

There are several mentions - none by Jefferson himself - that the Dome Room was intended for billiards. Sarah N. Randolph (Jefferson's great-granddaughter), wrote:

"The west front the rooms occupy the whole height, making the house one story, except the parlor or central room, which is surmounted by an octagonal story, with a dome or spherical roof. This was designed for a billiard-rooom; but, before completion, a law was passed prohibiting public and private billiard-tables in the State. It was to have been approached by stairways connected with a gallery at the inner extremity of the hall, which itself forms the communication between the lodging-rooms on either side above. The use designed for the room being prohibited, these stairways were never erected, leaving in this respect a great deficiency in the house."[2]

Randolph says this information was given to her by a "member of Mr. Jefferson's family, who lived there for many years." Sarah Nicholas Randolph, the daughter of Thomas Jefferson Randolph, was born in 1839 and thus never lived at Monticello herself.

Jack McLaughlin brings the billiard-table story up again in his discussion of the Dome Room.[3] In his notes he states that, in fact, no such law (prohibiting billiard tables) was ever passed, although there was a law passed in 1781 taxing billiard tables quite heavily (50 pounds per annum).[4] Merrill Peterson also refutes the billiards story in Visitors to Monticello "...nor was any law banning billiards passed in Virginia, nor did Jefferson intend the dome for billiards, nor was it converted into a ballroom."[5]


  1. Thomas Jefferson. Thoughts on Lotteries. February 1826. L&B, 17: 449.
  2. Randolph, Domestic Life, 332.
  3. McLaughlin, Jack, Jefferson and Monticello: the biography of a builder (New York: Holt, 1989), 252.
  4. Hening, William W. The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of the Laws of Virigina, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (Richmond: R. & W. & G. Barrow, 1810-1823), vol. 10.
  5. Peterson, Visitors, 155.