From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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In 1785 Thomas Jefferson wrote to his fifteen-year-old nephew, Peter Carr, regarding what he considered the best form of exercise: "...I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion of your walks."[1][2]

Evidence exists to show that Jefferson was a fair marksman. At twenty-five he noted in his accounts: "Won at shooting 1/3."[3] In a later contest during a muster of Captain Jacob Moon's Albemarle County militia company he lost 2/3. But as he grew older, Jefferson limited his exercise to horseback riding while restraining his attachment for firearms and hunting.

References to ownership of arms and accoutrements may be found throughout his manuscripts and accounts. A cursory compilation shows that he owned a shotgun called a "two shot-double barrel," purchased in France, a number of pistols and other shoulder weapons. Further evidence that he used these may be found in the columns of his account books. In 1775 he paid to have a pistol repaired; a year later he bought a "double barrel gun-lock for £5-5; in 1799 he had Henry Yost, a Staunton, Virginia gunsmith, mend his pistols (possibly those he carried for protection when traveling) and, as late as 1817 he was charged eight dollars for having a gun put in order by a Charlottesville repairman.

Unquestionably, the finest arms that Jefferson owned were a pair of Turkish pistols received from the estate of General Isaac Zane in place of a money bequest. He described them and, at the same time, modestly alluded to his ability as a pistol shot: "They are 20. inch barrels so well made that I never missed a squirrel at 30 yards with them..."[4]

Documentary References

1790. Shipped back from France (Grevin list): one pair large pistolet in leather case, one pair plated pistolet, one fusil a deux coup, one pistol and its case, two pistol cases, one powder horn, one morocco ammo pouch.[5]

1798 January 30. (Referring to a gun found in the possession of an enslaved man at Belmont): "The gun I suspect to be yours but cannot positively decide being familiar only with the Pistoias."[6]

1803 October 9. "I left at your house, the morning after I lodged there, a pistol in a locked case, which no doubt was found in your bar after my departure. I have written to [illegible] Mr. Randolph or Mr. Eppes to call on you for it, as they come on to Congress, to either of whom therefore be so good as to deliver it."[7]

1803 October 9. "I left at Orange C. H. one of my Turkish pistols, in it's hoster, locked. I shall be glad if either yourself or Mr. Eppes can let a servant take it on to this place. It will either bind up in a portmanteau flap, or sling over the back of the servant conveniently."[8]


  1. Jefferson to Peter Carr, 19 August 1785, Papers 8:406-408.
  2. This article is based on James A. Bear, "Some Jefferson Ideas on Exercise, Guns and Game," Monticello Research Report, n.d.
  3. Ref needed.
  4. Reference needed.
  5. The Grevin Packing List is located in the William Short Papers at the Library of Congress. An explanation and summary of its contents is available in PTJ 18:30-39.
  6. Thomas Mann Randolph to Jefferson, PTJ 30:69.
  7. Jefferson to Verdier (innkeeper at Orange Courthouse); copy at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers:
  8. Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.; copy at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers:

See Also