From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Photo of cittern (English guitar) by Edward Owen
Photo of cittern (English guitar) by Edward Owen
It seems that a number of members of Thomas Jefferson's family played the guitar.[1] When in Philadelphia in 1776, Jefferson purchased "guitar strings" from merchant Michael Hillegas. [2]. 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.

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.[3] 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.[4]. 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.[5] This guitar is presumably the ten-string English guitar presently in the Monticello collection.


  1. This article is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, March 1993.
  2. MB 31 August 1776.
  3. MB 5 September 1788.
  4. MB 4 March 1816.
  5. Randolph, 348.