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." Thomas Mann Randolph to Jefferson[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." Jefferson to Verdier (innkeeper at Orange Courthouse)[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." Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.[8]

1816 December 17. "Note he [Thomas Jefferson Randolph] has paid Garner 8.D. for having had a gun of mine repaired."[9]

1817 January 20. "Pd. Davis for mending gun lock 1.D."[10]

1822 July 20. "...I ask the acceptance, by your son, of a keep-sake from me. It is an article of the tackle of a gun-man, offering the convenience of carrying the powder & shot together." Jefferson to Peter Minor[11]

1823 July 15. "pd. Mr. Winn for a gun for Benjamin 18.D."[12]

1824 July 4. "Drew on Raphael in favr. J. Kelly for 17.D. for a gun."[13]

1825 September 1. "An application from young gentlemen of the University for the appropriation of a room wherein they might receive instruction in the use of the small sword having led me to the consideration of that subject previously to the receipt of your letter of yesterday, I inclose you my answer to them, which I pray you to receive as equally an answer to yourself.

"The other part of your request, for the use of a room for instructing them in the art of dancing, stands on more favorable ground. It's object is the embellishment, and not the destruction, of the lives of our young citizens, and the Visitors seem to have provided for it in the statute which enacts that one of the elliptical rooms on the middle floor of the Rotunda shall be used for 'schools of instruction in drawing, music, or any other of the innocent and ornamental accomplishments of life.' Dancing is generally, and justly I think, considered among innocent accomplishments; while we cannot [illegible] consider the art of stabbing and pistolling our friends, or dexterity in the practice of an instrument exclusively used for killing our fellow-citizens only and never against the public enemy." Jefferson to Louis Xaupe[14]


  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. PTJ 30:69.
  7. Copy at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers:
  8. Copy at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers:
  9. MB 1329.
  10. MB 1330.
  11. Copy at Massachusetts Historical Society.
  12. MB 1397. Benjamin Franklin Randolph's 15th birthday was July 14.
  13. MB 1404.
  14. Copy at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers:

See Also