Natural Bridge

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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==Further Sources== ==Further Sources==
 +*[ Virginia Department of Historic Resources]
*[ Look for sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal] *[ Look for sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal]
[[Category:Places]] [[Category:Places]]

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Natural Bridge, 1808 engraving by J. C. Stadler, after William Roberts. Photo by H. Andrew Johnson
Natural Bridge, 1808 engraving by J. C. Stadler, after William Roberts. Photo by H. Andrew Johnson

When passing through what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia, on 23 August 1767, Thomas Jefferson viewed the Natural Bridge,[1] probably for the first time. At that time he took notes on the inside back cover of his 1767 Memorandum Book. These notes were the basis for Jefferson's famous description of the "most sublime of Nature's works" in his Notes on the State of Virginia. By 1773, Jefferson had taken steps to become the owner of the rock bridge and in 1774 he received a patent for a 157-acre tract which included it (MB. 10 June 1773, cash accounts, 15 September 1773, legal section; Land Patent Book, XLII, 657-68). Jefferson often thought of building "a little hermitage" where he might spend part of every year (Jefferson to William Carmichael, 26 December 1786). Although this project was never carried out, he did make at least three more recorded visits to the bridge, in 1815, 1817, and 1821, and possibly in 1781.

In 1809, a financially disastrous year, Jefferson tried to sell the tract, and he periodically leased it for saltpeter mining and for use as a shot tower. By 1815, however, he had "no idea of selling the land. I view it in some degree as a public trust, and would on no consideration permit the bridge to be injured, defaced or masked from public view" (Jefferson to William Caruthers, 7 September 1809; 15 March 1815). The Natural Bridge was sold in 1833 as part of Jefferson's estate.


How much was it?

On June 10, 1773, Jefferson recorded in his Memorandum Book: Pd. at S.O. returng. my own 157 as. for Natural Bridge. L2-15s-4d.[2] Jefferson paid at the Surveyor General's Office (he was paying the Sec. of the Colony) at Williamsburg for a survey warrant. Shortly thereafter Jefferson paid James Tremble L2-1s-8d "for making survey of my entry on Natural bridge." On July 5, 1774 a patent in the name of George III was issued to him.

L1=20s, and 6s=$1 (Spanish dollars). L2-15s-4d thus equals about 55s, or $9, and L2-1s-8d=41s, or $7. The grand total for the purchase is 96s, or $16, roughly $160 in today's money.

Primary Source References[3]

1817 June 2. (William Caruthers to Jefferson). "Patrick Henry a free Man of Coular requested me to write you that he will rent what land is cultivatable on the Bridge Tract--which is perhaps about 10 acres all of which is to clear off and enclose and for which he is willing to pay a fair value."[4]

1817 June 11. (Jefferson to William Caruthers). "I recieved yesterday your favor of the 2d. inst. and I readily consent that Patrick Henry, the freeman of colour whom you recommend, should live on my land at the Natural Bridge, and cultivate the cultivable lands on it, on the sole conditions of paying the taxes annually as they arise, and of preventing trespasses."[5]

1817 August 4. "Natural Bridge. pd. to Patrick Henry 5.D. to be pd. to the Sher. of Rockbridge for taxes past & to come.-gave him 1.D."[6]

1821 November 14. "Patrick Henry. at Nat. br. entertt. services & laborers 10.D."[7]


  1. This section is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, April 1995.
  2. This section is based on RLB, Research Report, March 1997.
  3. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  4. Massachusetts Historical Society
  5. Letterpress copy available at Library of Congress.
  6. MB, 2:1337.
  7. Ibid, 2:1380.

Further Sources