Guitars

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

Revision as of 12:44, 13 March 2007 by Bcraig (Talk | contribs)

It seems that a number of members of Thomas Jefferson's family played the guitar. When in Philadelphia in 1776, Jefferson purchased "guitar strings" from merchant Michael Hillegas (MB 31 August 1776). Since he did not specify that they were bought for someone outside his household, it is probable they were for his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. There is no record of what type of guitar she might have played; she was also an accomplished keyboard player.

Photo of cittern (English guitar) by Edward Owen
Photo of cittern (English guitar) by Edward Owen

In 1788, when Jefferson and his daughters lived in Paris, he bought "a guitar" from an unknown source for eighty-four livres (then the equivalent of fourteen dollars) for his ten-year-old daughter Maria (MB 5 September 1788). There are various payments for a "guitar master" until the Jeffersons' departure in the fall of 1789. They arrived back in Virginia in December 1789. This was probably the Spanish guitar which returned to Monticello in 1824. Jefferson's granddaughter Virginia Randolph described it as belonging formerly to her "Aunt Maria . . . . It appears to be a very sweet toned instrument, and looks all spanish."

Detail from a document believed to be in Jefferson's hand on "finger board Spanish Guitar
Detail from a document believed to be in Jefferson's hand on "finger board Spanish Guitar

In 1816, Jefferson purchased a guitar from a departing neighbor, Robert Sthreshly, for $30 (MB 4 March 1816). He gave it to his granddaughter Virginia, then fourteen. Many years later she recalled this unexpected gratification of her "greatest desire" to have a guitar (Randolph, p. 348). This guitar is presumably the ten-string English guitar presently in the Monticello collection.

Original Author: Lucia C. Stanton, Monticello Research Department, March 1993